To be a Professor...


To be a Professor...

Volume 5 Issue 7 News & Resources | July 2012


I have been in Academia for over a decade, and found the academic world are filled with very interesting characters. As colourful and varied as the realm of knowledge, so do the people (or academics) entrusted with the important job of cultivating and expanding the frontiers of discovery and progress. One can trace the development of academia which dated back thousands of years. The monuments of hypotheses turned discoveries and finally accepted as ground truths are in abundance, even until to this day. Even the age-old centre of learning established hundreds of years ago are still being utilised for its original intent – as a centre of learning and enriching discoveries. It is just the people who have to come and go; since mortals would not be able to outlast brick and stones. Yes, bricks and stones are the foundations of today’s ivory towers, wherever they may be, coupled with the legions of knowledge seekers and providers that completes the eco-system for learning and nurturing.

To be able to profess one’s expertise in any branch of knowledge there is an accepted norm that the recognition must not only suffice from one’s credentials, but in reality what is one’s position in the said academic circle? What are the views of the peers? What are the significant proofs which warrant one to be promoted to such a status? What are the motives and, most importantly, why? As the world of academia is more accustomed to probing questions than lucid answers, these questions are not anomalies, but are the norms. Yes, getting a title stuck to the front of your name seems an interesting idea. But, not without the accompanying pain of having to prepare justifications in getting and using those sought-after title. Yes, who would not want to be called a professor? Who would want to be look up upon? And the least, who would not want to sound clever and smart just by having to be called a “Prof”?

But, academia, in the final analysis, is NOT about titles and the length of it. It is about knowledge and how to interact and nurture them for the betterment of life as a whole. It is about making sense of the challenges of living in the post-modern world in the 21st century. It is about bringing an impact to the society. It is about developing the future generations of intelligent human resources. It is about ensuring that knowledge will survive and will always be the back-bone to development and progress. It is about searching and arriving to the meaning of life. It is about creating, nurturing, protecting and ensuring sustainability of life itself. Academia may change in facades and outlooks, but none will change on its original aim and purpose of being. Academia is certainly an interesting living space. Academia deals with knowledge and consciousness. Only time will tell whether the pristine aims and reason de etre will survive the onslaught of self-gratification and outright ignorance of the roles of knowledge, hence the function of academia in society.

So, what then should be the realistic roles of a professor? Ideally, an academic promoted as a professor in a faculty should act as the inspiration and model for providers of knowledge. They are the embodiment of knowledge and discoveries. They take charge of setting the way forward and encouraging newer members of the faculty to grow and even outgrow the professors themselves. They are working to build-up the academia further, and ensuring that the collateral impacts to societies will be significant. A professor should be able to profess in a specific domain of knowledge. They become the bridge to the outer world, i.e. with the relevant industries and stakeholders. They should venture into new pastures, and should not be worried to propose unorthodox ideas as long as they can prove its associated worthiness. Professors are often over-burdened with expectations and the long-term targets of taking academia to greater heights. They are the unofficial protectors of academia. Long live the professors!

Alas, these are just ideals which may or may not translate into realities. Professors are just human beings, and prone to mistakes and bad judgements. For them to carry the stated responsibilities (read: burdens), the rest of academia must also be ready to be considerate in accepting intermittent failures, which later could be useful for expediting the progress on the learning curve. Professors can certainly shape the uniqueness of any centre of higher learning. Their idiosyncratic behaviours and position makes them special. Hence, any centre of higher learning should be careful when promoting any academic to the status of a professor. Certainly, sometimes it doesn’t look so rosy anymore in craving to become a full professor. But, do not be disheartened, there are many other interesting perks just waiting for the energetic and budding professors. As the saying goes, “With new power, comes great responsibilities”. And, to make them more localised; we modify the saying a tiny bit, i.e. “With new title, comes great expectations”. So, think first before we even take any real actions.

The R&D research efforts into underwater robotic, sensor system and new sea-going technologies need some stronger and concrete supports from the relevant authorities. And along these novel aims, professors need to play their roles in ensuring R&D efforts are going according to the agreed plans, and fulfilling the strategic niche areas. Professors are not appointed or promoted as a self-glorifying exercise, but rather to execute some real functions (formal or informal) into the R&D or teaching/learning programmes. Professors seldom are considered “dead-wood”. But, one may easily fall into this category if one makes no effort to do otherwise. Yes, professors are entrusted with too many expectations. And yet, this is certainly and logically an expected condition. If this is not the case, what is the point of promoting them in the first place?

One a final note, I would like to wish the best of lucks to all the newly promoted professors! You are there now. Please behave accordingly. We are watching you. Be the professors that you envisioned some time ago.

p/s: Je ne suis pas encore un professeur, il est donc plus facile de blâmer les professeurs :-)

Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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