UCOWR talks with Megdal about networking, professional development, and her upcoming AWRA webinar:
Developing Pathways to Solutions to Wicked Water Problems
Your plenary talk for the cancelled 2020 UCOWR/NIWR Conference was to address the power of networking in bridging the academic and applied dimensions of water resources. How have you used networking to bridge the two?
Water challenges are increasingly complex and are faced everywhere, at local, regional, nationaTalkingl, and international scales. It is important that our work be relevant. Instead of saying “Here’s my work, it’s relevant to you, so you should care about it,” we need to go to those who manage and practice in water resources first, to understand their perspective from the outset. Keeping your network active and up-to-date is essential – and hard work – but has benefits in so many ways.
Consider the formulation of research questions. For example, in developing a grant proposal, consult outside entities you think may have interest in the developmental stage of your proposal to see if they will participate as advisors to the work. Consideration of whom to reach out to, when, and how needs to be part of developing the project, that is, use your network in the preparation stages.
How do you develop and maintain such a broad network?
I go to academic conferences and also professional or trade conferences in order to reach out to the broader water profession outside of universities. I welcome opportunities to give talks to diverse audiences. I find it helps to maintain connections all along, so when you reach out to people they know who you are and are more likely to respond. One example is my work in the Middle East, mostly Israel and Jordan, where I have done extensive work for more than a decade and have developed connections in academia and the public and private sectors. This has had so many benefits, including when I have a factual question related to my work there. I can reach out to my contacts, who can quickly help or suggest someone who can.
You really have to be proactive to stay in touch, too. When I write something, whether it be a journal article or Reflections essays, which are distributed through our center’s e-news digest The Weekly Wave, I will send them to various colleagues, including international collaborators. Some may read it, while some may not, but staying on their radar makes it more likely they will respond to future efforts to connect. I am alerted to address changes, too, or people retiring. Maintaining contact is a never-ending endeavor!
What are your thoughts on networking in this pandemic time?
With COVID-19, we are navigating in a new world. We [University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center] have actually seen an increased attendance at our recent online events. There are so many diverse stakeholders over different scales and disciplines, and online formats are more accessible to more people, with no travel needed. This is a good outcome. But it is hard to replicate those in-person interactions that happen at conferences. Unscheduled conversations with people in exhibit halls or passing between sessions cannot be replicated in remote meeting formats. Our work goes on, we continue online, but an important piece is missing, for now.
Based on your own career experience, what advice do you have for students and new professionals in the water resources arena?
My own career path has been really unusual, and in some ways, I can’t refer to my own early-career experience when speaking to young water resources professionals. I studied and worked in economics first, and sort of “fell into” water. When then Governor Bruce Babbitt appointed me to the Arizona Corporation Commission [state organization regulating public utilities, among other responsibilities] in 1985, it changed my professional life. I found myself entering water from the practical side. I later ran a regional water district; I learned much about water as I went. I think about how young I was and how much I didn’t know, but I was a quick learner. That is one thing I’d like to share: There is much you can learn on the job. If you are a quick study, don’t be afraid to take risks, and trust yourself to learn what you need. Be confident in your competence!
I also would encourage new professionals to engage in the dialogue. Don’t be overly deferential to those colleagues with more experience. Voice your questions and concerns – with respect, but also with confidence. Established professionals want to engage with emerging and young professionals, whose talents they appreciate. With baby boomers retiring, there is a real need for the next generation of leadership to step up. And interdisciplinary approaches are needed to address our increasingly wicked water problems. There is a lot of opportunity out there!
Speaking of wicked water problems, you are giving a webinar on that topic soon. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yes! I will be giving a webinar for AWRA, co-sponsored by UCOWR, on July 15 at 1 PM ET, titled Developing Pathways to Solutions to Wicked Water Problems. The term or concept of wicked water problems was first introduced to me through Lisa Buetler, last year’s AWRA President and a consultant with Stantec. She gave a keynote speech at the 2016 Water Resources Research Center annual conference and later also wrote an excellent intro piece for us, “What to Do about Wicked Water Problems”. What makes a problem wicked is that it defies simple solutions. Wicked water problems are challenges that cannot be resolved, only mitigated. I will discuss some of the wicked water problems I work with in the Middle East, in my region of the southwestern United States, and in the Colorado River Basin, which itself is of national and international interest. I hope to stimulate others to think about their own wicked water problems, and how pathways to mitigation can be built in these circumstances. I look forward to “seeing” UCOWR and NIWR colleagues there, bringing their perspective from the academic side of things!
(Member benefit – FREE webinar registration with code: UCOWR20)