Dr Katherine Fish
Department of Civil and Structural Engineering (Pennine Water Group)
Area of research:
Applied Environmental Microbiology within Drinking Water Distribution Systems (DWDS) - the network of pipes that delivers drinking water from treatment works to our taps. I investigate the interactions between microbiology, physico-chemical parameters and drinking water quality, with a view to informing DWDS management and safeguarding water quality for the future.
Why did you choose the University of Sheffield and what do you enjoy about Sheffield?
My passion is environmental microbiology and I chose Sheffield because of the opportunity to do a PhD in this field in an applied context. While the Civil and Structural Engineering department may seem a strange choice for a microbiologist, it provided a perfect opportunity for applied, interdisciplinary research by working within the Pennine Water Group. The department offers an internationally unique Drinking Water Distribution System (DWDS) test facility which replicates operational systems while facilitating detailed investigation of the microbiology within them. I thoroughly enjoyed the research and working environment, and I have relished the opportunity to subsequently continue as a Postdoc.
I also love Sheffield as a place to live, there are so many things going on and the Peak District is on our doorstep.
What are the challenges and opportunities of being a postdoctoral researcher?
As a postdoc you have a unique opportunity to contribute to, drive and shape research that can actually make a difference while helping others to develop their research skills. You have flexibility in your work and are part of a team wanting to push the boundaries and make a difference - which makes for a positive working environment.
Research gives you the chance to travel to conferences, for lab exchanges or jobs. Aside from the many challenges of undertaking interdisciplinary research (including not being able to hold grants), there is a lack of job security for postdocs. Many of us are on short, fixed-term contracts with uncertainty about where the next job opportunity will be. There’s a lot of competition for roles that often requires (international) relocation and this lack of stability can impact upon other areas of life.
What are your ambitions for the future?
As a postdoctoral researcher there is always uncertainty about future job options but I do know that I want to continue applying my research skills and knowledge to make a difference in the real world, either through securing further PDRA or academic posts or setting up an industry collaboration. I am also passionate about expanding my outreach activities and sharing with people of all ages the amazing world of microbiology, our urban water systems and how integral they are to our daily life!