Rajesh Parishwad, External Relationships Manager at the Royal Society of Chemistry, completed a residential fellowship in Oxford with fellow professionals from India and Sri Lanka. He speaks to us about his 10 week journey – including politics, photography, and pubs.
Sir Richard Brooke, the well-regarded UK scientist, held us spellbound for 60 minutes, peeling off layers of science, art, philosophy, policy and finance, to reveal the importance of science and research for society.
He built a fantastic perspective around research and left us with one key message: that for the rest of our lives we must possess duende – a Spanish term that combines passion and inspiration – in all that we do.
Sir Brooke’s lecture was just the beginning of a perception-altering experience called the Chevening Rolls Royce Science Innovation and Leadership Programme (CRISP) held at St Cross College at Oxford University. I was one among the privileged 14 member CRISP group comprising 12 people from India and two from Sri Lanka, who attended the 10 week programme, starting in April 2018.
'Duende' became the buzzword that drove us from then on, starting at the hallowed portals of the world’s most reputed aero-engine manufacturer – the Rolls Royce headquarters at Derby. We got a ringside view into their famed focus on excellence, and an insight into their efforts to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve during the current economic uncertainty rocking the UK – with Brexit, and Trump’s America First policy.
Another afternoon, we gathered at philosopher-photographer Rory Carnegie’s studio tucked away in one of the quaint streets of Oxford, to pick up simple photography techniques and gain a better understanding of visual communication. His photographs, in particular an exhibition on modern slavery in the UK, and iconic shots tracing the country’s history, left an indelible mark on our minds. His photography dos and don’ts inspired us to explore new angles and different lenses and filters, resulting in some breathtaking and some hilarious photographs.
Funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Rolls Royce, the CRISP is designed to "stimulate intellectual enquiry, to sharpen critical thinking skills, and support practical ambition and the creation of networks". It also offers us an opportunity to experience UK culture and build lasting positive relationships with the UK through professional development and extensive networking.
The angst about the Brexit vote hung thick in the air at Oxford. People sometimes seemed just plain disappointed with the UK government’s approach to the whole matter. Interestingly, during one of the talks on politics in the UK, we got several viewpoints on why the main political parties in the country – Conservatives and Labour – were supporting Brexit in their own way.
When we asked politicians, academics, industry leaders, policy-makers or bureaucrats who we met during the course of the programme for their take on Brexit and its impact on the country, their responses lacked clarity. However, billionaire industrialist G P Hinduja, one of the richest people in the UK, confidently told a gathering at the Somerville College that it will be a 'soft Brexit'.
Away from this cloud of politics, and in the warmth of the British summer, we had multiple opportunities to discover the country’s various facets – we walked around a Neolithic henge monument (which is not as famous as Stonehenge) around the village of Avebury. A prehistoric site, it is home to the largest megalithic stone circle in the world, which remains a place of religious importance to contemporary cults.
We travelled through time, visiting the medieval marvel that is Ely Cathedral near Cambridge. We landed in modern times at an organic farm in the Cotswolds, on a mission to re-vitalise the land, and interacted with futuristic start-ups across the UK, including one working on transforming radiology through low-cost 3D imaging.
It wasn’t all fun and no school, though. While the outdoor explorations carried on, we also focussed on lectures and discussions, one-on-one mentoring, and coaching sessions on important themes – personal development, leadership management, networking, innovation and entrepreneurship. We expected nothing less than the best from Oxford, and we got it – pioneers in many fields went beyond their professional duty, enriching our knowledge, taking personal interest in our roles and aspirations, and refining our skills.
Discussions abounded around the relevance of the United Nations, how China sees India in the global scenario, and challenges around setting up an India-based Neutrino Observatory. A chance meeting with Lord Karan Billimoria, chairman of Cobra Beer, resulted in a visit to the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.
A symbiotic opportunity came on a visit to Cambridge – CRISP fellows were introduced to the Royal Society of Chemistry, with a visit to our office. Alejandra Palermo and Harp Minhas delivered interesting talks on our 'Future of the Chemical Sciences' initiative and 'Future of Scholarly Communication: Potential drivers for change', respectively, offering insights into the world of scholarly publishing.
While all these events and activities may seem disparate and disjointed, they were interwoven to give us multi-pronged insights that will aid our personal and professional development.
We had the most diverse group of fellows working across sectors and industries – one came from a company with a history of over 150 years in India; one from the world’s largest e-tailer; one represented a home-grown start-up that intends to change the way we manage our energy consumption, while yet another fellow worked for a Japanese multinational based in Sri Lanka.
Apart from building extensive networks in the UK, the best part of the programme was the way our CRISP fellows were willing to share their knowledge and expertise, growing it into a strong, close-knit network over a short period of time. The collateral benefit was phenomenal amount of peer learning over several mugs of beer across the famed pubs dotted across the UK. Discussions and plans are already afoot to work jointly, which will help our personal careers as well as the organisations we work for.
As we wound up our course, we had the opportunity to attend the Encaenia ceremony – the quiet and closed-door event at which the University of Oxford awards honorary degrees to distinguished men and women and commemorates its benefactors. The convocation is still steeled in centuries-old traditions and conducted entirely in Latin (with translations in a booklet). An added thrill was seeing Hollywood director Martin Scorsese, among others, receiving his honorary doctorate from the Oxford University Chancellor Chris Patten at the famous 16th century Sheldonian Theatre, built by Sir Christopher Wren. Although I was not lucky enough to get a photograph with the maverick Scorsese, at another event I was fortunate enough to meet director Sam Mendes of the famed 007 franchise Skyfall and Spectre, and American Beauty.
All this was made possible because of the amazing organisation I work for. I would like to thank the Royal Society of Chemistry for giving me this opportunity to participate in the programme, and my colleagues Alison Eldridge and Richard Porte for supporting me in this endeavour.
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