Alumni award winner Arjuna Mohottala.

Ambition awarded

31 March 2015

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For many children, childhood ambition means being an astronaut, scientist or a member of royalty - but for Crawford PhD Scholar Arjuna Mohottala, he held the mammoth ambition of completing a PhD.

Years later, Mohottala is on his way to achieving his ambition – with two scholarships and now The Australian National University Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation award for Postgraduate Student of the Year under his belt.

Mohottala picked up the award at the ANU Alumni Awards dinner on Saturday 28 March 2015. The awards are held to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of ANU alumni and thank them for all they have done.

Mohottala won his award for his tireless campaigning for the postgraduate cohort of ANU.

The PhD Scholar has played an essential role in the ongoing success of the Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association (PARSA). In his time with the Association he has increased its profile, organised events for postgraduate students and enhanced postgraduate students’ student experience.

“To win such a prestigious award was a humbling experience,” he said.

“I’ve seen the calibre of the previous recipients and never did I imagine I would be of the same calibre. I’m grateful for my work to be recognised at such a prestigious event. But, I’m even more grateful to have the opportunity to do the things I do at ANU. Ever since I started here, I have felt supported and encouraged to making a contribution,” said Mohottala.

The Sri Lankan national is no stranger to success. In his home country he held the role of Assistant Director of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka at a very young age, and later became a Senior Economist at the Bank.

Keen to pursue higher studies, and with the childhood ambition of obtaining a PhD still bubbling away in the background, Mohottala first came to Crawford School of Public Policy in 2011 under a scholarship from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka for his Master Degree in International and Development Economics.

“After I finished my Master Degree, I wanted to do more. There was no doubt about staying on to complete my PhD at Crawford School. I have access to some of the world’s top academics and the ability to engage in open policy discussions with them. Why would I leave such a terrific institution?” said Mohottala.

In July 2014, Mohottala was the inaugural recipient of the Peter Kenyon Memorial Postgraduate Scholarship awarded by the Economic Society of Australia on the merit of his Master degree results and PhD proposal. Despite tossing up between a few Universities, choosing Crawford School wasn’t a tough decision for the PhD Scholar.

“Crawford School has an amazing line-up of academics and they lead the public policy debate in Australia while providing a special emphasis on Asia and the Pacific region. So when I was comparing universities to pursue my higher studies, on paper, Crawford School looked amazing.

“The icing on the cake was more of a personal touch. When I approached Crawford School about pursuing my career in economics, the responses I got from Stephen Howes, the then IDEC Director and the rest of Crawford staff was overwhelming. I really felt welcome and their response told me I was choosing the right institution,” said Mohottala.

Mohottala’s PhD is on the macroeconomic effects of exchange rate shocks – a key area of interest in his role as Senior Economist in Sri Lanka. His PhD is supervised by Crawford School Professor of Economics Renee McKibbin.

Away from his research, Mohottala is passionate about seeing as many people as possible engaging with their community.

“Before I came to Australia, I was heavily involved in Rotaract, the youth arm of the Rotary movement, for over eight years.

“The purpose of the organisation is to provide an opportunity for young men and women to enhance their knowledge and skills that will assist them in personal development to address the physical and social needs of their communities, and to promote better relations between all people worldwide through a framework of friendship and service,” said Mohottala.

In his role with Rotaract, Mohottala played a key role in running social, reconciliation and professional development programs after the end of the war that hindered Sri Lanka’s growth and development for over 30 years.

“When I came to Australia, there was a significant void in my life and I was itching to do something within my community. Being involved in PARSA and leading the student body has been a honour and a privilege,” said Mohottala.

The lifelong friends he made through PARSA and stories shared will stay with Mohottala for years to come – well beyond his university experience.

Mohottala’s advice to all current and future students was simple.

“Open up and talk to people. Most of the Crawford students have travelled inter-state or crossed oceans to get here. No one comes here because it’s easy; they come here because they love a challenge. Embrace the challenge and take every opportunity that life throws at you,” said Mohottala.

Are you interested in pursuing PhD studies at Crawford School? Find out more about our PhD programs here:

Story by Nip Wijewickrema.

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