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Social, entrepreneurial and excelling doctors for water technology

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WaterSEED (Social, entrepreneurial and excelling doctors for water technology)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2021-01-31

WaterSEED stands for Societal Entrepreneurs and Excelling Doctors in water technology. The objective of the WaterSEED project is to provide a doctoral program to excellent early stage researchers (ESRs) that want to develop their skills and contribute to the development of breakthrough technologies for water related challenges.
Wetsus aims to offer a breeding place for innovate breakthrough processes by bringing together innovative companies and creative scientists to jointly operate a pioneering multi-disciplinary research program aiming at original solutions. The role of the creative scientists is to come up with ideas and to ensure the scientific quality of the research. To bring these innovate breakthrough processes into practice, companies are needed that further develop, produce and distribute these solutions. The role of companies is thus to ensure commercial relevance and to bring the new ideas to real applications.

Not only new solutions are needed, also new minds that can develop and bring such solutions further are a necessity. Therefore the core of the research program is a PhD program that brings PhD researchers from various disciplines together in one research lab. This gives the PhD researcher a unique possibility to work in a multidisciplinary environment, see figure 1 for the overview of the main disciplines relevant for water technology. Wetsus research takes place where research disciplines have signifant overlap.
These new minds are recruited within the WaterSEED project via the WaterSEED recruitment procedure. The recruitment is organized in two yearly calls with 6-15 positions. Such a call gives more credibility to a Wetsus position, as on average 40 applications are received for every posted open position. This is a 7-fold increase compared to earlier years, reflecting the increased reputation of Wetsus. The candidates go through a three-step procedure, where the first step is an evaluation of CV+motivation letter, the second an oral interview, and for the third step, the so-called Waterseed Recruitment Challenge, the selected candidates are invited to come to Wetsus. On that day they have a job interview and also presentation and communication skills are assessed. In all steps both the university and Wetsus are involved in the assessment. In addition, an experienced researcher from the so-called expert committee performs an independent assessment.

The WaterSEED project will further expand and strenghten the reserarch program by attracting 45 international, excellent young researchers to the program in the period of 2016-2021.
It will also strengthen the European connection of the program by increasing the number of researchers from other countries than the host organisation to over 70%.

Personal development is part of the values of Wetsus and is necessary to equip the PhD researchers with the soft skills and competences needed to thrive in the Wetsus network and in their working life after the PhD program. Therefore, a PhD training program has been set up. This program is additional to the training provided to the PhD students from the different research schools, and focuses on “soft skills”. The training program covers the full PhD research period and is schematically depicted in the figure attached (uploaded).
In the period from September 2015 to March 2020, 10 calls have been launched. The research projects were advertised at the dedicated website www.phdpositionswetsus.eu at several jobportals like EURAXESS, Academic Transfer, ResearchGate and Jobvector.de and the positions were posted on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Also event and fairs (pre-corona) were visited to promote the position.

A transparent and thorough selection process was followed, as defined by the WaterSEED project. On average 8,6% of the applicants make it to the 2nd round (video interviews), 3,2% reach the recruitment challenge and 1,4% is employed. A total of 59 ESRs were recruited of which 32 were assigned as Marie Curie fellows. 56% Of the employed Marie Curie fellows are women, 44% men (18 women and 14 men). The 32 employed Marie Curie fellows had 18 different nationalities (Bolivia, Brazil, Vietnam, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Nigeria, Mexico, Iran, China, Bangladesh, South-Africa, Rwanda, Turkey, India, Italy and Germany). 14 Came from the EU, 18 came from the rest of the world. At the start of the WaterSEED project the percentage of ESRs from outside The Netherlands was 51% (27 out of 44). The WaterSEED program has likely increased the percentage of international PhD’s. The percentage of international PhD’s is now 84 % (38 out of 45).

Currently, eight fellows have successfully defended their PhD. Two fellows stopped before the end of the project. 22 Fellows are currently working on their PhD. All researchers joined the personal development program. The Marie Curie fellows published a total of 37 peer reviewed international articles. In 2020, the average impact factor of journals Wetsus PhD’s published in (Marie Curie and non-Marie Curie) was very high: 2.6. Three patents have been filed based on the research outcomes of the Marie Curie fellows. The number of articles and patents will increase in the future as most of the Marie Curie fellows are still working on their PhD. All eight fellows who have successfully defended their PhD found employment, so the employment rate is 100%.

Wetsus believes that the WaterSEED recruitment procedure helped in recruiting higher quality PhD students. Combined with Wetsus’ available assets, resources and network, this resulted in world-class research, publications and impact for the private sector as well as society.
No ethical issues have arisen.
Wetsus expects to hire 45 PhD students (ESRs) till the end of the project period. By the end of the project several of the recruited PhD students will probably have found positions in collaborating industry, or academic, partner organisations, or in some of the spin-off companies that have been created from their research projects.
The number of publications is expected to rise to 50 and the numbers of patents to 10 at the end of the project period.
The PhD students are positive about their experience in the programme, with extensive professional development opportunities, both through formal traning courses at Wetsus and their "home" universities and informal interactions with industry partners and their peers.

There is a wide range of global and regional water-related issues and challenges that Wetsus research makes strong contributions to. These cover not only the provision of water with adequate quality to society, but also include environmental and biodiversity protection, the recovery of valuable materials from waste, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of energy-efficient water treatment processes and the exploitation of novel sustainable energy sources. These issues are all pervasive and the Wetsus programme is making significant and growing impacts in these areas, therefor the research of Wetsus is very relevant to society.
schematic representation of the PhD personal develoment program
main disciplines relevant for water technology.