Advice for a graduate student

DA emails:
I’m currently a graduate student/candidate for a Masters in Urban Planning. My interest are in water equity, efficiency, and conservation. My goals are to work in developing countries on water access, sustainable management of water resources and improving the water quality for existing systems. I’m contacting you in hopes of acquiring some advice or contacts in which I can further my knowledge and experience. 
If you have any advice or could point me in the right direction on possible research projects or must reads for this field I would greatly appreciate it 
DA’s interests (water equity, efficiency, and conservation) and work goals (work in developing countries on water access, sustainable management of water resources and improving the water quality for existing systems) suggests a two broad themes (aspirational and operational) and thus the different ways of engaging these themes:*
  • Equity and access (aspirational): Laws, regulation, outreach, and subsidies
  • Management of efficiency/conservation and quality (operational): Incentives, reporting, engineering and regulatory policy

From these themes, I can give some ideas on work (experience) and readings (knowledge). 

DA can work inside a water-delivery organization on all of these themes. This experience will be hands on, but perhaps not very progressive, given the inherent caution of water firms. DA can also work for the regulator or an advocacy organization. With the regulator, leverage for change is high, but most of the work involves fights over information and interpreting laws and standards. With an advocacy organization, all topics are ready for radical improvement, but leverage for change is low.

When it comes to developing countries, DA will not be able to get a job as a local unless they have local connections, language skills, passport, etc., so the work is likely to be directed at projects (“we have money for this project but not the one you might want”) or building capacity (“this is how we do it in X, you should too”). In either case, it helps a lot to have operational experience on top of theoretical knowledge and passion (read my paper), thus, see above on work.

The best knowledge will come from practical experience, so I recommend that DA look for internships that offer it. In terms of readings, I could come up with dozens of papers and books, but I’m going to draw from the archive of recent episodes from my Jive Talking podcast, i.e., 

Be sure to look at the show notes for links to further reading.

Still want reading? Then I recommend two of my papers on evolving water management in the UK (where meters were more ideological than useful) and the Netherlands (where it took decades and massive public subsidies to build a reliable safe system). 

My one-handed opinion is that you will learn more in the trenches than in the library.

* Note that “sustainable” is superfluous when talking about a well-managed system.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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