Postcard from China: PhD student’s research builds a bridge between disciplines

By Feifei Sun

Issues surrounding resources and sustainability, like water in developing countries, often require an interdisciplinary approach. Challenges related to water access are much more severe than in developed countries, due to factors such as rapid population growth, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of robust resource management policies. Compounding these challenges is an absence of appropriate theories and tools for knowledge integration to bridge the gap between resource management and research.

I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hydrology and water resources. I also acquired training on environmental modeling and limnology (the study of inland waters) for my master’s thesis. I started my PhD in systems design engineering in 2013 at the University of Waterloo, where I work with the Design Optimization under Uncertainty Group. My supervisor in Canada guides me in topics including partial differential equations, stochastic partial differential equations, and optimization. However, I had more to learn about water resource management in China.

With the help of the Mitacs Globalink Research Award, I travelled to Tsinghua University, where I did field investigations into water policy. During my project, I got a lot of help on system theories and holism (a research approach that emphasizes complex systems) from my host supervisor. I reviewed fieldwork and case studies on existing water management strategies in Beijing, Changsha, and Suzhou. With those results, I developed a holistic framework that would bring water managers and researchers together and effectively guide their work.

Tsinghua University is very big and beautiful, and I took many photos during my stay. Although China is my homeland, this is my first time staying a relatively long time in Beijing. In addition to conducting my research, I was able to visit areas like Tiananmen.

Since my return to Canada, I continue to work on how to efficiently integrate knowledge of multiple disciplines. If future opportunities arise, I hope to do another project with Mitacs, which really helped me a lot. Appreciate it!

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Globalink Research Award program in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support this award, including Campus France and Inria, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.

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