CVEN PhD student Badal Pokharel comes from Kathmandu, Nepal. ‘Badal’ means cloud in Nepali.  Her family and friends call her “Baddy”.

Badal has a Masters in Engineering Geology and was teaching that discipline to B.E. Civil students in Kathmandu Engineering College before she came to Australia in August 2019, and began her PhD in September. She was also a Research Scientist in the Natural Hazard section of the Himalayan Risk Research Institute, Bhaktapur. (Now a Visiting Researcher there.). Reflecting her deep interest in this field her PhD topic is “Recognition, assessment and analysis of landslides in the central Nepal Himalayas”, with CVEN supervisor Dr Samsung Lim.

Q: Tell us what your PhD is about, and what you hope to find out or achieve by this work?

On April 25, 2015, a disastrous earthquake of magnitude 7.8 hit central Nepal and was followed by thousands of aftershocks. This event killed nearly 9,000 people, and the country was severely affected. This was my first experience of an earthquake and it was horrifying.

Disaster management and risk reduction is a challenging task in developing countries like Nepal. Rapid response and recovery activities are not accessible due to the lack of preparedness for human resources and databases. Therefore, we need to initiate transdisciplinary approaches to bring science and society together to address a real-world problem.

The main objective of my PhD research is to implement machine learning algorithms and GIS/Remote sensing-based approaches to assess landslides and thus prepare landslide susceptibility maps in the central Nepal Himalayas. I mostly use different GIS environments (ArcGIS, QGIS and GRASS GIS) and R. I also sometimes work with shell scripts.   

One of my goals is to prepare a model for detailed community hazard mapping that could be useful for recovery and reconstruction in the aftermath of an earthquake event. Ultimately, we can use similar techniques in the Himalayan belt or other places with identical terrain conditions.  

Q: Why did you choose to come to UNSW Engineering?

UNSW is one of the best universities in the world. Apart from academic excellence, it is very diverse and welcoming. I had actually received a scholarship from a university in the United States and was all prepared to go there. However, two weeks later, I received an email from UNSW that I had secured a PhD Candidateship with a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship. It was unbelievable as I never thought I would be able to make it. So, without any second thought, I decided to join here.

I chose CVEN mainly because it is one of the highest ranked school in Engineering. Also, since I wanted to work in the geospatial field, I found myself the best fit in the SAGE (Surveying and Geospatial Engineering) group. I had read about Dr Lim’s expertise and the students he would be willing to accept. I had an interview with Dr Lim, and we found that our research interests match.

Q: How did you manage to continue your PhD during Covid-19 ? How has it impacted you and your family?

Covid 19 highly impacted my and my family’s mental health. I have not seen my family since August 2019. This is the first time I have been away from home for so long. Last year, I was always in a low mood and depressed most of the times. Eventually, I gave myself time to comprehend the situation the entire world is facing. Yoga is a daily routine in my home, and my parents constantly encouraged me to do the same. Mediation helped me a lot. But I must confess that I have developed social anxiety and do not like to go out often.

I had my first review in August 2020, which went well, and I am doing my best to keep up with the milestones. With time, I have realized we are so much in the rush that we forget to ask ourselves if we are fine. It is okay to take a break for a while. Mental health is the essential part of the PhD journey.  

Q: What would you like to do after completing your PhD?

I am very passionate about academic research. I want to work in disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) in future. A few months after arriving in Sydney, bush fires impacted human, wildlife, and the environment. In Nepal, we have wildfires too. Here, we have concerns about sea-level rise due to climate change and global warming, whereas there in Nepal we are worried about the rapid glacier melting in the Himalayas. Despite the spatial location, all of us are connected one way or other. We need to act locally and think globally. DRMM is a crucial part of sustainable development.

Q: Best things about studying at UNSW/CVEN?

As I mentioned before, UNSW/CVEN is diverse and has opened its arms for someone who came from the Himalayas. The administrative staff are friendly and always smiling. I also love the research flexibility and facilities here. CVEN offers a platform to researchers who are looking to implement a transdisciplinary approach in their work. Last year Dr Andrew Dansie provided me with an opportunity to work with two of his undergraduate students from Humanitarian Engineering. We designed a GIS-based project in partnership with Nepal Development Research Institute, a non-profit research organization in Nepal that aims to fill gaps between policy and practice through scientific research. The project aimed to find a correlation between hazard and infrastructure along a highway in central Nepal and ultimately analyse the relationship between hazard risk management and sustainable development. We could not make field-based studies because of the pandemic. I loved working with the team. As a researcher in natural hazards, I am always eager to connect with a dynamic team and apply multidisciplinary approaches to respond humanitarian crisis.

Other than that, I love the campus’s vibes. It is very lively.

Q: Most challenging things aboutUNSW/CVEN?

The most challenging thing here is to make friends. Most of the PhDs do not have coursework, so our day is about working in a research office or lab. I miss two things here: mountains and teaching. I love and enjoy teaching. It provides an opportunity to learn and unlearn things and grow better. However, the beautiful beach not far from our office makes my day.

And finally –

I am a geologist by background. Maybe this why I always think my journey from the youngest mountain belt to the land where the oldest rocks in the world have been discovered is fascinating. I am grateful to be here at UNSW and have immense respect for the land.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Aboriginal Elders of all other communities.

I am very much looking forward to contributing my scientific knowledge to the people of this land and any corner in the world where my specialization would work.