Saving lives “greatest motivation” for earthquake engineer
From one earthquake-prone country to another, engineer Ankeeta Karmakar has left behind her life in India to study Earthquake Engineering at the University of Auckland.
It was her own fear of quakes and her knowledge of the terrible impact they have on communities which motivated her to research ways of creating greater resilience in construction. She chose to study in New Zealand to learn from the best academics and an industry invested in finding new ways of strengthening buildings.
“I have always feared earthquakes and wanted to know more about them,” she says. “Once I discovered Earthquake Engineering, I found what I wanted to do with my life.”
The 28-year-old, who graduated with a civil engineering degree from Gauhati University in the Indian state of Assam in 2016, started her Master’s programme in July 2020 while the world was in Covid lockdown. She studied online for almost two years, before arriving at the University of Auckland in April to complete her degree.
She admits to the challenges she faced in working alone online but says the support she received from university staff was fantastic. “Without their help, I don’t think I would have excelled.”
And excel she did. Ankeeta graduated with her Master’s degree this year and has started a PhD, building on her research into new ways of using cold-formed steel (CFS) to make buildings stronger to withstand earthquake forces.
“New Zealand is a big producer of cold-formed steel which is thin, light, and bears high strength, and we are trying to utilise this resource in creating resilient structural systems.”
Joining forces to find solutions
Ankeeta says her international education has been a wonderfully collaborative experience. “There are people from across industry joining forces to make this research happen. That is like a miracle to me, that industry partners would come together and contribute their skills to make this research workable.
“When you get different people contributing knowledge you can combine expertise to create innovative solutions.”
Knowing that her research could make a difference to earthquake-prone countries everywhere, especially back in India, is a big driver for Ankeeta. “I have seen the damage caused by earthquakes in my home country,” she says. “Saving lives is the greatest motivation for me. Without it, I don’t think I would be here.”
She has no doubt she is in the best place to achieve her goals. “I didn’t want to take a few elective courses as part of a wider engineering programme. I wanted to immerse myself in earthquake engineering, taking specialist courses in a country which experiences earthquakes first-hand.”
But Ankeeta appreciates that building construction resistance is a global effort involving teams of researchers around the world. “While I am concentrating on earthquakes, others are focussed on wind or fire resistance. “Once we combine our efforts, we can find powerful solutions.”
Giving back as International Student Ambassador
Soon after arriving in Auckland, Ankeeta became an International Student Ambassador, a role she is loving. “It’s a huge decision for international students to leave their home country to study overseas. It really helps to hear from someone who has personal experience,” she says. "As an International Student Ambassador, I have had online conversations with more than 150 students.”
She sees it as her way of giving back to the university. “I didn’t have that peer-to-peer support when I was looking at universities so I’m very happy to be doing this for others.”
Ankeeta says the decision to come to New Zealand has been “life-changing”. “I have travelled to the other side of the world and I’m doing a PhD which is funded by industry, I’ve met people from around the world, and I’m involved is so many aspects of Uni life. All these things are amazing experiences.
“When I’m 70 or 80, I will look back and think wow, I’ve done some great things in my life. Once you get out of your comfort zone you can be motivated to pursue higher goals.”
Ankeeta has been inspired by her teachers and is ambitious to become a professor in the future, continuing research and teaching a new generation of students.
“I was kind of lost until I came to New Zealand, but the experience has given me new perspective on life,” she says. “It has been a golden opportunity. It has turned my life upside down - but in a good way.”