Shalini Guleria

What motivated you to undertake university study?

I have always been passionate about learning new things and since I was very young all I wanted to do was to learn everything possible. So at a very young age I made a decision to go to university because I thought that’s where all the knowledge existed and I think that was my main motivation. As I grew older my curiosity also grew which motivated me to undertake university study.

What made you choose to study at University of Waikato?

My initial reason for choosing University of Waikato was that it was closer to home. I also had few friends that went to University of Waikato and told me great things about the study structure, the student life and how amazing all the students and faculty members were. I think a collaboration of these factors allowed me to make this decision and I think it was the best one for me.

What did you study?

I did a Bachelors of Chemical and Biological Engineering (Honours) and I am currently in my final year of Masters in Science (Research) Why did you study that?At a very young age I have been more interested in STEM subjects, mostly biology and chemistry. My bachelor’s degree was a great combination of biology and chemistry with a focus on engineering applications. During my degree not only I got to gain more knowledge in this field but I had a chance to explore and build my creative/innovative side.

When you started what did you think you would end up doing?

When I started my study I thought I would end becoming an industrial engineer, mostly working in a consultation firm. How did that change over the years?In the midst of my degree I realized that industrial consultation work wasn’t for me, I didn’t really enjoy it as much, but what I enjoyed the most was researching. I loved the aspect of my degree where we had to do research project and then come up with a solution to a problem. I could be innovative and explore a variety of areas, also learning new things on the side.

What was your favourite area/subject/paper? And Why?

I thoroughly enjoyed all the papers that involved the concept of bioengineering. Like I mentioned before I always enjoyed biology and getting the opportunity to learn engineering application specific to this field was always interesting to me.

What inspired you during your study years?

When I started my studies I had a goal to pass my degree with first class honours and I think that was my inspiration to always push forward. There were times when times were tough or things didn’t work out as I wanted them too but that one goal in mind always inspired me look forward and overcome any obstacles. My motto in life is to be my own inspiration, because I know my potential and limits and I am the only who can exceed them, so I was my own inspiration!

Who did you look up to during your study?

I have always looked up to my father when it comes to education. My father had very humble beginnings when he was young despite that he made a good life for himself, purely by studying hard and pushing through a magnitude of obstacles. So whenever I had an issue or I was struggling with my studies he was someone I talked to and took guidance from.

How did your lecturers play a part in the journey you’ve been on?

My lecturers played a huge role in my journey and I think without their support and guidance I would have been lost during my studies. No matter how tough the journey was I was supported by my lecturers, not only they helped me through my studies but were also there for me when I just needed to have a chat as a friend.

How did your years at Waikato make a difference to you?

I think before coming to Waikato I was a girl with many dreams, but coming here I learnt how to make my dreams a reality. I have gained some incredible opportunities from this institution and I have always been supported for the things that I am passionate about. So I can say that Waikato has made a huge difference in my life and played a very important role in shaping me as a person.

Can you explain the work you have done in your current roles?

I currently work as a part time environmental engineer at Wallace Group LP and I am also studying a full time masters.Apart from work and academics I head Waikato International Students’ Association (WISA) and Golden Key Honours Society Waikato Chapter as the president. I also sit on the board of NZ International Students’ Association (NZISA) and act as the science and engineering student ambassador.

How did you end up starting deciding to train in Engineering and Science?

I think my motivation has always been there from the start. The area of science and engineering always intrigued me and the fact that there was so much to explore and learn in these areas always pulled me towards it. I guess my father being an engineer might have had an influence on me but saying that I have been told that I was curious at a very young age and liked to experiment with things.

Where you always driven to this area of work?

Yes, I sure was!

Tell us about what a typical day looks like for you?

My day usually starts at 5 am which involves going to the gym and then heading off to work for a 7:30 am start. My work life comprises of some routine tasks and some new projects that I have been working on. As an environmental engineer my job is to maintain the biological treatment plant in the facility and basically manage any waste that is produced during production. I usually finish my work at 2:30pm and then I head off to uni to start off my study life. Depending on how my experiments are running I will either spend few hours in the lab or work on my thesis. I sometimes have meetings scheduled for my clubs and events that I need to plan. I leave uni at around 7pm when I have finished all my tasks and head back home.

What is it that makes you get up in the morning and do this?

My work and my research (masters) are two things that I am truly passionate about. I always tell my friends that I get the best of both worlds where at my work I get to apply my industrial engineering knowledge and with my study I get to do my research. Despite how busy my life may seem I think it’s the thrill that I get from doing my work makes me get up in the morning and go for it! It’s true when they say ‘when you love what you do, it never seems tiring’.

How did your study influence your decision to enter this field?

My study helped me find what I was passionate about! I never knew I would enjoy research this much but during my degree the more research opportunities I got the more curious I got about finding answers.

What do others say about you when they hear about what you do?

To be honest people think I am crazy! A lot of people don’t understand how I do so many things at the same time but I always tell them I can do even more because to me this doesn’t seem tiring or hard, it’s like a booster for me!

What are you hoping to achieve through this work?

Through my research I hope to find a way to develop better detection models for tumor based cancers. I am currently researching on breast cancer to develop 3D model tumors by using a 3D bioprinter. These models will then be compared to existing 2D models. My field of research is called tissue engineering; it is a novel field which demonstrates a great combination of engineering and biology. The main aim for me is to gain knowledge of tissue engineering through my masters and then hopefully take it further and be specialised in this field by doing a doctorate. I believe this area is the future of medical science and will do wonders once we explore it to its depths. Just a side note, my passion towards cancer research is due to a loss of friend during high school where I saw one of my close friends battle this disease. I think that was a huge turning point for me hence being able to do my masters on cancer means a lot. The ultimate goal would be to cure it but even if I can make a small contribution in this area I will be satisfied.

What do you find rewarding about this?

I think the reward is the fact that I am doing something to make a difference in this world with my research. I have also been volunteering with cancer society for the past 5 years and when I meet cancer patients and have a chat with them and tell them about I am doing they feel a sense of relief. I know the work I am doing now will have significance in the coming future and who knows it may give us some answers to those complicating questions that surround cancer research.

How do you think what you do affects others now?

I think I would answer this question similar to the question above.

What changes would you like to see in the world and how do you think you can make a difference?

I believe in two things in my life, education and service and all the things I do I try to incorporate these things in it. I feel the thrill and pleasure I get in helping others cannot be described and I know through my education (research) I am doing that. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to make a huge difference in this world but if we try to do small things every day the accumulative affect will be great. I don’t think the world needs any changes, the way it was created its beautiful. But as the residents of this world we need to makes changes in our thinking because what we think and what we do shapes our world! I try to do things in my life that make a difference which could be as small as complementing someone or volunteering at cancer society. Every bit counts!