Meet Raj; Industry Engagement Manager at CSIRO


Raj Burli is a trailblazer. He started his STEM journey young with a passion for all things aerospace. Initially aiming to become a pilot, after a few life changing experiences, he changed his route to focus on education and engaging the younger generation, helping them develop careers in the aviation and STEM industries. We spoke with Raj about his insights on the key factors that enable the industry and young professionals to grow together.

A/AA: What was your first job?

Raj: I started out working at Maccas which is a typical first job but a great place to learn a lot very quickly. Let me tell you, a 3-hour fry shift teaches you resilience, teamwork, and customer service. It really was a great experience and I owe a lot of my current success to fundamental values I learned working at McDonalds. 

A/AA: What was the beginning of your love of STEM?

Raj: I owe a lot of my love of STEM to my parents. Growing up I spent a lot of time in museums and tinkering with technology, all facilitated by my parents. I remember I once destroyed our family computer by taking it apart to see what was on the inside and instead of getting in trouble, my parents encouraged me to keep going and gave me opportunities to learn which I think highlights their passion for scientific inquiry which they kindly passed onto me.

A/AA: Outside of your parents, what else inspired the idea of getting into STEM?

Raj: My high school, the John Monash Science School, gave me the exposure to researchers who came in, conducted experiments with us and just generally spoke to us about the diversity of opportunity that exists in STEM. That inspiration from teachers and researchers really helped. While my parents sparked the love, that school helped fuel my passion.  

A/AA: So young Raj back in that school: what does he want to be when he grows up? And what do you want to be in the future now?

Raj: I think if you ask my parents, they’d say I’m still a child trying to figure things out and in some ways I am. I always wanted to be a pilot to in school that was my focus. It wasn’t until I finished university that I realised that my place might be on the ground. Looking to the future, I’d say that I want to be someone who has an impact in how people, specifically young people, learn and interact with technology. I’m thinking about doing a PhD in human-computer teaming and how we can use technology to be better so maybe an educator at a university trying to help bring curiosity and academic adventure back to learners.

A/AA: Outside of curriculum, what do you see are the pathways for young people to get into the industry?

Raj: There are heaps of pathways out there. The challenge is their often hard to come find but if you’re persistent and determined enough, there are pathways out there. Universities and organisations like A/AA do a brilliant job of bring industry closer to students and helping them connect but even outside that, there are studentships, work experience placements, research collaborations that you can do directly with industry organisations. There’s also no rule against creating your own pathway. Emailing and reaching out to people who work in roles you would like to see yourself in, is a great way to establish a connection that can be built upon and who knows where that relationship can take you.

A/AA: How do you think existing organisations and people in the industry can help the younger generation?

Raj: I think visibility is important and representation matters. It’s hard to be what you can’t see so organisations have a responsibility to be present and engaging for young people. Showing them what they can be and what opportunities exist. Highlighted by people of diverse backgrounds. Creating and facilitating opportunities for your employees to engage in community and supporting their outreach is a great way to not only give back but also help bolster Australia’s STEM and talent pipeline.

A/AA: Can you tell us about your internship?

Raj: I could speak about my internships for days, but I assume you’re talking about my time with IATA. I was fortunate enough to be selected for one of their internship opportunities based out of Montreal, Canada. I worked as a project intern helping airlines connect with universities to recruit talent. The real highlight of my time there however was the people. Hands down. My manager and colleagues were remarkably smart and taught me a lot about the industry. My fellow interns on the other hand, equally as smart and taught me a lot about me. Living and working together for 6 months, all of us far from home, we created a little family and in so doing, we learnt a lot about ourselves, what we valued, and we supported each other in discovering where we wanted to go next.

A/AA: What can young people bring into the industry, given the right platform?

Raj: Perspective, innovation, passion, energy, fun. The list is endless.

I think young people bring unadulterated imagination and curiosity to situations. New ways of thinking that can fundamentally change the way they we do things. Especially when it comes to technology. They’re all now digital natives and they see things completely differently. Where I see my phone as a tool, my brother the Gen Z digital native, sees it as an extension of his hand and the way he uses it reflects that mindset. That type of thinking can have a massive impact on how you do business.

A/AA: How can organisations better harness perspective from young people if they are not necessarily an employee?

Raj: Talk to them? There are heaps of programs out there that connect industry professionals to young people for the sole purpose of a knowledge exchange. STEM Professionals in Schools is a great example of a program where industry professionals can go into schools and talk with students, share their knowledge and vice versa, here from students about their perspectives. Universities have similar opportunities for employees to go in on campus, into lectures, workshops, development sessions and speak to their next generation of employees. Capitalise, make time, and support your staff to reach out because when they do, the reward is immeasurable.

A/AA: Was do you wish you were asked about during your journey, but never were?

Raj: “Why are you doing what you’re doing and what is your end goal?”

I got into aviation to be a pilot. That’s primarily what I thought the industry was. Pilots. And so, I spent a lot of money trying to achieve that. It wasn’t until the near end of journey, when I went on a Global Aviation Study Tour with Swinburne University, that I realised just how much more to the industry there was. That I could still be part of the coolest industry in the world without needing to be a pilot. So, if you’re working with young people, just ask them “why” and share with them what I think any industry professional reading this will know to be true – there will always be more to this industry than you know and no matter what your interest, there’s a place for you in it.