First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Kailasavadivoo Sivan


IEEE Award Recipient Series: Q&As with Icons of Engineering and Technology: 2020 IEEE Simon Ramo Medal Recipient

Full Name

Kailasavadivoo Sivan

What Award did you receive from IEEE?

IEEE Simon Ramo Medal 2020

Place of Birth

Sarakkalvilai, Tamil Nadu, India

Where did you grow up

Nagarkoil, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu (upto graduation); Chennai, Tamil Nadu; Bangalore, Karnataka; and Mumbai, Maharashtra (during higher studies); Thirivananthampuram, Kerala and Bangalore, Karnataka (during work)

Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

Parents are farmers. I have one Brother and 2 Sisters. All my siblings have studied upto high school.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

I wanted to be a Bank Employee

What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

I have grown up in a farming family, struggling to meet the needs. I studied in only Government aided school. Mine was not a large family.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

Listening to classic tamil movie songs Reading Tamil Novels

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?


Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

I used to support my father in his farming activities during my younger days on daily basis. During summer holidays, I used to do masonry work for earning money for the purpose of buying cloths and also to meet other expenditure in continuing my next phase of studies.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

Yes. I used to avail the Government approved Leave Travel Concession to visit some hilly stations.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

Science and Maths. Science, because it generates curiosity; Maths, because it helps in focusing.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

History and Geography, because it feels monotonous and not enthusing

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

For my Bachelor of Sciences, I have chosen the nearest Government College, which is affiliated to Madurai University. I studied B.Tech (Aeronautics) in Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai; M.E. (Aerospace) at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore and Ph.D. (Aerospace) at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai. My major was Aerospace Engineering. I selected it because, it is away from conventional discipline-oriented engineering subjects. Also, it was fancy to study space related subject at that time.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

I joined Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at entry level, grown up and reached the top post of Chairman, ISRO/ Secretary, Department of Space. This is my first and also the favorite job.

Has your career turned out as you expected?

I never got my first preference in my career path. But whatever I got, I accepted wholeheartedly and excelled. Even, it made me to feel that whatever I got is the right one. After my schooling, I wanted to do Engineering, but could study only Bachelor of Sciences; When I wanted to do Master of Science, I got enrolled into B.Tech; After B.Tech, I wanted to get a job, but ended up doing M.E. at IISc. Further, when I got job at ISRO, I wanted to work in ISRO Satellite Centre (specialized in Spacecraft), but got opportunity to work in Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre-VSSC (specialized in launch vehicles). Event at VSSC, I wanted to work on trajectory optimization, but was allocated project related works. Further, I was kept given different assignments like Avionics Entity, Resuable Launch Vehicle project, Aeronautics Entity, GSLV Project, Controller, Director-LPSC and Director-VSSC. My contribution to GSLV project (which was having failures before I joined the project), made me to known to entire ISRO community. It makes to me recall the quote of Dalai Lama: “Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck”.

Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

My first technical paper on Trajectory Optimisation was presented at IEEE Conference at Bangalore in 1982. It was a good starting point to make my work known to the world.

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

I feel humbled and honoured to receive the prestigious IEEE Simon Ramo Medal 2020. I consider this award as a recognition not only for my personal achievements but also for the achievements of Indian space programme.

What other associations have helped you in your career?

Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI), Astronautical Society of India (ASI), Systems Society of India (SSI), Indian Systems Society for Science and Engineering (ISSE), Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE). All these societies motivated me by recognizing my work and awarding at different levels of my career. This has enthused me and made me to achieve more and more.

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

All fields or careers are equally important. No career or discipline is less important than others. So, try to excel in whatever discipline you are in and make that system more interesting to you. That will help you to grow up in your career.

Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?

I would have pursued some non-Engineering career.

Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?

GSLV – Geosynchronus Satellite Launch Vehicle Project

What career achievement are you most proud of?

I cannot single out any particular thing. Every stage of my career growth, I am proud of.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

Listening to old classic tamil movie songs, reading tamil novels and Gardening (one point of time, my garden had 150 varieties of Rose flowers)

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

I could establish and bring up my family, with my own earnings

Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?

South Indian food items.

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

Old Tamil movies songs are my favorite (for example: ‘”Paramasivan kazhuthilirunthu…” .. :Unnai arinthal, nee unnai arinthal”).

I don’t play any instrument.

Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.


What are three things people may not know about you?

Other people may not know that I am so kind and a soft person.

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

Two of my uncles (family members): Mr. Shanmugavel and Mr. Chellam Prof. M Krishnan of Hindu College when I was doing my Bachelor of Sciences; Prof. S.K.Srivastava, who was my project guide at IISc.

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?

Opportunity to work beyond my capability (More work should be there).

Anything else you would like to share about yourself?

I don’t shy away from any type of work assigned to me. I will take the things as they come and try to excel in that.