Aakeen is a PhD student in the Turbo research group.

"I love the challenge; the constant problem solving, the science and the process."

When did you decide to do a PhD and why? 

After I completed my placement year, I realised that there were a number of factors that were important to me about my future workplace. I wanted to stay in engineering, but it was really important that the topic and the field aligned with my personal ambitions. I had taken the Aircraft Engine Technology (AET) course in my final year and during the course I designed compressors for aircraft engines, which incorporated everything that I loved about my undergraduate course such as Design, Materials and Thermofluids. I realised that I would love to learn more about this topic but I had never really considered a PhD until the opportunity presented itself to me by my supervisor. Thinking back on it now, a PhD fit me perfectly, I just didn't know it.

How has your experience been so far, and what do you enjoy the most about it? 

I love the challenge; the constant problem solving, the science and the process. I’m working on a topic that is relatively undiscovered as yet which is really exciting because it means that I am one of the people trying to figure it out. I have only just started my PhD Aakeen Parikhand I have really enjoyed immersing myself into my field and the problem that I am going to try to solve in the next 3 years. Given that it is challenging, I know that there are ups and downs to the process in research. There are weeks where I am stuck and I don’t know what direction to take and contrastingly weeks where I have made a lot of progress in my research. I am also constantly growing and learning as an individual; This is one of the few jobs where the direction of the project and the outcome is entirely up to me, which gives me a lot of freedom to study and research something that I like.

In terms of the life as a PhD student, I love the flexibility and the atmosphere. Everyone around me is supportive and engaging and I don't feel restricted to a schedule. I live quite far and sometimes prefer working from home which is possible because I connect to my computer remotely. On the other hand, sometimes I come into the university on weekends if I really want to do something here. It's great to have the flexibility.

What is your PhD research about?

I am working on the design and optimisation of centrifugal compressors for turbochargers used in automotive applications, by understanding the variation in flow behaviour under real engine conditions and investigating the losses in efficiency which occur as a result of such an operating condition. My principle aim is to reduce the losses seen in the compressor when exposed to real engine conditions through computational and experimental research. I will be trialling different geometries and concepts for an improved compressor and investigating the losses in efficiency in each case.

What would you say about the supervision you receive?

I have a primary and a secondary supervisor. My primary supervisor is a Research Fellow (Dr Maria Esperanza Barrera-Medrano) and the project I am working on is a follow up on her PhD, which is great, because I get thorough advice and guidance. I get weekly support on the direction of my project and she is my first point of contact for any day-to-day issues that I encounter. My secondary supervisor is a really experienced professor (Professor Ricardo Martinez-Botas) who supervises me alongside several other students in their PhDs. We meet weekly wherever possible and discuss the wider, more lateral aspects of my research. Both my supervisors are kind, supportive and inspirational. I get guidance and freedom to form my own thoughts which are often clarified in group meetings together. On the whole, I feel like that balance is just right.

Do you have any thoughts about what you might like to do in the future?

I have only just started my PhD and whilst I do have plans for my future, anything can change in 3.5 years time. I know that I want to work on projects which have an impact, preferably by continuing to be an engineer or product designer to some extent. I would like to work in fields where STEM expertise is needed the most such as climate change, environmental protection, humanitarian issues or international development. I feel that with a degree in engineering, I should try to do whatever I can to have a positive influence in the world.

What advice would you offer to students considering applying for a PhD at Imperial?

Research the topic and the industry/area; get a feel for the work you will be doing (I was lucky enough to do that in my fourth year). Get to know your team if you can. Align your set of skills and knowledge to your role. For instance, as an avid designer, I would have been ill-placed in a purely computational role. Consider that sometimes you will struggle and reach walls but that's usually okay and that you can ask for help. It is another degree though and you have to put in the equivalent amount of work to get the qualification, so spend enough time weighing out the decisions and make sure it's the right one for you. There are many positives and negatives to a PhD... you get a lot of experience (conferences, papers, research skills) and you have a fairly lenient lifestyle (flexible hours, student-life), but it is a long term commitment where the pathway is something you have to pave yourself.