October brings Global Diversity Awareness Month to remind us of the positive impact a diverse workforce of men and women can have on a society. More and more, the world becomes a place where cultures and customs come together and here at FLEXIS, we have a fantastically diverse workforce that has led the project to its success.
For this Global Diversity Awareness Month, Dr. Sivachidambaram Sadasivam, Research Assistant with FLEXIS at Cardiff University, shares his experience and views on diversity in research.
“I was born in a small town called Pappireddipatti, in Tamilnadu, India. It is a nice place and surrounded by hills. Most of them are taller than Snowdonia! Yes, we still call them hills. Whenever I go there and look behind my family house, I always find a peak that I never climbed when I was young.
“I used to climb hills barefooted and I believe that’s how I built my resilience against societal misconception and to swim against tides to reach where I am now.
I work for FLEXIS, the most diversified research consortium in Wales to solve energy related problems.
I believe the intelligent quality of a person is not solving a puzzle but solving one or two problems that society faces right now and in the future.
This is what made me to continue to work in FLEXIS which brings diversified knowledge together to solve problems in sustainable energy production in Wales and beyond.
I am a chemical and environmental engineer, mostly experimental aspects with unconventional gas.
This means I carry out experimental, environmental and chemical engineering aspects of unconventional gas exploration under the FLEXIS project. I apply fundamental chemical science principles to solve problems related to energy and environment.
“As acknowledgement for my contributions to the research, Cardiff University awarded me with the Outstanding Contributions Award, which is given for exceptional contribution and performance to the University.
I think my interest in experiments was inspired by my brothers and childhood friends whose experiments ranged from homemade movie projectors, dissecting frogs from the pond (look away!), rocket launchers with fireworks and catapults from waste tyre tubes, to name a few. (Don’t try these things at home).
Probably one of the above said reasons inspired me to study Chemical Engineering at Annamalai University, Chidambaram, India.
My optional subject was Environmental Engineering which gave me knowledge in natural pollutions and how chemical sciences helps to solve them. One of my research projects was the fluoride pollution in drinking water and how it affected the most part of my home district in Tamilnadu. This motivated me to study my Master’s in Environmental Engineering where I did a dissertation in fluoride removal using low cost adsorbents. This is where I met my line manager of my life (my wife). This is a hell of a love story for another time, yes, it is an interesting story in a place where inter-caste and inter-religion marriage is not socially accepted…
After completing my Masters, I wanted to do a PhD in one of the topmost research institute in India. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
“It’s a residential research institute where you live and work in the same campus with 24 hr access to the laboratory. It is a beautiful green campus separated from the buzzing city around it.
I applied three times before I broke through. It was not easy for me to start my PhD. Why? It was not socially and culturally acceptable that a person from lower caste (scheduled caste and Tribes, formerly known as ‘untouchables’) to study higher education in top universities (Still now?!, yes, it is, even though the law says it is a crime!)
I was bothered by my ‘PhD supervisor’ based on my caste and I was surprised what came from a professor from a premiere research institute. I was bogged down by those comments…like…’You lot’ and ‘your kind’?
I protested for one week to take the issue to the higher authorities. Yes, my first week of my PhD started with a protest to show my constitutional rights to study. From that instance, I knew that I had to perform better than the privileged. The institute’s higher authority listened and changed my supervisor. My new supervisor was very professional, and I ended up being one of their finest PhD students. I did my research in the most contemporary research topic at that time and even now: ‘Managing nuclear wastes mainly focused on retaining fugitive I129 in the deep geological repository’.
“In 2013, I joined Cardiff University to work for the SEREN project. Moving to a different country was not a difficult job for me.
However, the funniest part was handling the unawareness of cultural diversities and societal misconceptions. Initially, I ignored these things such as people greeting me with the language that I never spoke, one they assumed I spoke. I usually now tell people politely that language changes every 400 miles in India, and they are not dialects.
Once a canteen worker warned me that the food I asked for contained beef and because I looked Indian (that’s news to me), I shouldn’t or don’t eat beef….
In the state I come from in India, only 2 .5% – 3% are non-meat eaters. Overall in India, non-meat eaters are only 23%-37% of Indians.
I come from Tamilnadu, southern part of India. Most of my family are non-religious in practice, meat-eaters, they especially love beef, and traditionally play a drum called Parai Isai (Parai music) and dance and pray to our ancestors, land and sun.
It is the long list; the language, I started to learn it which was fun, the people, the coastal paths, mountains (they make me feel like I’m at home) and an unpopular choice, the rain. I am a distance runner, so the trails in Wales are heaven to me. One can explore the hidden beauty of Wales.
“In my life, I have faced caste discriminations based on my birth, cultural prejudice and favouritisms which never stop me from achieving what I want to achieve. I have never let them stop my positivity. In fact, they made me stronger and enhanced my confidence. Maybe this is because I am a keen ultra-trail runner and taking up challenges in undulating tough terrains might have made me mentally strong!
I now like to think that I am culturally non-judgemental and fit well with in the societal core values of any diversified cultural systems.
Oh yes, one thing that you can get free of charge is, advice. I never tried to survive the situation, in fact I tried to adopt and thrive. So, wherever you are, whatever cultural background you are from and whatever situation you are in, keep moving in a forward direction at your own pace.
If you can run, run, if you cannot run, walk, if cannot walk crawl, if you cannot crawl even, just wiggle like a worm in the positive direction.
Never stop moving forward!