2013 IWC Masters Scholarship recipient interview - Caitlin Pilkington
What is your professional background?
I studied undergraduate environmental engineering and science in Melbourne. During this time I took an exchange year abroad in Delft, The Netherlands, where water management is at the top of the agenda and I found the classes and issues fascinating. For the past five years I've worked in design and project management for civil water projects, beginning in Melbourne before relocating to sunny Cairns. At the same time, I've maintained close links with Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB), a passion which started with volunteering in the EWB national office during university and has led to now being a part of a partnership with an Indigenous enterprise in Far North Queensland.
What role are you in now?
I'm currently working as a project engineer with an engineering consultancy firm in Cairns, Queensland, where my role takes me to remote communities around Cape York. The projects relate to managing and upgrading water supply and wastewater infrastructure in communities of up to 2000 people. I see many unique challenges that are faced here – including water availability, application of appropriate treatment technologies in remote areas, capacity building and sustainability of infrastructure – and one of my goals is to explore some of these issues during the MIWM program.
Why did you choose that professional path?
I come from a small country town where we relied on rainwater tanks for water supply and where many people's livelihood was farming the land. I've always loved the outdoors and had a strong environmental bent. During university, I connected with Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) and came to realise the importance of hygiene, sanitation and water in poverty alleviation. At the same time, my research assignments on the environmental impacts of farming and the complex challenges of managing water in the Murray Darling Basin really struck a chord with me, and I decided that the water industry was definitely the place for me!
What attracted you to the IWC Masters program?
I'm really looking forward to working with people from across the world and am excited to see what happens when so many different people from diverse backgrounds get together – lots of fresh ideas and new perspectives, I hope! I was really attracted by the opportunity to learn more about, and how to effectively communicate with, disciplines beyond my own field, and to get a better grasp on the political and economic drivers that influence decisions about water management. For me, it's the very holistic, big-picture approach to water management that most attracted me to the program.
How do you hope to use what you learn in the program in your current work?
I'd like to work with other participants and academics to explore the best approaches for water management in remote Australia and see what useful learnings can be drawn from experiences across Australia and internationally, and to gain skills beyond the technical to understand and deal with water related issues more broadly.
How do you hope the program will help your career?
In addition to the above, I'd like to learn from the experiences of others about water management for food production in Australia, as well as understanding more about future directions for water recycling and resource recovery. The opportunity to collaborate and build networks with such a diverse mixture of participants and the IWC will be a really important part of the program for everyone involved.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
It's so exciting to work in an industry with so much potential for positive impact on society and the environment. I am really thrilled to have this opportunity to be a part of this program and I look forward to meeting everyone!