Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#BLOG – Interview with Loughborough Alumnus Dr Dhaval Panchal

In this article, Dr Dhaval Panchal, former Loughborough Doctoral Researcher in Aeronautical & Automotive Engineering, tells us about his experience a Doctoral Researcher, the importance of social activities outside of work and his advice to DR who wish to transition to industry after their PhD.

What department and school were you part of when you were a Doctoral Researcher at Loughborough University?

I was part of the Aeronautical & Automotive Engineering department from the School of Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering (AACME).

When did you graduate?

I graduated in 2018.

Did you do an undergraduate and master’s degree before you PhD? If so, was it in Loughborough?

Yes, I did my MEng in Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough.

Did you work between the time you finished your undergrad/master’s and the time you started your PhD? 

No, I went went straight from my MEng to PhD.

Can you please give a quick layperson description of your PhD research? 

My research was about finding out how a new type of carbon fibre material breaks, to design better products with it, such as stronger and lighter aeroplanes, cars, wheelchairs, helmets and prosthetics for example. 

Was your PhD funded? If not did you manage to get any external funding? 

My PhD was founded by a company (GE Aviation) and The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 

Did you get involved with any societies or clubs during your time at Loughborough? Did you work outside of your PhD?

During my time at Loughborough I did salsa, canoeing, mountaineering and also took part in events organised by the PhD SSN, but I did not work outside my PhD. I thoroughly enjoyed the social events and activities that were both non-engineering related and very social to make up for the lack of diversity within my department. I made many lifelong friends from completely different and diverse backgrounds and internationally. I learnt so much from them, their cultures, and bonded through the social dancing scene. This also helped with gaining confidence in social situations and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. Always learning – bits of language, new skills, new foods etc. 

Can you think of one skill that you developed or improved during your PhD?

Self-motivation/tenacity – being in almost 100% control of my studies during this period of time, I quickly learned to create a routine, develop a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout, such as not taking work home with me while making sure to do goal-oriented work when in the office. I used social activities through the society memberships in order to enjoy life as a postgrad and to make the most of being in full control of my work timetable and commitments.

I also learned not to give up, as doing a PhD is certainly difficult for a reason, and not being disappointed by failure is an entire change of mindset – it makes the breakthrough even more satisfying, and you can be even more proud! I spent at least 6 months working on something that became monotonously boring after consistently failing to work, but eventually made a breakthrough that enabled a rapid conclusion to my research. 

What advice would you give a Doctoral Researcher reading this article? 

Academia isn’t your only option after completing your PhD. I strongly advise using tools such as LinkedIn to network and find out where your research could be used or is already been used in an industry setting. It is potentially an extremely marketable asset. 

Can you tell us more about your current job? 

Unfortunately, I am currently unemployed as I was made redundant due to the effect of the pandemic on the global aerospace industry. 

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

The best part was the salary, which is MUCH better than most academic roles available immediately after graduation. 

The worst part was having to work towards goals or objectives that you are not always 100% in control of, e.g. business priorities. 

What is your biggest achievement so far?

Getting a good job outside of academia where your work is recognised in a wider context. 

What is the biggest hurdle that you managed to overcome so far?

Finding out how to network and appeal to the industry after a PhD and learning how to advertise that experience and knowledge to benefit the industry/company in a business sense. This led to jobs that were not advertised and some interesting discussions with businesses who were unaware of the technology/skills you could contribute – for a decent salary of course! 

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self? 

Learn to code and get good at it! It’s becoming an essential skill, almost like typing was to the previous generation. 

What is that one thing you’re good at that is not related to your work? 

Baking/cooking – I always used to enjoy bringing cakes/bakes to the PhD SSN Tuesday lunchtime meetings. 

I also really enjoy teaching others to cook/bake and loved teaching to undergraduate during my PhD. 

Dr Dhaval Panchal

Are you a former DR? Would you like to talk about your time at Loughborough and give some advice to fellow DR or event undergrad and postgrad students? Email us at P-network@lboro.ac.uk.

Tymele Deydier
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