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Ph.D. student, Agricultural and Biological Systems Engineering
Advisor: Dr. Suat Irmak
Expected Graduation: December 2017
Your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Vasudha Sharma always wanted to be an engineer and wanted a high-tech, rapidly advancing field of engineering with plenty of job opportunities and the potential to make a huge difference in the world. She found that field at the University of Nebraska. What did she choose? Agricultural engineering.
“Agriculture is one of the most highly sophisticated and technologically advanced industries in the world,” she says.
And while the number of farms and farmers working in the United States has gone down, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln regularly sees more job openings in agricultural engineering than it has graduates to fill them. As the world’s population continues to grow and put increasing demands on the remaining farms and the earth’s water, soil, and energy supply, agricultural engineers are needed to conserve what we have and make the most of it.
“In recent years we have seen that freshwater resources are depleting at the same time population is increasing,” Sharma says. “We are going to be nine billion soon, so it is very important to effectively use our water resources to increase the agricultural productivity to feed the future. The issue of water scarcity and increasing population is the same everywhere, whether in India or here. So it is important to come up with innovative ideas and to develop strategies of how to save water and grow more.”
What did you study?
With this in mind, Sharma completed her bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from Punjab Agricultural University, India, followed by her master’s degree at UNL in cover crop research, and is devoting her Ph.D. studies to irrigation engineering under the guidance of Professor Suat Irmak.
Can you tell us what you do?
“In my master’s research, we developed the relationship of cover crop effects on soil quality and water availability for corn production,” Sharma says. “My Ph.D. research is focused on understanding the relationship between the soil, water and crop response to various environmental factors under various irrigation management practices. We do this by comparing two strategies. One strategy, known as variable rate irrigation, is applying water and fertilizers where they are really needed in the field. The other strategy, known as uniform or fixed rate irrigation, is to apply uniform amounts of water and fertilizer throughout the field without accounting for any spatial variability that might exist in the field. The goal is better irrigation and fertilizer management to optimize water use and perhaps increase the yield and profits.”
Sharma hopes to work as a professor or researcher when she graduates and is open to going anywhere to work. What’s most important to her is to use the knowledge she gained in her master’s and doctoral program at UNL to solve real-world problems in agriculture.
“There is so much potential in this field for coming generations in the United States and all over the world,” she says. “We have actually just started. We have so much to do.”