James Roberts was a participant in the 2018 UBC Three Minute Thesis competition, with his presentation, “The feasibility of primary microscreening and algae photobioreactors for small-scale passive wastewater treatment and reuse in urban areas."
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I am passionate about the potential for urban wastewater treatment and reuse to revitalize communities, support urban agriculture, and reduce pollution. Also I had ideas I wanted to explore while I'm still young and ignorant. I wanted to spend my dwindling ignorance well.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
UBC is well known for its water and wastewater treatment expertise and innovations over the years. Not that I knew that when I applied. I just wanted to be somewhere where I had a network of friends to support me if things got tough during a postgraduate degree. Which they did and they did.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
I like that UBC's water and wastewater department has a history of innovation and excellence but is also reinventing itself as many of the old professors retire and new ones arrive. I've been lucky enough to be able to witness that changing of the guard. The transition also likely allowed me a certain amount of wiggle room research-wise that I might not have enjoyed in a more stable period.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I did my undergrad in Vancouver but between travel and spending too much time focused on courses, I never properly experienced what Vancouver has to offer. I've picked up climbing and skiing. I always thought skiing was dumb. It's not. I'm surprised.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
Writing/Data Analysis. I love working with my hands but sometimes lab work can be very stressful. I look forward to having my reactor runs completed and taking that data and turning it into something meaningful.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
My work is with small scale urban wastewater treatment and reuse. My career is going to be an uphill battle, unless I move to Asia.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
My thesis is also an uphill battle so it's preparing me well! A lot of good people around to help you along the way though.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Once I got caught in a lightning storm in the middle of a lake in a metal canoe. You just keep paddling and try not to think about it too much.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I've picked up more hobbies now than at other times in my life, not because I have more free time (I have less), but because they keep me sane--more or less. Skiing, climbing. Learning guitar.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Know what you want out of your degree and pursue it. If you're here to learn from the very talented staff, network, chat, pick their brains. If you're here to be creative, fight for your creative space. At the same time be ready to be wrong about things and learn from it. It's been an evolution for me and evolution only happens with some low points.