Convocation of UWA Graduates

Dr Raj Kurup WA Professional Engineer of the Year 2020

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Engineers Australia recognises one of our own – Dr Raj Kurup, Environmental Engineers International Pty Ltd CEO, UWA graduate and UWA Convocation Councillor. He is known for his innovative work in environmental engineering in the water and waste sector. But its his contribution to UWA Convocation, future and current students and graduates. We ask what his future UWA insights are…

Dr Raj Kurup WA Professional Engineer of the Year 2020

Dr Raj Kurup WA Professional Engineer of the Year 2020

Where do you see the future of engineering and how do you think UWA can contribute to this with its curriculum, students, programs, research, industry ties etc?

Currently we live in a VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. COVID 19 has increase one or more components (more uncertainty and complexity). Not many business plans for businesses or educational institutions have contemplated a complete close down of borders and working from home scenario or lock down within their states. With climate change and may be even due to celestial influences (solar flare etc), our current stability can be threated more. For example our internet system can become threatened by both natural or human activities.

Considering the increased VUCA nature of the world, engineering in the future will be far more challenging than the present. It is not just for one discipline within engineering, almost all branches of engineering will be affected by it.  UWA will have its own general problems such as tight financial situations, impact of maybe lower allocation of research funding both at the commonwealth levels and the industry, lack of international mobility for students and staff. However, UWA has to overcome these challenges and to prepare its engineering students to deal with the current and future engineering challenges.

Irrespective of all the challenges, some things will continue to remain unchanged. The imparting of the fundamentals to students such as the application of science, mathematics and economics in identifying and solving problems will remain unchanged. It is important to teach the students the fundamentals and basic concepts than technologies as the latter will rapidly change, but if the students have been educated on the fundamentals, and trained on how to apply these fundamentals in different situations, our students will be equipped to solve the challenges in engineering in the future.

The education and training will be mostly online, contactless and it may become the norm. We have to consider the risks on the internet delivery (speed, bandwidth, downtime etc). While it is important for students to gain thorough understanding of the basic concepts, it is equally important for them to gain the training to apply such concepts. The challenges to UWA and its students will be limited number of opportunities for such training in future due to skeletal staff at workplace. Many business may not be keen to hire interns. UWA has to consider this risk in its planning and ensure that the students get their three months or more training , which is very important for developing the students as the finest engineers. Perhaps they may have to focus on the graduates (convocation members) to increase the number of internship opportunities to students.  We need to have agreements with industry.

Any crisis is an opportunity. We have to develop research projects identifying the future engineering challenges, solving problems such as say a) project management in post COVID 19 world, mode of communications whilst considering the risk on failure of global internet systems, etc.

We may see that the opportunities for overseas students may come down. It may require for us to have more institutional agreements with universities from countries where we get more number of student and lease or engage local university labs to train students when a similar pandemic arises.

How has your UWA experience assisted with your career, innovation etc?

My association has three phases, one as a research student, second as an adjunct associate professor and thirdly (current) as an elected member of the council of convocation.

My first association with UWA started in 1995, when I was offered a two year research masters scholarship to develop a hydrodynamic and water quality model for the Swan River Estuary at the world famous Centre for Water Research of UWA. A number of research projects were carried out at that time on various natural water bodies across the world. The centre had research students (masters research and PhD), postdocs and visiting academics from various countries and top institutes/universities. Each Wednesday, there was a technical session, where water experts from within or outside would present papers. The quality of research at the centre was very high as evidenced from  the citation indices of the papers published in journals of high impact factors. Yes, there was a very high level of pressure on producing quality work, and I could publish four peer reviewed journal papers as a result of my two year research at the Centre. These papers in hydrodynamics and water quality are still referenced by researchers in this discipline.  This high quality training has had  and ever lasting impact on my professional life as an engineer and innovator.  My supervisor Prof David Hamilton showed me efficiency, as he would retrun any document sent to him with his review within 48 hours. His point was the chain of thoughts would go if the feedback would take a long time to reach the students. I think I have adopted this in my entire career, particularly when dealing with my students' and colleagues' work.

I served as a as an adjunct professor at UWA from 2008 to 2015, I had the opportunit to supervise about 30 Honours students, and to work collaboratively with other professors including Prof Carolyn Oldham and, Prof Keith Smettem. At one point in time, I had a total of 13 students, but I think due to the adaptation of my own professor's work style, I had tried to send my feedback on students’ write up within a day or two. They were given the freedom to contact me again if they did not get a feedback in 48 hours. I spent at least 20% of my working time for UWA pro-bono during this time. As I was working as an independent consultant I could afford to devote that time. The adjunct position and supervision opportunity enabled me to identify the right students to employ in my own business either as interns and later on as permanent staff members.

Currently as an elected member of the Council of Convocation, I have the opportunity to work with very smart and successful people from various professional backgrounds. The discussions during meetings, the qualty of delivery on the tasks they undertake and their keen interest to support the goals of UWA and keep UWA's reputation on an upward graph give me an opportunity to learn from peers and to feel connected with my alma mater.

Where to next for you?As stated earlier, the post COVID 19 future is very uncertain and unpredictable. However, my focus continues to be on commercialisation of the innovative technologies that we have developed. The recognitions such as the Professional Engineer of the Year or one of the Most Innovative Engineers certainly support us in the journey. My colleagues and I like to continue providing job ready training (like a finishing school) or internship to engineering students. We are currently working on a few very interesting projects, in the mining and mineral processing sector.

In terms of my connection with UWA, I could like to continue to be connected with UWA through Convocation and to support internships and graduate employment opportunities for our students. In addition, support UWA through the current situation in any manner I could, through Convocation and my professional and industry network.