Melissa's Engineering Research Experience in Queensland, Australia

students taking water samples from boat

For my International Research Experience for Students (IRES), I worked on a summer research project in Queensland, Australia assessing long-term stratification in water supply reservoirs in sub-tropic areas. Australia depends on reservoirs to ensure a proper supply of drinking water. In Queensland, there is concern over how reservoirs will be affected by temperature increases related to climate change. Lakes go through an annual cycle of mixing and stratification. If temperatures continue to rise, then lakes will not turn over annually or will only partially mix, leaving some layers deep in the reservoir. These stratified layers may potentially never be broken down, making the reservoir unusable for water treatment. Stratification must be understood further in order to plan for future treatment and water use in the state of Queensland. Throughout the summer, I worked with a PhD student assigned to the project, Nathaniel Derring, helping him with measuring and evaluating the changes in water temperature, chemistry, and density in local reservoirs.

Our fieldwork involved traveling by small motorized boat to specific coordinates on a local reservoir to take water column samples at varying depths, Yellow Springs Instrument profiles, and sediment cores. After waiting a few weeks, we went back to the lake twice to attempt to observe destratification and then restratification. I also participated in other projects and activities during my summer in Australia. I volunteered to plant mangroves with Yesper Neilson along the Brisbane River and attended weekly research meetings in both the water and coastal groups. In July, I spent one week helping with fieldwork on Stradbroke Island. There I observed a retrogressive beach failure at the end of the week, which was amazing, since they had never actively observed the start of this event before.

Three students planting mangroves on Brisbane River

As a civil engineering student, I also really enjoyed getting to see the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. The volunteer work planting mangroves reinforced how important it is for engineers to work alongside the general population. I also had the opportunity to attend two different graduate social events where we sat through a guest lecture and socialized afterwards. It was a great opportunity to feel out differences between graduate programs in Australia versus the United States. I also noticed significant differences between the two groups and how they were run, which provided good insight for what I would think would be a better fit for me for a graduate school program. I also learned about the work culture in Australia compared to the United States: Australians value balancing work and life a lot more than Americans and find it extremely important to have work satisfaction. Since completing my job, I have worked hard to become healthier in all aspects of life.

I was able to observe Australian culture and begin to understand the impact it has on the work environment. And being overseas pushed me to develop a new confidence to work on global engineering projects with a broad range of people from different backgrounds and cultures. I have become more independent and outgoing since I was pushed outside my comfort zone to pursue the answers I needed. I also feel more comfortable asking for help. I learned a lot in terms of the research process and how to better approach problems that will definitely help me in my future career. I will always appreciate how much the IRES summer in Queensland enabled me to push myself past my previous limits.