Shraddha Ranganathan

Das Foto zeigt unsere Absolventin Shraddha Ranganathan im Portrait

Shraddha Ranganathan

Data Analyst 

PRé Sustainability B.V.


Degree programme
Bioengineering (B.Sc.) 

Life Sciences

Date of the interview
February 2024 


Why did you decide to study Bioengineering at Rhine-Waal University?

I already knew in high school that I wanted to focus on biology. But I was given the impression that studying just pure biology isn’t so great for getting a job afterwards. So, I figured I would look for courses that had a focus on applied biology. Something that seemed very employable afterwards, and bioengineering seemed like it would open up multiple doors. I was looking for something applied, with a lot of practical skills and a bachelor’s taught in English and at that time, Rhine-Waal was the only institution in Germany I found that offered this. 

What was the topic of your bachelor thesis? 

This is my favourite party subject because the way I like to introduce it is that during my bachelor’s, I did my research on gas. In a little bit more detail, I did my internship and related research at the Waag in Amsterdam and there I had a really cool supervisor who had the question of: “Why do people not want to switch to beans from meat, knowing how much reducing meat consumption around the world would help in terms of sustainability?” What is preventing people from making that switch? (At first glance, the question’s a bit more for an anthropologist or social scientist than a biologist.) 

Anyway, I did my thesis under Dr Palmada and she was really supportive in the way she helped me structure my thesis. Our approach was: okay, so people have a resistance to switching from meat to beans. Why is that? Turns out, a couple of studies have shown that people just don’t like the idea that eating beans and lentils gives them gas and indigestion. Eventually, my study was about comparing two methods to “degas” beans. One was before consumption and the other was after consumption. The results were fairly interesting, but it turns out that there’s already an enzyme pill that you can take before you eat beans that should help with that. It was super interesting though and my focus was really on the compounds, the sugars in beans to be exact, that cause indigestion. The more you look into it, the less fart jokes you can make about it, but when you’re talking to someone that isn’t really in biology, you can still get away with a lot. 

You did your internship semester in the Netherlands. Did you face any difficulties regarding the visa process? 

It could have been straightforward, I think, but a lot of the information that I needed was in different places. This was actually really scary, because I had already started the process and gotten a visa, but it turned out to be the wrong one for my six-month stay there. I had a long checklist to get the right visa, but I was already a month into my internship by this point! The Dutch government was very understanding, though, because I’d already put in my papers and thankfully I didn’t get kicked out. But there’s a need for a better exchange of information, I think. It’s something that can be really easy to avoid if there’s one source that compiled all the documents and information, and if you could see how the German papers connect to the Dutch papers. 

Another thing that I didn’t realize would happen and that was, again, really scary, was that if you deregister from a German address, then after a certain amount of time, you just lose your residence permit, meaning you just can’t live in Germany anymore. Now, to correct this, I wanted to go talk to the municipality and the immigration office, but they weren’t allowed to talk to me because I didn’t have an address in Germany. So, it was very circular. At the same time, I had to deal with the fact that my residence permit had to be refreshed. It was a big mess. Luckily, it got sorted out in the end, and I didn’t get kicked out of the country. That was very stressful, but the main thing I took away from it was that unless you know the right questions to ask, you’re going to miss some information. What worked out for me was having German and Dutch friends for help. 

My advice for international students who want to do their internship in the Netherlands would be to call the office because the information on the website of the Dutch services and the information on the German websites do not match. You don’t know what to follow and the whole process can take super long, but if you call them, they generally will just solve the problem for you. This also helped me get over my fear of making phone calls in German, as I was forced to practice doing it a lot at the time. I would have my Google Translate open next to me with all the sentences I wanted to say and also some backup sentences. 

What were your next steps after graduating at Rhine-Waal? 

Like a lot of other international students, I think I also experienced a bit of that “end of degree panic”. I don’t really know what I’m going to do if I don’t immediately start working. One thing I remember doing was I applied for every job and I had this kind of generic CV that wasn’t well tailored. I had to take a month to figure out what I wanted to do and, as I graduated in 2020, which was the peak of the pandemic, it seemed like a great time to pursue a master’s degree, because people just weren’t hiring. I had just realized that there was a little bit of time left to make these changes, and that it wasn’t necessary to panic because the German government also understands that you don’t immediately get a job the day you graduate. 

Because I already had a foundation in biology, I thought what was interesting was also the world of data. During my bachelor’s, I found out that you can’t get very far in research in biology in all the fields that I was interested in, without understanding big data. That’s why I wanted to study bioinformatics. Not specifically cancer, even though bioinformatics almost always relates directly to cancer research. I found a master’s that I liked in Deggendorf, which was three semesters long. There, I also found again a really supportive mentor who helped me to channel my interest in agriculture and sustainability via bioinformatics. It was a bit challenging, because there aren’t so many avenues to apply that knowledge. For example, I clicked through all of the links that were available on the course website, but none of them really applied to me or caught my interest. So then, I had to talk to my professor. And it went a bit like, hey, I know you don’t have much time, but I would really like it if you could help me figure out how to do this thing that’s completely different from all the other stuff you’ve planned. I thought that would not go great, but he was super understanding and helpful and connected me to some researchers that he knew that were working in agriculture. Thus, my other thesis ended up being about how to make hops more resistant to a certain disease. More specifically, finding the hotspots in the gene of the hops plant, which can either be very resistant or very susceptible to this disease. It was a little bit different from my bachelor’s, but still staying in the food and agriculture world. 

After my master’s, the next step for me was to move to the Netherlands because my partner lives here. The job search entailed leveraging the skills that I’d picked up over the five or six years of my education in something that made sense. One thing that I was really pushing at the time, was that I wanted to do a PhD, but it wasn't quite working out. Had I tried it in Germany, I would have had the support of my professors or the folks I did my internship with, but they didn’t have the kind of connections in the Netherlands that could have pointed me to the right place. Maybe it could have eventually worked out, but after applying to four or five PhDs, I felt it wasn’t really going anywhere, so I started looking at my other interests. 

One thing to keep in mind is that bioinformatics is a field where you don’t just get a job. Even for the “lower positions”, you need to have quite an advanced degree. I really wanted to be in research, but for that, most paths lead through a PhD. That’s why I was diversifying my search. I knew that I cared about sustainability, agriculture and plant biology in general. Those were the different fields I was looking at and I came across this job ad for my current position, which was data analysis in LCA (life cycle assessment).

You are working as a Data Analyst at PRé. Please tell us more about your job. 

LCA is like accounting for emissions. Basically, we have databases that inform on various processes and products about how they impact the environment. For example, the production and driving of a car are two separate things, but they can be linked. An interesting example is an electric car, which you think is the greener option, but the batteries that go into producing an electric car are actually quite emissions heavy. The way you would balance that out is through comparison, right? You need to compare the production of a diesel car with its usage in terms of emissions and compare it to the production of an electric car and its usage. That’s the kind of data we provide. We also do analysis on these data, which is not my field, but done by the consultancy group. They work with clients to help them analyse their products and see what the actual footprint is. It could be in terms of biodiversity, soil health, water, air pollution, or anything like that.

My job specifically is about implementing the data into our software, which is called SimaPro. There’s a lot of data transformation involved because there’s a specific format that works with our software, but not everyone produces data in that format. A lot of my job is also just keeping track of what problems happen with the implementation and then fixing those issues. 

Recently, I’ve also switched to project and stakeholder management, which has been super exciting. It’s definitely kind of a newish field for me because I’ve been much in the more scientific fields from my education up until now. 

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

That’s a good question. One of the key phrases at my workplace is “fact driven sustainability”. I think that you really see the world in a new way when you see the numbers associated with a certain thing. Like, I found out recently that when you recycle a plastic bottle, the bottle caps can be recycled very easily, but the body of the bottle itself needs a certain amount of processing. You need to separate the wrappers and everything. So, it helps you to kind of question: how come, some countries are now making bottles where the cap has to stay on? Doesn’t that make recycling harder? My work certainly helps me see the world in a new context. 

You might know that the European Union has recently tried to cut down on greenwashing. It was big news not too long ago, and now companies aren’t allowed to use certain phrases anymore because they are tricking individual consumers by saying “this tube of toothpaste is super recyclable”, when actually it's not, because people will throw it away in non-recyclable trash anyway. It’s almost like seeing past the “curtain” of marketing in a way that’s really interesting. 

I also enjoy that my work helps me to make more real sustainable choices in my life. For example, I know that I have learned through work that plastic is not as much the devil as we’ve been told all our lives. The fact that we’re replacing plastic with paper bags is really questionable because that paper comes from somewhere. And deforestation in China does not somehow offset the fact that there’s less of it happening in Europe. It’s also quite an interesting take on politics in a sense. It helps you understand why certain decisions are being made. It's been really interesting and eye-opening. 

And it's just been super fun to learn new software. For example, I have been aware of SQL for the last 10 years and I just have never had the opportunity to go near it. And now suddenly, I had the opportunity to work with it. 

Do you have any advice for current and prospective bioengineering students?

The first one is: It’s going to feel awkward and uncomfortable to have conversations on the phone. But: Get over it. Do it. It will make your life easier. 

Second, especially for international students: You have to join some activity because German and international friends aren’t just going to fall in your lap. Maybe you have a roommate that you become friends with, but you have to go out there to make friends. This was news to me, so I think it will be also for other people. It can be a very, very lonely experience to only have your one or two friends that you know from your neighbourhood or the one person you sit next to during class. Your student life is a perfect opportunity to sort of see what’s out there and make these connections. For me, the first two semesters, I was really homesick and not sure how to deal with it and I just didn’t go outside. I would only talk to my flatmate and the one or two people in my course. I missed out on a lot of these opportunities because I was just like, oh no, everyone’s already got their friends, not thinking that people are open to having new connections, too. So, I guess the other one would be to be open to these things. That means you have to take the initiative. 

Looking back, what is your favourite memory of your student time at Rhine-Waal?

I think this would be third or fourth semester. After I kind of came out of my shell, studying by the canal in that grass was extremely fulfilling. It just felt way better for me than studying in the library or studying in my house. Feeling a bit of the outside, feeling a bit of connection with other people who are also studying without interrupting anyone. I wasn’t doing anything specific, but it still felt, again, like I was part of something. I didn’t feel alone. And, of course, there were some really good parties within the organisations. I met a lot of great people and with some of them I’m still in close contact. I’m really happy about the people I met at Rhine-Waal.