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Random thoughts after lunch about research

Sivin once said that my random thoughts are nothing like random. Well, I have to say that I can’t stand things being not organised (my office table enjoys special exception). So, I’ll try to make this as naturally random as I can.

Goh, Ian and myself were having an after-lunch conversation on the same boring few topics that concerns us (boring obviously is an understatement since we always talk about it). Not concerning politics or the state of affairs of our country since that has been well-expounded by other “mainstream” blog voices, but it concerns our university and research in Malaysia as a whole. Research, in the very nature of its meaning, is almost irrelevant in Malaysian society. In other words, you can say that most people are oblivious of what research actually is. Research is not about distributing survey forms and then finding out the percentages (in my opinion, this kind of research is normally inconclusive and its only role is to provide the media with some spectacular news) as some people say, statistics lie most of the time. :-)

What you hear from the media about trendy jargons such as ‘ICT’, ‘K-Economy’, ‘E-this’ and ‘M-that’ and many more random permutations of a wonderfully thought-out set of words is a mere load of hyperbole. These fantastic words don’t mean anything if there’s no 1) proper formulation and reasoning of how things should be done, 2) awareness of what something as simple as ‘research’ should be (in which I believe these terms always laud of being very “research-oriented” but they actually aren’t). In fact technically speaking, some of those terms that I’ve just listed, probably have nothing much to do with research to begin with. Most of the time when you see the big words “R&D” pop up, it’s just a lot of “D” and very untraceable amounts of “R” in it. It is indeed an obsession with acronyms and single-letter characters these days. How about palindromes for a change?

What concerns me also is prevalent misconceptions in society about what research can get you (money, fame, status etc). Achievement in life often goes by what you profited from the course of your job. That’s really narrow. You gotta admit it, this is how our society think and function. It’s an almost impregnable situation. If that’s the case, I’m afraid research IS indeed going nowhere in our country. The motivation of research, by all means, is what you give society and mankind. If people on top won’t budge, I guess the only way to change is from bottom up.

I guess when I showed Damien (whom I will be supervising for final year project) some interesting research-oriented projects done by students in Stanford U for a normal undergraduate course in Digital Image Processing, he got a little shell-shocked and I certainly hope he didn’t pee-ed in his pants! :-) The amount of exposure one gets in education in developed countries (where most top-notch institutions are) is incredible, and incorporating research elements into syllabi is really a normal thing to do. Imagine telling the world what we are proud of and fancy getting laughed at. Sounds familiar, isn’t it?

I have a lot of talk about this, and it may not be today since I’m trying hard to be random here, hehe. But even that, it sounds pretty organised when I read it the second time. Next time round, I have interesting statistics that might wake you up from slumber and those don’t lie, surely. :-)

10 comment(s) to this post

pee-ed in the pants?...well…..maybe… :p

#1Damien  ::  18 October 2007, 13:44  ::  #

I would say that it is good if the student can come out a really impressing fyp, but we cannot demand too much if they cant come out something that impress the supervisor. I would ask whether you feel proud of your research during studying master, phd or even your fyp? It is more important to deliver them what is the current research in the world and how to do research in that particular field etc. But, we cant expect that the student can come out fanstatic work (although many good works are conducted by phd student in the world) as we also cannot come out something fanstatic (at least for me)!

#2WunShe  ::  18 October 2007, 14:38  ::  #

damien: didn’t u? :-)
wunshe: the thing here is, “impressive” and “fantastic” works are really subjective, and it all depends on what you’re looking for, and what level you ascertain yourself to be in. To me, they hardly matter as they are subjective to what you feel about it. If it makes you proud, great! If not, well, you could always strive to do better next time. And, as supervisors, there shouldn’t be “demands”, but challenges. Challenging a student to another level is always an exciting thing.

I also think that it’s untrue that students are not expected to come out with fantastic work when we ourselves can’t. Just ask the school teachers who taught the Nobel Prize winners. :-) I believe in talents, and not in comparisons.

Anyway, peeing in your pants is better than not admitting that your load is full and you need to pee.

#3johnsee  ::  18 October 2007, 15:48  ::  #

johnsee: i just want to say that for an academician/teacher, they just need to guide the student to the correct way. Sometimes, the supervisor have high expectation that “scare” the student till the student not stay in academic line. I do believe teaching is nobel, and a good teacher should be awarded and respected :D

#4WunShe  ::  18 October 2007, 16:14  ::  #

I agree with WunShe in a way that the student need to be guided properly and supervised properly. If I have the chance to supervise in the future, I’ll make sure my future student would enjoy research.

#5Matfoo  ::  19 October 2007, 17:43  ::  #

Frankly speaking, i think i will be very excited if i have the chance to supervise student personally. First, i can understand my student well since i just need to focus in that student only if compared to give lecture/tutor a group of student. If the student enjoy research/fyp, i believe he/she have higher chance to stick in academic/research line. Or i would say that i cant deliver lecture/tutor well :p

Supervising student is one of my goal in the future. :p But i would not “challenge” them, i will let them to “explore” the research world by giving some direction. It should be more excited for a student to discover the “challenge” himself compared to set certain “challenge” for them. This show that the student is “growing”.

Just my 2 cents.

#6WunShe  ::  19 October 2007, 20:34  ::  #

WunShe on #6: For postgrad, you can have the time for them to explore, but not for FYP, time is really restricting them.

#7Matfoo  ::  20 October 2007, 00:04  ::  #

Hehe, this topic is still alive! :-)

WS, I think you got my meaning of “challenge” wrongly. It doesn’t sound as imposing as you think. It’s not “I challenge you to do…”. That is borderline to being too “legalistic” in research/study. You are spot on exactly what I intend to mean as well. What I mean by “challenge” here is to introduce new ideas and possibility of exploration to these students. In order to stop spoon-feeding them, we need to slowly introduce a more thinking and exploring trend. I must say that, our syllabi (in IT, but matfoo may have a different opinion about Engineering’s) has the right coverage but the way they are taught now is far too simplistic for our good students who should be given the extra “push” to mature into even better potential. Yes, the faculty say lah, we need to cater for our weak students. But, don’t abandon our good students too. At many times, we let far too many of these talents go to waste.

Matt is also very right, it’s almost impossible for us to let the students “explore” till the deadlines come knocking. Moreover, don’t forget that FIT has 1 short trimester and 1 long trimester. Even FOE folks can say 2 long trimester aren’t enough… The way to go, in my opinion, is to introduce year-long FYP. Move the industrial training to a year earlier, or an extended trimester.

#8johnsee  ::  20 October 2007, 12:08  ::  #

Yes, for FIT,students, 1 short semester and 1 long semester are not enough for them to “explore”. But for FOE, i think the student “may” have enough time if they are hardworking as 2 long semesters equal 1 year (1 short semester for industry training can be used for “exploring” too).

Since FIT fyp period is shorter, then it would be difficult for student to explore or think like johnsee said. Thus, a good lecturer who “open” the students eye since first year can encourage students to “explore” before taking fyp. It can be a good trend. But, we short of good lecturer and good students. And i am not belong to these two groups. :p

#9WunShe  ::  20 October 2007, 12:47  ::  #

johnsee, WunShe, FOE has moved Internship to 1st Trimester 1. Hence, FOE will also have FYP in 2nd and 3rd Trimester.

I do agree that we need to ensure that good students with talents are not to go wasted. Yes, WunShe, good and dedicated lecturer are needed to achieve all what have been discussed.

By penning your thoughts, WunShe, I would say you are already belonged to the group.

#10Matfoo  ::  20 October 2007, 13:35  ::  #

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