Vigneshvaran Sethuraman

Expect the unexpected

Doctor of Philosophy, School of Engineering (expected completion 2016)

Awards and scholarships:

Monash University Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Scholarship

1. Full name, age, nationality.

Vigneshvaran Sethuraman / 23 / Indian.

2. Describe your current major, or the current focus of your research thesis.

My PhD thesis, in layman terms, can be titled as, “Fly for less on less fuel: Enhanced aeronautical engineering for the future”. The critical concerns in aeronautical engineering that obstruct efficient performance have been identified and innovative solutions to enhance fuel performance, so that travel in the future will become cheaper and more fuel efficient, are being researched upon.

Why did you choose Monash Malaysia?

The generous scholarship award offered by Monash University Malaysia, is something that I cherish and without that award, I would not have been able to pursue a higher degree.

3. While at Monash, what type of opportunities did you participate in?

Photography competition, Kite making competition and Lantern making competition, were some activities that I had never tried before and fortunately, I realised that I could be creative and I won all of them.

I never knew I could speak effectively. Three-Minutes Thesis (or) 3MT made me learn that I could convey my complex research to a general audience in just 3 minutes. I got to win the Monash University Malaysia 3MT competition, being the first student from the School of Engineering to represent the campus in the 3MT competition held at Monash University Australia, in September 2013.

I liked to dance but never dared to sign up for a class. This year being my final year, I decided to sign up for Latin dance class and I got to perform in the 7th Annual Monash Dance Concert in May 2015. Not bad right?

I attended seminars and workshops such as Self-Development Training (SDT) conducted by Counselling services were some of the most important lessons of life I learnt and it helped me grow better as a person on the whole. These are some things that are beyond books (or) Engineering and can only be shared through experience and exposure.

Currently, I am a Global Finalist in the Maybank Go Ahead Challenge 2015, a business case challenge, that tests me mentally and physically to the extremes. The competition started out with 23,000 worldwide entrants and I made it to the finals as one of 60 global entrants and of 3 Monash University Malaysia finalists. I’ve participated in the final round from 17 to 28 August 2015 which included an overseas trip to complete the challenge. The exciting thing is that we do not know what to expect and we have to have courage and take risks. Being in Engineering gives you the courage to take risk and challenge yourself!

4. How has your postgraduate experience been at Monash?

The starting few months of my journey was not very smooth and a need for a change in project and supervision arose. My current supervisor, Dr Kenny Tan Boon Thong, Senior Lecturer/Course Coordinator, Department of Mechanical Engineering, took me as an orphan and supported me constantly on whatever I tried to do. He let me make the mistakes and learn from them, preparing me for life. It was initially very hard to work under him, as he is a perfectionist. However, I later realised that working under a perfectionist made me understand my work better and could defend myself when questioned.

Unfortunately due to change in project and supervision, there was very little funding available but still the work had to go on. That was when I started using junk materials, unused parts and a decommissioned air compressor and repaired them to working condition to prepare my experimental setup, with the help of our technicians. I am happy that my research facility is in full-fledged condition despite the limited funding and with a little bit of money from my pocket. Creativity is the key to make things work!

Although I have a complete experimental setup now, it is a bit of a hassle to work. There are frequent issues that need attention and it takes a long time to be restored. I would be glad to have some more funding to perform my research with better equipment, making life a little more easier.

5. Why did you choose to do a postgraduate degree? What were the benefits and challenges that came with studying in a postgraduate course?

Monash’s motto “Ancora Imparo”, which means ‘I am still learning’, is something that applies to me in all walks of life. An undergraduate course provides only an overall idea of what the area of study is all about. A lot of things are approximated and assumed in an Engineering undergraduate course to make it more understandable for students at a young age.

However, postgraduate course is more of independent learning where you seek to understand and distinguish between what has been learnt in the undergraduate course and what reality is and apply them.

Postgraduate research is not an easy task. The world is getting so advanced and almost everything seems to be sufficiently improved for at least the next decade or two. To find a niche area to work on is a challenge by itself and working on the problem to find innovative solutions is much more complex.

Do you know why PhD is called a Doctor of Philosophy? You are made to learn life first and the moment you have understood how your life works, your research starts to reach the end of the tunnel and you will be awarded the Doctorate degree.

There are many moments of dejection/failure that I faced as a postgraduate student that includes equipment not working, skipping meals and sleepless nights doing work but the results are not satisfactory. Never let the emotions take control of you is something that I learnt. Always believe that whatever you sow, you will reap one day. The only unknown factor is time. Be patient!

6. What did you love most about your student life at Monash?

PhD is the ultimate test of my courage, strength, perseverance, integrity and the best thing I like about it is, expect the unexpected and finding your unknown on a daily basis.

The most important thing that I love about in Monash Malaysia is the people, who have been very instrumental in enabling me to become a better person. Some of the key people are my mentors Dr Kenny and Dr Fay Patel, student counsellor Ms Na Mui Gee, technical officer Mr Panneerselvam, a security officer Mr Kathiravelu, and School of Business staff Dr Jothee, Dr Sockalingam and Calvin Chung. I also appreciate the people who made my life difficult, thereby preparing me well for the real working environment outside.

7. If you were an international student, how did you adapt to life in Monash Malaysia and Malaysia in general? Were there any particular pleasant experiences or challenges?

Life in Malaysia was a little bit different compared to what it is in India. The cultural difference was something that took time for me to get adapted to. Food was a major issue as I am a vegetarian.

A few pleasant experiences include learning a little bit of Malay, which made my life in Malaysia a bit easier and helped me connect better with the locals. For me, purchasing a motorbike made life easier and fun as I love travelling.

It was difficult to convey my point across to the other person as their way of thinking was a bit different compared to mine, even though Tamil is a language widely spoken in Malaysia and although the language is my mother tongue, some words had a different meaning here, and put me in some trouble. I realised words from the same language have different meaning when spoken in different parts of the world.

8. As an international student, how did you find the support networks here? Would you have some tips for other international students, especially from your country, intending to study in Monash Malaysia?

The International Student Support (ISS) office was one place in Monash where I became a part of their family.

As for tips, if you are a vegetarian, be prepared to a hard time finding good food and don’t expect the food taste like how your mother would cook in India.

Try to be an independent learner, as you cannot expect spoon feeding to be done here. This place will break you and then make you. Be prepared for that wonderful transformational journey.

9. What is your goal/dream in life, where are you headed to in the future?

I like to think big and dream big! To become the President & CEO of a top notch organization and spearhead them to grow better! I intend to diversify myself to fields not limited to Engineering, as that will provide more opportunities to grow in the future.

Another possibility is to continue my journey in teaching and research and keep innovating.

10. What is your advice to current Monash Malaysia students? 

Never be afraid or ashamed to be different. Being different is absolutely fine and that could take you places! Do not be afraid to make mistakes not to make mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes and also from other’s mistakes. Studying all time or playing all time does not work well. Try to find a work-life balance and make sure to do whatever you feel like doing, as you may later regret for not having done them at that time.

Get exposed to the outside world! There is more to learn in life and about life, which cannot be learnt from books; but purely through sharing and communicating your experiences and feelings with others.

Think big! Dream big! Make efforts to achieve your goals and you are sure to achieve. It might be a little late at times, but it is all worth it. Do your very best, and leave the rest to the Supreme. Let things take their natural course. You cannot force things to happen. Patience is the key. Changes will soon take place, and by then you will reap what have sown over time.