Prateek Singh is a PhD student at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in the Civil Engineering department who strives to create a better tomorrow. “It has always been my personal belief that an education is priceless when it is used to give back to the environment and community. Working in the field of fluvial mechanics allowed me to do that by working towards solutions for flood management and restoration,” he says.

His curiosity for a civil engineering PhD in hydraulics and open channel flow studies was sparked by topics such as computational fluid mechanics and fluvial hydraulics and this interest has been increasing during his career. “It is what drives me to search for, and fill, gaps in the research and knowledge of fluid mechanics, to make a continuum of fabric where we firmly understand it on a new scale,” he says.

Together with his supervisor, Dr Xiaonan Tang, Singh was made an integral part of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) project. In his time at XJTLU, Singh has published eight peer-reviewed journal articles, one book chapter and one conference article all relevant to the flood control project, river ecological restoration, urban river landscape design, and water environmental protection.

Tough times

Due to recent events concerning the Covid-19 pandemic, students worldwide have experienced difficulties and faced multiple challenges concerning their studies. For Singh, it was no different. However, the time allowed him to focus more on his research. “At the end of the day, if I could be a bit more productive in such a difficult time, then that is the silver lining for me,” he says.

Singh has received support throughout his research not only from his professors, but also from the department, which motivated him to continue his research. Together with Dr Tang, they frequently discuss possible ways to further their research, which allowed Singh to publish so many papers in such a short period of time. “When you find someone who really resonates with you, then it elevates your own work and pushes you to work harder.”

Upskill yourself

During the research and writing time of your PhD, he says, it is easy to forget about your networking and interpersonal skills; yet it is important to develop things that will help you further your career. “You have to be multidimensional,” Singh says. These, alongside research and writing, are all skills that he has developed during his career, especially during his PhD. Singh explains the importance of grants and funding for a future career as an academic and that it is important to obtain good connections to other people in your field of research.

Doing a PhD will require a lot of effort. However, this comes naturally when the field is something that you are interested in. “I have seen people come here and when you ask them why they are doing their PhD, their basic answer is ‘because I got the opportunity’, or ‘because I got a scholarship’,” says Singh.

He believes this is not enough of a motivating factor and thus, before you start your PhD career, you must be sure that this topic or the department is something you are interested in and that you see yourself doing it in the long run. “You need to have a vision for your future, an objective that drives you, and then come and do your PhD,” explains Singh.

Helpful advice

If you are reading this and you’re thinking to yourself that you want to pursue a PhD at XJTLU, Singh says there are two things to keep in mind when deciding:

1. Find the right person under whom you want to work
2. Find the right kind of research funding. You don’t want to worry about finance, but rather divert all your focus and energy to your research.

“If you are already doing your PhD, I’d suggest you start immediately writing and working on publishing your research article. It’s just like art. The first time you create an artwork, you feel like it’s bad and you don’t want anyone to see it. That makes you want to do better. The first research article you write will be tough, but the next one will be better. Hence, in order to do your best, you need to start writing and publishing as early as possible, to give you more opportunities to improve yourself,” says Singh.

Lastly, some advice from Singh to all the students at XJTLU: “In the words of my fluid mechanics professor from undergrad: fluid always finds its way, all you need is to provide a medium. And like fluid, you’ll find your way, you just need the right medium. Mine was the Civil and Environmental engineering department at XJTLU.”

By Stella Ruggeberg
Edited by Patricia Pieterse

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