Mirela Sertić Perić, participant from Croatia in EJWP3
I am an Associate Professor at the University of Zagreb (UniZG) Department of Biology. My role is primarily on three fronts: I teach including laboratory lessons for undergraduates and graduate students; I mentor students during their master’s studies and supervise during their thesis; and I research the ecological properties of water by collecting samples and analyzing their physical and chemical properties, such as temperature, and concentrations of dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, and various ions which may reflect levels of water contamination.
Organisms in the water, like different life stages of insects, can be good biological indicators. I like investigating their relationships, because we can learn more about water quality through this organism community. For example, some are bottom cleaners and some are predators eating other organisms, and they somehow keep the equilibrium in our freshwater ecosystems.
My UniZG and EJWP colleague Vesna Gulin focuses more on microscopic organisms in the freshwater ecosystems. Our work is closely linked at the university, and it’s nice to work on related but also different topics in EJWP. We are still setting up our UniZG facilities, following damage to the buildings from an earthquake in Zagreb two years ago, so some of my work is from my home office. I have been at UniZG since beginning of my academic career in 2006, and my path included one year pre-doc stay in Switzerland (Zürich) at the Swiss Federal Institute for Water Research, followed with a year of post-doc research there as a scholarship recipient.
Outside of comfort zones
I have been in academia for a long time, so I am happy that EJWP offers connections with young and inspiring professionals in the various fields of water sector to get a broader perspective. I can step out of my familiar routine to also see water legislation and transboundary challenges in relation to what I’m doing. My EJWP group colleagues cover different disciplines, and I see more about the global importance of water. I see the world mostly through an ecosystem perspective, and it is nice to step into the geo-political spheres. Who knows…I may be interested to try if there would be an opportunity to step more into the policy processes around water and science.
All three EJWP training weeks at the different locations – Belgium, Greece and Italy – were good for our teamwork, as our activities are collaborative around our group projects. It is a big thing that during these weeks we acquire soft skills on personal development plans, communication, social styles merging, and other training. I consider these skills crucial in solving challenges when working as a team. I don’t have many opportunities for such training in my job. I now use some of these new skills in my work at the university.
We had communication training in our most recent training week in Milan. Now I feel I can apply new methods in my personal and professional life to work through research problems and other issues. Masterclasses during the training weeks provide us with looks into different fields so we can gain insights on the larger picture and things that connect to our work. In Milan, I was positively surprised by Italian hospitality – as the trainings and visits were friendly and well organized. In Greece we experienced some Southern European spirit which was fun and a bit more relaxed. It is something to see how people in both areas take care of their responsibilities with different lifestyles and approaches.
Our projects have been on different topics, and I have strengthened some skills probably through new experiences. I had never collaborated with NGOs closely, but in the Belgium (Mechelen) training week, our client was a successful NGO. In the Greek-led project, I learned first how to conduct an interview and then we did some real interviews. We have had projects linked to EJWP partner organizations and external projects where we communicated with previously-unknown clients to determine what they expect. So the projects have allowed us to develop and test new methods or strategies. I should say it was a fresh feeling not to be required to write a scientific paper on what we did in our project!
A European water-smart community
Our EJWP group joined in Water Innovation Europe, organized by Water Europe last year. We interacted with the Water Europe people who are involved in water policies at the EU level. I met people that I would never meet on my own, like Veronica Manfredi with the European Commission.
Some of my EJWP colleagues work in real scenarios like water supply and water infrastructure engineering. In the university setting, we don’t normally deal with these disciplines, and I think we make contact in ways that we can work together later. A future EJWP project will be linked to UniZG, and it will be great that people from other professions will see our work. It will also be good to merge real sector jobs with academia in beneficial ways. Croatia needs more of this!
I’m looking forward to new topics, new places, and new cultures in the remainder of my EJWP journey. I know it is a challenge for Naomi Timmer, the Director, to organize all of this, and I would not change a thing to the dynamic experience.
When I have free time, I quite simply like to spend it with my family. My professional passion is really around mentoring students and this is what I like the most – especially when they are truly motivated. This includes hosting international exchange students and helping them discover what they want to do in life. When these students approach me years later with nice feedback that I helped them, then I really feel good.