Our guest blogger, Maisie Goodson, shares highlights from our guest speaker, Parimala Shivaprasad who recently qualified as Doctor of Chemical Engineering while developing a social enterprise start-up.
Parimala grew up in Bangalore, India and performed at a high level at school whilst also training as a classical singer. She decided that after her A-levels she wanted to pursue a career in research by attaining a PhD and maintained this belief throughout her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering. After university her friends were applying for more traditional jobs and at this point Parimala says she learnt not to let others influence you, as it is you that has to live with your decisions. It is important never to go with the flow when it comes to your career but to follow your ambitions to the core. She continued to pursue her research career by studying for a Masters in Jaipur. She said that moving away from home gave her independence, confidence, increased her resilience and provided a wealth of new experiences.
Parimala’s next step was to apply for PhDs, at which point she always knew she wanted to be in the UK (a lot to do with Harry Potter!). During her PhD she has had a lot of different experiences, including public engagement with her research and conferences. In this way Parimala has worked to build her profile and personal image, and it boosted her confidence as people were genuinely interested in her research. She was also offered the chance to move to the Netherlands for six months, which she took up and upon reflection she says it gave her a different perspective. Parimala also told us how her PhD supervisor was a constant support throughout her three and a half years. She highlighted the importance of mentors and how we can learn from them both personally and professionally. Her PhD project itself also made her more resilient as she did over 100 experiments that failed. Parimala’s take home message was that it is about learning from tough times and not giving in.
Parimala is also a budding entrepreneur. Parimala’s enterprise is to reduce waste and pollution from single use flowers in India. This involves removing the essential oils from flowers in order to repurpose and recycle the flowers. During her PhD she has also balanced developing her idea into a social enterprise and secured funding for the idea following a dragon’s den style competition to Bath alumnae. Consequently, she was able to return to India and scale up the company, and what was previously an idea is now a feasible business.
Her social enterprise has been picked up by BBC news and she was shortlisted for Forbes Asia 30 under 30. Her career was accidental as she always thought she would be an academic, so she tells us that whilst it is good to have a plan, things do not always go to plan so it is good to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Whilst Parimala is uncertain about what this part of her life holds, she is passionate about what she wants to do. She tells us that being an entrepreneur requires resilience, organisation and transferable skills that she credits her PhD for giving her. Parimala refines her time management skills by making a plan on Sunday night of what needs to be done this week, including both a plan A and plan B for when things inevitably don’t all go to plan.
Parimala’s final advice included ALWAYS following your dreams, both in your career and in life, and never let others judge your decisions. It is important to make decisions and to own them, and to try new things without the fear of failure. She advised us to NEVER let others tell us what you can and cannot do and to avoid comparison with peers. Lastly, we should never let failure stop us from trying again and never give up.
A huge thank you to Parimala for such an inspiring talk with so many life lessons we can all learn from!