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Ruth Cottingham (UK)

Ruth CottinghamResearch Fellow

University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Master of Integrated Water Management
Graduated 2011

2013/14 IWC Alumni Ambassador (South Africa and UK)

Ruth's story

"One of the most enjoyable and useful aspects of the IWC Masters program was getting to know and learning from an incredibly interesting and diverse group of people - nationalities, ages and professional backgrounds. It both challenged my thinking and made me aware of water-related issues and career possibilities in a way that just wouldn't have been possible by reading about them second-hand.

The network of people I am now in touch with is one of the most important benefits I gained from the course.

Coming from a technical first degree (chemical engineering) I think that now having a multi-disciplinary Masters degree gives me a different skills set to others who come from a purely technical background. Completing the course has certainly opened up different types of jobs to me.
The work I did on faecal sludge management in Mozambique as part of my third-semester project was instrumental in opening up the opportunity of job in South Africa post-Masters, in an area of work that I really wanted to be in.
After graduating, I moved to Durban to take up a job with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), managing a sanitation-related project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim of the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’ project is to design a household toilet that is off-grid (power, water and sewerage) and processes all waste on site, recovering useful components from the waste (water, nutrients, power). I continue to work for UKZN on a second project, the aim of which is to build an economic model to evaluate disposal/reuse routes for faecal sludge.
Sanitation is fascinating to me as a chemical engineer because the ‘feed’ stream to our processes is relatively uncontrolled and unpredictable (in comparison, say, to the food industry with tight specifications for the ingredients to their processes). This makes technical design complicated, but also really interesting. The other reason I enjoy working in this field is that although good and appropriate technical design is important, all the other factors – environmental, cultural, regulatory, political, to name but a few – are absolutely critical to achieving workable solutions in practice. Thinking and working in an integrated way is critical. The IWC Masters program develops this type of thinking in individuals and provides the starting point for trying to put it into practice in working environments that are often very non-integrated.
The IWC Masters program is pretty unique, and the major benefits I gained from it weren't necessarily the most obvious ones to me when I started the program. I’d encourage prospective applicants to chat to one of the Alumni Ambassadors to get their perspective on how they benefited from doing the course."


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