A –Streams of Thought– contribution by Wouter Knoben (WK)
Prof. Thorsten Wagener is a hydrologist, currently head of the Water and Environmental Engineering research group at the University of Bristol, UK. He has received various prestigious awards and was recently a Humboldt fellow at the University of Potsdam. I had the pleasure of interviewing Thorsten in his office, where we spent a good hour and half going over his experiences.
WK: Can you tell us a bit about your background and formal education? How were you in school?
I studied Civil Engineering in Siegen (BSc), Delft (MSc), and finally Imperial College London (PhD), but I never really wanted to be a civil engineer when I was in high school. My dream was to become an architect. Unfortunately, I only did the absolute minimum in high school, so my grades where average at best. Entry requirements for architecture were too high for my grades but civil engineering seemed like architecture, and at least I could get into that degree. I had never heard of hydrology then, and programs like the hydrology course in Freiburg (which produced many excellent hydrologists like Jan Seibert, Markus Weiler, Kerstin Stahl, Doerthe Tetzlaff…) would never have taken me anyway due to their entrance requirements. I was also quite bad at computer programming at the time. In fact, I did so poorly during a test that I ended up with a negative score (points were subtracted for mistakes from an initial score of 100) and only got a passing grade if I promised not to take the course the following year. Quite funny really, because now all I do is use computers.
WK: So, what did inspire you to pursue in hydrology then?
During my undergraduate degree in Siegen, I had a professor who worked in Africa and the Middle East. This was quite practical work, and he offered his students final year projects in Ethiopia. That seemed an exciting idea, so I spent 5 months there. I really liked the idea of combining engineering with helping people, so I abandoned my idea to switch from civil engineering to architecture. Instead, at the end of my undergrad degree, I went to Delft for a Master’s in Civil Engineering with a strong focus on hydrology.