From research to rugby fields: Bianca Augustyn tackles studies and sport

[Article by Amber Viviers]

Not only is Bianca Augustyn a Master’s in Civil Engineering student at Stellenbosch University (SU), but she is also part of the South African Women’s Sevens Rugby team that competed in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England recently. They finished in seventh place.

On representing her country internationally, she says: “It was an amazing feeling; it still feels so surreal that I represented my country. It was a huge honour to run out on the field knowing I was representing something bigger. I have always dreamt of a moment like this, and I was grateful and blessed for the opportunity to live out my dream.”

Born and bred in the West Coast town of Vredenburg, she always wanted to play rugby from a young age. She grabbed the opportunity to pursue her rugby career when she enrolled for her undergraduate studies in engineering at SU. “Studying engineering provides me with the opportunity to contribute something to society positively,” she says.

Initially, Bianca wasn’t planning on doing a master’s degree, but then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and work became scarce. “I am so glad I decided to pursue a master’s degree because it allows me to widen my knowledge about the industry, which can only be beneficial,” she says.

Her research focus is on using treated wastewater in concrete under the supervision of Prof Riaan Combrinck and Dr Isobel Brink. “The water will be treated using a nano-bubble machine, which saturates the water samples with billions of tiny air bubbles called nano-bubbles. Primarily I must collect various water samples and test them before and after I treat them with nano-bubbles to see if there is a difference in the water qualities. Then, the treated water will be used in concrete to see how it influences its properties.”

Bianca’s research supervisor, Prof Riaan Combrinck, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, says her research is very exciting. “In essence, if successful, it will allow the industry to safely use wastewater from, for example, mines, boreholes, and brackish sources in concrete. This could be especially beneficial in construction sites far from potable water.”

He adds: “We at Civil Engineering are very proud of Bianca, and it is not only a pleasure to work with her but also to see her pursue her passion for rugby. The master’s environment is a perfect match and allows her to tackle both.”

Bianca’s biggest challenge this year is time management. “Between my research and rugby camps, staying on track is not always easy. Sometimes I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything I want to do,” she says.

The thought that she is busy building the life she wants in the future is a driving force that keeps her going. Her family is also her biggest motivation. “They have given me so much and made a few sacrifices to be where I am today. Without their support and love, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten where I am today. They have always been my number one supporters and motivation in everything I do.”

She advises postgraduate students who also practice professional sports that planning is essential. “I always try to plan my week on a Sunday evening, and it is always good to have a set routine when you train and work. Set out realistic and achievable goals. It is difficult to find a good balance between sports and academics and still have a social life. You must be able to make some sacrifices along the way. Most important is to have fun along the way!”

On her plans for the future, she hopes to complete her studies at the end of 2023, whereafter she wants to start working full-time in the Cape Town region. “I still want to pursue rugby as well, but I know that will be difficult while working full-time, another reason why I am grabbing every opportunity I get now while I am still a student.”

Photographs: Bianca Augustyn