Get to know Masters by Research Student – Rajina K C


In this month’s newsletter, we would like to introduce Masters by Research student, Rajina K C from the College of Science and Engineering.

Rajina’s recently submitted thesis, “Experimental and numerical evaluation of the flow field in a High-Rate Algal Pond (HRAP).” received outstanding results from the examiners.

We asked Rajina to share what led her to a Masters, what the research is about, challenges and advice to current/future students.

Tell us about yourself

I am Rajina K C, an international student from Nepal, pursuing my dreams here in Australia. I was born and raised in Dhulikhel, a town 30km east of the capital Kathmandu. My parents were always supportive of education and always taught me to chase my dreams which led to one of the prestigious universities in Nepal, Kathmandu University, where I completed my undergraduate. I was a part of several volunteering groups during my studies and was actively involved in educating the community and training in waste management, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs.

After completing undergraduate, I followed my dream to gain more knowledge in environmental courses and management courses that would help me build my career. So, I moved to Australia in 2016 and joined the University of Technology Sydney and completed a Master of Engineering in Environmental Engineering and Master of Environmental Management with distinction.

Being an international student with visa status, it is always challenging to step into a professional field. Multiple rejections with the applications motivated me to take my study to the next level and persevering to the passion on environmental sustainability, I decided to look for research and PhD programs. Fortunately, I got into Flinders for Master of Engineering by Research in 2021 with fee-waived scholarship for Year 1 and was able to pursue my dreams.

What led you to undertake a Masters by Research? What inspired or motivated you?

I have always been passionate about environmental sustainability and the development of alternative designs in terms of environmental preservation. Apart from that, I always aimed to be involved in the academic sector and share the learnings and experiences I have gathered from theoretical studies and course works to the environmental aspirants.

After the completion of the Master of Engineering-Environmental (course work), I aimed to gain in-depth knowledge of sustainable designs and gather information on wastewater treatment projects and the processes carried out here in Australia. In the process, I came across the “Algal Pond” design and its operation in the rural South Australian community, of Peterborough, which was fascinating. I even dug deeper and was extremely interested in being a part of this project as this was also recognized for its innovative design at the Australia Water Association in 2019 and won the Infrastructure Project Innovation Award and Professor Howard Fallowfield (Principal Supervisor) was instrumental in designing and establishing the treatment plant. So, I emailed Dr. Kristy Hansen, Co-supervisor (former Principal Supervisor) for the details and with her help I contacted Prof. Fallowfield and got an opportunity to be a part of the project.

What was the topic of your and why was it important to you?

“Experimental and numerical evaluation of the flow field in a High-Rate Algal Pond (HRAP)”- This project has a unique feature with its shape and size. The capacity and location of the pond is another crucial factor. The use of algae for wastewater treatment is another fascinating aspect of this project which makes an eco-friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective design. Being in the age of fighting global warming and climate change, it is vital to focus on alternative, energy-efficient designs. Studying environmental engineering from undergraduate until post-graduate, we might ask ourselves, what change can we bring from our side? Do we still want to keep on using natural resources or would we like an eco-friendly design to restore the resources? And if we visualize the rural community, away from the metropolitan infrastructures, where are we left and what are we left with?

Algae has been studied since 1950, however, it is an emerging technology and has been widely accepted for bio-fuel production and wastewater treatment.

Research has been conducted in the past that focused mostly on the bio-chemical aspect of the algal pond, but information is lacking in terms of the hydrodynamics of the pond and a few gaps can be seen in the studies carried out. Most of the research carried out focused on small-scale lab-based projects and lacked validation from the actual operating plant.

Therefore, this project is a novel project and is carried out in 5000 m2pond of serpentine design. A CFD model is designed, and the flow field is validated against the experimental flow field. Given the circumstances and previous findings, I was curious about a new development in a commercially operating algal pond for wastewater treatment and its performance evaluation meeting the hydrodynamic standards to achieve 100% treatment.

What was been one of the most enjoyable parts of the journey?

From the start, I loved Adelaide, which gave me a homely feel. I loved my study desk, the fellow students around me from multiple study disciplines, the inclusivity by students, supervisors, and others sharing the same study space was amazing that always created positive environment around me. The field work and getting the real-life experience of the project and operations were wonderful. The support from university is undeniable.

What was been one of the hardest parts of the journey?

Coming from an environmental background with qualitative work experience and different interests, I was a bit worried about CFD and the codes in my initial days as it was my first time using it. Not having many people in the university using the software and unrelated to my project, it was a bit scary, and I used to worry about getting my project right. It took me multiple months to get acquainted with the software and its applications.

What was highlight of your student life at Flinders?

Being an engineering student, I did a training for Sleep Technician and worked in Australian Institute of Sleep Health and got to learn and be a part of Sleep Apnea studies and other sleep related research which was completely out of my way. But I enjoyed it.

I got a chance to present my project to the public and inform them about a sustainable wastewater treatment plant with the help of “Science in the Pub Adelaide.”

I would say getting an A/B grade with minor adjustment in the thesis is an achievement for a student which signifies hard work and dedication.

How did your supervisors support you during your candidature?

My supervisors Dr. Kristy Hansen, Prof. Howard Fallowfield and adjunct supervisor Prof. Farid Christo have been of tremendous help in every possible aspect. They have continuously supported me with every part of my project and motivated me like a guardian.

How did you overcome any challenges?

Being an international student, pregnancy and having a baby during the candidature, delayed milestone presentation at the same time, challenged with multiple health issues were some of the challenging phases during my study period that kind of broke me down and I lost my track for a while. However, I was determined to achieve what I had dreamt of. Resuming study at 4 months postpartum, getting into the field, full time study was not easy. My husband and my dad worked together with me to help me focus on my dreams. Additionally, I continuously got guidance from my supervisors. They were there with me to support and assist me in every viable way as I was driven to reach my goals.

In my opinion, the determination and vision in your life aided the most in your studies which helped me to overcome all those challenges I faced during my study.

What advice would you give to current students?  

I would like to suggest everyone to focus on their aims. Try to follow your passion and choose a topic that fascinates you and always alerts you about the goals in life and the fruit to achieve from the project.

There will be multiple occasions when you will fail and want to divert because you need to dive into a pool of studies, experiments, and experiences of someone else which is tricky and you are fighting with your brain, however, never hesitate to seek for help and advice from your supervisor or talk to fellow students.

Try to take a break and do the things that make you happy and help you find some directions. Again, never hesitate to seek help from the university.

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