In October 2010, Dr Gautam Kalghati FREng joined Saudi Aramco, after 31 years spent working at Shell Research in the UK. He is a Visiting Professor at Imperial College London, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of Sheffield. He is also on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Engine Research, Journal of Automobile Engineering and Journal of Fuels and Lubricants.
“The world is facing great problems and only engineers can find practical solutions to such problems. He or she will have a very interesting, challenging, satisfying career.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
After graduating in 1972, I came to the UK from India to do my PhD and have been engaged in engineering research and development until my recent retirement. For around 40 years, my primary employment was in oil company research laboratories although I have been connected with several European universities as a Visiting Professor. My main area of interest is how fuels affect internal combustion engines. I try to use the improved understanding gained through research to understand how engines and fuels need to evolve.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I was fascinated by space exploration when I was growing up and wanted to take an active part in that adventure. Hence, I chose aeronautical engineering for my first degree. My PhD was in supersonic aerodynamics and I did postdoctoral research in combustion/flow interactions. I used diagnostic techniques to study combustion inside engines and then to study fuel effects in engine combustion, which has been my area of expertise for over three decades. One lesson I learned is that you are very likely to be in an entirely different field at the end of your career than at the start.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
Like all engineers, I find satisfaction in finding practical solutions to problems. Engineering research requires framing of answerable questions to test a hypothesis. The answers required need not be 100% perfect but need to be timely. This is enabled by better understanding of the mechanisms involved.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
My very first job in industry was to help design an emergency flare stack on a north-sea oil platform. This required us to know the maximum fuel flow rate through a pipe that would still give a stable flame in crosswind and the size, shape and thermal radiation from the resultant flame – an extremely complex turbulent combustion problem. My postdoctoral experience told me that this problem could not be solved using first principles. I used very simple experiments and a simple model and used dimensional analyses to universal laws to help tackle this problem.
How do you think racial parity in engineering can be achieved?
My feeling is that ethnic minorities (certainly Asians) are encouraged by their families to take up engineering. So as long as there is no overt discrimination (and I don’t think this is very serious nowadays), diversity should be increasing in engineering.
Has being a BAME engineer had an impact on your career that is either positive or negative?
Personally, I don’t feel it has had an impact on my career over the long term, although I did go through a phase mid-career when I felt I might have climbed the corporate ladder further/quicker if I had been from the majority community. I am very aware that, compared to R&D where I spent my career, mainstream engineering can be more conservative and less encouraging of BAME engineers.
How has the ethnic diversity of the profession changed since you started working in engineering?
I think there is more ethnic diversity now as second and third generations from immigrant families enter the profession.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
I would very much encourage them. The world is facing great problems and only engineers can find practical solutions to such problems. They will have a very interesting, challenging, satisfying career.