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Interview by: Sam Bartusek

I spoke with Duro Mechanical Engineer Swati Gaonkar recently about her path to engineering, her passion for Design and Manufacturing and how working on just one product is just not enough.

SB: Thanks for doing this interview! To start off, where are you originally from?

SG: I’m from Mumbai, India, and I’ve lived there all my life until this past year. I re-located to the States last August to pursue my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering.

SB: What did you study before coming here?

SG: I completed my Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering in Mumbai, from K.J. Somaiya College of Engineering, which was a four-year course from 2011 to 2015. Here my Master’s degree is going to be a two-year course at the University of Texas at Arlington in the same field. Until then I’ve come here for a summer internship at Duro and I’ll be moving back to Texas in September to resume to studying.

SB: Why did you choose to study Mechanical Engineering?

SG: Actually, my dad is a mechanical engineer, so it has always been something I had in my head. He’s a piping engineer and his passion and achievements are something that inspired me as I grew up, and after high school I choose to follow the same path towards mechanical engineering. During my Bachelor’s degree, I was involved in a number of research projects and technical activities that further grew my interest in pursuing my Master’s in it.

SB: What kind of research or projects have you done during your studies?

SG: In India I had a research paper published on increasing the efficiency of a solar collector by changing its design from the conventional design to a spiral design. This was my first glimpse into the world of research and it was quite exciting and successful, but due to lack of facilities and financial aid I couldn’t progress further with that specific project.

During the four-year course I also interned with different employers in different departments, because I was unclear about my specific department of interest, and after a while of experimenting with different interests I ended up choosing Design and Manufacturing to focus on. Wanting to do more research and acquire more knowledge in this field is really what brought me to the States, and I’m looking forward to taking the rest of my courses and doing my thesis project in the same field.

SB: Are you getting to work on some of that here?

SG: Yes, I get to work a lot using design software, like Solidworks, and also then simulating those design models on Solidworks or Ansys. I’ve researched about what’s called a Doppler Velocity Logger [a tool for underwater navigation], and I hope to successfully build one soon. I’m glad I joined the team here at Duro and I’m looking forward with great enthusiasm to see what’s in store for me in the coming months.

SB: What part of the AUV are you working on?

SG: I worked on simulating the head of the AUV at first. The head mainly consists of the dome-cap, which is made of acrylic material, and the base, which is aluminum and is fixed to the body. The dome secures the camera from leakage, so simulating the head of the AUV on Solidworks made sure the dome-cap could resist the water pressure fifty feet below sea-level and no design or material changes would be required.

Currently I’m working on building an appropriate mount for the mast, to ensure it gets the right support and doesn’t interfere with any other component, like the profile of the AUV or the pressure vessel, and I’ve put forward a few designs I feel are appropriate. Also, I’m working on finding safer options to seal the AUV, like sealants or changing the number of screws we use. And in the mean time I’ve read journal papers related to the Doppler Velocity Logger to acquire more knowledge about it. So it’s a combination of designing and researching and developing that I work on here.

SB: What have you found most interesting about working here?

SG: A few of my colleagues from the university got internships like I did, and we all re-located to different places. In comparison, I’ve noticed that because this is a startup company there’s more exposure and more responsibility, which turns into more learning. Robotics has always been fascinating to me, and getting to design one which helps the environment is a bonus. Also, the work environment is very friendly and everyone here is very helpful, and the exchange of knowledge is helping my personal growth and also benefiting the growth of the company. 

SB: Is this the first workforce experience you’ve had, outside of schooling?

SG: No, I worked in India for a year before I decided to study further. My work there was designing different types of conveyors and their components.

SB: So is there anything that you gained from designing conveyors that you think you’ve been able to used here?

SG: I wasn’t using Solidworks there, I was using AutoCAD, which is different, but the basics of the software have remained the same. AutoCAD is used for 2D designing and Solidworks is for 3D.

SB: What could you see as being a product you’d really like to design or work on?

SG: Well, I think being in design is more about working on any kind of product. I wouldn’t want to restrict myself to any one product. For example, I’ve just started working on robotics and the AUV, and even though I didn’t specifically plan on working on robotics, now that I am, it’s fun. I believe it’s fun designing anything. If I had to design something else, it would be a challenge, which I would love, and in the process I would learn so many new things that would help increase my work efficiency. Restraining myself to designing only one product is not what I’m really looking for.

SB: What are you most looking forward to about your Master’s program and work later?

SG: The main purpose of doing the Master’s program is to seek in-depth knowledge on Design and Manufacturing, which is my focus of interest. Also, I would like to seek all this knowledge through some practical and hands-on experience, rather than just theoretical knowledge. I want to work in designing and manufacturing, on something that keeps me engaged and excited.

SB: What is it like being a woman in the STEM field, which is pretty male-dominated?

SG: Well, yes, it does get a bit intimidating and lonely at times dealing with society’s attitude and the deeply-institutionalized assumption that women can’t… Currently, in my class of seventy, there are hardly about five girls. But if you have the confidence about your knowledge nothing else should matter. I also get kind of an advantage being a girl at times, I get some priority.

Apart from that, at Duro there is gender equality and the working atmosphere at Duro is very comfortable, friendly and respectful amongst the male and the female!

SB: What sort of stuff do you do outside of engineering, in your free time?

SG: One of my hobbies is drawing; I love painting too. I don’t get much time to do so daily, though. On a regular basis I like to go to the gym, read novels, spend time with friends and family and watch movies. I also love traveling, which lets me explore different types of food and different cultures and meet new people.

SB: Do you think being interested in a different kind of drawing has helped you in any way to get into working in design?

SG: Maybe, because at the end of the day drawing and designing are interrelated. It would make sense that my love for drawing on a canvas as a child has transferred into designing on software as I grew up.

SB: To wrap up, do you plan on staying here in the US or going back to India eventually?

SG: Sometime in the future I do plan to go back to India, because I have my family and friends there. Not immediately, though, because I want to gain experience working here. When it comes to comparing India and the US, India is still a developing country, and the US, as an already well-developed country, has better projects. I would want to bring the latest technologies to India but for that I would have to myself be well aware about the latest technologies.