Water, Research, and Career: Vishal Vaidyanathan's Master's Story at CMU
Vishal Vaidyanathan says his experience as a Master’s degree student at CMU was all about research, support, and opportunities. As an international student coming to Pittsburgh for the first time, Vaidyanathan was grateful for the welcoming community of CEE. And as a researcher, he took advantage of research projects to grow and develop the skills he needed to move into a Water/Wastewater Process Engineer position at Geosyntec Consultants.
Vaidyanathan chose CEE because of its curriculum. “It was geared for the future and got my attention,” he says. Another bonus—the opportunity to study alongside faculty whose research he admired. “Once I met my advisor, Professor Emeritus Dave Dzombak, I felt at ease. He took the time to get to know me and become a mentor to me. That was so important since I was coming from a different country. I knew someone was looking out for me."
Eventually, Vaidyanathan worked with Professor Dzombak on research projects, helped to create environmental remediation software that was released in 2020, and served as his teaching assistant (TA).
“Being a TA was a great experience. That’s when I realized how hard it is to be a teacher. But it gave me a desire to learn how to be a good project manager. It also helped me to learn the basics of how I can communicate in the best way for each student.”
"Being a TA was a great experience. That’s when I realized how hard it is to be a teacher. But it gave me a desire to learn how to be a good project manager."
While his coursework, research, and teaching schedule were rigorous, Vaidyanathan believes it helped him land an internship at ALCOSAN, a water treatment facility in Pittsburgh.
“I knew I wanted to work in either water-based or environmental remediation, and I had two different opportunities to choose from. I met with Professor Dzombak to talk about both options, and he advised me that ALCOSAN would be a better experience for me, even though it was an unpaid internship. It ended up being a game changer for me and was a very useful experience that I am grateful for.”
Vaidyanathan’s work at ALCOSAN served as a bridge to what he calls the practical side of engineering. It also solidified his passion for working in water/wastewater treatment and landed him a job after graduation. “The people at ALCOSAN gave me a recommendation that led me to my current position.”
He also cites CEE’s atmosphere of “healthy competition” as a motivation to do his best while looking out for—and learning from—others. That feeling continues as he works to bring CMU grads into his company. “I stay in touch with the department and am always looking for new, talented people who can fill roles here.”
He recommends that current students take the time to pick the right courses and faculty advisors to meet their goals. “The faculty make a point not just to teach but to connect with students. They teach to the future but in a practical way.”