Transition from Research to Industry: Master Plan to Triumph the Change

Prepared by: Izzah Mardhiya binti Mohammad Isa

On 17 June 2021, UTM Post-Graduate Student Society (PGSS UTM) in collaboration with the School of Graduate Studies (SPS) Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), had successfully organized a virtual forum with the topic of “Transition from Research to Industry: Master Plan to Triumph the Change.” There were 161 participants across faculties in UTM who had joined the forum and gave massive positive feedbacks. At the same time, there were 1,100 and 325 views on the PGSS Facebook page and YouTube channel respectively.

Focusing on the differences, challenges and requirements of the world of academia and industry, the forum had shared numerous tips and strategies for researchers to avoid pitfalls and have a smooth transition to industry. PGSS was honoured to appoint two renowned experts from academia and industry to share their experiences and ideas for the blueprint. The forum was hosted by Miss Atieya Abdul Hadi as the event emcee and Mr. Muhammad Hariz Asraf Hassan as the event moderator, both are the PhD students from Faculty of Science, UTM.

Ts. Dr. Afnizanfaizal Abdullah, a UTM Senior Academician from School of Computing, Faculty of Engineering, was invited as a speaker to share inputs from an academician point of view. He is also the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Synapse Innovation Sdn. Bhd., which responsible for developing business on artificial intelligence and machine learning in the cloud infrastructure for smart manufacturing, agriculture and healthcare. He also involved in numerous projects and research with industry such as PETRONAS Refinery and Petrochemical Corporation (PRPC) and government such as Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Malaysia.

Ir. Ts. Haji Mohamed Haniffa Haji Abdul Hamid, UTM Adjunct Professor and the Fellow of Academy Sciences Malaysia, were appointed as a speaker to share inputs from an industry point of view.  His last position was as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of IWK until October 2020. His main areas of expertise are in infrastructure development, water & wastewater management, and river management. Recently, he has been appointed as an Accreditation Board Member at Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), London (UK).

The moderator of the day, Mr. Muhammad Hariz Asraf Hassan had started the forum by introducing the professional speakers to the audience, followed by a promotion video by ION Engineering Ventures and CSQ Analytics Sdn. Bhd. As curiosity grew from the success stories of the speakers, Ts. Dr. Afnizanfaizal was the first being invited to brief about Synapse Innovation Company and Ir. Ts. Hj Mohamed Haniffa was welcomed to share his career, making the audience realized that everything around them is science and civil engineering. Ir. Haniffa emphasized the importance of running our role as “Khalifah” and connecting it to a company, Indah Water Konsortium Sdn. Bhd.

The sharing session on the transition of panellists’ research to industry was mind-blowing. Dr. Afnizanfaizal believed that research must be complemented with commercialization as a vast and undeniable contribution because academia and industry were two different vibes that need to be connected before delivering it to the customer as a recipient of every implemented innovation for “supply-and-demand” tradition.

Meanwhile, Ir. Haniffa believed that solution-based real problems are what makes research in academia need to be connected to the industry; “You must dig and look at the ground of the problems, then be creative and come out with the real solution.” Both speakers believed that fundamental research must be commercialized parallel with research and development (R&D).

In the next round, Dr. Afnizanfaizal urged the undergraduate and postgraduate students to develop their critical and higher level of thinking skills based on the fundamental problems by bridging what they have learned in their syllabus, class, assignments, and projects with their practical life. By that, students will be able to relate what they have learned to the industry and become a thinker, not only a worker.

Ir. Haniffa agreed with Dr. Afnizanfaizal but on a different degree of argument. Ir. Haniffa argued that students must be able to transform knowledge into a practical contribution by having a deep content knowledge about engineering. He encouraged students to possess good soft skills, communication skills, having confidence and comprehensive knowledge across disciplines (engineering, financial, and legality) to articulate well to reach the definition of “quality student” to transform academy knowledge into industrial practice. Succinctly, Ir. Haniffa concluded his ideas about what students should do through the quote below,

“I don’t need an Einstein. What I need is attitude.”

The forum became more meaningful when both speakers gave students advice on how to prepare themselves for the industry. Ir. Haniffa suggested that students should explore more about engineering and be willing to know what is happening outside since knowledge is ubiquitous. According to him, students will only have ideas on what they have learned when they face the industrial and real-life experience, besides leveraging the 24 hours for meaningful explorations.

Regarding the advice, Ir. Haniffa gave 3 points to address students and university; (1) students must have a mindset to specialize in something by exploring what they have learned after class to deepen their knowledge instead of only aiming to pass the examination, (2) students should affiliate with professional bodies to have a good engagement with them as the cost is always cheaper and help students to broaden their ideas, (3) the university must have a regular collaboration with the industry by inviting the respective speakers to expose, motivate and prepare the students on a particular niche area.

In the final round, panellists shared their motivation to triumph the change. “I made uncountable mistakes and I never regret doing that before,” said Dr. Afnizanfaizal. He talked to the students that by making mistakes, we will learn many unteachable lessons, which was a normal growing process that everyone should appreciate. Secondly, he emphasized the importance of networking skills that students must have, especially in the engineering field, align with mentorship, which is a willingness to learn from someone.

Meanwhile, Ir. Haniffa believed that success would not come without challenges. Thus, he urged students to focus on a positive mindset and be consistent by persevering and being passionate. He advised students to be clear with the overview and actions they took because challenges will always come. Even so, the challenges will shape students to be better people. “If you want to be a long-term successful person, you must be consistent, have a good attitude and aptitude,” said Ir. Haniffa. The forum ended with a Q&A session between the panellists and students.

           In conclusion, from the feedback filled by the audience, students expected the University to organize a similar forum by inviting speakers from both academy and industry again. Participants agreed that the speakers shared a very insightful sharing and advice as it works as an eye-opener for the students on the reality of the industry.