IITians’ tryst with Australia


by Shveata Chandel Singh

A Metallurgical Engineering graduate of IIT Bombay, Raj Rajakumar arrived in Australia in 1982 to further advance his academic career. After several years at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, he completed his PhD and DIC.

Subsequently, Raj, as he is known to his friends and acquaintances, led several research groups at Imperial while holding the prestigious Wolfson Fellowship. He vividly recalls that his senior colleagues at Imperial College were astonished over his decision to move to Australia. He is presently President of IIT Alumni Association, Victoria.
Raj speaks about his role and duties as President of this Association.

Tell us something about yourself?

I have been here for over three decades. I initially came to Sydney and later moved to Melbourne. I have worked for the iconic Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO), Australia’s premier research agency. Most of my work in recent years remained focused on technology transfer and commercialization.

In my last role at CSIRO, I was a member of the Executive Management Council and a Director in CSIRO leading the National Flagship Research program in Light Metals, the first IITian and Indian to reach that level in the organization. I have received many medals for both the ‘Research Achievement’ and ‘Business Excellence Medals’.
I have held several leading positions in important Australian government/industry taskforces and Committees including the Light Metals Action Agenda, the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and the Joint Australia-China Non Ferrous Metals Mission which led to the setting up with Austrade funding of the first Australia-China Management Training Centre for senior managers in the Chinese industries.

I have served in several Advisory Committees in education and research and on Boards. I hold a firm view that it was my IIT background which convinced the Indian government to invite me to Pravasi Bharat Diwas in January 2007 in Delhi for delivering a key speech on technology development.

As you have taken over as the President of the IIT Alumni Association, Victoria, what is your role?

I see my role clearly as leading IITAV and working with my colleagues in the Management Committee and the broader membership to progress the purposes of IITAV and to promote social interaction between members.

Being President, my role is extensive. It includes several things like establishing and enhancing IIT brand equity in Australia besides promoting professional networking with business, academia and government.

Also my main focus is to proceed with strengthening business, academic and political relationships between Australia and India and to promote and develop the welfare of its members.

I am fortunate to have an energetic and enthusiastic Management Committee and the members working with me, who are very supportive.

After its inception in 2010, what are the achievements of this association?

IITAV initially held a survey and workshops to clarify the purpose and strategies of the Association. Since its inception, Management Committees have been improving and implementing the strategy to grow our profile and membership. Our links with professional organizations like Engineers Australia, universities and companies have developed well.
We have held regular networking events among our members and externally. As an example, our major event in 2012, the IITAV-Engineers Australia meeting on Climate Change, was acknowledged as an important event and reported locally and in Indian government channels through the Consulate General’s office.

IITAV has held successful workshops and sessions with expert presentations on topics related to technology, entrepreneurship, marketing professional services and work-life balance which were important issues identified by our membership. We have held lectures by distinguished people.

How this idea of IIT Alumni Association came up?

It all started with a group of like-minded IITians in Melbourne getting together for a dinner in late 2010. Rajiv Lal was instrumental in originating this. It was the first opportunity for IITians to discuss the need for and aims of an Association for IITians in Victoria. As a result of this meeting an Interim Committee was set up with Ravi Bhatia as President.

The first Annual General meeting was held in April 2011 and a Management Committee was elected.

Who are the people behind this Association?

IITAV owes its existence and strength to it members. They bring a wide range of expertise and tremendous enthusiasm to IITAV. Without their support, the association wouldn’t exist or grow.

There are 9 committee members of the association, so what is the role of those members?

IITAV is an incorporated association with a Constitution. The Management Committee consists of the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and 5 Committee members. The work of IITAV is really based on volunteer effort.
We share the work load in the Committee and achieve through teamwork. Holding bimonthly networking events and two or three major events are challenging tasks but with all of us chipping in and support of the members, it is an enjoyable and enriching experience.

What are the future plans of this Association?

The Association will continue to increase the profile of IITs as premier engineering education institutions of India. Events and activities which help to advance our purpose will be continued. Through these activities and greater empowerment of members we will work to increase the real and perceived benefits of membership. Increasing the membership and the need for mentoring will become more important as the number of IITs has grown to 16 in recent years.

We envisage that through appropriate collaborations and linkages IITAV can gain leverage to increase the effectiveness of our advocacy and influence in science, technology, entrepreneurship and links with India through the expertise of our members.

What are the upcoming events of the Association?
The next major event is the high profile joint IITAV-Engineers Australia Gala dinner on 10th August in East Burwood, Melbourne.

Engineers Australia (EA) is the premier professional association for Engineers in Australia. This year the National President of EA is Dr Marlene Kanga, the first Asian and Indian to take this role. Marlene is a graduate of IIT-Bombay. We are privileged to have her attend and present an address on the “Engineers in Australia – our role in the Asian century.”

The topic is of great relevance to us migrant engineers. Swinburne University, our first Corporate member of IITAV, is supporting the event. Deakin University, Pitcher Partners and Eco Pacific are sponsoring the event. We have representation from various companies and other universities.

We will continue to hold our bimonthly networking events and facilitate major events aligned with our purpose.
Of course, we will have a mix of professional activities with fun social activities. Our Diwali dinner in November and our Holi event in April are well subscribed events and will continue to be social highlights in IITAV’s calendar.

What are your hopes from the Association?

I hope that the IIT brand strengthens and the significant contributions which IITians in Victoria are making to Australia particularly in the areas of science, technology, innovation and business entrepreneurship are highlighted.

I hope that IITians will be proud of their IIT heritage and fly the flag with passion and determination. Admittedly, we have some way to go both in Victoria and nationally to emulate the USA where the IIT brand is highly visible, recognized and celebrated through the many achievements of IITians and their influence in society. My hope is that we will get there, thanks to the achievements and commitment of IITians and the work of Associations like IITAV.

How many members are there in the Association?

We have about 60 members and one corporate member. The number has been growing over the past two years. We know that there are many more IITians in Victoria so we still have a challenge to convince them to join with us in the journey. We are working hard to demonstrate the delivery of effectiveness and value, both real and perceived through membership of IITAV.

There are some ties of the IITs with the Universities in Australia, so how do you think it helps the IITians?

Several Australian universities are seeing the advantage of having collaborative linkages with IITs. A good example is the IIT Bombay-Monash Research Academy.

This gives the opportunity for IIT research students to get a joint Monash-IIT Bombay degree at the end of their study. This should help their career prospects here and in India. The links also help the IIT professors to work collaboratively with their counterparts in Monash with mutually beneficial results.

Deakin, Swinburne and other universities in Victoria are also developing links with IITs. With the number of IITs now growing to sixteen, universities here have the opportunity to work with the newer IITs to help them develop their capabilities rapidly.

Any message for the new comers from IIT background?
Be proud and happy to highlight your IIT background. Your background is very unique and world-class and you have a lot to offer Australia through your experience, creativity and enterprise which studying at IITs has given you.
You should aspire to leadership and influential roles in this country in industry, academia, government and the community and work to strengthen links with India. Australia will need your expertise and enthusiasm even more in the coming Asian century.