The Cranfield connection

Before I began my journey at Cranfield, I was a Process Engineer in the field of water and wastewater treatment in the Middle East. I was drawn towards this field in appreciation of the deepening scarcity of water and its immense potential as a resource in driving the circular economy. My fascination for it is further rooted in the very nature of this life-sustaining elixir. Although largely ubiquitous, water has unique properties that bend all rules and catch you off-guard the more you study it (Did you know that under certain conditions hot water can freeze faster than cooler water!). This lets me constantly seek greater knowledge and hone my skills without the least bit of disenchantment. When I was working, I was an extensive reader of Cranfield’s open-source publications like e-books and articles that helped me and many of my colleagues apply ourselves better at what we do. I was also aware of their high-profile research projects that aim to redefine sewage works of the future on the lines of a circular economy. Hence, my connection with Cranfield existed even before I was accepted into their MSc Water and Wastewater Engineering course.

Cranfield-IWA excellence scholarship and an unconventional start to university life

When I came across a LinkedIn post on the Cranfield-IWA excellence scholarship for fostering future water scientists and engineers, I knew I had to try no matter what the odds were. I enjoyed writing the technical essay and preparing for the interview as much as being awarded this prestigious scholarship as it dealt with Sustainable Development Goals which was close to my heart. Through this unique platform, I am networking with like minded people passionate about water and engaging with IWA’s Young Water Professionals program. This has helped me chart out a promising career and has expanded my horizon of possibilities to learn, partake, grow and contribute proactively to the water sector.

Amidst a pandemic that saw the rise of a second wave in the UK and world over, I moved with my family to Cranfield and began my university life with thousands of other students like me. It was an unconventional start, having to quarantine ourselves in our campus accommodation for two weeks, but it gave us time to set up our new home and adapt to the new place and the climate, especially for our little son. We received a complementary supply of groceries during the quarantine period from the University. Already, we felt welcome and at home. We had our induction online and though I would have loved to meet my classmates and teachers in person, it was heartening to see the energy and enthusiasm of our faculty in welcoming and engaging us through various activities and discussions for getting to know each other better. Within the confines of my room, an exciting new world opened up to me and just like that, I was drawn into a new beginning at Cranfield.

The Cranfield Experience

For the first few months, we had a combination of online and face-to-face classes following rules of social distancing. What made the latter more enjoyable was not just that I could meet and engage with my classmates in person, but also that most of the buildings served free coffee and hot chocolate during break time, which is fantastic to have in the cold weather! Thanks to the brilliant efforts of our faculty, we even managed to have a practical lab session within a spacious room refashioned to a lab to observe social distancing. The session was even live-streamed to the online students who couldn’t attend. Whether face-to-face or online, the sessions are always made interesting through thought-provoking discussions and group activities. By brainstorming together with people from different backgrounds and experiences, I’ve acquired a lot of different and informative views on various subject matters.

Although I have some prior knowledge in this field, I was quite unprepared for the level of sophistication brought in by the course modules. They have made me stretch the limits of my thinking, gain new perspectives and revisit concepts through practical and industrially relevant approaches. The lectures delve into recent trends and research, some of which are spearheaded by the faculty themselves. In fact, most of them also double up as subject experts and consultants to challenging problems faced by industries and utilities alike. We’ve had frequent interactions with experts from NGOs, industries, utilities, consultancies and academia who enlighten us with their knowledge and experience. We even had a session with a hydraulics expert from a water utility company on solving a real-world hydraulics problem. In many ways, these experiences are moulding me to be a refined and industry-ready professional.

The juggle between studies and parenting

Through navigating these unique experiences at Cranfield, I must admit that the course is quite demanding, and is even more so when you are a parent. But its only when you stretch your limits do you give it your best. As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. Having said that, the university offers a lot of support for students through various means. The online drop-in sessions, tutorial classes and having a tutor for one-to-one interactions on anything from personal to academic concerns/support are the ones I found particularly useful.

As a parent, the nursery in campus has been of immense support, and it is remarkable to see our little one blossom into a curious and fun-loving toddler. Given my situation, I do not have much leeway in managing my time. Hence, I’ve learnt to plan and manage my day more efficiently to spend quality time with my family while keeping the right momentum with academic life. It would be unrealistic to say it works all the time. It’s OK to not have it together all the time, because it never does. The pandemic has made it more apparent that you can only play with the cards you are dealt with so I try not to be too hard on myself. On such days, I just learn to work around it.

A journey to remember for a lifetime

If someone had told me a year ago that I’ll be relocating with my family thousands of miles away to pursue a Master’s degree smack in the middle of a global pandemic, I would not have believed it for the world. That’s why it still feels surreal to be here, that I sometimes have to pinch myself for the self-assurance that this is all really happening and I didn’t in fact slip into a coma. The year 2020 has been a year unlike any imagined before for not quite the right reasons. Everyone knows the protocol when life offers you lemons, but it takes a great deal of courage and resilience to make it through when your contender is a global pandemic. Hence, no words can express how grateful I am to have made it this far.

The new year has certainly garnered a lot of hopes and expectations from all of us. It will also be the year I mark a major milestone by graduating along with thousands of other students like me. My life at Cranfield will always have a lasting impact on me and no matter how far down the years I go, I will always remember this as the year we conquered uncertainty with resilience and an undaunted spirit- a year at Cranfield that shaped us to be the Change we dream to see.

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