Academic research in a public university

Interview with Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Bin Arshad from Universiti Sains Malaysia

Have you ever wondered how an academic research career is like in Malaysia? We interviewed Prof Dr. Rizal from Universiti Sains Malaysia, to share his experience working in a public university. His research focus is on the utilisation of technology for marine-related applications.

What are the projects that you’re working on right now? How would they benefit the public?

My research focus is on the utilisation of various state-of-the-art technology for ocean or marine-related applications. My specific focus areas are underwater robotics platforms development, underwater sensor technology and optimum utilisation of technology for oceanographic applications.

My research covers:
The design and development of novel ocean-going robotics crafts such as Unmanned Underwater Vehicle(UUV), Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV) and Underwater gliders.
Device and applications development of marine acoustics transducers and decision-making algorithms
New ocean-going sensors which mimic the way ocean creatures are sensing the environment are being modeled and tested in our labs.

We are collaborating with ASEAN countries and other regional research centres such as the National Institute for Ocean Technology (NIOT), India and National University of Singapore, Tropical Marine Science Institute.

The aim has always been to develop and nurture the field of underwater system technology in Malaysia, and to implement the solutions to real-world applications. My research group is currently the reference centre for many in the country for this field of research. With large coastal and ocean territories, the technologies developed will contribute to safeguarding Malaysia’ long-term future and sovereignty.

Please state your proudest research achievement and your greatest challenge in your career.

I have had the opportunity to be the head and coordinator for URRG. At an international level, we have spearheaded organising 6 International Conferences on Underwater System Technology: Theory and Applications. While, at the national, URRG has organised more than 8 National technical seminars on Underwater System Technology. In order to spur research activities, we have managed to acquire R&D grants amounting to more than RM6.5 million since 2001. The main research grant was from NOD in 2007 amounting to RM 4,292,000 for a period of 3 and a half years.

The greatest challenge I have faced was to convince the stakeholders that such research domains are critical to the country and will contribute significantly to the global well-being. Being an engineer by training, I had to learn know in-depth about the oceans and how it works. The ability to learn new things and sustaining the momentum of learning is crucial.

What do you enjoy the most about your career and what makes you stay in research?

I had the opportunity to explore new boundaries and areas which I would not have dreamt before. I have been able to pick up new skills such taking up Scuba diving and went on sea trials on big ships, and get to know international researchers from around the globe. The novel and important goals for the research efforts have kept me in this path for so long.

Do you think science research in Malaysia are on par with those in the world top universities? If not, what are the reasons?

Yes, I am of the opinion that the science research and scientific communities in Malaysia are of international standard. We have published many good technical papers in many conferences and international journals. With more support and the availability of new, intelligent and energetic researchers, Malaysia has the potential to be among the leaders in Science and Technology.

How can university graduate students contribute back to or be involved in the development of science in Malaysia?

University graduates should be positive and optimistic about building a career in the R&D sector. The opportunities for employment will not be just in Malaysia but also for the international market. No longer will researchers are limited to work in universities and academic institutions, many companies are now hiring trained researchers to further develop their products and services. I see a growing need for new qualified researchers in Malaysia and the region. Graduates of Science and Engineering especially, should grab this opportunity and join the research fraternities. Malaysia needs you.

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