Karl Zimmermann was a finalist in the 2019 Three Minute Thesis competition, with his presentation, "Biological ion exchange for long-term water treatment in small and remote communities."
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
Following my undergraduate degree, I felt knowledgeable in chemical engineering, but I wanted to become an expert in water treatment. Although I had learned about this topic and many others, I decided to pursue graduate school to be on the leading edge of this industry. Rather than learning how to apply others' discoveries, I wanted to learn the current and the best research in the industry so that I can bring together various ideas to create unique and novel solutions to the problems that will arise in the next 40 years.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
UBC provides a World-class education with leading faculty and research facilities. For a graduate program, it is important to have a reputation of creating important and impactful research because I wanted to know that my efforts will be going towards a project which will result in making positive change for society. By choosing UBC and the reputation that entails, I'm confident that my research efforts will be supported by the school and will contribute towards making the world a better place.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
I knew that I wanted to study water treatment, and that falls under either Civil or Chemical Engineering. With my background in chem eng and an interest to investigate the underlying principles of the technology, I decided on chemical and biological engineering at UBC. Further, my eventual PhD supervisor runs a World-class research facility and a research project that was very interesting to me. Even better, he offered opportunities to become involved in community projects, which allows me to begin helping others even before concluding my studies at UBC.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
Vancouver is amazingly situated such that the weather in the City is always beautiful (unless in January rain), but within two hours' drive you can be in snow for skiing in the winter. Or you can drive east to experience the breathtaking interior mountains and the Okanagan. The people and culture in Vancouver are very friendly and activity-oriented and people love to tell you about their last adventure.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I enjoy meeting other people at conferences and to learn about other leading research that is going on around the country, and also to describe our work in promoting clean drinking water and its importance in the promotion of public health. I look forward to conferences to present our findings and meet with the other leading researchers in our field.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Obtaining contacts to find the right location to start my career. I have a specific goal of working in international development projects for the promotion of clean water. My biggest challenge at this point is to find a starting point to launch my career!
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
UBC creates an environment that encourages innovative research. We are encouraged to push boundaries and test new ideas. By taking those leaps and embracing challenging research, we are able to achieve lofty outcomes. This shows the abilities of UBC graduate students to set and achieve goals, which is very useful for future careers. Using the research as a basis, I have been encouraged to apply our findings to real-world scenarios through partnerships with rural BC communities to improve their drinking water quality. To this end, I am beginning to gain the skills and network that I will use later in my career.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Adaptability is valuable as a graduate student. Things will not work as anticipated, and the plan will change, often with nothing you can do. You need to be able to adapt to the new situation and make use of the results you are going to get. If your experiment doesn't go as planned, you need to have a vision of the overall direction and purpose of your research so that you can adapt the plan to continue your studies in the forward direction and to achieve meaningful outcomes for the improvement of society.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
Read books (but I'm notorious for falling asleep two paragraphs in). I love adventuring in the backcountry: camping in the Coastal Mountains alpine in summer and backcountry skiing in the winter. Biking out to Steveston or Deep Cove, running the length of Pacific Spirit Park or rowing on the Fraser River with the UBC Varsity Rowing Team.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Leave your office every day. It's too easy to get caught up in your research, but the real learning happens in seminars and discussion with your colleagues. And even more, the learning happens once you head home on evenings and weekends and start living the Vancouver life on Spanish Banks beach or up the Squamish Valley highway.