In AMSI scholarship recipient

Sara Vahaji

Deakin University


Dr. Sara Vahaji is a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Deakin University. She received her B.Sc. (Hons) (2003) degree in Chemical Engineering from Amirkabir University of Technology and her Ph.D. (2017) degree in Mechanical Engineering from RMIT University. She worked in industry as a chemical engineer for seven years before she started her PhD candidature. After graduation, she conducted research as a research fellow in the School of Engineering, at RMIT University before joining Deakin University as a lecturer. Dr. Vahaji’s research interests are mainly on numerical and experimental modelling and design of systems with two-phase flows. Her research outcomes are published in high-ranking journals and presented in prestigious national and international conferences. She has been the recipient of several awards including APA scholarship, fund from DST Group for performing high quality research, and travel grants for presenting her research outcomes at international conferences.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

My main field of research is on numerical investigations of multiphase flows using finite volume methods. In simple words, I simulate, study and predict the flow behaviour in different conditions. My investigations help to better understand the underlying physics of systems involved with fluids and eventually help to improve the efficiency of those systems. My model could be used for many applications including subcooled boiling, nasal drug delivery, bubbly flow around submerged objects, etc.

You received a CHOOSEMATHS Grant to assist your attendance at AMSI Winter School 2019. How important was this in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the sessions throughout the program?

The grant that I received was a tremendous help for me to attend the program; in other words, I couldn’t have attended the program if I didn’t receive this support. I am especially grateful for the childcare support as I have young twins who had to be taken care of while I was attending the sessions.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

In my opinion, such initiatives are invaluable. The CHOOSEMATHS grants provide opportunities for women in STEM to attend programs like AMSI Winter School where they could network with people in academia and industry at different levels. Also, the training that is offered in such programs, enhances the knowledge of women in mathematics that would eventually help the presentation of women in STEM and balance the gender equity in math related fields.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?

I am going to apply some of the new approaches that I have learnt during the program on my model.

What was the most valuable part of AMSI Winter School 2019 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

The most valuable parts of AMSI Winter School 2019 for me were the networking opportunity and the practical training sessions.

A panel session on the APR Intern program was included on the first day of the program. One of the aims of the program is to maximise employability and help prepare research graduates to drive industry/private sector research. Are you hoping to work with industry? How important is this experience for researchers? Particularly in terms of offering career flexibility for women?

 The APR Intern program introduced some great opportunities for the research graduates to work in industry. As a lecturer, I found this opportunity of a great potential for both my students and myself to have interactions with industry through this program. I am planning to have more collaborations with industry so that I can have a more significant impact on the society, and I believe the APR Intern program has the potential to facilitate this.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from the BHP Foundation to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

I believe the initiatives that CHOOSEMATHS, AMSI Schools and BHP Foundation are taking to support women in maths are invaluable and helpful. Although in my opinion math fields are still male dominant and it requires a lot more initiatives like CHOOSEMATHS to support women in maths in Australia.

Did you always want to pursue a career in maths? Were you encouraged to study these subjects at school? Do any particular mentors come to mind? Any outstanding teachers?

 I have always enjoyed math subjects at school. I had really great teachers who not only made the maths interesting, but also encouraged me to pursue my studies in maths. Now, my career is in engineering which is tightly bonded with maths.

Where do you see yourself in five, ten years’ time?

I see myself in academia with more seniority and stronger impact on society with more collaborations with industry.

Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the CHOOSEMATHS grant or AMSI Winter School 2019?

I am personally grateful for the support that CHOOSEMATHS provides to women in STEM to attend valuable programs like AMSI Winter School. All the organisers were very supportive, friendly, approachable and a delight to interact with. In my opinion the AMSI Winter School 2019 was a successful event and all the participants benefited from it.

What advice would you give to a student who is considering taking up Winter School in 2020? Should they apply and why?

I definitely encourage students to attend the program. It provides not only practical and helpful training, but also an opportunity to network to relevant people in the field both in academia and in industry at different levels of seniority. Certainly a great chance for networking and eye opening for different existing and emerging methods and approaches.

What advice would you give to a student who is preparing/packing for their first Winter School program? What can they expect? What would you do differently if you participated in the program again?

I highly encourage students to attend this program. In my opinion it has even a more significant impact on the students who are at the middle of their studies. The AMSI Winter School 2019 was well organised and so helpful that I believe whether you were at late stage of bachelor degree, a PhD candidate, an early career researcher, or a mid-career researcher, you would have benefited from the program. I foresee that the next Winter School would be as good, if not better.

I highly recommend the students to study the taught materials on the same day and come back the next day with heaps of questions to maximise the benefits from the training.

I also encourage students to socialise more during the Winter School and make as many friends as possible.