How Good Are We?

Volume 9 Issue 3 News & Resources | March 2016

How Good Are We?



   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

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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



   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.

A New Chance!

Volume 9 Issue 1 News & Resources | January 2016

A New Chance!

article jan

   1. Action with thinking

The final goal is to be useful to others and creating meaningful solutions to life’s problems. This noble aim is applicable to individual pursuits, and more so for leaders of societies and nations. The benefits are  sometimes a direct consequences of proper planning and executions, but also may be the results of collateral output from actual implemented actions. Either way, all actions should be considered not just for its direct impact. The indirect effects must be anticipated as much as possible. As much as as we cannot live on our own, all the repercussion of our actions would also not be mutually exclusive to us. The real human impact must be factored into our strategic plans for goals attainment. A concious and sincere considerations of the overall impact of our endeavours will not go to waste. We must approach thing holistically, i.e. taking account all possible matters. A true measure of an action is the output. The output will then be measured whether it has attained the outcome that we desire initially. We plan, implement and assess in a continous looping manner. The list of outcome were the results of our strategic planning in order to attain the set vision and mission. The big task (read: vision) was broken down into smaller and more managable targets. These targets were translated into real operational actions. Hence the logical mapping of the output the outcome. We measure whether each outcome has been attained in order to know what corrective actions to be done. This looping is perpetual since human is not perfect in his actions. 

   2. Middle managers

Most of us will be in the middle manager position some time in our life, i.e. if we ever work for someone else. A middle manager is a position where one is stuck between the real decision makers and the real people directly affected by the decision. The vision and mission created by others must now be translated into operational activities by the middle manager. Any confusion by the lower ranks workers will need to be sorted out by the middle managers. Any reductions on the productivity index will be blamed onto the shoulders of the middle manager. Any blurry directives by the top management must also be converted into lucid and clear directions by the middle managers. It is a very important yet very volatile position. Middle managers sometimes do the most difficult coordination and monitoring tasks and yet not having the full authority to make critical decisions. The mistakes by the top management sometimes are shifted to this cohort of managers. They are always in the firing range. One should pity the middle managers. They may be the management face to the other employees, but they are not the real decision makers, though it is clear understandable that without middle managers many things may not move at all. Being a middle manager needs patience and persistent. One must be clear and firm, yet be understandable and pragmatic in decision making and its follow-through. Thank you – dear middle managers.

   3. Deanship

Why would anyone aim for deanship? i.e. Why would anyone wants to be a Dean? I guess the answers would vary depending on the people whom we asked. The response will reflect the advantage and probably disadvantage of holding such an office. Deanship means power and control over a Department or School. With power and control I meant the authority to determine the utilisation of resources, such as finance and manpower, and the direction of the said department or school. All the grouses and comments which we have of the previous management can now be “corrected” under our leadership. Of course giving comments and feedback as a outsider is very straightforward and non-committal. We certainly have many ideas on how things should be done. But, as usual, things (read: problems) look very simple because we have not grasped the whole story or the overall picture. It is normal to be simplistic until we have been given the deanship and “see” the real issues. “Seek to understand, to be understood” seems to be an appropriate reminder to all of us. Before we judged, better we learn the “real” story first. The haste in judging will lead to unwanted regrets later. Deanship is not a status to be aim for. It may be interesting to be a Dean. But the not-so-interesting part will surface very soon. Nevertheless, the experiences accumulated will be an added strength to our leadership. We will empathise more and not so fast to accuse. We will be more understanding. Hopefully we will survive our Deanship.

   4. A New Year

2016 is a new opportunity for us to mend our mistakes from previous actions. We should plan and take real actions which will bring impact to our lives and others. 2016 has certainly arrived with new challenges at so many levels. Economically, the country is facing a struggle to maintain a positive growth. The cuts in education budgets have affected all education sectors. At the tertiary levels, operational budgets have been significantly cut. The departments and schools have to make do with what was given and start to plan for money-making (read: income generation) activities in order to fill the university’s coffers. At the research domain, grants are getting difficult to acquire and number of post-graduates students are dwindling. The labs are trying to save in the face of urgent needs for equipment replacement and new training modules. Our graduates are facing stiff competition to get employment and employers are even retrenching current staffs. Out of all these problems, we should always have a positive mental attitude (PMA) and positive outlook for the future. Yes, the challenges are getting stronger and more varied, but we must not resigned to these obstacles. As they say, in times of conflicts, there are opportunities. We must seek the opportunities and always believe that we will survive. Life is good and we will make it.

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger--but recognize the opportunity

― 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.

To be a Professor – part II

Volume 8 Issue 12 News & Resources | December 2015


To be a Professor - Part II

en dec15


     1. The time to be…

If one is patience enough and execute all the necessary tasks as expected in an academic set-up, one will gradually climb the career ladder, of course, via persistent application for promotion and the readiness to tolerate failures. Time may not be on our side, but we will get the promotion sooner or later as we grow older and occupy the senior staff’s position, barring the guaranteed end of mortal beings. One may not qualify to fill-in the so-called fast promotion track, but one will certainly arrive to that same end-point in the career promotion milestones, albeit having to take the longer route. The time to become a full professor will arrive sooner or later. One has to hold to this belief no matter how bleak and discouraging are the situations we may be in. The post of a professor has always been linked to much better pay and also being deserving for the envy among peers in the academic circles. Nevertheless, one must know there are always different sides to a story. To me, becoming a professor is just a start of a whole journey to new academic experiences and new responsibilities. As the expectations from our surrounding grew in somewhat exponential fashion, the newly minted professor must bucked-up and move forward the soonest. There is no time to waste. As time is the main commodity which we seriously are lacking.

     2.The Utopian’s Journey

To me, a professor should be an inspiring beacon to his academic circles, i.e. becoming the beacon of knowledge, and her most trusted protector. The main motivation should no longer be about getting more promotion, i.e. strictly, but to ensure the specific body of knowledge in which he or she professed will shine as bright as the sun. The task of guarding the sanctity of knowledge and ensuring its acculturisation in the community at large must be embraced, wholeheartedly. A true and genuine professor should embody the noble purpose of knowledge in his attitude and behaviour. A sincere appreciation of the roles which are entrusted on the shoulders of professors must be transfomed into real actions of asistance to others. This is an utopian dream which translate into an utopian journey to many. In real life, a professor will just compete with other younger academics. The spirit of cooperation and collaboration has been super seeded by plain competition such as greed and self-centredness, and the urge to grab any opportunities which come into the scene. There is nothing wrong in wanting an ideal situation to happen. The mistake is to hope too much and opening ourselves to be frustrated.

     3. What type of Professor?

Given the options, what kind of professor would you like to be? I would certainly prefer to be a professor who is known for his generousity in sharing his knowledge, and being humble enough in admitting that he knows much less that what people assumed. The act of admitting to be less knowlegable has its elegant merit. As Socrates once wrote to the effect that he was better than the others because he knew what he did not know. For example, the statement - “La Adri”, which is in arabic, means “I do not know” is very common among the learned in Islamic intellectual traditions for hundred of years. There is no shame in not knowing. But, it became an embarassment when we allow ourselves to be stuck in the same situation without any effort otherwise. A professor should not be hesitantin his journey to really understand/appreciate the world around him via observation and experimentation. Learning will never stop. As much as we will stop living when we stop breathing, similar tragedy will occur if we stop learning. A profesor must be the trend-setter with regards to knowledge development and enhancement. If this is not the case, better stop calling themselves professor, as one must gain respect and not expect them. Knowledge is a livind and keep moving.

     4. How to play leader?

A professor is one who professes in a specific knowledge domain/discipline. His or her expertise in those specific domain of knowledge would have been recognised via internal and third party endorsements. Hence, the award of professorship was granted. This was no small feat. Not many will get the honour and privilege to be promoted to become a full professor. This is the time to play “leader of knowledge”. A professor who is too laid-back and always prefers to become a follower should not have be promoted in the first place. At least this is my take on the matter. Who else would have the proper credentials to lead the younger academics others than a professor? And yet we see many professors around on campus, and we also see many young academics having to struggle on their own without any mentors. It seems as though nobody is willing to do something to change the current conditions. The unhealthy eco-system in career progression in the University needs a thorough scrub. All professors must now take charge in leading the pack. Professors are supposed to bear the academic leadership. The bad experiences which one has been forced to endure before the promotion should motivate the professors to be more sympathetic to the other budding researchers. Someone needs to break this unhealthy cycle.

     5. A self-reminder

I felt very honoured to be promoted to a full professor position. It was a very nice “icing on the cake” after many years working in my university, i.e. USM. The promotion to the post of professor, after more than 16 years, was certainly welcome and has been a great boost to the efforts in promoting the Underwater System Technology R&D themes, including underwater robotics and sensors. I also realised the need to carry the title as best as possible. I truly believe a profesor should provide assistance to others and not to add more competition to the younger staffs. The role of a professor is certainly very challenging and ever-encompassing. One should not forget the importance to be useful to others and always strive to leave a lasting and beneficial legacies.

“You don't say to a university professor who is immersed in a particular subject that they should get a life. They are encouraged to enjoy their subject and to pass it on.” - Magnus Magnusson


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.