Oh my leader, please lead…

Volume 10 Issue 2 News & Resources | June 2017

Oh my leader, please lead...

may 17

   1. Leadership in fantasy land

When one is appointed to the post of being a leader, it is the beginning of one of most interesting phase of one’s life, either on the enjoyable or distressing part. One can never be sure of the end of the leadership term. Of course, some do vied for leadership positions, while other may have just “fallen” into the position. No matter which routes which have been taken, the leader is now expected to lead, i.e. including managing the whole system. And, he must lead in the best of ways without having to make life difficult to anyone except himself. It is expected that all decisions which will be made by the leader to be of the wisest and accurate positions given the circumstances surrounding the sticky problems. The leader is also expected to know the way out of every knots and joints in a problem. The leader is expected to be perfect. He should satisfy everyone and be ready to smile in the most distressing situations. Yes, this is the traits of the imaginary leader the people are looking for. If you are not up for this, better just skip the race. Just be a common peasant and be content with whatever given.

   2. Leadership in realm of reality

In reality, some if not most, of our leaders are far from perfect. Countries went to war sometimes mainly to the eagerness to obey the whims and lusts of corrupt leaders to usurp and exploits other seemingly weaker neighbours. Innocent people got killed and displaced to uncertain places as direct consequences from the unscrupulous decisions by the so called leaders. In the interest of expanding their own ego, innocent citizen got entangled in the ensuing conflicts and families are broken apart. It will take at least few generations before things will recover for the better, if ever. And, all these are due to the leaders’ action in handling real conflicts or problems. Collateral damage is just part of the package. So, in reality, leaders are no longer the fountain of solitude and wisdom, but instead, the source of all the evil doings. What have happened to humanity in the modern era? Why are we stuck in this rut? How will humanity move forward? Well, despair will not take us anywhere except to push us down further. Life is always about hope. As long we have hope and dreams, we will find a way out. The first to go is the corrupt leader. The second one is the corrupt assistants who have provided all the scaffoldings for their bosses. The people will bring the change, somehow or rather.

   3. Leadership in Hope

We are natural leaders. We have been leading the pack the first moment we have fought for our survival. We are champions. The leadership role is natural to us. No doubt some people led better than others. But we are not that all bad. We have made good progress so far. If you are reading this article, it is already a proof of your capability of a leader, having the ability to lead all your senses to read and try to comprehend these ramblings. Some will fail even to finish the first sentence. Leadership must start with a sincere intention to make things better for all. Self-indulgence and self-serving decisions are out of the window. It is all about making things better for the followers and preparing a solid grounding for the future generations. In times of despair, hope is the last thing in people’s mind. It is the role of a leader to give hope and show the way to fulfil the hopes. All of us can appreciate that all leaders are imperfect and have their follies, but we would expect leaders to be the most positive and optimistic of a person. To them we look for inspirations and solitudes and leaders should reciprocate by showing this exact character. In hope we will lead.

   4. Leadership in Academia

Academia harbours many leaders. Given the opportunity, I believe many academics will shine in the role of a leader. Though, realistically, we can only select a few leaders, and the rest will just have to accept the reality of being the followers. This leader-follower dynamic in an academic setting is always very interesting and sometimes can be quite explosive (luckily, not expletive). A normal leader in an academic setting will be a term-based appointment. The leader can be called, for example: Dean, Programme Coordinator, Head of Department or Programme Director. Whatever the title, it will involve having to deal with their own colleagues and even some seniors. There are routine academic matters that have to be implemented every semester or what will be categorized as management matters. These are quite straightforward and seldom become the source of disagreement. The typical sources of altercation and disputes are when some quarters in the faculty tried to force their own version of reality or when they are in strong disagreement on some decisions taken by the leadership, especially, when they felt they have been victimized or unfairly treated. Things can easily get out of hand when rules are put aside or rules are freely interpreted to suit one’s position. A leader in such situation will certainly have to take tough decisions. The most important thing is the urgency to root out the major discrepancies in the arguments on the issues in hand. Leaders should not be haste and always be open to all. In this, any leader will be tested for their honesty and integrity. All in all, the leader can be assured, some will like him and some will never do. Ah yes, we are only here in the leadership position to deliver our responsibilities, and not so much to ensure we will be liked by all. Even the Prophets have enemies, who are we then to complain?

   5. Leadership for SALE?

One should aspire to lead to the betterment of everyone. It is a good intention to have. Leader will always leave legacies. We should aspire to leave lasting and beneficial legacies. The future generations will thank us for all we have done. We may not enjoy the fruit of our actions. But, we will be glad and happy to leave this temporary abode knowing we have done good and not sowed the seeds of destructions. The price of leadership is not cheap and it is not for everyone. Given the choice, I would be more than happy to be a follower. To assist the appointed leader to achieve our common dreams would be a great honour. It is also my belief that if someone has been given the trust to lead, the person should give his utmost for the people. Personal gains should be the last thing in the leaders’ mind. May our leader be truthful and succeed in the efforts. Rome was not built in one night. More so, a great leader needs time…and in time and patience we are almost lacking.

Bon Voyage!

drrizal 2014 2

Written by : 
Prof. Ir. 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.

The "ideal" job

Volume 9 Issue 5 News & Resources | September 2016

The "ideal" job

september16

 

   1. The job

I have been imagining the difficulties of being a new academic staff in public universities nowadays. With the continuous cost cutting measures by the government and the gloomy economic outlook of the world and the not so positive situation in the country, one would need to be much more creative and industrious in figuring ways out of the glut. The seemingly insurmountable challenges and expectations are there to stay, and no tangible efforts are visible in making them more responsive to the dynamics of society at large. For example, the promotion criteria are static in nature and the measurement tools and promotion evaluation processes are not linked to the prevalent conditions one is facing. Embarking on an academic career needs serious commitment and focus. One will need to accelerate on the learning curve and pick up the tricks of the trade the soonest. The job is not an easy meat and may not suit everyone’s palate. But, one thing for sure, this job has the potential to bring out the best of ourselves. And, the opportunities to imprint our legacies in future generations are in abundance.

   2. The requirements

A lecturer has to teach the precepts and contents of knowledge, research the solutions for the ever-persistent problems in society, facilitate the rudimentary of university’s administrations and serve the needs of surrounding communities, professional or the general masses. In order to teach, he/she must allocate sufficient time for material review, preparation and assessment. The specific aspect of knowledge to be imparted must be sculptured in ways which will ease the learning processes. The research efforts must be made to be relevant and practical in terms of its actual utilization and usefulness. The product of research can be as varied as the topics which can be tackled. Admittedly, highly-cited publications will be the main outcome of all research efforts. A relevant and up-to-date teaching content is also a major byproduct of productive research endeavor. Teach and research has always gone hand-in-hand. Another task of an academic staff is to learn the traits of an administrator. There are many opportunities to make mistakes and to learn. The vocation will allow us many opportunities to interact with various segments of people in the university’s environment. One should be able learn and pick-up the best practices. Though, understandably, this will only happen with the right intention and spirit of self-improvement. Last but not least, an academic staff should serve the communities he/she is in. We must bring add value to the communities. And, in all these elements, a lecturer performance will be evaluated and judged.

   3. The challenges

In order to get promoted up the academic career ladder, one needs to fulfill the basic requirements and have the proper and right credentials. An academic staff will normally be evaluated for promotion on the outcome of his research work. How many publications in Q1 journal have been published? How many citations have one garnered? How much research grants have acquired? How many PhD or MSc students have successfully completed their study under him? What is his academic recognition given by others? These are some basic but pertinent questions. The output or outcome being evaluated needs a number of prerequisites; such as the grant money, post-graduate students, proper research facilities and healthy research eco-system. Basically one needs money for things such as to pay for the new students, to buy components, to rent research equipment, to fabricate the designed system, to travel for conference and meeting attendance and to pay for publication charges. When research grant money “cake” is getting smaller and the success rate of new grant applications is falling, a new or junior academic will perpetually be in a precarious position. Without sufficient funding, no many can move and nothing much can be done, i.e. things which really matter the most. The time spent on teaching also will eat a big chunk from his or her daily working hours. To make matter worse is the non-existent links with the industry and community at large. This put the junior staff in a secluded position away from main-stream academic activities. With the lack of mentoring from senior staff, he will be left to fend for himself. No money, no student, no real research. Hence, no promotion in sight!

   4. The opportunities

With this not so promising background, the life of an academic is still full of opportunities. There is a need to be more assertive and forthcoming in putting forwards one’s intents. The confidence in one’s ability will be a good start. The new academics must be foolish enough to traverse new routes and to create one, if there is none in existence. The road less travelled normally will offer many gains. Though the risks are higher, one will have nothing to lose when one has nothing to start with. The new academic must be bold and goal-driven. The opportunities will be as big as the challenges. In time of crisis, there is opportunity, if only we search and look for it. Good luck my dear academic.

“Life is a journey. Seek the good, do good and good will come to you” 

drrizal 2014 2

Written by : 
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.

How Good Are We?

Volume 9 Issue 3 News & Resources | March 2016

How Good Are We?

march2016

 

   1. The ranking tools

How good are we in relation to others? Yes, it would be nice to know this. At least we know how to chart the way forward and correct what needs to be corrected. It is just part of being human that we like to know our status in society. Various ranking tools are available nowadays by utilizing numerous ranking instruments, i.e. measurement parameter. We rank things because we would like to sort the things which are within our grasp in order to make sense of it all. We arrange subjects and topics according to a story which is coherent and logical to our senses. This coherency element is very critical so that the narratives can be appreciated and later shared. In making sense of our experiences, ranking objects according to certain primitive parameters is only one of the tools available. We also classify, identify and select objects accordingly. The amount of information gathered will typically tally with the quality of the interactions, i.e. passive or active. Logically, an active mode of interactions with our surroundings will provide a richer array of information. But of course, the most important process is the internal evaluations of all the sensed data. Ranking has become ingrained into the way society rate each other. We give values to these rankings, rightly or wrongly. We adopt such a stance without deeper consideration of the varieties in circumstances and state-of-being.

   2. The ranking game

To be able to survive and make good use of the ranking tools, we must “play” the game with sufficient knowledge and clear strategies. One must understand the rules, regulations and requirements to “play” the best of game. To win, there are many techniques and best practices to be implemented in each level of our endeavor. By evaluating our current capacity and capability, we pick and choose what and which tactical or strategic steps which will guarantee the biggest return. It is called a game, because one must not just be fit physically and mentally, proper strategies and tactical decisions must also be implemented. There will be winners and losers. As such, the winners will be praised and commended. A high position in the rank will also attract new investment and funding from various sectors. For a university, a top 10 position is more than enough as a selling point to attract entry of bright students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and excellent faculty members from around the world. The image of being highly ranked academic institution is very desirable in the current stiff competitions for new students and research funding, for example. In a way, a highly ranked university status will open up new opportunities for income generation and international collaborations. 

   3. Is it about branding?

Maybe we need to do more branding. Of course, the assumption is that we have already done some form of branding. If not, maybe it is high time to do so. We need to let people have more information about who we are and what we can offer to them. Probably some focus and investment into branding activities. Well renowned companies around the globe are known to have spent millions into branding activities. The logic is quite simple, actually. The more people knew us, the more trustworthy we became to them. Hence, when they are looking to solutions, we are among those they will refer to. A brand which is attractive and sticky will last forever. Well, not really. But, the least that would happen is that we will, most probably, outlive our competitors. The most important thing about branding is to let our target audience to be in the know of our strengths and our sincere efforts in improving them. We are providing the best services and the most cost-effective. As an academic institution, the branding culture is slightly different than other strictly commercial entities. Profit is one of the prime movers, but not the main one. Universities are here to educate societies and future generations. Universities are also the guardian of the knowledge fountains and always on the move to enhance whatever domain of knowledge available to the modern world. Academia has always been the backbone of civilizations. The current hype on branding should not cloud our appreciation of this noble intent of academia. Though a solid financial base is critical, it must not replace the real objective of having an academic institution. Money is everything, but everything needs money. 

   4. What is our self-worth?

The process of change can either be the “inside-out” or the “outer-in” approach, or a mix of both. When one has decided to change, the process may have been triggered by multiple factors. The process will also then lead to avalanche of activities. At the personal level, it would not so difficult to diagnose our limitations and problems. We can then prescribe some potential solutions which will bring us closer to our goals. Basically, we can try to quantify our self-worth and its growth to excellence. For an academic institution, the same processes may not be as straightforward and certainly, not an impossible challenge. Many real-life models and example are available to be emulated for this purpose. We just need to learn from others and set our path to glory. Our self-worth is for us to set and determine. Our worth is measured by how useful we are to others. I guess, in the current profit-oriented work culture, we need constant evaluations of our activities and how they impact the society as a whole. Between being force to change and wanting to change, the latter will sustain us longer in our struggle to be a meaningful agent of change and persistent champion of the goodness in the world.

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” -  John F. Kennedy

drrizal 2014 2

Written by : 
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.

The Importance of knowing

Volume 9 Issue 4 News & Resources | April 2016

The importance of knowing

knowing

 

   1. About knowledge

Knowledge is power, i.e. the power to convince and affect others to some preferred modes of thinking and action. The impact of knowledge has been recognized since the earliest of time known to human. Growth of civilizations came hand in hand with the progress of knowledge and the extent of its pervasiveness in societies. The fabrics of communal values have always been based on such body of knowledge accepted to the broader segment of human groupings. Of course the so-called “body of knowledge” may or may not pass today’s current rigorous empirical evaluations, but they were, nonetheless, useful in establishing functional societies for various communities throughout history. Some civilizations thrived for centuries while others were short-lived. The bottom line is that the strongest foundation for society is knowledge. The more successful civilizations have shown a consistent and sound emphasis on the body of knowledge and students of knowledge. The Greeks, Romans and Islamic civilizations immediately came into the picture. Their legacies of knowledge and how they have helped the postmodern civilizations are undeniable. Without the ideas of giants like Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Euler, Ibn Sina (Avicenne), Ibn Rusyd (Aviroes) and Al-Farabi, probably, we would be nowhere and are still wandering aimlessly in the myriad complexity of life. Knowledge is certainly powerful in changing for the better. In between being rich or knowledgeable, the latter will be a better option. There is no faster way to be poor than being an ignorant (read: jahil murakab)

   2. About learning

Can one obtain worldly knowledge via dreams or unconscious state of mind? Can one be borne with knowledge? Can one know without learning? Can one claim a branch of knowledge which goes against logic and reason? Can we live without knowledge? I would say most likely not! One thing for sure is that the process of learning can come in multitude of forms according to the nature of knowledge being transmitted and the readiness of the students of knowledge to accept (and digest) them. Real knowledge is usually gained via intensive and conscious learning. Most of the time, new knowledge “appear” on the horizon due to the needs to solve life’s problems. When we have some needs, we will naturally look for solutions. In fact, “Need is the mother of invention” they say. We become more creative in such situations because we are forced to think and our brains are immediately triggered into action. We would scramble for possible solutions based on whatever tools and materials available around us. This is a typical initial reaction, followed by the more novel and innovative solutions. Normally, these considered solutions would be further improved until there are no more obvious drawbacks. Though in terms of actual implementation, even a not-so-perfect solution is sufficient for temporary measure. Fast action is preferred over non-action. The cycle of learning, re-learning and enhancing the available body of knowledge will never end. Learning is synonym to living. As we live, we will learn. And, the day we stop learning is the day we stop living. Period!

   3. About a mentor

 A mentor is very critical to the cognitive/spiritual well-being and proper progress for the seekers of knowledge. Practical realizations of written knowledge will be appropriately understood via reliable guides from a mentor. Logically, the chosen mentor has himself gone through the rigorous processes of knowledge acquisition and refinement. Holistic meaning, i.e. text and contextual, content of the intended body of knowledge will be fully appreciated and understood. Hence, the presence of a mentor is not an option, but a necessity. But, how does one find the right mentor? For this, one needs to be more patient and more calculative. Do ask around and seek clarifications. This particular step is very pertinent in ensuring a positive outcome in the search for wisdom. Often, the sincerity and naivety of a student was misled by unruly mentors. The dream of enlightenment via knowledge was shattered prematurely. Yes, choose your mentor correctly, i.e. to the best of your ability. The rest we will leave it to God. No matter how it turns out, all of us will learn something out from life events. Ultimately, we cannot change what’s fated, but we can certainly determine our attitude towards it. A mentor will be helpful in making sense of life occurrences. It has something to do with maturity and experience. Hence, a true mentor will have both elements, and his student will be one of the lucky ones. Go and find a mentor. You will thank me for that.

   4. About our surrounding

We need to live in the right surrounding which encourages learning and development. Some surroundings are very detrimental to all aspects of human development. The negative elements which exist in such environment will make it harder to the already tough struggle to self-improvement. The bad vibes will affect all students and seekers of knowledge in so many wrong ways. Our external and internal elements may not be able to withstand all and we will end up not seeing the end of our struggle. We have to choose, or better, create the appropriate surroundings which are healthy for the eco-system of knowledge growth and dispersion. Both external and internal parameters are fundamental to us. As an analogy in the plant seeding process, the use of plant nursery with close supervision is widespread. In the nursery’s setting, the seeds are given the appropriate conditions for growth and also protected from external destructive elements. This law of nature is easily seen in the flora and fauna which exist around us. Some elements of protection and assistance are needed for early phase of growth. The universality of this rule is undeniable. So, choose correctly! 

   5. In a nutshell

We have to keep up the pace of learning and be persistent in our efforts. The search of knowledge and enlightenment will never end. Keep it up and don’t give up. I will leave you with an excerpt of a poem by Kahlil Gibran entitled “On Self-Knowledge”;

“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.

You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.

 

And it is well you should.

The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;

And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.

But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;

And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.

For self is a sea boundless and measureless…”

 

drrizal 2014 2

Written by : 
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.

The Academia - Part I

Volume 9 Issue 2 News & Resources | February 2016

The Academia - Part I

article feb

 

   1. The academic reality

A typical academic staff of faculty member in a university set-up will have to execute few basic things such as teaching, supervising, researching and writing. Having to teach from 5 to 20 hours per week in a semester is quite typical, depending where one is working and what kind of programme one is handling. From teaching, an academic staff will have to manage some supervision roles such as lab-based and final-year projects. Supervision can be in the form of face-to-face discussion or the online virtual monitoring. If one is supervising final-year project students, then the supervision will be for the complete academic year. At the post-graduate level, supervision tasks would be a lengthy process. A postgraduate student may require close supervision from a year to four years. There are cases where the supervision went into the fifth year. And, if they ran out-of-luck, they even failed after sacrificing so much. This postgraduate supervision task coincides with the research work which one would need to embark on. Nowadays, it is inconceivable for an academic staff to not be involved in research and development efforts. In fact, the main criteria for promotion in many universities is the output from research and development work, i.e. indexed journal paper publications, and now, how many citations have one garnered from one’s publications. On top of all these roles, an academic staff might be involved in administration job, and will need to spend time, energy and mental power in order to be able to deliver. Administration post will be a slightly different ball game for many aspiring academic staff. One’s soft skills will be tested to the brim. Handling machines are much easier than managing people. What more when handling personnel with the perceived cognitive prowess and constant urge to challenge the status quo in every possible occasion. In today’s competitive and budget-constraint environment, academic staffs are expected to create income-generation activities or bring in money into the university. Yes, you have read it correctly, i.e. we are to become businessmen. From nothing, we must create something. There you have it, some overview of the role and responsibilites of an academic staff.

   2. The basic tools

In order to be able to teach, supervise, research, administer and bring in money, one needs a number of basic tools. These preparation and enhancement of these said tools will be a continuous process as one will continue to learn new knowledge and skills in order to adapt to the existing challenges.

  • To teach well, one will need to grasp the subject matter and the pedagogy of teaching, and be passionate of the teaching profession. The skills of a teacher will gradually as we teach more and more.
  • To supervise efficiently, we need to be able to set a clear and digestible technical (read: research) directions and be accommodative to the weaknesses of our students. We should also be considerate in judging the student’s capability and capacity. Their output may be fledgling at first, but it will improve surely, albeit with your close supervision and support.
  • To execute proper research, we need some form of research funding, graduate students, facilities and solid networking. One pre-requisite will be as important as the others. With the current downturn in economic cycle and the stiff competition to get research funding, we must be creative in ensuring our research efforts are not stalled. Probably, we can still utilise the old equipment and components. Probably, we can also utilise the existing testing modules in our teaching labs with some retuning for research task. Probably, we can shift our research to more simulation-based or industry-based, and less prototyping type projects. Out of so many probabilities, who knows, one of them might be the best answer to our research quest.
  • To administer fairly, we must be able to listen to others and be receptive to feedback, no matter how harsh it may be. We should also realise that we must be firmed and objective in decision-making. Consistency is also an important trait. Be consistent in our words and actions.
  • To be able to bring-in money, we must learn and join the experts out there. We certainly need something in-hand before we embark on the money-making journey. The money-making world is wild and uncertain. Be ready to fail and have some back-up plans.

Basically for all the segments, we need appropriate knowledge and know-how. The rest will be gained through real-life experiences. May the force be with us.

   3. The expectations

In spite of all the constraints we are facing to deliver, the expectations have never been lowered. Yes, the grant money is dwindling and difficult to acquire, but your research output must be improved further. Yes, the students teaching and learning commitments have never been higher than today, but that is no excuse for you to slack. Yes, the business sectors are very difficult to break into, but you need to bring in money this year. Those are some examples, and we surely have many more. The expectations have always been like these. They seem to be so inconsistent with the reality on the ground. But then, goals and dreams have always been like these. They were set in such a way in order for us to achieve certain ideal or desired level in our performance. We should do our utmost to meet these expectations. Is there an alternative solution? Can we opt out of this race? Can we choose our own dreams and not of the institutions? Can we just be a teacher and not bothered with all the KPIs and research output? Can we just be the way we want to be? Of course we can. But not without any consequences. The road ahead seems tougher and difficult compared to what we have seen before. We must be agile and versatile enough to adapt to the new reality. An academic staff of the future will have starkly different traits than their older counterparts. The world is changing. Being good enough today may not be sufficient to guarantee a solid future presence. The world of academia is in the process of transition from being simply a centre of knowledge and for seekers of knowledge into an economic-driven entity that will shield the nation from economic instability and self-mutilation.

   4. End game

Being a cog in the wheel of academia is an interesting position. One can feel the importance of academia and the challenges being faced by the institution. One can also sense the respect and persona assumed by others towards the academic institutions. They are the feel-good factor of being part of this set-up. Nevertheless, the world of academia must now prove its worth. The nation is waiting for our end game in the face of troublesome conflicts and worrying destructive trends in the country. Be strong my fellow academics and do something. Now! 

It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently

― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class

drrizal 2014 2

Written by : 
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.