Motivating and up-skilling through mentoring

The QWMN Mentoring Program has run since December 2018, with the explicit aim of growing the pipeline of talent seeking to move into the water modelling and use sector in Queensland. It does this by encouraging third and fourth year undergraduate students from a range of environmental and engineering degrees to consider moving into a career in the sector and by providing them with training in water modelling skills using the eWater SOURCE platform.

Since its inception, between five and ten students from each of the following Queensland universities have been, or are going through, the Program: Griffith University, James Cook University, the University of Southern Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and The University of Queensland. In addition, the Program has welcomed a few State Government staff members who have moved into water modelling. The Program has enabled them to learn about water modelling in a structured way, under the guidance of seasoned experts.

All up, by the time the current Program finishes, around 35 future young water modelling professionals will have benefited from the mentoring and training. This is a great boost to the workforce that the sector relies upon.

The QWMN Mentoring Program is managed by Dr Chris Carroll, who used to work for the Queensland Government.

“The QWMN Mentoring Program aims to expose Queensland university students to real world modelling applications using models that are widely used by Queensland Government departments,” says Dr Carroll.

“The experience obtained allows students to build and demonstrate to any future employer their newly acquired modelling capabilities. In addition, the QWMN Mentoring Program is the first step for students to create a professional network, and also becomes a pipeline of skilled and enthusiastic graduates who want to and who have the right skills to enter the Queensland water modelling workforce.”

How does the Mentoring Program work?

The QWMN Mentoring Program is a skills-focussed program that integrates modelling training with application under the guidance of an experienced modeller. The Program has been designed to sit alongside a normal university academic load and to be approachable at the pace that is suitable to the mentees. The Program lasts around one to two months, depending on the pace of the mentee group.

Stage 1 of the Program involves mentees being introduced to eWater SOURCE and having that platform installed and set up on their own computer. eWater have very generously provided free full SOURCE licences, something which has really enabled the Program to work effectively. Once installed, mentees follow the structured online training provided by eWater on how to use SOURCE, to cover the basics of hydrological modelling. Dr Carroll, provides additional support during the basic training as needed.

Then, when the online training is finished, mentees move into Stage 2, where they learn how to apply SOURCE to a real-world case study with real data, with mentoring support from experienced water modellers. Cattle Creek, a sub catchment that flows into the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon in Queensland, was chosen to be the real-world case study, with data and mentoring expertise kindly provided by the Queensland Government’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME).

Mentees are tasked with creating a Source model for the Cattle Creek sub catchment, then to explore and interpret scenarios to achieve a:

  1. 20% reduction in total suspended sediment (TSS) loads
  2. 20% reduction in dissolved organ nitrogen (DIN) loads

Mentees are then challenged to answer three key questions:

  1. How can these water quality targets be achieved by changes to land use and land management?
  2. What are some of the industry, political and policy issues that would be faced with achieving the water quality targets?
  3. Discuss your observations from the hydrographs, hydrology, sediment and DIN outputs generated from the Source model and comment on the performance?

What has the feedback been so far?

The Program has been warmly received by mentees, mentors and university academics who have helped to facilitate recruiting students, and who have provided support as needed.

Mentees have enjoyed both stages of the Program, finding both the SOURCE training and the real-world challenge thorough and interesting. Mentors from DNRME have been impressed by the enthusiasm, quality and insights of the student mentees. Finally, university academics have been appreciative of the opportunity to provide students with a well-supported and detailed introduction to real-world water modelling.

What does the future look like?

The water modelling and use sector workforce, like any sector workforce, needs to encourage and enable young professionals in order to remain capable. Once the current university students from UQ, QUT and USQ have completed the Program, there will be a period of evaluation to understand to the how likely any of the mentees will move into some form of water modelling job in Queensland or elsewhere. From this, the Program team will explore how the program design might be adjusted to alter the workforce growth dimensions of its outcomes and impacts.

In addition, the Program team will undertake some work to plan how the private sector might become more involved in delivering and supporting the Program, through mentoring or providing real-world challenge data.

Taken together, the aim is to identify ways that the Program can continue and move towards becoming a more permanent feature of the Queensland water modelling and use sector beyond June 2020 when current funding ends.


Header image provided by eWater.

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