Ozwater'22 scholarship is a sponge to soak up water knowledge for recipients
Two of our Young Water Professional Development Scholarship recipients, Deni Estivill and Shanae Walker, give their thoughts on their experiences attending Ozwater.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to attend Ozwater’22 in my hometown – Brisbane! Thank you to the Australian Water Association for providing me with a Young Water Professional (YWP) scholarship to attend the conference.
Members of the YWP committee can apply for the scholarship, which is another great reason to get involved in your local branch. Also, thank you to my employer, international design, engineering and advisory company Aurecon, which encouraged me to explore and learn from the event.
For those who are part of the YWP Scholarship program, the week of Ozwater’22 kicked off on Monday morning with satchel packing. While this may sound like a boring task, I was pleasantly surprised as it was an excellent way to informally network with other YWPs from across Australia. As this was my very first Ozwater, it prepared me so that I knew others attending the conference and the environment was much less intimidating or overwhelming in the coming days. Satchel packing is a nice way to bond while getting a real appreciation of the behind-the-scenes work that the planning team undertook to keep Ozwater running smoothly.
On Monday afternoon, the YWPs were invited to an ‘Inclusive Networking and Confidence’ Workshop sponsored by Aurecon, which included presentations from experienced water professionals. Firstly, Sally Prosser (an expert in all things public speaking and communication) instilled confidence by discussing networking skills. We were each asked to take a card and describe an experience relating to the concept on that card. Mine was as simple as baking bread. I talked to another YWP about my Italian cooking class making focaccia and before we knew it, we were having completely random conversations about our lives and connecting our water journeys. It was perfectly connected to the theme of Ozwater’22 in sharing Our Water Journey with each other.
Sally mentioned that excitement and anxiety are felt the same way in the body, and it is our brains that categorise this feeling. She explained the goal isn’t about getting rid of those butterflies completely but flying them in formation. I appreciated the metaphor and it stuck with me throughout the conference as I sometimes felt nervous in keeping up with some of the technical conversations with the more experienced professionals.
I also really enjoyed listening to Sally Armstrong talk about inclusion in the water industry. Her speech was heartfelt, and it meant a lot to me knowing that it was ok to sometimes make mistakes as long as you are open to being corrected and trying your best to make people feel heard. These open and honest conversations were incredibly valuable and set the tone for the following couple of days.
The keynotes were the highlight of my Ozwater’22 experience. They provoked thoughts about what water means to me, what the water community looks like and how we all do better to listen and be inclusive of others. I’ve noticed that at least in my short time in the industry, the conversations about being inclusive, listening and understanding the cultural value of water have shifted. As much as we all have a long way to go, I’m enjoying being part of this community and what we can do together.
The learning opportunities provided by Ozwater in the technical presentations and workshops will be immensely beneficial to my job. Coming from a technical engineering background, in the early stages of my career, I was challenged to place how disciplines fit together and to gain a broader understanding of some technical concepts. Attending a variety of presentations was a great way to deepen my understanding of the water industry. Furthermore, I had several opportunities to practice my public speaking skills by chairing sessions in the exhibition hall or technical presentations.
Throughout the conference, I tried to make the most of the experience – attempting to soak up all the knowledge in the room like a sponge. I noticed that I was going home every day exhausted but inspired and excited to come back the next day. Ozwater’22 has consolidated my feelings about the water industry – that I’m passionate, inspired and grateful to be a part of it.
Some of my key takeaways from Ozwater’22 include:
1. To managers and organisations, encourage your YWPs to attend conferences – they gain so much from the technical knowledge and developing interpersonal skills. Most importantly they enjoy themselves, feel inspired and appreciate their organisation is investing in them. So invest in YWPs, their passion and their excitement!
2. For YWPs, grab any opportunity to attend a conference. I know it can be intimidating asking for the time off but the benefits of going far outweigh the nervous experience of simply asking.
3. I am proud to be part of an industry so interesting and diverse. An industry that is responsible for the quality of life we enjoy and that is shifting towards an exciting and sustainable future. Overall, I felt the passion in the diversity of people, disciplines, and career opportunities.
Ozwater'22 is the first Ozwater conference I have attended. I was very fortunate to receive one of the Young Water Professional Development Scholarships through the Australian Water Association.
The application process was straightforward, and I highly recommend to any YWPs out there who may be hesitant to apply in future. The volunteer work before the conference was beneficial to me because I haven’t spent much time with other water professionals my age from such broad backgrounds and from all over Australia. These experiences teach us about diversity and help build relationships and provide networking opportunities that are invaluable to your career. The Networking with Confidence workshop hosted by Sally Prosser was another highlight of the conference, teaching us how to start conversations and the importance of body language – both of which were useful skills to have during the conference!
Assisting as co-chair was great fun because I was able to experience first-hand what goes on behind the scenes at these events and it helped build my confidence around the possibility of presenting my own paper one day. I had the opportunity to meet so many talented, inspiring speakers and hear about a broad variety of innovative projects happening within the water industry. On reflection, I would encourage others to attend streams and presentations that are not necessarily within your own professional background, but to be brave and learn about other important aspects of the industry. It was amazing to see how broad the topics spanned from student presentations on sludge, right through to customers being impacted by domestic family violence and the role of the water industry. It was a humble experience being out of my comfort zone and absorbing and listening to as much information as I could. I am certainly looking forward to Ozwater 2023!