Saad Dara, PhD '17, Chemical Engineering

Saad Dara
Applied Science Class of 2017
A graduate degree in engineering allowed me this opportunity for refinement of my skills and developing depth in my knowledge in a safe learning environment where I was allowed the opportunity to drive a project.

Saad Dara is a PhD Candidate in Chemical Engineering at UBC, and co-founder and CEO of Mangrove Water Technologies Ltd. Mangrove’s technology, which was developed at UBC during Saad’s doctorate work under the supervision of Professor David Wilkinson, converts waste emissions and waste-water into reusable water and value added chemicals. Saad has been actively involved in the development of the technology, commercialization strategy, business development, fund raising and advancing an idea in Tupperware containers with the potential to become a commercial solution for industrial waste-water treatment. Recently, Mangrove was one of four winners in Round 2 of Emission Reduction Alberta’s Grand Challenge receiving three million dollars to advance commercialization of the technology. Over the course of his PhD, he also competed in BCIC’s New Ventures Business Competition and ranked in the Top 10. Saad joined UBC in 2005 and completed his BASc and MASc degrees from Chemical Engineering in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

Why did you choose engineering?

As a child, I enjoyed playing with Legos and as I grew up I started to enjoy cooking. Both interests allowed me to solve problems and make “stuff.” I wanted to translate this interest into solving real world problems in a scientific environment. Choosing a career in engineering allowed me to develop this skill set and to learn to do this professionally. 

What have you learned that is most valuable?

I learnt many things beyond the course work and my research at UBC that I consider very valuable. These have included learning to think critically, asking the right questions, working as part of a team, and becoming an effective communicator among others. I value these soft skills that I have developed as an engineer the most. 

How do you feel a graduate degree in engineering has benefited you compared to a different field of study?

Coming out of undergrad I did not feel I was ready to make an impact as an engineer. I felt my knowledge base needed refining and I wanted to further develop my skill sets in an applied problem solving environment. I did not want to get stuck in the routine of an employee and not be able to grow my portfolio of skills. A graduate degree in engineering allowed me this opportunity for refinement of my skills and developing depth in my knowledge in a safe learning environment where I was allowed the opportunity to drive a project.

What advice would you give a student considering a graduate degree in engineering?

I believe the two most important things when considering a graduate degree are the supervisor and the project. I would advise students to put a lot of effort in understanding whether they will be able to learn effectively from their supervisor and maintain interest on the project for 3-4 years. The student is going to effectively spend at least a third of their life in these years on this project and the project needs to be diverse enough to learn many different skills. The relationship with the supervisor will be one of the most important relationships they will have as they begin their career. I could have not asked for a better supervisor than Professor Wilkinson to learn from. Beyond the graduate studies, the best piece of advice I ever received was to find the right mentor to learn from. I would advise students to find a mentor who has recently graduated and embarked on a career to guide and support the student from their experiences. 

What are your plans for the future?

I wish I could answer this question with specific goals and plans but the truth is I have never had set goals or plans that I want to pursue. I know what I need to do over the next year or two and that I am doing something I enjoy — which is solving problems — but it would be disingenuous to say I have a long-term plan for my career. I like the ability to pivot with the opportunities that become available and I am happy if I am learning new things. I suppose my only plan is to keep learning and ensure that I am contributing in the short time I am here.