Researcher Spotlight – Purusothmn Nair
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Having completed a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Purusothmn joined a 12-month Sprint that started in May 2022, investigating the opportunities for nutrient recovery from waste products for agricultural fertilisers.
My role in this Sprint is focused on developing mathematical optimisation models for optimising the nutrient recovery i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus from various waste streams (food, green and wastewater sludge). My goal is to investigate the impact of maximising nutrient recovery and minimising total costs on waste management plans within the Leicestershire region.
…all of us collectively went through a steep learning curve to understand the rapid and demanding nature of this project
My biggest challenge arose with the collaboration with various individuals from multiple research backgrounds. As a young researcher with this project being my first research experience beyond my PhD, I entered this project not knowing its real objective. Despite the other researchers being very experienced, all of us collectively went through a steep learning curve to understand the rapid and demanding nature of this project. This research could very easily be conducted over 5 years. However, the time limit of 12 months demanded accelerations of numerous aspects without neglecting the ambitions and goals of this work. Knowing what I know now, I would not hesitate to do this project all over again because of the valuable learning and Agile mindset that I have developed.
Working in an interdisciplinary team exposed me to in-depth thinking beyond my research scope. For example, although my primary role is optimisation, I would only be able to do my task successfully by understanding the requirement of the team. In other words, I had to evaluate a research situation from various aspects, beyond the engineering world.
Interdisciplinary research is challenging in the terms of getting everyone in a room agreeing to a single aspect. Each researcher comes with a certain mindset. Therefore, I believe the biggest challenge lies in how the various researchers involved view the project. My only advice is to keep an open mind and treat yourself as a kindergarten kid again. The best strategy is to not carry any past perceptions/ideologies into fast-paced research such as this. Be prepared to explore and learn.
Working in an interdisciplinary team exposed me to in-depth thinking beyond my research scope
The difference between working on this Spirit and my PhD research experience is that fast and proactive actions must be taken to achieve certain goals. Lots of thinking happens daily in terms of materialising mini goals towards achieving the objective of the project. Most importantly, it is vital to always step back and determine if the existing direction is towards fulfilling the main research objective.
One of my biggest learning points is to never dwell on a research methodology that is not achieving a breakthrough. Researchers in an Agile project do not have the luxury of trying something until it works. The mindset must be such that he/she must be prepared to make changes within a short timeframe supposed that a methodology is not right. Agile thinking is required to succeed in this sprint project.