Graduate Kaustubh Ray on Impact and Networking His Way to NASA

Kaustubh Ray photo

Kaustubh Ray, a spring 2022 graduate of Purdue’s Aeronautical & Astronomical Engineering undergraduate program, is currently interning as a systems engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Inspired by the stars while away at NASA, he is also working as a part-time direct-Ph.D. student in the Gambaro Graduate Program of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue. Before returning to campus next spring, Kaustubh says his job at NASA has him working on the Mars Sample Return Mission, which retrieves samples from Mars and brings them back to Earth. When asked what his plans are after graduation, Kaustubh says he wishes to continue with NASA. He loves the company and its “bigger” goals and mission. He says it is inspiring to work in such an important science community. 

While at Purdue for his undergraduate degree, Kaustubh felt it was vital to get involved in as many affiliations as possible. In 2019, he was the Theta Tau Phi Chapter Scholarship Chairman and in 2020, he was the treasurer. Also, in 2020, Kaustubh became the director of recruitment for the Purdue Interfraternity Council, leading to his presidency in 2021. Kaustubh’s resume is full of other group memberships here at Purdue. He was also part of the Order of Omega Theta Gamma, whose members are selected from the highest achieving fraternity and sorority members at the institution; a Student Advisory Board member for the Vice Provost of Student Life; and the social director for the Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering Student Advisory Council.

Kaustubh’s past also shows he has tried his hand at TEDx talks. During his senior year of high school, Kaustubh presented at the TEDx Youth Conference highlighting the power of one’s purpose, pain and fear in their life. Kaustubh inspired others by sharing his story about his overcoming a fear of public speaking, his weight loss journey and his passion for competitive wrestling. You can watch his  powerful presentation on YouTube. Someday, Kaustubh hopes to be selected to host a TEDx talk here at Purdue! 

When asked how he found his way to NASA, Kaustubh reflected upon how he fine-tuned his networking skills during the pandemic. When everything shut down, he says he found himself struggling. Schoolwork was getting harder and everything, including his summer internship with an aircraft company, was canceled. Kaustubh says he found that there were still opportunities though if he looked hard enough. It was then that he found a virtual NASA internship, called Mission to Mars, where groups of 10 worked together. Kaustubh was so inspired, he took it upon himself to start reading papers and conducting his own work outside of the group. It was then that he had the idea of contacting one of the authors of those research papers he read to introduce himself. By networking with this researcher and forming a professional relationship, Kaustubh was selected for his first non-virtual internship at NASA. Now, Kaustubh is working for the people he was researching that summer.  

“It is good to be uncomfortable,” Kaustubh says. “If you truly push yourself, you will be out of your comfort zone. Anybody can feel good when they’re doing well in a class, have a well-balanced schedule or are in good relationships. Anybody can be positive and have a larger vision then.

“The real challenge of growth comes when you fail and how you handle it,” Kaustubh continues. “It is the insecurity of the times that define who you are because you will not be challenged at your convenience, but rather in your chaos. Those challenges are opportunities and it is ultimately up to you to decide how you want to act upon them.” 

When asked what advice he would give on how to make an impact, Kaustubh says to start small. During his first year at Purdue, he says he realized that instead of chasing a quota or outcome, his biggest impact should be focused on leading people. He says to start small, like in the classroom, by leading a group or project. This experience will eventually snowball into bigger things, like leading research groups and teams. Someday, this leads to higher roles.  

“Chase and fall in love with the process more than the outcome,” Kaustubh says. “It’s really easy to be awed over the title, recognition or outcome. Falling in love with the process of reaching those goals will take your impact a lot further. I’ve seen a number of people chase the next line on the resume and it doesn't really go much further than that. If you are going for genuine impact, focus on the work and forget about the impact – it will come in time.” 

If you want to add Kaustubh to your network,  connect with him on LinkedIn