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Dr B S Chowdhry – a contagious spark

From Thar to knowledge desert – Dr Chowdhry traveled all along with passion and enthusiasm. His list of achievements and awards is so long; simply he achieved Pride of Performance Award, Best Teacher Award, National IT Excellence Award, UNESCO/IAEA Guest Science Award, South Asia Star Award, and Presidential Izaz-e-Fazeelat highest academic distinction award. He has authored, co-authored and edited more than 20 books, and chaired several Technical Sessions in USA, UK, China, UAE, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Pakistan, Denmark and Belgium. In an exclusive interview with Technology Times, Dr Chowdhry shared his vision about academic excellence, entrepreneurship and promotion of S&T in Pakistan

Brief us about your academic achievements, professional expertise, and research management experience.

B S Choudhry: First of all I am grateful to Technology Times Newspaper for conducting my interview. Before I give reply to your question, I would like to tell you little bit about my early education and school life.

I was born in small village of Thar Desert which is near to Thar Coal field. In our times there were no such facilities like road, electricity and communication. My father was a primary school teacher and I had my middle school education in my home town. First time I saw any bus or train when I was 13 years old travelling to Mirpurkhas with my father to appear in scholarship competition in which I secured 1st position. Again from my home town Kantio we used camel to ride up to town called “Kunri” and from Kunri we took train for Mirpurkhas. I have no words to express the sincerity, dedication, knowledge, and teaching skills of those teachers teaching in Government schools in those days. It is all missing now-a-days.

I did my BEng (Electronics) from Mehran University of Engineering & Technology (MUET) in 1983 with 1st Position and achieved Best Graduate Award. I immediately joined my Alma matter MUET as a Lecturer. I was offered various scholarships to do PhD. I availed Ministry of Science & Technology (MoST), Government of Pakistan merit scholarship for PhD at one of the world’s prestigious institution, School of Electronic and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK in June 1984.

In 1993, I was appointed as a Chairman, Department of Electronic Engineering, which fortunately or unfortunately I am still continuing my 6th tenure. During this Chairmanship, I am lucky that I pioneered two more departments in the university viz-a-viz Telecommunication Engineering and Biomedical Engineering both departments are first of their kind in any public sector university in Pakistan. I remained founder Chairman of both of these departments.

In 1992, I also gave idea of having “PC Repair Shop” in the university. I was made In-charge of that PC Repair Shop (after all jo boley wohi kunda kholey, lol). On the basis of my experience of “PC Repair Shop, I wrote 1st ever book titled “PC Anatomy: Computer Hardware, Maintenance and Troubleshooting Book” published in 1996. Later on I authored/ co-authored more than dozen books one of them “CompuPedia: The Art of living with Computer Technology”, is the most helpful book for learners.

In 2008, Springer Verlog Germany published first conference proceeding of International Multi-topic Conference IMTIC’08 held at MUET Jamshoro of which I was the Chief Organizer in its CCIS (Communications in Computer & Information Sciences) series. The Title of book is “Wireless Networks, Information Processing & Systems”. This book fetched over whelmed response in academic communities. Being the major contributor and co-editor of the book, I received highest academic Distinction Award (Presidential Izaz-e-Fazeelat) in 2009. I highly appreciate, support & encourage my former students and young teachers to write lab manuals, articles and book chapters.

In 2009, a book titled “Career Road Map Guide for Engineers” authored by one of my former student Junaid Shaikh and edited by myself was launched. More than 1000 copies have been sold and since then I have been receiving hundreds of emails from students and they are thanking us for writing such useful books for them.

On the Professional experience side I am very much active. I am Senior Member of IEEE (USA), Senior Member (ACM), Fellow IEP, and Member IEEEP. I am also President of IEEE COMSOC USA Regin-10 Karachi Chapter, Branch Counselor IEEE USA MUET Chapter since last more than 10 years. It is my passion to organize seminars, technical events, invited lectures, workshops, and memorial lectures on any emerging field. So far I have organized more than 400 such activities at MUET which received outstanding contribution and participation at national and international level.

Regarding research management, I am not that much contented about the pace but I am pleased to tell that reportedly our university produced its 1st PhD in ICT in 2002 of which, I was co-supervisors. I am glad to share that I have been invited as a key note speaker in the conference organized by European Commission Erasmus Mundus Mobility of Life Project to be held on 5th March 2012 in Thailand. The theme of my keynote presentation “Successful Transformation of ICT Graduate Program: A Role Model for Development Countries” shows that how resource sharing under one umbrella has resulted into manifold benefits.

Due to my active participation in various R&D activities I received Guest Scientists/Regular Associate Ship Award by ICTP, Trieste, Italy from 1996-2002 and 2004 to 2010, which entitled me to attend fully funded workshops, conferences, and training in many countries. In addition, I have Chaired Technical Sessions in USA, UK, China, UAE, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Pakistan, Denmark and Belgium. This interaction with international academic community has also helped me to become partner in two European Commission Erasmus Projects “Mobility for Life” and “Strong-Ties”.

Under this Erasmus Mundus “Mobility for Life Project” 32 students and faculty members from various Pakistani universities availed fully funded 6 to 34 months fellowships in eight European countries. I was the lead person of this project in MUET Pakistan.

Recently MUET & NUST have become partner of another Erasmus Mundus Project Strong-Ties which will have hundred plus mobility in European universities. The total amount approved for this project is around 2million Euros. Opportunities are there; our faculty members have to be proactive and not to miss such chances which bring benefit to the university the country.

Are you satisfied with the research activities of our academia?

By and large, I am not satisfied with research activities in engineering & technological fields. I cannot comment on other fields. Mostly we in academia do produce research papers which help us in promotion or fulfill other such academic requirements. Unfortunately it has not made major impact or self sufficiency in any particular field in the country. For example, despite severe energy crises, very little progress has been made in tapping the abundant renewable energy resources. However, HEC and ICT R&D Fund and other such organizations have been taking good efforts to develop trust & linkages between academia and industry so that research outcome can be channelized for national needs. We must establish Departmental Industrial Development Unit (DIDU), in every department and then there should be Central Industrial Development Unit (CIDU) at university level to serve as a central coordinating place between university departments and Industry. I have started writing full concept paper on it.

How can we develop entrepreneurship in our academies?

Last year I attended a one month training programming in “Problem and Project Based (PBL) Learning” at Aalborg University Denmark under European Commissions sponsored Erasmus Mundus Project “Mobility for Life”. PBL is a student-centered instructional strategy in which students collaboratively solve industry related problems and reflect on their experiences. It was pioneered by Mc Master University Canada in 1960. In PBL, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their group and organize and direct learning process with support from a tutor or instructor. PBL can be used to enhanced content knowledge and foster the development of communication, problem solving, and self directed learning skills. Basically problem and project based learning means that traditional text book knowledge is replaced by the knowledge necessary to solve theoretical problems. All the developed countries have introduced one or two subjects of PBL based learning in their curriculum.

I strongly believe that we must implement this model in some selected disciplines. In addition, supervised internship model may be introduced. For example two months internship for 3rd year engineering students can be arranged in the industry, which should be fully supervised on regular basis. I mean university should appoint a teacher/ supervisor to monitor, students’ progress on weekly basis. Students must be taught to maintain log book during their internship period. Such internships can be coordinated through DIDU and CIDU, which I mentioned earlier.

How can we address IPR issues in Pakistan?

There is a great need to check the violation of intellectual property rights (IPR) and to institutionalise a mechanism to promote genuine products in the market.

What is the uniqueness of MUET?

MUET is one of the largest Engineering & Technology university in Pakistan having 17 fields of study. It is ISO 9001 certified university. In QS World ranking MUET got ranking in top 400 universities in the world in Engineering & Technology in 2010. Most exciting thing about MUET is the team work.

How do you see student’s attitude in Learning Technology?

Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. MUET is doing its best in the learning technology field. Our purpose is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies, their capabilities and the situations into which they are placed. We do this by improving practice, promoting research, and influencing policy.

How can we enhance innovation in our students?

I would say our students are already very innovative, but yes! we need to enhance their capabilities.  They just require mentoring and guidance. In my opinion this can be enhanced through university open house, job fairs, national project exhibition & competition, student seminars, memorial lectures, IEEE students activities/ competition, guest lectures, Sunday Brunch with CEO’s etc.

What strategies are required to promote S&T in the country?

I think our governments have been taking various steps from time to time. What needed is implementation of these polices in true sprits. In my opinion every Engineering & Technology University should have “Technology Park”. These “Technological Parks” have to serve as bridge between academia & Industry. Academia has got huge manpower. For example in a public sector university the number of students is in thousands, who are very rich in intelligence, energetic, obedient and eager to learn. This freely available manpower in the shape of students if channelised properly it will create miracle. These Technology Parks may have small fabrication, non hazardous plants, technology incubators etc which may not only help students to develop practical skills but earn some many as well.

How MUET supports and encourages students to achieve level of innovation?

Every year MUET organizes number of projects competitions at inter-departmental level and national level. Also, MUET provides partial funding for innovative projects in addition we encourage and motivate our students to take part at national level project competitions by providing them travel and accommodation expenses.

Any message for the readers of Technology Times?

There can be a promising future, especially with a growing cohort of youth, the largest the country has ever had. What I suggest for every youth to set his/ her goal. Like batsman knows that he has to hit ball hard so as to cross the boundary.  They must realize that if nothing is ours then time is ours. Time is everything for us every second is important and every second counts. My advice to our youth will be do not waste any single second, have burning desire to work with dedication and enthusiasm to achieve the set goal. Only then the sky will be their limit.

Technology Times
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TECHNOLOGY TIMES
12-18 DECEMBER 2011

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