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Research and family ties: Josh McDonald on his AIRS Fellowship experience

For young researcher Josh McDonald, receiving an Australia India Research Students (AIRS) Fellowship presented a unique opportunity for both academic and personal growth. In addition to pursuing his research interests in smart farming solutions, the Fellowship afforded Josh the chance to meet some of his wife’s extended family for the first time and develop a deeper appreciation for Indian culture. Here, the Queensland University of Technology master's student reflects on the meaningful experience.  

What motivated you to apply for an AIRS Fellowship? India is a diverse and vast country, offering many opportunities for both academic and commercial pursuits. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone to share my research, collaborate, and build a global network, while also satisfying a personal goal of visiting India for the first time. My wife was born in India and now having visited her family in India, I feel a stronger connection to Indian culture and a great sense of pride. 

Josh visiting his wife's family in Mumbai
Josh visiting his wife's family in Mumbai 

Can you tell me a little about your Fellowship project? My research focused on developing biodegradable electronics using chitosan – a biopolymer derived from the shells of crustaceans – to develop flexible electronics for sensing and power generation. Solar cell and transistor architectures were investigated which have potential applications in smart agriculture, particularly in monitoring crop health.

How did the Fellowship support your research pursuits? I was fortunate to receive expert guidance from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras during my six-week exchange. While I had my own set of research goals to achieve, I was also excited  to learn as much as I could from my host group. A highlight was witnessing the process of UV-photolithography as used in semiconductor chip manufacturing. I was also able to share my skills with some PhD students, including helping one student build their first working solar cell for their project.

Photolithography laboratory at IIT Madras
Photolithography laboratory at IIT Madras

How was your experience of conducting research in India? My host institute offered me valuable insight into how universities operate in different parts of the world. 

The research culture in India is fuelled by a tremendous amount of passion, which was infectious and something that I will greatly miss.

But it’s not over yet – the collaborative research between IIT Madras and QUT is ongoing, as we continue to send samples to my host group for investigation. We hope to jointly author a paper based on our findings.

How was your cultural experience of India? I had a fantastic time enjoying the food and local sights, but the people I met were the most valuable part of the experience. Being in India you quickly realise just how diverse the country is and how passionate the people are for their culture. I also got to eat a lot of good food with my friends and even learn the local way of eating with my hands, which was a proud moment.

Josh celebrating the Hindu festival Holi in Chennai.
Josh celebrating the Hindu festival Holi in Chennai.

The Australia India Research Students Fellowship program is administered by the Australia India Institute and supported by the Australian Government Department of Education.

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