On the Road to Knowledge

Barbara Topolovec (ESR5)

Hello dear readers!

As you could’ve realized while following this webpage and our stories, we 14 ESRs are a group of young researchers and scientists gathered under European Joint Doctorate called NOWELTIES with one main purpose: to find and develop solutions for wastewater treatment (WWT). We can say that the core activity is the individual projects, but part of this research programme is also training activities. Organized periodically at different places (institutes, countries) by supervisors, coordinator, project manager, and collaborators, we present our work and get a chance to learn about different WWT technologies, new materials and innovations within the water sector. All that through theoretical and practical approach. As a result: create a new generation of trained wastewater professionals able to face future challenges. A group of scientists with potential future collaboration on solving today’s water problems.


When I applied for this project, I saw a whole package here for me. A chance to work on my PhD at amazing institute. To learn and better understand the issue of organic micropollutants in water. Learn about different advanced oxidation processes, design processes, water management. Most importantly, learn how to implement all that knowledge in practice. And who would better teach me than professionals and experts, people who went through a path in which I am walking now? In short, “Team supervisors”.

…and reality…

It started with a beautiful trip to Santiago de Compostela (https://nowelties.eu/introductory-training-school-at-usc/1440/) where I met my fellow ESRs and our supervisors. Each of us came with a different background: chemistry, engineering, biology, physics. It was an amazing opportunity to hear and share different experiences and get a “glimpse” of how future meetings will look. We were involved in various activities: lectures, laboratory practicum, visit the full-scale WWTP. And of course, social activities gave us the perfect moment to create “Team ESRs”, especially while eating those 14 boxes of pizza. With fresh ideas and fully motivated, we went back to the host institution, working on PhD and getting ready for the next meeting.

Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe, our gatherings and training courses have been moved to virtual rooms. Field trips and laboratory practices were canceled, but that didn’t stop our supervisors from an enormous effort to organize us online meetings, lectures and exercises.

Recently, together with my ESRs, I have taken part in the Advanced Training Course (ATC), which was organized by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA). 30+ hours, I expected tons of slides, me just listening, taking notes, tired after 1 hour. Sitting in front of your computer and paying full attention can become exhausting quickly for both sides. However, it was a little bit different. During sessions, supervisors included us in many discussions throughout small exercises, working groups, assigned case studies. My camera was ON most of the time, so my group can see me and hear me. I learned more about water system designs, potable and non-potable water reuse. I got a chance to find useful software and tools, discover what lies behind “risk assessment”. And I realized that I actually like electrochemistry which I was trying to avoid through most of my education 🙂

The most interesting part was when real water-reuse case studies were assigned to us. Quite a training experience. That was the chance for me to learn more and understand better where I am today with my knowledge, what I can integrate into my work, which “knowledge holes” I still need to fulfill.

In all that period, I did miss our live gatherings and social activities a lot which I believe, in general, all of us miss these days. The sitting part and paying attention were challenging. But as it goes in research, we all try to find another possible solution and take out the best of it. Also, when you find yourself in a group of people with a good sense of humor, you end up having a good and quality time.

We are still on our road to knowledge; let’s just hope that we can soon have that dinner together as well 🙂