A Year in Review: The ups and downs of 2015

Well, here goes my long over due post that I will strategically disguise as a contemplative year in review. A lot has happened in my little corner of the water world since June so I will attempt to reflect and share my thoughts on everything that has gone on. For the sake of some semblance of organization, I have opted for chronological(-ish) order here.

Shortly after my most recent post, I was fortunate enough to attend the  2015 Canadian Water Summit in Vancouver. This year’s theme explored the energy-water nexus, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all the systems on which we so closely rely and the uncertainty of those systems moving forward, with information provided on the importance and challenges of long-term planning in the face of this uncertainty. You can see more of those specific conference takeaways on the Canadian Water Summit twitter account.

While this was a great opportunity to hear from those within the water industry, it was also a wonderful opportunity to see friends, new and old, who gathered from across Canada for the event. Our water community is both strong and close-knit, even though we span such a large geographic area, and I feel fortunate to learn from, meet and work with so many within this group. I was also extremely humbled to be included among the finalists announced for Water Canada’s 2015 Water’s Next Young Professional Award. A huge congratulations to Megan Kot, recipient of the award, for her research accomplishments and enthusiastic leadership in Canadian water. You can read more about her accomplishments and research focused on drinking water safety here. And if you are not doing so already, I encourage you to follow her on Twitter for a feed full of topical water content and commentary.  I must also mention fellow finalists, Muaz Nasir and Mikhail Smilovic. Between involvements with Waterlution and CWN’s Students and Young Professionals Committee I have had the privilege to work in proximity to all three of these amazing young professionals who have inspired me with their creativity, positivity and forward-thinking natures. Although many challenges line our collective path to a sustainable and resilient future for Canadian water, the inspiring mentors and eager young professionals within this community are the foundation we need to strive for a future we dare to imagine.


The last six or so months have been full and transitional. I spent any free time and extra money I had this summer on trail running and attending music festivals – an attempt to promote that whole body, mind, spirit health. And I really enjoyed taking a few photos along the way to remember the occasions. Want to see?! A lot of very awesome, Ontario-based adventure.

My summer and fall marched on with an air of finality. My formal participation in Waterlution’s Transformative Leaders of the Future program wrapped and with each month, my term of president of the CWN SYPC surely drew to a close. Working with this group of water leaders has meant so much to me. I cannot believe that the 18-month term went by so quickly. The retreats, workshops, webinars, teleconferences and Blue Drinks events held across the country have promoted skill building, networking, the sharing of research findings and ideas, as well as fostering the growth of amazing friendships spanning continents. Thank you to each and every one of you for your dedication to the committee and to CWN for creating such a unique space for such important activities to flourish. And best of luck to the next SYPC group leading the charge! I can’t wait to work with all of these amazing SYPC, past and present, in the years to come.

In a quintessentially twenty-something move, I am now living back at home. I felt this compulsion to minimize the material possessions in my life, change locations, be nearer to nature and spend less time alone . Plus, my family is pretty super cool, added bonus. In a quest for simplicity, I had also made the strategic decision to minimize my volunteer commitments in order to find more focus and balance (more on how that is going below…). However, there was one more task at hand before I could move on to that blissful serenity that was sure to follow (har har).


logo-small In October 2015, the International Association of Hydrogeologists Canadian National Chapter held it’s annual conference in Waterloo in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the University of Waterloo Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. The simple theme of Canadian Hydrogeology allowed for a broad discussion on all topics groundwater, from groundwater surface water interaction, to resource and agricultural implications for groundwater, with the technical specificity of site characterization, field methodologies and numerical modelling, from the industry, government and academic perspective.

I was fortunate to become involved in the conference, being asked to participate on the steering committee. It was so much fun working with and getting to know the members of the committee – thank you all for including me! I learned something from each and every one of you. In my role, I was responsible for the social media, volunteer coordination and development of a students and young professional mentoring program during the conference.

I was extremely pleased with how well the conference social media caught on. This may surprise you, but the hydrogeology community is not overwhelming active on Twitter, something I tried to change over the course of the conference. I think that Twitter is such a great tool for sharing conference highlights in real-time with those unable to attend in person, as well as sharing resources and generating a record of your own and other people’s experiences at the conference. To see those preserved highlights, you can check out #iahcnc15 on Twitter.

All of the other volunteers were such a joy to work with – thank you everyone for the hours spent encouraging attendee participation, manning the speaker desk, and trouble shooting AV issues during the many speaker talks. Here is a photo of many of us at the Thursday evening social event. Many of the people in this group are planning to become involved with the IAH Early Career Hydrogeoligstis Canadian Network. If you are also interested, you can access more information here.

YP group at IAH.jpg


A highlight of the conference for me was the closing plenary in which seven of the biggest names in Canadian Hydrogeology shared their most insightful moments. Dr. Cathy Ryan explained her quest to build hydrogeological capacity through the translation and availability of necessary learning materials. Her work with Hydrogeologists Without Borders and their GW2.0 textbook initiative is striving to develop international expertise through the creation of a living groundwater text document, that will undergo crowd-sources translation and allow for continuous updates. Dr. Jim Barker went on to implore the crowd to consider the importance of training and mentoring the next generation of hydrogeologists, with emphasis on the need to be proactive and improve outward communication in order to draw talent to the field and share key findings and implications of our work. Dr.Garth van der Kamp used unstated assumptions as a metaphor to explain challenges facing the field moving forward, including how the complexity of the problems we tackle will require interdisciplinary teams in order to understand real-world systems.



I was also given the opportunity to share my thesis research during one of the groundwater surface water interaction sessions. I have included a copy of my abstract below. Since I’ve already allotted a fair amount of blog space to my research in the past, I won’t go into the specifics on content, however I would like to comment on how the presentation went. This was my first time speaking at a conference and my research, which wrapped over a year prior, was a distant memory when it came time to prepare my presentation. I attempted to stay within the 20-minute time frame provided and rather than talking a warp speed as per usual, I opted to include less content and speak more slowly, with a bigger emphasis on the implications of my work rather than the technical findings themselves. Although I had slides prepared well in advance, I didn’t practice the delivery of the presentation like I should have. On the day of the presentation, my nerves and tiredness had the better of me. Being in a room full of experts, not only on hydrogeology as a whole but experts on my site in particular, was intimidating to say the least. Over the last year, I have become much more comfortable speaking to the bigger context of challenges facing water and returning to data-level conversations was a struggle. Should there be a next time, I hope to do much better.


IAH Presentation - Cailin Hillier


This past month, I marked my one year anniversary with CWN and I received a promotion within the organization. I am now the Program Coordinator for the Canadian Municipal Water Consortium – woohoo! In my new position, I will continue to support Consortium activities by coordinating expert reviews, tracking research progress, supporting partnership development, developing knowledge mobilization opportunities and more.

A project currently in development at CWN  is the Blue Cities 2016 conference , taking place in Toronto in May 2016, which will address the impacts and risks posed by the new normal, address the business of getting to sustainable systems, discuss infrastructure and planning approaches and provide commentary on the value of communication in making tough decisions. I encourage you to check out our website as the program grows. It is sure to be an exciting conference that will bring together municipal water leaders, industry partners and experts from across Canada and internationally. If you have any questions at all, please let me know!



Oh look, a trail! Let’s get metaphorical and big picture here for a second. As I mentioned above, I attempted to be strategic and calculated in making room and time for self-growth, as well as mental and physical wellness, something that was and is more overdue that I had realized.

Looking at everything that has transpired over the last few years, I feel like so much has happened, but it is all such a blur that I see now how I should have done more to live mindfully and be in the present.  Upon being reflective, I am truly grateful for all of these opportunities afforded to me but I must do more to carry that gratitude into the present. The changes I have made in my life over the last few months have been in an effort to achieve this mindfulness; a mantra I have tried to manifest in my life – don’t try so hard. I need to stop trying to bring the future into focus since that is a futile venture at best. All I can do is to focus on the task at hand to produce my best work and give the greatest effort that I am capable of in that moment, with the acknowledgement that this level of “best” will always be in flux, and that is okay too.

It is time to trust the process and trust my own capabilities, without the need to forever prove myself. For much of my life, I was chasing a prize – gold stars, A+ grades, and a desire to impress those around me with just how busy I could make myself. I have never wanted to turn down an opportunity, which has certainly lead me to where I am today, but perhaps now I can be more strategic and focus more on my own well being. I was recently asked how I got to where I am in my career. Thinking backwards, the randomness of it all is scarily hilarious. I found out about my position at CWN from my involvement with the SYPC, which I became aware of from Waterlution, whose Innovation Lab I attended based on the SWIGS mailing list, which I joined because I attended a Blue Drinks event at UW, a school I chose for the challenge it would give me, a decision I made crying while lying on the floor of the gym hall in high school. Okay, so I zoomed backward in time there a bit, but really the serendipity of it all is astonishing and the futility of trying to plan for the future has never been more apparent. It is much more comforting, however, to be affirmed of your own capacity and ability to survive and thrive when faced with challenges.

If you’re still reading this far, first – wow thank you and I’m sorry, and second, this might all sound like something a twenty-six year old should know already. However, these are subtleties that I have only recently become consciously aware of. As I now enter a stage of life where I uncomfortably welcome time for rest, spontaneity and careful thought, I am aware of just how little I have grown personally and how naive I have been and continue to be about the world. Many of the basic and obvious facts of life are beginning to resonate with me for the first time. I have gone this long without having really been aware that I won’t get to live out every different life I can imagine but will have to choose a specific path to follow; maybe all of the risk taking and putting yourself out there has been less scary than quietly committing to any one thing; you have to like yourself, even (and especially) with imperfections; that balance means more than having good time management skills; that maybe instead of all of us being special, maybe none of us are. I know I am ridiculously lucky to have been able to go through life without these realities being at the forefront of everything I do, I know that for sure. And while I continue to be so fortunate, I’m left with this profound sadness and a need to share my thoughts. So I write this in an attempt to see if there are other young people going through the same realizations as me at this stage in life. Perhaps you too have preoccupied yourself for ten years only to realize that it’s almost 2016 and you don’t know what you actually like or want in life. Or maybe I’m still just as naive as ever, over thinking things or just need to do more yoga. How are you coping? What delayed realizations have you had? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And now, a sunset.




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