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Sushmitha Thirumalaivasan

PhD candidate

University of Alberta

And - Co-Founder

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Take the risk, explore new things, keep pushing your boundaries.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a Chemical Engineering PhD student with 4 years of experience in Data-Modeling and Optimization of processes under Uncertainty. As part of the degree program, I have collaborated and worked with diverse projects relating to Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, and Sustainability.

I volunteer as a presenter with the USchool initiative to motivate and educate unprivileged kids from Edmonton to pursue engineering and I serve as a mentor in FEM and Wisest to inspire young women to take up careers in STEM.

I am currently building a platform for students to provide pro-bono engineering and strategic consulting services to SMEs in Edmonton/Alberta.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I love numbers and I have always been amazed by mathematics. I was passionate about science and math and my goal was to work on impactful global problems, hence I pursued my bachelors in Chemical Engineering. After my undergraduate degree, I wanted to explore the research aspect of engineering and I moved to Canada to do my PhD in chemical engineering. For my thesis, I work on modeling and optimization of biorefineries on tailings water. I develop fundamental models that represent the biochemical reaction of how algae/bacteria degrade the toxic chemicals in oil sands processed tailings water, the computational power of these models astonished me.Understanding the scope and need of the project, I accepted the offer to transfer my program to a direct PhD degree. Here I am a 25-year-old international student in her final year of PhD working on one of the most challenging projects in Alberta, Canada. The power to represent a natural process with mathematical equations and the ability to predict their behavior just blows my mind. In the past 4 years, I have been learning a lot about these models and optimization algorithms, and I am always curious how AI and ML can make things more efficient and powerful.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

It was not an easy decision to leave my home country and move to Canada on my own. I had very little support on this decision, as it was thought that a PhD is not meant for girls and Chemical Engineering is not a safe discipline for girls. I was persistent in my decision and made sure I was able to convince my family.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I was always told to pick the safest option and never encouraged to take risks. But last November I participated in the Ryerson Venture Zone’s (RVZ) community health and wellness challenge, on how to tackle young adult mental wellness when affected due to COVID. Our primary analysis was on why young adults are the most vulnerable group and why it is important to help them. After interviewing and surveying more than 100 young adults, we proposed a solution of developing a web-based platform to provide peer-to-peer support and providing pro-active assessments for them to take and evaluate where they lie on the mental health spectrum. Our venture ProsPeer has been advanced to pre-incubator stage in RVZ. I am a 25-year-old PhD candidate, who owns a social enterprise as well as being an immigrant in Canada. I wish I was told to take risks earlier, I want the younger generation to know that it is okay to take risk and explore things.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

STEM fields have the potential to make the world a better place. I would love to contribute to those changes. Through my problem solving skills and research skills I want to develop systematic tools and models to solve impactful problems and challenges by making data-driven decisions, including optimization of the project time & cost , and mitigating the associated risks.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Take the risk, explore new things, keep pushing your boundaries. That’s the only path to success. </p>

INSPIRATION

“Stop talking yourself out of opportunities because you don’t feel like you are “ready” yet. It’s time to jump. You are ready now.”