Meet Sri Lankan Researcher — Gertrude Scynthya Nirukshan

What are you currently working on or worked on before?

I am a Ph.D. student in the faculty of Bioscience Engineering of Gent University. I am a Ph.D. scholar of the Special Research Fund ‘BOF’- given for candidates of developing countries. The Ph.D. research has to be focused on the subject that would help the development of the research home country. As I am a researcher at the Coconut Research Institute, I am currently working on ‘ Application of Biochar as a soil conditioner for Coconut Growing Soils of Sri Lanka’. Half of the research is conducted in Belgium and Half of the work in Sri Lanka.

What encouraged you to pursue your research topic?

During my first years as a Soil researcher at the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka, I observed that the coconut growing soils of Sri Lanka are very infertile. It acts only as a stage for plant growth rather than supporting life. The Soils were biologically inactive. This made me explore the possible solutions to sustainably improve Soil fertility and soil health. And that’s how I ended up working with Biochar.

What is the name of your current institute?

The Ghent University of Belgium and,

Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka

Where do you find your best inspiration for your work?

The understanding that soil is just more than dirt and the knowledge on the soil microbiology I acquainted from my Bachelors and Masters program made me look at the soil as a living substance. This understanding inspired me to find solutions for soil fertility problems by trying to bring Soil back to life.

Can you share with us some of your publications?

Yes, my publications are available at the ResearchGate profile.

What’s one of your biggest personal achievements so far?

The Ph.D. Scholarship award I received from Gent University for Ph.D. candidates of Developing Countries. I was one of the 15 candidates they selected in 2017 and the only one Sri Lanka

Also, I cherish the Gold Medal I received for ‘Excellence in Soil Science’ during my Bachelor’s program.

What lessons would you share with a budding researcher?

Being a researcher is very challenging as we will have to face many obstacles and failures. A researcher needs to have an open mind, sometimes the failures might be a new finding or it might teach us or take us in a new direction of success. Therefore, do not just give up when you encounter failure, rise up from the ashes, to achieve success.

What motivated you to be a researcher?

From my childhood, I had the ability to ask questions and seek answers which I don’t understand. Later when I chose Agriculture and Soil Science as my career pathway, my curiosity to search for answers for unresolved problems made me become a researcher for a lifetime.

If there is a chance, will you help build research in Sri Lanka?

Yes, definitely I will.

According to your opinion, what are the changes that the Sri Lankan education system needs to do, in order to meet the requirement of the international industry and academia?

The education system in Sri Lanka (Schools and higher education) is more focused on memorizing the power of the students rather than encouraging students to explore and be creative. The education system should stop pushing the students to consider education as a competition and help them be independent learners and sensitive to social causes.

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