Silver Chancellor Award winner Sathes Kumar’s belief that one should never “self-reject” has taken him far
How many of you who had just graduated would think of applying for a job that required 3-5 years’ experience just because it “really resonated’ with your aspirations and what you studied at university? Sathes Kumar Sandasegaran did just that - and got the job, having graduated only in May 2020.
When asked why he did it, he said simply, “The position is aligned with what I want to do in future. I’ve always believed that I should give it a shot and not self-reject.”
That was how Sathes ended up being an exploration and production analyst, in March 2021, with Rystad Energy, the world’s leading energy research and business intelligence company headquartered in Oslo, Norway. The interview process was grueling for a fresh graduate but Sathes’ maturity and potential impressed his employer enough to look beyond his youthfulness.
Even at an early age, Sathes was brought up to be different and to look at the world differently. His father wanted him to learn a different language and enrolled him and his three siblings in a Chinese school. “As a teenager, I could read Mandarin but not my native language Tamil,” he shared with a laugh.
When his father passed away, his mother, who had been a homemaker all her life, had to become the family’s breadwinner overnight. “She was good at cooking, so she rented a location and sold Indian tea breakfasts, idly, thosai, nasi lemak and kuih.”
Serving the community is a privilege
Understanding the tremendous financial difficulty his family was facing, Sathes was resourceful in finding ways to minimise the pressure on his mother. To ensure he could keep up with his studies, he enrolled for free tuition classes offered by a non-governmental organisation, Sai Ananda Foundation. “It was there that I developed my English because we don’t speak English at home.”
After a few years of benefiting from the classes, he decided it was time to pay back and actively volunteered at the foundation. He started teaching some of the simple classes like English and Maths. “I really liked volunteering at the Foundation because we could help hardcore low income families.”
When time came for him to further his studies, he applied to UTP. Sathes knew how competitive it was, but he didn’t believe in “self-rejecting.” He was accepted into the Engineering Foundation programme and while getting the congratulatory email was exciting, his heart sank at the financial costs for the programme. “There was no way I could have afforded my fees let alone my living expenditure.” Fortunately, he got help from Sai Ananda and friends at the Rotary Club of Bukit Kiara Sunrise, KL.
Once he got into UTP, he got creative. “I took on different types of jobs to get extra income – transcripting, translating, data entry, anything I could do to get by.”
Making the best of university life
Towards the end of his foundation year, he got a full scholarship from Gamuda for his 4-Year degree programme in Petroleum Geoscience at UTP, after completing his Foundation studies. This enabled him to really focus on university life.
As a result of his experience in his formative years and being a naturally inquisitive student, Sathes would always ask a lot of questions. Petroleum Geoscience isn’t a subject one can just learn from a book and master, he points out. “It involves a lot of field trips and practical lab activities, as well as using industry leading technologies to carry out the subsurface interpretations. It can be challenging but it’s very exciting at the same time.”
It wasn’t until his eight-month internship at PETRONAS that all the pieces fell into place and he “saw the big picture and understood the important role geoscience played in the energy transition”. He eventually graduated with a first-class degree in Petroleum Geosciences.
Understanding that going to university isn’t just getting good grades, Sathes actively took part in student clubs and community service programmes.
“UTP invests a lot back into their students co-curricular activities, especially through the Centre for Student Development,” Sathes says gratefully. “CSD is the central coordination point for helping students to build their path for the future - through career development, campus activities, student exchange programmes, talent enrichment and technopreneurship development.”
Sathes’ involvement in EAGE (European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers) was pivotal in helping him build his understanding of the field of his choice. It gave him a lot of opportunities to attend workshops and conferences. As its President, he also organised multiple programmes both in the local and international arena. He represented UTP & Malaysia on multiple international programmes in South-East Asia, Europe, and Middle East and achieved notable awards in the process.
As fate would have it, the batch of 2020 graduated right smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many of his peers, Sathes couldn't get a job. He worked hard in the midst of the pandemic, and constantly upskilled himself in picking up relevant digital skills which helped him land his first job as a geoscience research officer with UTP, focusing on oil and gas prospect maturation and seismic interpretations using machine learning applications.
Punching above your weight
Months later, he came across a job posting on Linkedin. “This was not a position for a fresh graduate with less than a year of working experience, but when I read the job description, it really resonated with me. I didn’t want to self-reject so I applied for it even though I had only eight to ten months of real working experience.”
Sathes had to complete a tough assessment test and make a presentation about his views on the Malaysian exploration and production outlook, in the course of the interview process. Not easy for a fresh graduate, but Sathes was not afraid to punch above his weight. “I just did my best. After the first interview, they said they liked my attitude, and my profile was a potential match with the position. They expressed their interest in learning more about what I was doing in university and wanted to understand more of my personality.”
Four rounds of interviews later, his hiring manager video-called him to offer him the job.
The happiest person in the world is, of course, Sathes’ mother. “We just wish dad is around to see this,” he says.
It will come as no surprise that Sathes cites his mother as his biggest role model. “Until today, I’m amazed at how my mum pivoted overnight to sustain a family of four children without any prior working experience. She just knew she had to do it to support the family. I believe that, even if I can have only a fraction of my mum’s drive, motivation, and her sense of responsibility, I will be very, very successful!”
At the time of publication, Sathes has received another offer from a multinational energy company. He is very grateful for all the learning and development opportunities with Rystad Energy and looks forward to the new adventure in reimagining how we approach energy!