Dr Efthalia Chatzisymeon, Chancellor’s Fellow

"Research and academia is such a rapidly changing and exciting environment. You are always ahead of technical advancements and you have the opportunity to be involved in shaping future policies and practices"

Dr Efthalia Chatzisymeon, Chancellor’s Fellow, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr Efthalia Chatzisymeon joined the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment (IIE) as a Chancellor's Fellow in September 2013. The Chancellor’s Fellowship is a University-funded tenure-track position designed to support young staff to establish strong and independent research while gradually taking on teaching duties over a five-year period.

Subject to satisfactory formal review at the end of three years, the Fellow then transfers to an open-ended lectureship. Being awarded this prestigious Fellowship meant that Efthalia had to deliver high-impact research outputs in order to secure an open-ended academic position after the formal review.

Efthalia was awarded a Diploma (BEng/MEng) in Chemical Engineering from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She then went on to gain a Masters and PhD in Environmental Engineering from the Technical University of Crete. Efthalia’s current research interests and specialties include; treatment of persistent micro-pollutants, such as endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), process sustainability and life cycle assessment (LCA), eco-toxicity and estrogenicity measurements of water andwastewater environmental samples, electrochemical oxidation, disinfection technologies, industrial, agro-industrial and sewage wastewater treatment, photocatalytic oxidation and lastly, advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) for water and wastewater treatment

What inspired you to get into engineering, and is it the same thing that inspires you today?

I was always fascinated by the importance and the highly demanding, yet rewarding job of being an engineer. In this regard, I never had second thoughts about getting into engineering and have never regretted it. In my day-to-day activities and work, I find that it very rewarding to strive, both independently and as a team member, to find solutions through my research for real-world problems and see that these are taken forward by industry.

Tell us a bit about your career and studies in engineering up to this point; what you enjoyed and what have you found most challenging?

I studied chemical engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. My insatiable interests in environmental issues lead me to further studies, at Masters level, in environmental engineering. After obtaining my MSc degree I was offered a position as a PhD student in the Technical University of Crete, working on the treatment of agro-industrial effluents using state-of-the-art methods, such as advanced oxidations processes (AOPs). After my PhD I worked as a post-doctoral researcher for 3 years at the same institution and further expanded my research to cover issues of environmental sustainability.

I was then offered a position to work as a Chancellor’s Fellow (Lecturer level) at the University of Edinburgh. Working at the Edinburgh afforded me the ability to further expand my research network and hone my expertise both in teaching and research. As a result, after six years in my initial position, I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering.

One thing that I enjoy a lot is that by working in academia and being exposed to an international research environment, there are always new teaching and research tasks to explore. On the other hand, it is a great challenge to balance work and family, since research is very competitive and as such you tend to work long hours. I have been on maternity leave twice during my time at the University of Edinburgh. My advice to young people is that apart from personal striving, you also need good support from both employer and colleagues to ensure that your professional development is not significantly interrupted.

Can you explain your research "in a nutshell?"

I am developing sustainable and efficient technologies for water and wastewater treatment applications. The effective cleaning of water and wastewater is of outmost importance, since it safeguards public health and ecosystems.

I am using novel approaches, such as energy-efficient light sources, new materials, and hybrid aspect-oriented programming (AOPs) for efficient and cost-effective water and wastewater treatment. I optimize the efficiency of these technologies by assessing their environmental impacts and identifying their main environmental hotspots, as to find solutions to increase their overall sustainability, whether economic, social, or environmental.

What do you enjoy most about research and academia at the School of Engineering?

The work environment and students are amazing. Specifically, I have found that the students are very enthusiastic about learning new things and applying their engineering knowledge, which makes me love teaching and exploring new research areas even more.

Finally, I really enjoy the diversity of my work and the feeling that my research can have a huge impact on people’s lives.

How would you like your career to develop in the future?

I was appointed to teach and explore water and wastewater engineering and I will be busy for the next few years teaching students how they can tackle current environmental issues and make decisions based on sustainable development goals. I was brought into the University of Edinburgh to carry out cutting-edge research in environmental engineering and to support the University’s activities in relevant areas.

What attracted you to a career in research and academia?

My thirst for knowledge along with my curiosity for the unknown. Getting to know and exploring new research areas, experiencing new technologies, and applying novel approaches is so exciting that you are never bored, especially when all these can contribute to addressing real-world problems, such as water pollution and wastewater management.

It is also a great challenge to transfer all this knowledge and inspire students, to show them alternative approaches to problem-solving, and increase their creativity for decision making.

What career advice would you give to young girls and women in STEM wishing to pursue a career in research and academia?

My advice would be that there are so many facets to engineering and academia and each one is equally interesting, so feel free to ask and explore new research areas, as to identify the best one for you.

Do not be discouraged if you go into a particular area and you do not enjoy it anymore - you can always try something else. Research and academia is such a rapidly changing and exciting environment. You are always ahead of technical advancements and you have the opportunity to be involved in shaping future policies and practices.

Dr Efthalia Chatzisymeon
Dr Efthalia Chatzisymeon