Saturday, December 03, 2005

Lunch with the Professor

Lunch with the Professor

Last week I had lunch with an old university mate of mine who is now the dean of the faculty of engineering at a local university. I haven't met him for a very long time and I remember him as someone who is very passionate about his academic profession and maintains a very disciplined lifestyle.

Like me, he is also a "confirmed bachelor". Recalling the austere lifestyle that he used to keep, I jokingly told him that I'm becoming more and more like him these days--going to bed early and waking at 4.00am in the morning. He told me that he still keeps his old habits. We both agreed that the early hours of the morning are the best time to work.

I wanted to find out from him if his engineering faculty produces the kind of quality graduates that our former alma mater used to produce. He understood what I meant. Under-graduates today grew up in a different world: they are probably better off, they have better facilities and they also have more distractions to deal with--satellite TV, computers and the Internet.

Today's undergraduates are more computer savvy and even smarter in many ways, but unfortunately they are also deprived of the opportunity to learn to be self-starters and to make do with very little. Our generation did not have access to instant information over the Internet or the latest software tools but we were well-grounded in the basics: mathematics, mechanics and electromagnetics. That became part of our DNA. When we came out to work, we could pick up anything very easily because we had a strong foundation, and we did not expect to be spoon-fed.

In the end, it is not the content which you have acquired in school that matters, it is the nimbleness of the brain, the creativity and the thinking skills that you've learnt to apply that make all the difference.

My professor friend seemed to be happy with his job. He promised to help me should I need to hire fresh graduates of calibre from his faculty in the future. He also advised me to follow his practice of taking at least a week off from work every year. He told me of his exicting trip to the Silk Road which he made last year.

Ah, a vacation! That's something that I definitely need. In an instant, my mind raced to my beloved Indonesia again: I see vistas of lush green valleys, farmers working in the fields and I hear strains of soft Sundanese music, and I see myself in a slow train, snaking its way into its volcanic heartland...

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