THE recent announcement listing the achievements of three Malaysian academicians in The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds: 2014 must be a surprise to most.
At a time when local universities and
the education system are under scrutiny and found to be lacking in
certain areas such news offer some optimism.
The report by the Intellectual Property
and Science Business of Thomson Reuters, one of the largest scientific
database providers worldwide, named Professor Abdul Latif Ahmad from
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) School of Chemical Engineering,
Professor Saidur Rahman Abdul Hakim from University of Malaya Faculty of
Engineering and Professor Ishak Hashim from Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia Faculty of Science and Technology as among the distinguished
scientists who publish prolifically and are most frequently cited by
These scientists’ work and findings are
of utmost importance, exerting significance influence on the work of
others. Researchers in the academe regard this recognition as the
Admittedly, Abdul Latif, whose field of
expertise includes membrane technology and wastewater engineering,
reckons that research grants provided by the government and the Ministry
of Science, Technology and Innovation are instrumental in attaining
He was quoted as saying: “It is clear
that our researches have made an impact on the research community around
the world through citations and ranking, but any research carried out
should be relevant to the time and people.”
Research works are carried out not just
for the sake of publication in the rush to be ranked, rather for their
relevance to the time and people so that they can bring about some
improvements, and add value, over and above their academic merits. This
is often not easy because it needs deeper commitment and an
understanding of problems and addressing the gaps in providing the right
solution. It takes time, patience, support and also guidance.
Is the mention by Thomson Reuters a one-time happening, a fluke?
The involvement of the three oldest public universities and the researchers’ relatively young age indicate something.
One, it takes time to build the
infrastructure and culture to conduct purposeful research with
meaningful outcomes. Second, it takes an equally long time to draw on
collective experiences, findings and creativity before arriving at a
point where the outcomes are of considerable potential and value in
making a difference. These two dimensions, namely the interactions
between material and human aspects, go hand in hand. They are sensitive
to consistent support in creating an enabling ecosystem for
experimentation where autonomy and flexibility help unleash innovative
ideas and where mistakes are expected and tolerated. Between the two
aspects, the human dimension needs nurturing with a great deal of
handholding — mentoring, leadership and team rapport.
On the last point I dare say that Abdul
Latif and his colleagues have had the privilege of a mentor-leader in
Professor Subhash Bhatia from the very early days. A life member of the
Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers and a member of the American
Chemical Soceity, Subhash is just the right person who can spark the
right kind of research activities among young and enthusiastic
He provided the father figure needed to
develop and guide the research agenda. There is no substitute for
experience in translating theories into practice. That said, it is an
uphill bureaucratic task to acquire and retain talented expertise.
Yet another factor is the question of
public support, recognition and incentive to make one feel appreciated.
In USM, it takes the form of an annual Malam Anugerah Sanggar Sanjung
since 2001 (which later became the precursor to Anugerah Akademik
Negara). Abdul Latif is no stranger to the event year after year. This
must have hardwired his psyche as a confirmed winner. He will be the
next Subhash, who will spark yet another cycle of potential winners.
After all, winning is a matter of habit —
so let’s get the next cycle moving with these three winners. Don't let
the goose that lays the golden eggs "die" in oblivion.