PhD Acknowledgements

My thesis is available as pdf at the Open UCT repository:

This PhD represents growing up at many levels, and is a culmination of a lifelong (so far) struggle, driven by frustration. A struggle to figure out what I wanted, and once I knew that what I wanted was a biotech company, a struggle to figure out what that meant.

Thanks to the fat Maltese cross and the vet who gave me a vac job and operating room nausea in 2000 who saved me from veterinary service.

Thanks to Colin Kenyon and the ladies at the CSIR. When things unravel I always think back at those times and remember what a good lab must be like. Thanks to the people at the Water Institute of South Africa (WISA), whose discussions helped me shape my own approach, including my own little lab – called ‘Dave’s kitchen’ after Dave Crombie who said if it can’t work in your kitchen, don’t bother out in the field (or in academia).

Thanks to the Commonwealth Scholarships, for funding my adventures to England where I met Sue Harrison. After all this time and all the research and networking, this is still the best place for me.  Figures that you have to go travel all over to meet your destiny, which is back home.

My entire life has been an unintended study in the unconventional. It’s ironic that this phase of my life concludes in such a comparatively conventional and rigorous thing as an engineering PhD. I was not happy in Cape Town, at UCT or in Engineering, but I have not found a place I rather need to be – and believe me, I looked. Now, that the worst is over and I have worked out a way to be both outside and within, I’m quite happy here. I guess I had to prove that if my crazy ideas were to work at all, they should work in such a constrained environment.

Thanks to the dude at the castle in 2006 for asking me how I feel about the inequality in South Africa. You coloured how I make my choices.

To the organisers of the second Renewable Resources and Biorefineries (RRB) conference held in York, 2006. I cut my Euro-trip, for which I saved an entire year for, in half to attend without knowing what to expect. This conference was the defining feature that shaped my career. Thanks in particular to Christian Stevens (Ghent).

To the people in the Chemical Engineering department, especially the many Friday afternoons spent at beerclub, who shaped my ideas, where we even hatched some of them, including team Rural Rocks: Doreen Nabaho, Mlu Mnguni, Allison Kasozi and Naadia van der Bergh.

Team Rural Rocks
Team Rural Rocks

Then, thanks to all the fish. Since that first wobbly back in 2008 when I was looking for myself and built you a pond, you taught me how to manage nutrients holistically. Well, not you, per se, you simply swam around doing what you do, but you expressed your pleasure at the health of the pond through shagfests, spawning jewels each generation successively more beautiful than the one before, and this pleased me.

Fiona and Rasputin, my dogs, who distract me from depression and the PhD in equal measure. I don’t know if I should thank you for that or not. But sitting next to you writing, you are beautiful unique animals and you remind me to never lose my wildness. Oxo, you raised me and I miss you a lot.

I gratefully acknowledge funding from the National Research Foundation as well as the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research Centre. I acknowledge and greatly appreciate the funding contribution of the South African Water Research Commission (WRC) through projects WRC K5/2000 and WRC K5/2380, as well as the technical input of the steering committee to this project. This is however not the full story. In July 2009 (I think), hope, money and wits have worn through. A last ditch effort saw me writing a funding proposal to the WRC, with no experience to guide me. I wrote with only my Big Dream in mind. It was a crazy dream and one notable grumpy man already said it couldn’t be done. My mentors were all out of town and the deadline was around the corner. I thought, this is it. If I don’t get this project, then I quit. If I do, then someone in this universe, at least, believes in me. Project K5/2000 was underfunded (my fault) and ran overtime (also my fault), but it was enough to let me know that this big dream had at least some cause for closer investigation.

Thank you to Joe Macke and the workshop, my father Koos Verster, and pretty much the whole of Paarden Eiland (and beyond) who helpfully dealt with my weird descriptions of valves and pipes and thingies to make cheap plastic prototypes that actually worked, well.

Thank you to the reference group of the K5/2380 project, as well as the people who were acknowledged in the previous project (WRC Technical report 587/13: especially Francis Pocock, and the people at the Athlone Waste Water Treatment works).  In particular Valerie Naidoo, Francois Wolfaardt, Faizal Bux, Doug Rawlings, Pam Welz, Alf Botha, Wade Edwards, Clive Garcin. Thank you to Ziningi Madonsela, Matt Myers, Tatenda Dinha, Aileen Brandt, Sanda Mahlakahlaka, and Sibusisiwe Maseko who contributed work. (Actually, this list keeps growing!)

During the K5/2380 project, I worked with the best team ever. Thank you to Lesley Mostert, Madelyn Johnstone-Robertson, Tayana Raper, Shilpa Rumjeet and Sharon Rademeyer.

The WWBR team on a site visit

Thanks to Barrie Coetzee and Peter King for strategic discussions in the context of the City of Cape Town, and Kevin Winter, Harro von Blottnitz and Brett Cohen for timely discussions on sustainability. Cities are truly complex, fascinating environments, which is why I didn’t go be a hippie somewhere rural, I guess.

Thanks to Mark van Loosdrecht, Robbert Kleerebezem and others at TU Delft who inspired me, and were receptive to what felt like at times bizarre questions.

Thanks to Daniela Bezuidenhout and Werner Barnard who both finished their PhDs long ago but who have the longest history of this struggle with me. Thanks to Kyle Mason-Jones for ongoing beer-fuelled critical discussions.

Immense gratitude to Ute Kuhlmann, Ruth Rice, Helene Smit, Norma Kamanga, and others, for the soul fixing.

To CeBER students and staff, each with your own projects and passions. Together you weave an ecosystem of knowledge that is delightful, and hugely important. Thank you.

To my favourite authors: Leonie Joubert, Rose George and Carol Gilligan. How I write and what I know, deeper than conscious thought, I learnt from you. The amazing UCT library where I first encountered these authors, particularly Fiona Jones who guided and ordered books with what seemed to me wild abandon, thank you.

To my mother, Beulah Verster, and my supervisor, Sue Harrison, thank you for your unwavering support. Often financially, sometimes professionally, but always, patiently, as strong women. You are frustrating at times, but always spectacular role models. Add to these, strong mentors Lesley Mostert, Allison Lewis and Dee Bradshaw.

Almost lastly, to those who crushed me, negated me, frustrated me. I pulled through not because of you but in spite of you. Don’t go give yourself airs that your poor form helped me grow in any way. It didn’t. It near killed me. To the countless people whose insight made the sun shine a bit brighter that day, I live for you, for those little nuggets of commitment that makes ecosystems work. And to the many people I cared for and who let me down: I will always be fond of you, you taught me so very much, but with this thesis I leave you behind.

Lastly, my gratitude to Graham, for the calm.

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