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May 2018 GWIS Lead

Friday, May 18, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Allison Shultz
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May 2018
GWIS LEAD is a GWIS periodical profiling women leaders in science.  Subscribe
Priyadarshini Dasgupta: Making the Workplace Safer, One Study at a Time
Having an opportunity to move a theory into practice, see her hypotheses become reality, is what initially drew Dr. Priyadarshini Dasgupta into her chosen field. The growing need for occupational health and safety professionals has created a high demand for experts in this area.

Dr. Dasgupta gained her Bachelor’s degree in Physiology at the University of Calcutta. She followed that achievement with a Master’s degree from the same institution, also in Physiology but with a focus on Ergonomics. From India, Dr. Dasgupta moved to France where she attained a second Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering at the Université de Technologie de Compiègne; she also worked as an intern at the research and development division of an automobile company where she worked to determine the best way of presenting auditory and visual signals to drivers. Later, she moved to the United States where she attained a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell in Ergonomics and Safety. After a brief postdoctoral fellowship at UMass, Dr. Dasgupta gained an Assistant Professor position at Marshall University. She recently moved to Southeastern Louisiana University where she is an Assistant Professor. She teaches safety professionals and construction workers directly, and her courses on Behavioral Safety and Ergonomics enable students at Southeastern to also improve workplace safety.

Dr. Dasgupta’s research focuses on the implementation of feasible and sustainable solutions designed to reduce ergonomic and safety hazards primarily in the construction and healthcare industries. Her projects have included alarm management in hospitals, reduction of stress in healthcare professionals, risk management in construction workers, and the ergonomics associated with drywall installation.

She describes the hospital alarm management project as follows: 
Nurses hear numerous alarms every day and get numb to it. So, sometimes they cannot respond to an important alarm that can be dangerous. We attempted to design a smarter way of delivering the alarms that nurses were more likely to respond to.

Hanging drywall presents a number of ergonomic challenges; Dr. Dasgupta was part of a study assessing assistive devices used by construction workers:
We conducted the study to assess the efficacy of an assistive tool in reducing the physical strains associated with installing drywall on ceilings. Based on the idea of using a ‘deadman’ (long narrow piece of panel) to help hold the drywall on the ceiling during installation, we suggested a prototype tool that could be placed on its own while supporting the ceiling. This tool, which was introduced to the drywall foremen and ceiling installers at a construction site, was integrated into the ceiling installation process. Our results showed that physical strain (such as overhead arm, postures, heavy load handling, etc) was reduced while using the tool. 

Dr. Dasgupta believes that more attention should be paid to why some tools that perform well in the lab never make it to the field and why some tools that perform badly in the lab become products. 

Dr. Dasgupta cites "being a woman in the construction field" as one of the most challenging parts of her research and says that the idea that occupational safety in construction is viewed as a male only field is one of the biggest misconceptions that she has to work with. The ratio of men to women in her chosen field is nine to one, and the vast majority of her students are male, but Dr. Dasgupta is undeterred. When she does teach female students, she makes sure to remind them that they have the same potential for competency as anyone else. 
Watch this video to see how Dr. Dasgupta's research seeks to understand how to improve workplace safety.
As Dr. Dasgupta will be our guest mentor this month discussing the topic of Shaping up an academic career through your PhD/MS thesis, we asked her a few questions about theses.

Does the process of choosing a thesis topic start before even choosing a research lab or research institution?
Not necessarily, but it is possible.

How much should I rely on my graduate advisor in choosing a topic? 
It should be a common interest for both of you.

Do you have a list of tips to use when choosing a thesis topic?
Some students check published work and then determine that they are interested in a specific topic. For others, they’re interested in finding out xyz of construction as they have experienced it, and are interested in finding out what others have seen—It really depends on the individual student.

So are you saying some students have a general interest in a topic and others have a specific question from their own previous experience they want answered? Do you believe one approach is more effective than another?
Some students go into the field, get interested in what they see, and then bring the idea back to the library to see what has already been done in that field of interest. Whereas, some students will do more reading and then will go to the field. It depends.

Do you have any suggestions for choosing a meaningful thesis topic?
Find a gap that needs to be filled, a subject where not much has been done yet and where you have interest in taking that challenge.

Is it important to develop a thesis that contains field or applied, lab, and computational components?
This depends on the individual students' interest ... Each student should do a background search on each component's utility and how it fits with their interests.

What are important attributes to look for when choosing committee members?
You should choose people who will be challenging towards your work, but will motivate you to finish.

How important is it to collaborate with other departments and institutions during my thesis?
Very important—collaboration is a great way to network and you will come to understand the value of networking later when you apply for jobs.

How important is it to publish before I finish my thesis? How many publications would you recommend?
I recommend setting a target of three publications right now.

Do you think it is important to gain teaching experience during graduate studies, or is it better to focus on the thesis?
It is important to gain teaching experience during the thesis. Once you are in research, you can become lost to teaching.

Do you mean it is hard to gain teaching skills when you have high time demands from the research?
Yes exactly, with high demand in research, you seldom get time to focus on teaching.
Dr. Dasgupta receiving an award from the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Interview conducted by Rebecca Brittain and Jane Sharer Maier. Video by Kayleen Schreiber and Maria Adonay. Copy Editor Rozzy Finn.

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