Vesna: “I want to lay the foundation for future international collaborations”

EJWP-participant Vesna Gulin
EJWP-participant Vesna Gulin. Photo: EJWP

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Vesna Gulin is working on her thesis on the restoration of dry tufa-depositing streams using bioindicators at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. As a researcher she wants to lay the foundation for future international collaborations. Vesna is participating in the fourth group of the European Junior Water Programme (EJWP), and is sharing her experiences with Water News Europe.

What would you like to achieve in 2023?

“I plan to finish and defend my PhD thesis in the first months. That will lift a huge weight off my chest; any PhD student can probably relate to that. After, I plan to get involved in new projects and continue to work on my job-related skills such as programming and bioinformatics. This will also be an exciting year as my colleague Mirela Sertić Perić and I will host an EJWP training week in Croatia in September. I think it will be a valuable experience as we look at water challenges that some of our EJWP Group4 colleagues may not be as familiar with. So it’s going to be a year of excitement, personal and professional growth for sure.”

What motivates you to participate in EJWP?

“As a junior researcher, I joined EJWP to build a network of contacts throughout Europe. Since academia is a rather closed circle where it is difficult to connect with the real sector and industry, I am looking forward to the fact that participating in EJWP will give me the opportunity to learn about other sectors’ challenges, but also that these insights will give me a new perspective on my own.“

What and where is your current work position?

“I am currently employed as a Research and Teaching Assistant at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia. My daily work is very dynamic and no day starts or ends the same way, which is what I love and appreciate about my job. Since I am also a PhD student, I not only teach undergraduate students, but also work on my thesis on the restoration of dry tufa-depositing streams using bioindicators such as biofilm microorganisms. A healthy dose of field work, lab work, lots of reading, and writing publications are also part of the job.”

What value do you expect to bring to your organization from your EJWP participation?

“I hope to bring a breeze of fresh thoughts and ideas, that is the least I expect. Croatian universities are still rookies when it comes to participation in international programmes, because we are the youngest country to join the EU. I hope that as the first research assistant from University of Zagreb to participate in the EJWP, I can lay the foundation for future international collaborations. Our students need to learn about and get involved in networks like Nexus, because their generations will be dealing with the challenges of climate change, low-carbon and carbon-free economy in Europe.“

What value do you expect to bring to your career, community and/or the water sector from your EJWP journey?

“It’s only been a few months since I joined EJWP, and I have already met so many inspiring experts in the water field. I had the opportunity to attend an EIT pitching event as a jury member, where I was able to learn firsthand about real-world industry and stakeholder issues! This was a game channger for me as I stepped out of my comfort zone of writing and reading publications. If all of this happened in just a few months, I can not imagine what to expect in the years to come. I am entering the programme with a set of academia- related skills but I hope to leave with a set of different ones, including cross-cultural communication, water policy skills and project management.”

What are the benefits and/or challenges of a European water-sector network?

“The European water sector may be small compared to other continents, but it lacks neither experience nor wisdom. I believe that our differences are our best chance to meet future challenges, as we have a unique opportunity to identify reference points, share knowledge and best practices. Of course, sometimes these differences are an obstacle in terms of legislation, but in the end, we all want a smarter water society, and that is what we should focus on.”

What is a water or environmental topic that you see as growing in importance for the future? What is there to do about this? 

“Since my work is closely related to stream restoration, I would say that these are restoration practices. In the light of climate change, rivers and streams are facing significant hydrologic changes, and there is an increasing need to support restoration of a degraded or destroyed ecosystems to maintain ecosystem resilience and preserve biodiversity. Restoration efforts (including river and stream restoration) are increasing daily, and 2021 marked the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), a global movement initiated by the General Assembly to support and reverse global degradation. The European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy aims to restore 25,000 km of European rivers by 2030 and to cover all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. If that does not speak to the importance of restoration, I do not know what does!“

What is your view on making water resources more resilient to increasing climate impacts in Europe, especially after seeing conditions this summer 2022?

“Resilience comes from stability and diversity, and we need to support that both in our freshwater ecosystems and in the way we deal with water challenges. I come from a country that is part of the European Mediterranean region, and this part has been identified as one of the most climate-vulnerable regions and a climate change ‘hotspot’ due to the increasing intensity of droughts combined with longer periods of drought and shorter but more intesive periods of precipitation. Over the past decade, our knowledge of carbon fluxes and biodiversity in intermittent Mediterranean rivers and streams has greatly improved, but much remains to be done still. We need to collaborate and form robust groups of researchers, policy makers, and stakeholders to address these issues.“

What and where did you study?

“I studied Environmental Sciences at Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, Croatia for both my undergaduate and graduate programme.“

What do you think about the importance of soft-skill development for professionals in the water-environmental-research sectors?

“I think soft skills are an important part of professional development, whether you are in academia or industry. As a PhD student, I have found that giving and receiving unbiased feedback is critical to professional development and healthy communication, and that is something I want to work on in this programme. A dear professor once told me that a meaningful and satisfying life is only possible when you have someone to mentor and be mentored by! I think that phrase will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I hope to develop the skills necessary to guide and support others on their journey, just as I have had valuable people on mine.”

Where and in which position would you like to be working in five years?

“Well, so much can change in five years, but I would say that I would like to work in a healthy research group, whether as a project manager or project assistant, tackling some aspect of water challenges in light of climate change. It would be great if that team was international, with a pinch of different cultures and perspectives, yum!“

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