Parimala Shivaprasad is a second year PhD student at the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Bath. Having completed both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from India, she moved to the UK in 2015 to start her PhD with a research scholarship from the university. Her research aims to integrate sustainability into current chemical processing techniques through novel catalyst and reactor design. Though the current focus is on pharmaceutical industries, the project can be extended to a diverse range of chemical industries. Parimala is also an avid science communicator and has engaged the public with her research in various events like Pint of Science, Science Show-off, Three Minute Thesis to name a few. She is also a member of the Student Women Engineering Society at Bath and is involved in various STEM outreach activities for young girls. As a parallel interest, she is also in the process of validating her start-up with the support of the university’s Innovation Centre. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music, cooking and travelling. You can catch Parimala on her soapbox at the Bristol event on Saturday July 15th with a talk called: “The Miracle Fibre: A sheepish way of curing diseases”
SS: How did you get to your current position?
PS: I got my first and second degree in Chemical Engineering from India. I have always wanted to be an academic and I enjoy doing research, so a PhD was the next step to take. I was quite keen on studying for a PhD in the UK for the excellent quality of research, though as an international student, getting a funded PhD position was difficult. I applied for several positions before my current supervisor was impressed with my application and recommended me for a scholarship at University of Bath, where I am currently pursuing my PhD in Chemical Engineering.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
PS: My inspiration for taking up a career in science is my father. As a chemist, he has played a pivotal role in nurturing my interest in chemistry and the enormous impact it has on our day to day life. The idea of taking reactions in a test tube and scaling up in a reactor seemed more practical, which further led me to consider chemical engineering, thus combining the best of science and technology.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
PS: My research focuses on sustainable chemical processing and I am currently testing a novel reactor to synthesise starting materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Life never gets monotonous when I am working on my project, with surprises lurking around every corner (Though I must admit, not all of them seem pleasant at first!). For example, it was by shear accident that I found wool had properties that could aid in chemical processing. Though it seemed like a human error in the beginning, after rigorous examination, it turned out to be true opening up a whole new avenue in my PhD and also my talk for the event! Sustainability being the main aim of the research has also led to making sure that the research methodology also addresses the aim by being more responsible about energy consumption and chemical inventory resulting in reduction of waste generation for the length of the project.
My research summed up in a picture
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
PS: In addition to being a women centric platform for public engagement, I felt that the format of the event was really unique. The concept of having to reach out to the general public and grab their attention is a bit of a challenge but also exciting. It opens up an opportunity to tailor the talks according to the audience gathered round and also helps in answering specific questions on the spot.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day
PS: Knowledge exchange!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
PS: Today, the entire world is doing quality research in a broad range of subject areas. However, technology transfer to industries is happening at a very slow pace resulting in an eternal gap between research organisations and industries. Research output should not be restricted to just the number of publications, but should also demonstrate how it is helping solve a problem in real time.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?
PS: The path leading to a career in academia may seem like an endless tunnel. One has to be committed, hardworking, optimistic and extremely passionate about the journey to see the light at the end of it. It takes a million failed attempts to get a break through in research and if you can pick yourself up after every failed attempt and see it through, welcome aboard!