May 18, 2023
Steel Hub PhD driven by inspiration
Durga Tandon is currently a PhD student in the ARC Steel Research Hub at the University of Wollongong (UOW). She came to Australia from Nepal as an international student in July 2018. She completed her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in Nepal in November 2017 and joined UOW as a master's student in the same discipline. She graduated from UOW in July 2020. Throughout her bachelor's and master's degrees, she actively participated in several student clubs, projects and industrial internships that helped her develop her professional skills. She also worked in the Australian construction industry for a short period after her master's degree. From her studies and work experiences in Australia, she shortly realised that she could go the extra mile if she chose R&D or a consulting career. Thus, despite her time and financial constraints, she decided to direct herself towards a research career. She started her PhD in September 2021 when the Covid-19 lockdown was still in place in Australia.
Durga’s current research is focused on product innovation for Bisalloy Steels. Her research is on hardfacing steels using an automated wire arc manufacturing process. The research aims to enhance the overall plate hardness and other mechanical properties of Bisalloy Wear Plate by hardfacing, and investigating on the ballistic characteristics of the final product. There are several challenges during hardfacing deposition. The primary aim of her research is to identify the stable welding process, tune the welding parameters and design and apply different techniques and approaches to overcome other challenges like the heat-affected area and cracking. Hardfacing is often studied based on wear and impact characterisation. The ballistic characterisation could be an additional area for hardfacing applications. So, the aim of her research includes investigating the feasibility and extent of hardfacing for ballistic resistance.
Her father, who is an electrical technician, has always been her inspiration. Like her father, she also wanted to study a technical discipline. Additionally, since there are generally fewer female candidates for technical jobs in her home country Nepal, her father inspired her to become a female role model in engineering. This is when she joined and completed her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in Nepal. Here she realised that a global education and industry experience could further enhance her capability to contribute back to society. It was then she made the decision to come to Australia for her master's studies in mechanical engineering. Along the journey, she was further inspired to direct herself into a research and innovation career, to contribute her knowledge and understanding in developing a sustainable future and to inspire young women into STEM and research careers. Durga attaining a PhD degree was also an emotional decision as she wanted to make her parents proud by being the first in her family to achieve this.
Durga loves the flexible hours and workplace where she can work from the office or home, without clocking on at specific times of the day (except while working on some higher-risk activities in laboratories). She enjoys the university workspace, where you can ensure and prioritise your mental and physical welfare along with your studies. Durga acknowledges the support and motivation from her supervisors, Steel Hub II director and colleagues are the best part of her PhD so far. “They constantly motivate and inspire me to explore and get involved in different opportunities in/out of university premises to promote professional and industry-oriented skills and expand networks that will further support my career after her PhD” she says.
She finds the biggest challenge in this journey so far has been maintaining a work-life balance. On the busiest days, she will have to complete required training/courses, continue with her ongoing readings/ writings/ experiments, follow up with emails and meetings and get other job/s) done along with her personal chores. It can sometimes be overwhelming and challenging to stay motivated and focused while staying away from her home and family. So, the constant need to multitask and keep track of all the scheduled work and meetings while maintaining a healthy personal life is challenging. However, with support and advice from her supervisors and seniors, she has been able to develop good working strategies that have helped her be more efficient and grow every day.
Durga believes her future is reasonably secure after the PhD. She emphasises the encouragement and support she receives to develop and nurture her professional and industry skills alongside her studies. In the longer term she sees herself getting involved with a governing body of research experts.