Behind the PhD degree: Shuyana A. Heredia Deba

Doing a PhD can lead to unexpected results in many ways. Not always positive. But if there is one person that knows how to handle that, it’s PhD candidate Shuyana A. Heredia Deba. This is how she figured out how to work with photocatalytic membranes.

The person behind the science, and the science behind the person.

Change of research goals, figuring out last moment how you can finish up your PhD, and COVID. Not every moment was a great one in Shuyana’s four-year Wetsus experience. “My PhD was emotionally tough, but I managed. With unfortunate events, I did not always like to research, but I did enjoy the freedom. And I especially enjoyed the people. If I was to make the choice again, I would still do it, just for the people that I was surrounded by.”

A welcome surprise

From an interview at the train station to a remote presentation on the phone in a crowded bus – Shuyana’s impression on the PhD position interviewers must have been quite different from the others. “The day I arrived in Leeuwarden, I was greeted by a big rain shower coming in a bit late, and the professor who was to interview me was worried that he wouldn’t catch the train. So we had a bit of a talk walking there and in the train station. But he asked nothing about me, so I had already given up hope. Someone else seemed a lot more qualified, I felt like.

“They kept us waiting after the ‘Water Seed’ challenge until I was finally asked to give a presentation about my master’s thesis. I had to do my presentation on the phone while traveling in a bus due to a delay from a plane. I had done the presentation before and thought there was no time to reschedule, so I tried to relax and do my best.” Being the chosen candidate, in the end, was a welcome surprise. “I guess the way I came across might have helped there.”

And she fit in at Wetsus too. A driven person that is always curious and loves to interact with the ones around her. “By that time, the only other PhD that researched photocatalytic water purification at Wetsus was gone. So I would have to figure out a lot on my own.”

A PhD is about me

Initially, Shuyana would investigate the deactivation of viruses using UV and metallic membranes, but not all went according to plan. “As my research was about photocatalytic membranes, we agreed it would be best for me to work for a month in Twente on a set-up already built and “working.” In short – nothing worked, one month became nine, and I ended up making my own membrane from scratch and a completely new set-up at Wetsus. It was tough. It all led to me not really having anything by year two, halfway through my PhD.” And then COVID hit too.

But as the results were not up to her expectations, she had something else to live up to – Wetsus’s social life. “With all these people from all over the world, you really find each other at Wetsus. Sports, walks, events, and therapy. I was in the personnel committee to happily help and organize too. That gave me a lot of energy. Together with writing for the personnel magazine.” Wherein Shuyana was eager to contribute, tell about others’ perspectives and interact.

And she kicked her research back up to speed by focusing on understanding the fundamentals of photocatalytic membrane functionality. “My supervisor, Doekle, was of great help too. He gave me the perspective that my PhD is not always about my research, but about me becoming an independent researcher. And I managed in the end to get the experiments going and contribute to the knowledge on the topic.”

“I would do it all again, just because of everyone around me here. Though having a cat to come home to was a great help too,” Shuyana says happily. “And I still like water technology, but I like to be a bit more involved with people, less with research. My new job at Procter and Gamble is perfect for that. Still about water purification, and with an active community like that in Wetsus but a role that involves communication with different areas.”

Towards an economy of value preservation | By Niels Faber


The realisation of a circular economy has thus far unfolded under the assumption that it would fit within existing economic arrangements. In practice, we witness many circular initiatives struggling to give shape to their ambitions, let alone develop to maturity. These past months, various material recycling organisations terminated their activities, seeing virgin alternatives from other parts of the world flooding the market at prices against they cannot compete. If the transition towards a circular economy (i.e. an economy of value preservation) is to be taken seriously, a new perspective on value in our economic system seems unavoidable, as the rewriting of the rules of the economic game. At this moment, current perceptions of value stand in the way of this transition both at micro as well as macro levels. Several contours for a collective exploration of new directions of value and economic configuration that foster circular transition will be addressed.

Searching Innovation for the Common Good | By Cees Buisman


In his key note he will conclude after a life of innovations that it is impossible that humanity will stay within the save planetary boundaries with innovation only. We should be more critical about the behaviour of the rich population in the world and more critical about new innovations that prove to be dangerous, like the PFAS crisis shows at this moment. In his keynote he will investigate how to look at the world that can stay within the save planetary boundaries, how should we change ourselves? It is clear if we only talk about the words of science and systems we miss the essential words of how we should cooperate and change ourselves. And his search for coherent save innovations. Which innovations will be save and will lead to a fair and sustainable world? And will lead to a world we want to live in.

Future-fit economic models: What do they have in common – how can they join forces? | By Christian Felber


There is a growing number of new sustainable, inclusive, cohesive, participatory, just and humane economic models. A possible next step in the discourse about them is the comparative analysis in order to find out key commonalities, potential synergies, and “requirements” for a future-fit economic model. The author and initiator of the Economy for the Common Good provides an overview of these „new sustainable economic models“ and compares them according to underlying values, principles, and practical ways of implementation. The keynote addresses the cooperative spirit of the conference and prepares the ground for its public highlight on the eve of June 3rd, the round table with representatives of diverse future-fit economic models.

The era of postgrowth economics | By Matthias Olthaar


The scientific debate on whether economies should always continue to grow increasingly becomes a political and societal debate. On the one hand further growth for the most affluent countries seems neither possible nor valuable, but on the other hand there is still lack of understanding and knowledge what a non-growing economy should look like and could best be governed. In this lecture we discuss various policy measures that can be realistically implemented, take into account government finances and aim at a higher quality of life despite a non-growing economy.

Democratic principles for a sustainable economy | By Lisa Herzog


Democracy is under pressure, and less and less able to stir the economy into a sustainable direction. Therefore, to stabilize democracy and to make possible the socio-ecological transformation of the economy, democratic principles need to be implemented directly in the economy. This is not only a matter of morality, but also has practical advantages. Democratizing the economy can increase legitimacy and take advantage of the “knowledge of the many” to accelerate the transformation. Democratic practices, especially deliberation, allow bringing together different forms of knowledge, which is crucial for the local implementation of principles of social and ecological sustainability. This talk explores what this idea means in more concrete terms, from democratic participation in the workplace to the democratization of time.

Market, state, association, and well-being. An historical approach | By Bas van Bavel


Over the past decades, markets have conventionally been seen as the best instrument to stimulate economic growth and enhance prosperity and well-being. The automatic link between markets and economic growth is increasingly questioned, however, as well as the automatic link between economic growth and enhancement of well-being. This has led to attempts to capture well-being development more directly than through GDP per capita figures and has produced a more variegated picture of well-being growth. Also, this has led to a shift of focus to other coordination systems than the market, as primarily the state but increasingly also the association. Analyses of the historical record suggest that especially the latter could be a vital component in future well-being.