First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Kaushik Rajashekara
What Award did you receive from IEEE?
IEEE Medal on Environment and Safety Technologies
Place of Birth
Devarayasamudram, Karnataka, India
Where did you grow up
Up to 10th standard in my village and then moved to Bangalore ( Now it is called Bengaluru) for College
Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession
Parents: Did not go to school. My mother could not read and write. My father could read and write a little in the local language Kannada.
Two elder brothers: one is Civil Engineer and another is a Medical Doctor. Both are retired.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?
Grew up in a village in South India, studying under kerosene lamps and binding notebooks from spare pages. My mother took care of us in the village as my father had to work in a town about 100KM away. He visited us about once a month.
Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)
Climbing Trees; Climbing up to the middle of the hill in the village at least 2 or 3 times a week.
Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?
Participated in debates. Cricket and Ball Badminton
Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?
No. We had summer training during the undergraduate Engineering studies.
Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?
While studying in the college in Bangalore, during the holidays, I visited my parents in the village. Also, participated in all the festivals in the village, which is also part of large gathering in the village.
EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?
Chemistry and Mathematics
Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?
History. Not clear, why I am studying this subject.
Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?
Indian Institute of Science ( Tata Institute or IISc) is the premier institute and it was (and is still) a prestige to get the admission offer. I was advised by my friends to apply to this Institute, after my undergraduate Science degree. I got the admission in Electrical Engr. Department. Then my career moved as an an Electrical Engineer.
Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job
After my B.Engr., my first job was at Cutler-Hammer India in Faridabad, near New Delhi, as a power electronics engineer for drive systems. After 4 months, I moved to Kolkata , India to work for Debikay Electronics for a similar job. After one year in industry, I went back to IISc for MS and PhD. Now as a Professor in University of Houston, I continued to work in the area of power electronics and drives. After my MS, I worked in IISc for 7 years as a Senior Scientific Officer/Asst. Professor
Has your career turned out as you expected?
After 25 years of working in world's well known Corporations (ABB, GM/Delphi, and Roll-Royce), I am very happy to be in the Academic field. I am making use of every opportunity to educate and train the next generation of engineers. In a way, I worked all my life to be a professor and train others even when I was in working industry.
Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?
IEEE played a major role in my career. In 1986, when I was in Quebec, Canada, I attended my first IEEE IAS conference in Denver, CO. There, I could make a number of new friends like Prof. Kouki Mastsuse, and meet well-known people in the area of power electronics. One Mr. Bhagawat helped me to find a position in Viteq Corpoation USA, and that helped me to start my career in USA in 1987. Since then, I attended one or two IEEE conferences every year. It is through my IEEE friends, I could move to Academics from industry. Also, I could travel to many countries and give seminars as IEEE Distinguished lecturer. This made me to think that we are all world citizens, not of any particular country. IEEE brings all the Electrical Engineering professionals in the world together as one community.
You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?
I was very happy to receive this award as it is associated with Environment and Safety Technologies, and sponsored by Toyota. My work in industry was all related to improving the environment by use of electric, hybrid, fuel cell vehicles, electric/hybrid aircraft, etc., all related to reducing emissions from transportation sector.
What other associations have helped you in your career?
National Academy of Engineering. After I was elected as a member of NAE, several organizations and universities started recognizing my work. Being an NAE member helped me to get a tenured Distinguished professor in UT Dallas, and then in University of Houston. Also, I was invited be an Honorary professor in a few foreign universities.
Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?
Set a goal on what you want your career to be in the long run. Put your heart and soul into it to achieve your goal. Also, when you are a young researcher, focus on one or two areas of research, and become an expert in that area. In a long run, you should be recognized as an international expert in that area of research. If you want to be an academic person, work at least for a few years, after PhD, in industry before moving to a university.
Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?
Looking back at my professional career, it it turned out to be good. I think, industry experience made me a better professor than directly going to Academics after PhD.
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?
I like working on vertical take-off landing vehicles and flying cars (which can go on road and sky) and advance the research and commercialization of these vehicles. These vehicles will help in reducing traffic congestion and reduce emissions. Once the cost is affordable, they will change the world in the same the way the mobile phones did.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
I am proud of contributions we made in technologies that would improve the environment. Also, traveling to about 60 countries and giving seminars on various topics in universities and conferences.
Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?
Yoga- I have been practicing it since the age of 24. Walking. Traveled to about 60 countries
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
Receiving several awards from IEEE, and for becoming a member of NAE and NAI. Also, as Distinguished alumna of Indian Institute of Science. Traveling to several countries and understanding their way of life.
Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?
Oat meal is my favorite food. That is my lunch almost everyday.
Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?
I listened to Carnatic Indian music
Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.
I am also a recipient of IEEE Richard Kaufmann award, and a few others
What are three things people may not know about you?
When I travel, I always pack instant oatmeal that can last at least for a few days. This is particularly helpful in places where it may be difficult to find vegetarian food.
I grew up by learning 5 Indian languages and English. In my professional career, I attempted to learn German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese. Now I can still manage German, but not the other four.
Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)
My mangers in the companies I worked, Colleagues, Professors, family members, and relatives
What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?
Internet, I phone, and my laptop
Anything else you would like to share about yourself?
It is humbling to recognize how many people contributed to my success, expecting nothing in return. “It takes a village” is very true in my case, and I am fortunate that my village included some of the most encouraging and inspiring engineers in the field.