PhD student collaborates with her father
All in the family
By Michelle Osmond
Sritama and Mridul Sarkar.
Like most graduate students, Sritama Sarkar collaborates with experts for her research. But in her case, that expert also happens to be her father. She came to Memorial from India to pursue her PhD in ocean and naval architectural engineering with research on submersible vehicles for underwater dredging and mining. Her father, Mridul K. Sarkar, is a mechanical engineer and since 1979 has designed and built surface floating dredgers.
“I grew up in a dredging environment,” said Ms. Sarkar. “When I was a child I watched him drawing the designs, because AutoCAD wasn’t that common, and I would go to work sites with him.”
Ms. Sarkar began her academic career with a bachelor’s in geology from Calcutta University, followed by a master’s in the same discipline, then a master’s in mechanical engineering from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. In fact, she was the first Indian to graduate as a dredging engineer from Delft University.
After meeting Dr. Neil Bose, Canada Research Chair in Offshore and Underwater Vehicles Design at Memorial University, at a conference in India, she decided to pursue graduate research at Memorial.
Ms. Sarkar worked in India with her father’s company, Excavation Equipment Manufacturing (Private) Limited, for a year after her first master’s degree. Ms. Sarkar says that when you work with your father, it sometimes gets a bit emotional.
“It’s not the standard boss/employee relationship. You have that, but no matter how hard to try to maintain it, there’s always that soft relationship between a father and daughter.”
Sometimes, she adds, he was very protective.
“I’m not a very good swimmer and dredgers are always on the water. I remember once we went to a site that was on a river that had lots of currents. The dredger was very close to shore but he wouldn’t allow me to go on the dredger because he was afraid I would fall and wouldn’t be able to swim to shore. After a lot of fuss, I was finally allowed to go on with the operators.”
Ms. Sarkar says her father may be proud that she’s chosen his line of work, but says he doesn’t communicate that very often.
“He’ll say, ‘Okay, this is good’, but he would never say too much because then children might think too highly of themselves!” However, she adds, she does admire his courage to fight against anything he doesn’t feel is right and the fact that everything he has accomplished he has done on his own.
As part of her PhD, Ms. Sarkar has designed a submersible, walking dredger and her father’s company is building it. She spends a few months a year in India but she cannot be there all the time so she’s left the design in the hands of her father. They call or email everyday.
“I’m able to take advantage of his practical experience and, for him it’s an improvement in the knowledge. It’s another example of collaboration between industry and the university with practical applications because it is also meeting industry demands.”