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The REWATERGY EXPERIENCE (part 3)

Adithya Pai Uppinakudru

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s a non-EU student doing my master in the UK, getting an opportunity to join the REWATERGY programme was one of the best things that could have happened to me soon after finishing my master’s. More than 2 years have passed since I first got the call from the host industrial partner, ProPhotonix, that I had been selected and every day since then has been a journey filled with memories. One whole global pandemic later, here I am writing about my experiences within this project.

I had never been to Ireland and Cork was my first stop in this project. I went in with no expectations and was rewarded to a treat! This was my first long-term job in an industrial environment, and I have been fortunate enough to have some amazing colleagues and supervisors, both in ProPhotonix and URJC, who have guided and supported me every time. Through every step and mistake along the way, I had some amazing friends, within and outside the project, pushing me to keep going. I had the opportunity to explore some parts of Ireland and I only keep wanting to go back again! From long walks along the beautiful River Lee in Cork to watching rugby with the Irish and being speechless seeing the vast landscapes across Gap of Dunloe, it has been an experience of a lifetime. I made some great connections through online conferences, meetings and in the local community.

In the beginning, I was anxious as I knew very little Spanish and struggled with almost everything. Like every new country I had moved to, the struggle for the first few months were worth the memories of the next few. Luckily, my colleagues at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos were very helpful and guided me at every stage. I joined Madrid Cricket club and travelled for games all across Spain with the team, enjoying Paellas and tortillas along the way. Over the years, I have tried a lot of outdoor activities and in Spain, I fell in love with Hiking. I joined a small group of English-speaking hikers living in Madrid, who went of hikes across the beautiful mountains surrounding Madrid every weekend. My hiking guide and a close friend, Phillip from Hiking Madrid, said “mountains are always forgiving after a long week” and I discovered it to be very true. From hiking up the snow-covered peak of Peñalara, the highest peak in Madrid, to hiking through gorging summer heat on top of Monte Abantos, every hike bought with it some amazing friends and memories. Away from the crowd and sounds of busy Madrid, the mountains of Madrid are breath-taking and absolutely marvellous.

I believe that as much as a crowded street says about a city, the true essence of a city comes when it is silent, and I saw the real Madrid on a cold Christmas evening when it was silent and calm all around. Every holiday season, I miss being away from home but on that cold evening, I was greeted by Spanish people wishing me “Feliz Navidad” and was offered to join them for a glass of wine that evening, it truly made me feel like I was one of their own. The cultural diversity and people in Spain have fascinated me and I have been fortunate enough to experience this because of the program.

The experience working on this project has been stressful too, with deadlines and work load going up every month but little memories throughout have made it worth it and I wouldn’t change it for anything! The consortium of people in this project have been very helpful and I only wish we all could meet more often if not for the pandemic. There are a lot of reasons why I would recommend applying for a MSCA project like REWATERGY, but two reasons beat them all, the experience and challenge!

Salem Al-kharabsheh

Being part of the REWATERGY project is one of the great opportunities I have ever got. It developed me at the educational, research, and personal level. During the Ph.D. Journey, the project gave me the chance to live in two different multi-cultural countries involving the United Kingdom and Spain. I have already finished my first settlement at Ulster University in the UK. Currently, I am doing the second part of the project at Aqualia water treatment company in Andalucía, Spain. It is the first time for me to live in Spain and was a dream for me. I am really having a great time in Spain so far.

Usually, everyone has a difficult experience when living abroad such as culture shock. However, the risk of experiencing cultural shock was not the case for me during my settlement in Spain. I found a lot more positives living in Spain than I thought. For me, the most important thing is the people surrounding me. The workers at Aqualia are very friendly with me, once I ask them for some help, they are willing to try to integrate and help me even though I was not speaking Spanish. They really have a great attitude towards life and making the most of it. Additionally, during my time in Andalucía, I meet so many friendly international tourists, that communicate with me either in English or German. Usually, when they know that I am from Jordan, they get excited to know what am doing in Spain. I usually explain to them about the REWATERGY projects which is the reason for my presence in Spain and about my project, which aims to develop a method to treat water.

Moreover, living in Andalucia, Spain is incredible for me with the many beautiful beaches and over 300 days of sun every year. I like the outdoors lifestyle, whether it’s a picnic on the beach in Cadiz, which is 30 min far from me, dining by the sea, or even sometimes setting at the beach and reading or working on my research write-up. Compared to the UK where bad weather often means life indoors, I feel much better getting out.

Moreover, the Spanish food is mostly fresh, seasonal, and has great taste. For me, Mediterranean food is one of the most delicious in the world. Especially, the seafood, where plenty of fresh and different kinds of fishes I found at local shops but national cuisines such as Tapas, Paella are the most delicious dishes. For a simple and healthy lifestyle, I found everything needed in Spain. Thanks to the REWATERGY teams and members for planning such an interesting project with great experience at all levels.

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The REWATERGY experience (part 2)

Raffaella Pizzichetti

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first moved out from my comfort zone at the age of 16, when I dipped myself in an exciting and strong experience of 10 months abroad, in the USA, very far from home. I grew up enormously in this adventure. I met amazing people that will always occupy an important place in my heart, no matter the distance. I learned to live in a completely different environment, with different habits and traditions, and communicate in a language that was unknown to me at the beginning. My second journey started right after high school, at the age of 18, when I moved to Turin for my studies. This time the emotions were even more intense. I was moving away from home for an unknown time, and I was starting a new chapter of my life with no pillars supporting me, far from family and friends. It was my new challenge. Starting from zero in an estranged house with unknown people, but soon I was already surrounded by new friends and joyful events. There were tough moments, of course, but the juice was worth the squeeze. A new adventure started when I won the scholarship for the Double Degree Master Programme between the Polytechnic of Turin and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in Chemical and Sustainable Processes Engineering.

This time new challenges to face, a third language to learn, another culture to embrace, and intense weather conditions to live in. Nevertheless, it was another amazing experience. The broad international environment around me was the key to my personal and educational growth. It made me more creative and open-minded and helped my promptness and flexibility. As this last journey was coming to an end, I was not ready to go back home yet. I was curious and ready to explore a bit more of the world, keep learning from the other cultures and exciting environments. REWATERGY offered me this opportunity, full of training events and secondments around Europe with 36 months equally split into two different countries. Other than this, the project offered me the opportunity to gain experience in both academia and industry, enhancing my career prospects through the PhD on the very topic I am passionate about, the water-energy nexus, addressing climate change challenges and embracing a circular economy concept. Soon, I found myself packing again and getting ready for Madrid, my first destination. I started the project in a very cheerful atmosphere in the GIQA group at Rey Juan Carlos University. Then, I had the chance to meet the rest of the consortium in our first meeting in Cambridge and get to know better the other ESRs in our first training in Belfast. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of the project and created new challenges – different and, in some respects, more difficult than those already expected. My time in Madrid concluded successfully, with highs and lows, and about 6 months ago I moved to my second destination, Cork. Starting new in another city, in another country, in this “different world” with social restrictions, has been tough. However, thanks to supportive friends and colleagues, I am making my way through the worst moments and enjoying all the good that this project is offering me.

Adriana Rioja

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he first half of the REWATERGY programme is over. It was almost 2 years ago, when I decided to leave my job as Battery Engineer in Netherlands and join REWATERGY programme. This programme presented me with the opportunity of doing a doctorate while still being in contact with industry, as well as pursuing my interest in electrochemical research applied to energy and sustainability. It has been 18 months of fast-growing experiences, which I think have really contributed to both personal and professional development. My first placement of the REWATERGY programme was at Ulster University in Belfast. Even though I had already been in Northern Ireland doing an exchange at high school, the only thing I could remember from that time was how much it rained and that I barely could understand any English with Northern Irish accent. Therefore, I prepared myself mentally for a lot of rain and to not understand much of the English. Fortunately, my understanding of the accent greatly improved, but it still took me some weeks to clearly understand some of my colleagues and supervisor. From my first days in Belfast, I felt the hospitality and kindness of the people around me, which contributed to making me feel welcome and have very nice time. After travelling a bit around, it made me remember how beautiful NI is filled with amazing landscapes, beaches, cliffs forests and hills. Moreover, I really enjoyed Belfast’s atmosphere, particularly the nightlife, filled with traditional pubs, where you can enjoy live music. Unfortunately, after six months of my arrival in NI, the whole world was hit by the global pandemic of COVID-19. This impacted, to different extent, both the personal and professional life of many people. For me personally it was also a challenging time, as I saw Belfast quickly transformed into a ghost town. I had to deal with being away from my family, as well as completely changing the way of working, as we had almost no access to the university for 1 full year. Fortunately, I had the luck of sharing these difficult moments with a small group of friends. I hope to have the opportunity to return to Northern Ireland sometime in the future and keep exploring its amazing nature and atmosphere. Most memorable moments from the first part of this experience include: meeting all my colleagues at Ulster University, returning to do experiments in a laboratory, the meeting held in Cambridge where we met everyone involved in REWATERGY, the training courses in Belfast with all the ESR, my friends cooking amazing traditional food from their countries, daytrips exploring NI and evenings listening to live Irish music in the pubs. Now already settled at my second placement at the company Delft-IMP in Netherlands, I am hoping to fill the next months with new memories and experiences which would make me grow further both personally and professionally.

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The REWATERGY experience (part 1)

Rubén Asiaín Mira

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rowing up in Spain includes a life full of good food and great people. Besides that, I did my undergraduate in Chemical and Energy Engineering in Madrid. After I obtained my degree, I started working as an energy consultant, which gave me valuable experience in the industrial sector. After working for one year, I still wanted to stay in touch with the industrial world, but I was missing the “lab life” that research development had to offer. When I discovered REWATERGY, I realised that it was the project I was looking for! An industrial doctorate in the University of Cambridge with half of the project carried out in Aqualia, a Spanish water company. It would allow me to study abroad and then come back to Spain to continue with the development of my project in an industrial environment – what a perfect match! Now, fast-forward to the middle of the project, my period in the United Kingdom is about to end. When I look back on my time here, all I can recall are all these amazing new experiences I have been through. Everything happened in a flash: the beginning of the project, moving to a different country, finding accommodation and meeting a lot of new people. There are moments that will always be highlighted in my mind: the first project meeting in Cambridge, when we met the other ESRs and the rest of the beneficiaries; the first time in the lab, so excited about all the “toys” available to play with; the first training course of the project when we all went to Belfast for three days and get to know each other much better. And of course, every journey has a downside: the lockdown caused by COVID-19, when we had to stop our activity in the lab, and which was probably the part of all this adventure. Fortunately, after 4 months we were able to resume our activities in the “new normal” situation and zoom became our best ally for social interactions. It has been a beautiful ride to this point, with its ups and downs. Now it is the moment to pack up things again and get ready to move to a new destination. I’m looking forward to this new part of the project in Aqualia, knowing that it will be full of new incredible moments.

Conor Redick

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oining the REWATERGY programme offered something old and something new to me- I have lived in Cork before, the location of my first secondment at Prophotonix and I have also lived in Spain before, albeit in Malaga and not Madrid. This is also my second stab at a PhD. It’s not often you get second chances, especially in programmes as competitive as MSCA. For me, it took the perspective of time away from scientific research to realise it was right for me. between my first attempt at a PhD and joining the REWATERGY programme, I spent time working for a spin-out company in Belfast which was perhaps the most exciting and valuable job I have had to date and also worked with a government innovation lab. In both cases, after the initial honeymoon period subsided, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be involved in the type of work that excites me without returning to complete a PhD. Whilst remaining on the island of Ireland, Cork and Belfast (my home city) are culturally very different places. Both cities have long strived to step out of the shadow of Dublin and fight for unique identities. This is my second time living in Cork, having spent a year in the seaside town of Kinsale during placement in University. It has been a very different experience second time round, with the pandemic making it difficult to set roots and make connections in the city. Unfortunately, my initial ambitions to get involved in drama groups and sports clubs in Cork gradually dwindled to just coping with the pandemic and progressing with the PhD. Nonetheless, I have been fortunate enough to have a small group of friends to share some experiences with in Cork, as well as supportive colleagues in Prophotonix to help me progress with PhD work.

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Students’ Blog

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elcome to the blog of the students of the REWATERGY-ITN project. Our objective is to establish a forum for information and discussion in which we hope all of you who are interested in the water problem will participate from the different points of view: water management and uses, needs and conservation of water resources, water quality, treatment and recycling of wastewater, purification, etc. For this we will publish news, comments and news, as well as information about courses, conferences, seminars, calls and in general about any type of event that we consider, may be of interest to you.