On Monday, January 16, 2017, the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) and Trojan Technologies (Trojan), along with the City of London hosted a “graduate student / industry engagement day” for graduate students and post-docs to meet with company representatives, pitch their research topics and visit the London Wastewater Facility where Trojan is engaged in a technology development pilot.

The event is the first in a series of engagement events that will be hosted by SOWC through a new program funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science through the province’s Business Growth Initiative. The funding will allow SOWC to support a new, targeted focus on a niche cluster where Ontario has significant opportunity for global leadership: recovering resources and generating value from wastewater.

“The three minute presentations were a good opportunity to see what other people in the region are working on, and the networking was a great opportunity to discuss and get in contact with the people in the same field, working on similar projects” commented one student participant. “The panel discussion was fantastic, [panelists] had a great deal of wisdom to share and I was able to relate to the challenges of entering today’s job market.”

SOWC is hosting a series of engagement events that provide an opportunity for graduate (Masters and Doctorate) and Post-Doctoral students to have direct exposure to the latest in cutting-edge topics and technology related to capturing value from biosolids, and enhance their understanding of the expert capacity in this field in Ontario.

Twenty-four Masters, PhD and Post-doctoral students have been selected representing eight of SOWCs partner post-secondary institutions including Queen’s University, Ryerson University, Sir Sandford Fleming College, University of Guelph, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Western University and Wilfrid Laurier University. Nominated by their academic supervisors, they come from departments of civil, chemical and environmental engineering and biology. Seventeen participated in the Trojan Technologies event.

Eager students pitched their research topics in 3-minute talks, with an audience of their colleagues and company experts.

“I was inspired, and really impressed with the breadth and depth of the research presented by the students” said Linda Gowman, Chief Technology Officer for Trojan. “Recovering value from biosolids is such an emerging area – we couldn’t have gathered this many students of this caliber on this topic five years ago.”

The company also assembled a panel of experts – from senior research executives to recent interns – to share with student participants their advice and observations about entering the world of the private sector from graduate school. A major topic was the importance of relationships, and the focus on working as a team in an industry setting, rather than the individual focus of academia.

Siva Sarathy, Senior Research Scientist at Trojan, gives an overview of Trojan research at the London Wastewater Facility. Copright: SOWC

Siva Sarathy, Senior Research Scientist at Trojan, gives an overview of Trojan research at the London Wastewater Facility. Copright: SOWC

Participants were encouraged by Senior Research Scientist and Research Operations Manager Gord Knight to “think about the people aspects of a potential job, not just the technical.” As a current MITACS Post-Doctoral intern working with the company, Cristina Lugo Vega provided additional insight, and emphasized the importance of making the “extra effort” to demonstrate your skills and participate in events like this one.

After tours, presentations and panel discussions at the Trojan facility, participants ended the day with a visit to the London Wastewater Facility. The unique test facility is built into London’s Greenway Wastewater Treatment Plant to enable technology testing at full scale. Trojan is utilizing the facility, and provided a tour of its setup. The City of London then provided a plant tour and overview of the City’s approach to biosolids management.

Ontario has a unique combination of technology companies and academic expertise that are on the forefront in this field. To foster this potential into a globally recognized and leading cluster, SOWC’s initiative aims to strengthen the connections and opportunities for collaboration between private sector and academia. And by introducing emerging academic talent to the opportunities in the private sector, we hope to foster a new generation of experts that can be innovators in both sectors.