Philip Schmidt

Philip Schmidt, Environmental Engineering - Class of 2005

Philip Schmidt

Graduate program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Civil Engineering

Graduation year


Why did you choose your undergraduate program?

At first, I didn't really consider environmental engineering because I didn't know what it was and planned on being a high school math teacher. However, I ended up in environmental engineering when I found out how much it can focus on water...the perfect mix of math, science, and geography I was looking for. It was also a great springboard to diversity into topics such as public health and microbiology (and I also took a strong interest in statistics and probabilistic modelling)

How did you like your experience at UWaterloo?

UWaterloo gave me opportunities I never considered, particularly to get involved in really interesting research starting in second year. I had Undergraduate Research Assistantships in many of my academic terms. There was a mechanism to start grad school during my undergraduate program, and I never did go to teacher's college as I had planned.

What were your favourite classes?

I really wanted to avoid coding and statistics after high school and chose a program to avoid them as much as possible. However, the great professors here helped me realize that I actually really loved these topics and they're central to what I do now. Among the more applied courses, I loved hydrology and the various hydrogeology electives.

How did the friends you made at UWaterloo inspire you throughout your undergraduate experience?

I was not a particularly outgoing person and took a lot of unusual technical electives so some of my best friendships were actually with the grad students that I hung around during my work terms (some of whom were also Teaching Assistants in classes that I took). I also formed a friendship with a student in my class who carried on into grad school here too. There was a student from the year behind me whom I interacted with a lot during work terms and he ended up being my boss for five years! At the end of our program, my classmates nominated me "the most likely to be your kid's professor". Oops, apparently they were right too!

Co-op work term history

  • Doing AutoCAD drawings and surveying for the Town of Tillsonburg
  • Doing surveying for a consulting firm developing new subdivisions
  • Working in the administrative offices for the landfill in Waterloo Region
  • Three work-terms doing research related to quantifying pathogens in water that are important for drinking water regulations and testing treatment technologies (this went on to be part of my doctoral thesis)

What is the biggest lesson you learned from co-op?

My supervisor in my very first work term (after only one term of classes) told me that I was going to go on to get a PhD. I didn't think anything of it because I had no interest at the time. Sometimes mentors will tell you things you're not ready to hear and they turn out to be true!

What is your occupation now?

I am now a Research Assistant Professor in the Water Science, Technology & Policy group in this department working on such topics as microbial risk assessment for drinking water, dose-response modelling, and analyzing data from molecular microbiology. Before returning to UWaterloo, I had a post-doctoral fellowship at the Public Health Agency of Canada and then spent five years working on innovative research and development of direct potable reuse (recycling wastewater as a drinking water source).

Did your undergraduate program play a role in where you are today? How?

I didn't intend on ending up in environmental engineering, but I loved it. I didn't intend on doing graduate school, but I couldn't resist getting involved in interesting research. I didn't intend on doing applied engineering work, but it gave me the tools to merge my research interests with fascinating and novel engineering projects. I certainly never intended on becoming a statistician, but the flexibility to pursue unique technical electives allowed me to pursue an interest and (together with grad school and professional experience) become accredited as a statistician. Now I get to teach and mentor university students instead of my original plan of teaching high school math.

List 3 lessons you'd like to share with the current undergraduate students.

  1. Take a program with diverse subject material and opportunities that allows you to focus on your interests and natural abilities (environmental engineering is about as diverse as it gets)
  2. Life probably won't take you where you think you want to go, and that's ok. I am eternally grateful for the unanticipated twists and turns in my life that started as an undergrad.
  3. Think about carrying on to grad school at Waterloo. We have lots of talented and wonderful professors here doing interesting and globally recognized work that could inspire you into a life of discovery in research