From engineering to water: A career flow to depollution

A young woman in a high-visibility jacket stands near water tanks and electronic equipment
Looking back, without VU I never would have drawn a path to where I am now.

Rachael Aganetti
Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), Mechanical Engineering, PhD (Mechanical Engineering)

After Rachael Aganetti completed her Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechanical Engineering at VU, she followed it up with a PhD in the same area. With her topic concerning biosolids (a by-product of the wastewater treatment process), Rachael continued her journey down a water-related pathway that has taken her from a bachelor degree to a doctorate – and across the world to France.

An opportunity too good to refuse

“My PhD supervisor, Professor Graham Thorpe, presented me with a PhD opportunity that was hard to refuse at the end of my bachelor degree.

“My topic was exploring how different configurations of stocking biosolids can lead to self-heating phenomenon, and sometimes fire.

“It gave me the chance to travel to France and work with an engineering team there who do forest fire simulations, and were happy to integrate my topic. I got to collaborate with people from around the world, and even learned to speak French along the way.

“Graham was an excellent support: so full of knowledge, and his door was always open whenever I had a question. And – with a sound team to coach me, sponsored by a recognised research entity and guaranteed publication and international collaboration – it was worth it.”

A fork in the road

“I guess I am attracted to opportunity. Coming to the end of my PhD, I was looking to move away from research and get into industry. I wanted to do something that had meaning – that would contribute in a positive way to the environment.

“I had a contact who worked in site remediation that I met while I was in France. He offered me a five-month placement in the south of France, which quickly turned into a full-time position.

“Looking back, without VU I never would have drawn a path to where I am now. VU’s reputation for taking in and supporting students who may not have achieved course-entry scores elsewhere reflects their drive to help all students achieve.”

Working towards a cleaner future

“Having excelled in fluid mechanics during my engineering degree and worked on fluid flow during my PhD, site remediation [removal of contamination from soil or water] spoke to me.

“In order to clean up a site, there are multiple aspects that must be considered and each project is technically tailored based on the site context and its surroundings.

“We need to protect the planet for our children of the future; it would be terribly sad to leave them a home that has been treated like garbage.

“Cleaning up sites means taking responsibility for our mistakes and making them right, so that everyone can benefit from a safe and clean environment.”

Interested in a career in engineering and science? Explore our courses.

Or, find out about VU's commitment to protecting Country and sustainability.