As I approach the end of my Ph.D. studies, I opted to forgo most conferences this year. This includes the 90th annual AZ Water Conference and Exhibition going on May 3-5 in Phoenix. Although I have a student presenting a poster at the conference, this is the second time in the last six years I have not presented a poster or oral presentation. And it feels weird.
Let me explain. I have immense respect for AZ Water -- it's an amazing organization that brings industry and academia together every year to network and exchange ideas. Every year, I see people I know at the conference from the local wastewater treatment plants and consulting firms. It's almost like a family reunion if your family has 1300 members who love water and wastewater. I hug people I've gone to school with and exchange pictures of our kids (including the little furry ones). I learn about new infrastructure projects going on around Arizona, like expansions to FOG capture systems in Tempe or new treatment processes at Scottsdale's Water Campus. It inspires daydreams about potential collaborations between ASU and local plants.
The greatest benefit of presenting at AZ Water is that you get feedback from such a diverse skill set -- operators and engineers, business managers and project managers, professors and students. It makes presenting here a challenge but has often reinforced my understanding of my research topics and how the research fits into the grand scheme of wastewater treatment. For me, this is incredibly motivating.
For those people whom have never attended or are attending for the first time this year, my advice is to take advantage of these local conferences. It's a wonderful way to gauge the temperature of the local industry and network with local professionals. Get outside your comfort zone and introduce yourself to new people. (And that advice is coming from an introvert.) Go to sessions outside your normal interests. Check out the cool toys at the vendor exhibits. More importantly -- engage with others while at the conference! It's a small industry, and your paths are likely to cross in the future.
Michelle received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1997 and her M.S. in Environmental Engineering in 2011, both from ASU. Between these degrees, she spent 10 years in consumer products and food manufacturing. Michelle maintains her own website, here, where you can learn more about her research, publications, and activities.