When Horsham's Pankaj Maharjan was growing up in Nepal he never imagined he would end up as a research scientist.
"That would have been an aspirational goal then ... life in Kathmandu was very different compared to here," Dr Maharjan said.
He moved from Nepal to Australia when he was 21 to pursue an education in science and now works for Agriculture Victoria analysing wheat, pulses and oilseeds at the Grains Innovation Park in Horsham.
In 2000, Dr Maharjan received an AusAID scholarship to study Food Science and Technology at RMIT University, where he discovered his passion for research.
"There were many ups and downs along the way, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey," he said.
"I completed my very first international journal paper which laid the foundation for my research career."
Mr Maharjan returned to Nepal in December 2003 and worked as a quality control officer for Gorkha Brewery - the country's largest beer company and a subsidiary of the Carlsberg brewery giant.
In 2006, he received a PhD scholarship from Monash University and The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
"The project involved developing smart polymers for the by-product of cheese manufacturing," Dr Maharjan said.
"The discovery led to a worldwide patent with CSIRO and Monash University. By the end of my studies, all I wanted to be was a research scientist."
As a research scientist, Dr Maharjan has co-authored 10 peer-reviewed journal papers and he said they were his proudest achievements.
"Journal papers are like medals for scientist ... but advancing science is what matters to us the most," he said.
In July 2012, Dr Maharjan moved from Melbourne to Horsham to work for Agriculture Victoria in their Seed Phenomics and Quality Traits group.
"I joined Dr Joe Panozzo's team and it was one of the happiest days of my life," he said.
"Our group tests wheat, pulses and oilseed samples to analyse the composition which determines the quality and makes sure they meet the grain market's required standards.
"The standards are important because the grain is used for a wide range of products including breads, biscuits, speciality oils and for foods where lentil, chickpeas, faba beans are the core ingredient."
Mr Maharjan said he has been more relaxed since moving from Melbourne to Horsham.
"Working in the country is great for work-life balance," he said. "I don't miss the traffic, I am home from work in five minutes."
Dr Maharjan's wife Sushma Maharjan works as a nurse at the Wimmera Base Hospital and they are "proud parents" to their sons - six-year-old Arhant and three-year-old Sarthak.
"My family was supposed to go to Nepal in September for my parents-in-law's 50th wedding anniversary, but now we can't due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions," he said. "Next year is my parent's 50th anniversary, so hopefully I can go over then and celebrate both."
Dr Maharjan said COVID-19 had changed hygiene and social practices within his workplace but he was grateful to be still working.
"I have to operate instruments which I can't do at home, so I am still going into work," he said.
"In the past three years, I have been given a wonderful opportunity to work with various commodities. I am forever thankful to Dr Panozzo for all the support and guidance he has given me. I never get Mondayitis because the working environment is amazing, and my colleagues in the lab are like my second family."
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