Meet Asmita Khanal, Ag Engineering Ph.D. Student
Focused and hard-working agricultural engineer, Asmita Khanal, moved from Nepal all the way to the USA with the goal of helping developing countries achieve agricultural sustainability.
Asmita Khanal is an Agricultural (Ag) Engineering Ph.D. student at the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Sciences at The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on evaluating the technical, economic, and environmental sustainability of biofuels and bioproducts produced from biomass by using different modeling frameworks. Additionally, she conducts experiments to improve various operations in agriculture, including harvest, storage, and transport of biomass.
Some of Asmita's responsibilities include performing research, analyzing data, making progress reports for funding agencies, reviewing articles of her peers, supervising new students in the research group, and helping her advisor (Dr. Ajay Shah) to write grants.
Asmita got interested in agricultural engineering when she was an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at Tribhuvan University in Nepal. During that time, she had the opportunity to work on a project on designing and fabricating post-harvest processing equipment for agricultural products. This undergraduate experience motivated her to continue in the agricultural engineering field.
After her undergraduate studies, she pursued a Masters program in Ag Engineering at The Ohio State University (OSU). During this graduate program, she learned about the vast diversity that this field of study contains, realizing that ag engineering is more than just designing agricultural equipment.
After her Masters, she decided to continue her projects as a Ph.D. student in the Biosystems Analysis Lab with Dr. Ajay Shah at OSU where she works on evaluating the performance of biobased systems that produce biofuels and bioproducts from agricultural or plant residues.
Moving countries to pursue graduate studies can be tough
Asmita talked to us about how moving from another continent to embark on a graduate program was a very challenging experience for her.
"...being an international student away from home (Nepal) for the first time, I have dealt with mental health issues due to stress and loneliness. I am trying to get better at dealing with mental health issues through exercise, a balanced diet, and participating in social events within and outside the campus. One thing that has worked well for me is following routines so that I work, sleep, eat, exercise, and do other activities at similar times of the day."
Asmita's goal is to work on improving agriculture in developing countries
After her degree, Asmita wants to work with non-governmental organizations that focus on improving agriculture in developing countries. She mentioned that, although smallholder farmers in developing countries are the foundation of the ag industry, they still face many difficulties that deprive them to benefit from agriculture fairly.
"... I want to implement different technologies, whether it be mechanizing agricultural operations and post-harvest processing or generating income from waste streams and byproducts from agriculture. Through all of this, I want to be able to transfer environmentally sustainable techniques to smallholder farmers in developing countries."
The importance of balancing work and life
When we asked Asmita if there was something she wished she knew when moving far away from home and starting a graduate program, Asmita said:
"I wish someone had told me about the importance of balance between work and personal life before I started graduate school…"
Graduate school, like many other jobs, can be significantly hard and stressful for most of the program. This constant intensity can ultimately make students forget to take care of themselves physically and emotionally. Asmita mentioned she struggled with work and life balance during her early years in grad school. She said that making time for self-care is essential for our health and everyone should make it a daily habit.
A message to all the young girls out there
"...Never give up on an opportunity that crosses your path. Work hard to achieve what you have always dreamt of doing, and be confident in what you do. There are many resources that can help you achieve your goals, don't hesitate to ask for help and practice self-care through your journeys."
Developing hobbies and having fun are fantastic habits to have during grad school
Asmita mentioned she loves dancing, experimenting with cooking different kinds of food, and baking and decorating cakes on her personal time. How fun is that!
Working towards reducing environmental impacts and improving agricultural sustainability
Asmita said how it is imperative to work towards improving and applying more sustainable practices in agriculture and reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture all across the world. More specifically, she believes that implementing mechanization in the developing world can improve agriculture tremendously, along with integrated farming systems. These can have a significant impact on mitigating climate change risks that have adversely affected farmers.
Why highlight minority women in agricultural sciences?
"Minority women should be encouraged in agricultural sciences because agriculture is the foundation of survival on earth. With educated women, society can progress (with agriculture being the foundation of all societal progress)....Minority women can play a crucial role in uplifting the economic status of minority groups."
Role models are vital for women empowerment
Asmita mentioned her mother had always been her role model. She admires her mother as she has always been an independent woman, even during an era where women didn't work and earn for their families. She also talked about how she grew up inspired by the driven, confident, and progressive women she was surrounded. These fierce women encourage her to keep going and striving no matter the circumstances.
Find your professional support group
Asmita encouraged women to always look for women groups in professional societies. Networking within these groups is an excellent way to get to know other women in your field and develop a support group.
Where can you find Asmita?
Thank you, Asmita, for sharing your story with us!
The Women in Ag Science (WAGS) Team
This interview was edited by WAGS co-founder Noelymar Gonzalez.