What does it mean to be a water research focused academic?

My pathway to becoming an Assistant Prof in a research-intensive university in Canada was not straightforward. I was trained in Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo (UW), and my only work exposure before my graduate studies was being a co-op student in environmental consulting. I did not even know what research was all about until my fourth-year undergrad when I took a course elective in Biology along with a wastewater treatment course in Environmental Engineering. It was then I realized that understanding the fate and transport of micropollutants (e.g., pharmaceuticals, personal care products) stemming from wastewater treatment discharges would help fish aquatic ecotoxicologists assess their potential impacts in aquatic ecosystems better. I was fascinated by the collaboration between wastewater engineers and fish biologists as I recognize that this work is a critical piece of the puzzle needed to understand exposure to micropollutants and reduce their impacts on the receiving environment.

After completing my Master’s, I thought my research journey would end. However, I was just starting to develop a profound connection to water and enjoyed doing research, which led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Biology (Collaborative Water Program). Through the 3.5-year journey, I realized how much I loved research and sharing my passion for water with others. I was drawn to academia because of the opportunities for mentorship and community building and the independence and creativity that comes with intellectual pursuits. This flexibility allowed me to have greater control over my work, including my research focus, teaching style, and schedule.

My current research focuses on some of the most pressing water-related issues of our time, including emerging substances of concern in surface, storm, and wastewater wastewater, the environmental impacts of oil sands processed water, sustainable ways of treating our wastewater, and assessing the devastating effects of algal toxins in developing countries like the Philippines. But what truly sets my work apart is my commitment to interweaving Indigenous and Western-centric worldviews within water quality management. It’s not just about the science — it’s also about the people and the cultural context behind it. Of course, there have been plenty of obstacles along the way, particularly as a woman of color in a male-dominated field. But I refuse to let those barriers stop me from pursuing my research plans and empowering others to do the same. And through it all, I’ve had the privilege of going on unforgettable field trips and making memories filled with endless laughter. Looking back on the journey, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. After all, the unexpected twists and turns make the journey all the more exciting!

-written by Dr. Maricor Arlos/ Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta

-Research group website: arloslab.com

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