Where is the money???
Volume 8 Issue 10 News & Resources | October 2015
Where is the money???
- The reality – part i.
To do proper research in engineering and technology, we need to have stable finance. This is the reality. One may say, we can use the mathematical and software routes in order to derive and simulate our design ideas or probe our hypothesis. But one must also admit that there is nothing which can match real experimentation and actual field testing. What more if we are talking about engineering or technology-based research work. The different approaches must be done in order to properly verify and test the validity of the proposed solutions. Even if we limit our investigation to the software route, we still need to spend quite a handsome amount of money. Nothing comes cheap. In engineering and technology, we need sufficient funding to build the actual hardware after ensuring that the design is solid enough, formulation and software-wise. The need for cash is real since no potential solution can really be proven until it is actually tested in a real working system. The pilot plant can later be scale-up to the actual operational dimension without losing or compromising the projected performance indicators. Of course, some elements of the real industrial applications should be embedded as much as possible during the design stage. This will ensure the design is optimised and practical, and not just impractical to the engineers in the field.
2. How much is enough?
Funding is certainly needed as initial engineering investment to any engineering or technology-related projects. This initial monetary boost will help in setting-up the proper groundwork for further design and development work. But how much would be sufficient? The quantum should be just enough to test the basic elements in the proposed hypothesis. Some projects would only need the hardware elements at the later stage and not at the beginning. It should be a case by case consideration. As one project may differ from another, so does the amount needed to kick it off. Other than pure monetary assistance, the researcher should see how the non-monetary elementscan be garnered to complete the research goals. Thetotal amount can translate into monetary and non-monetary components. Normally, the infrastructure or facility to fabricate and test can be done at a nearby facilities. This alternative options for research and development tasks are critical in order to ensure important parts of research works are not stalled. This symbiotic arrangement between various groups working on similar theme must be considered as one of the remedy to insufficient monetary support.
3. What are the available source of funds?
In the Malaysian Institute of Higher Learnings (IHLs – UA & US) set-up, all the researchers will automatically be encouraged to participate in the application for various government-based research funding such as the TRGS, LRGS, FRGS, PRGS, EScience, Techno Fund and Innofund grants offer.As the number of researchers grew over the years, the competitions are getting stiffer and the quantum offered to the successful applicants are getting smaller, though the prices of services and components have skyrocketed beyond the anticipation of researchers and scientists alike. In fact, the total amount granted for R&D is expected to be lower than previous years as the overall economic condition of the country is deteriorating. Mind you this is a global downward trend in nations’s economic performance and not limited to Malaysia per se. The future is certainly bleak if one only focus in the direction of government-funded grants and not being industrious enough to explore elsewhere. Researchers must now venture into new possibilities and opportunities. The pasture always looks greener on the other side of the fence. I would consider the existing eco-system for grant applications and awards is no longer valid for the new cohorts of researchers. There is a need to be more creative in solving this sticky problem.
4. Sharing of resources?
The act of sharing of resources, willingly, is a very positive attitude. This norm is so universal that one would be seen as an outcast for not consenting. Normally, the urge to fulfill common goals, among competing parties, gets the necessary boost when the risk of endemic failures are glaring. The barriers among colleagues get the trashing when the overall wellbeing of the group is at stake. This is a typical human response to danger, i.e. we group together. If this behaviour is transplanted to the eco-system of the research fraternities, we would certainly see many of the typical research problems to be solved. Sometimes the answer is so obvious to others. If only we are more willing to assist one another and not so much bothered about being the first to do something. Yes, sharing of resources should be the ground-rule to all researchers in the field, especially those needing the use of ridiculously expensive inspection equipments such as the SEM and TEM. We should realise that helping others will not bring anything other than benefits to everyone.
5. The reality – part ii
Researchers need money to do proper research. The money is used, for example, to purchase components, to rent professional services, to fabricate the proposed design, to attend conferences and to cover the monthly living expenses of student researchers. Researchers would be “dead” without some form of funding. The short-term assistance by the University is too limited in its amount and usage. Researchers must be proactive to look for new funding options. New funding mechanism developed by the Government such as the PPRN, must be grabbed. Though the amount awarded may be small, a continuous cycle of such grant award will still be great in sustaining the researcher life-cycle. The research efforts to solve real society-related problems which will give the greatest impact to society should not be stiffled by the lack of funding and impractical policies. Researchers must be an idealist in one sense whilst not forgetting being a pragmatist in facing the realities of life. The whole purpose is to bring the utmost benefits to others i.e. society at large. In a way, the life of a researcher is becoming more hectic and tiresome. What used to be taken for granted now must be part of the overall strategy of making oneself relevant.
“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver” - Ayn Rand
Written by :
Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering