Postgraduate Students’ Officer Hustings (2020/21)

The Postgraduate (PG) Students’ Officer Hustings was hosted virtually on the 14th of October 2020 at 7 PM. The night saw 4 candidates vying for the position. Namely, they were Amr Nabil, Kelvin Tan Sim Zhen, Manoharan Aaruththiran (Aaru) and Nurul Syahirah. The Hustings, moderated by Thevarraj Sellayan, afforded each candidate 5 minutes to deliver an opening speech followed by a 15 minute question and answer session.

What are the responsibilities of the PG Students’ Officer?

For the uninitiated, the PG Students’ Officer is responsible for representing PG students within the Student’s Association (SA) and ensuring that the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) and external organizations hear PG students’ voices. In this position, the PG Students’ Officer will serve as the Chair of the Postgraduate Students’ Network (PGSN).

Amr Nabil

The first candidate of the night, Amr Nabil, opened the Hustings proceedings with his speech. As a 2nd year PhD student and graduate of UNM, Amr states that he has more than 4 years of experience with the University. He has held several representative positions before such as the Representative of the Faculty of Engineering and as a Electrical and Electronic Engineering Class Representative. Not only this, but he has contributed to the University as he had developed a lecture capturing system (meant to replace Echo 360) and an autonomous guiding vehicle for campus visitors during the two times he was a Research and Development Assistant at UNM.

Delving further into his manifesto, Amr expressed his desire to frequently communicate with PG students through monthly communication emails with updates about the PG Network. Besides this, he would like to schedule weekly MS Teams meetings with the PG network team in which PG students can voice out their concerns. Additionally, if the the Coronavirus situation improves, Amr intends on organizing a short island trip to help students de-stress and engage with others in the PG community.

The pièce de résistance of Amr’s manifesto is the Nottingham UG PG Research Enrichment Programme (NUPREP). Utilizing a teams-based approach to research, this programme will offer Undergraduates (UG) an opportunity to observe PhD research as well as an opportunity to publish academic work early in their careers. On the other hand, PhD students will benefit from NUPREP as it expedites research on their proposed topics given the collaboration between UG and PhD students. This will ultimately create a research environment similar to that found in elite universities.

Q&A Session

At the beginning the Q&A session, SA President Utkarsh Gupta asked how Amr would ensure student participation in meetings as PG meetings in the past have failed to do so. In response, Amr stated that he would ensure an open-minded environment and encourage PG students to think of these meetings as a virtual complain form.

A student had raised concerns about the proposed NUPREP initiative as it is a bold project to implement. Amr revealed that this was a similar response he had received about his lecture capturing system yet he had successfully delivered on that project. In addition to this, Amr mentioned that he has close relations with the Dean of Science and Engineering, Andy Chan, and how this could be an attractive project to undertake.

Following this was a question again on NUPREP. collaboration between UGs and PGs is a priority when there are no elite research groups within the current PG community. Amr replied by saying that there will be several research groups. Under each group, there will be several topics and several supervisors from PG students to create a conducive environment for communication. Amr clarified that NUPREP is similar to an internship and will be held concurrently with the UG’s academic calendar.

Responding to a question regarding what incentives there are for UG students to stay engaged in the programme and not drop out, Amr assures that University issued certificates and publishing opportunities with PG students will serve as an impetus to remain.

Voting for me is voting for promoting yourself, active communication and most importantly, an enjoyable Postgraduate experience

Amr Nabil, on why PG students should vote for him

Kelvin Tan

Kelvin, a PhD student in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, channeled his inner Martin Luther King to deliver an opening speech about his dream of improving the PG community through 3 pronged approach.

Firstly, he proclaims his dream of research being supported by all possible means, be it through facilities or financial grants. This would mean departing from new University policies such as the PG exceptional fees which require PG students to pay an additional Rm 850 upon registration. Kelvin believes that keeping people together is the first and foremost responsibility of a leader. Keeping this in mind, he states that he will ensure each student is heard and supported. The ultimate goal of his candidacy as PG Students’ Officer is to facilitate engagement. This engagement would be based on partnership that allows each PG student the opportunity to defend their rights and create a comfortable environment devoid of hostility.

I have a dream that the research community in this University will be respected as human beings but not figures to compensate any deficit in the University financial balance book

Kelvin Tan, on how he believes UNM should view its research community

Secondly, Kelvin would like to promote excellent research welfare by encouraging student-to-student support systems to create a family-like research community. He believes the welfare of part-time PG students are neglected, and as such, Kelvin plans on organizing online events during the weekend for topic sharing in addition to his plans of weekly exercise activities such as badminton and futsal.

Finally, Kelvin plans on encouraging “thought exchange” through channels such as an MS Teams group. This will serve to bridge the gap between PG students from varying fields and years to communicate and collaborate on research.

Q&A Session

Upon receiving a question about Kelvin’s plans on contributing to the SA Executive Team, Kelvin conceded that PG students are not familiar with the SA Executive team. However, he remains hopeful and determined as the ongoing pandemic has opened the door for virtual engagement. With this, Kelvin would like to schedule online events in order for SA Executive members to work together and engage with the PG community.

When asked about his commitment to fighting for more weekend workshops for part-time PG students, Kelvin affirmed with a strong yes. He stated his desire of collaborating with the Career Advisory Service (CAS) to organize LinkedIn workshops to increase PG students’ employability. Moreover, he has talked with the Stress Relief Society to organize events which will reduce students’ stress. Kelvin will also create small online groups to facilitate engagement between both full-time and part-time PG students.

Regarding the infamous additional RM 850 registration fee PG Students have been complaining about, Kelvin intends on contacting Dean Andy Chan to resolve the situation if he is elected. If this does not work, Kelvin will not hesitate to circulate a petition for change as a last resort. Furthermore, he believes PG Students should be treated with equal policies, especially when registering as a PhD student. Kelvin denounces the University implementing unannounced fees. He adds that when the Finance Office “clamps money”, UG students will be receive it within 21 days, however, with PG Students, this will be postponed for prolonged periods of time.

Manoharan Aaruththiran (Aaru)

A 1st year PhD student, Aaru has prior experience in representative positions such a being a Course Representative in the Education Network and being a part of the Accommodation Hall Committee. Aaru explained his 4 manifesto objectives in his opening speech. To start, his first objective is to connect the PG community through a system of representatives whose responsibilities include providing relevant announcements to their respective groups as well as collecting concerns from PG students.

Secondly, Aaru plans on creating a support group for both PG and Masters students to address and guide them with issues regarding research questions or personal wellbeing. This support group would see the involvement of academic professionals and other professionals provide guidance and help direct students to other channels if necessary.

Thirdly, Aaru would like to solve current grievances faced by the PG community such as the extension fees and the limited use of on-capmus labs as the pandemic rages on. Moreover, Aaru proposed to reopen the PG Hub in the SA building if the situation surrounding the Coronavirus improves.

Finally, organizing virtual events which encourages students to de-stress and engage with the PG community would be emphasized. Events and workshops such as virtual interaction sessions with PG Networks from other Universities, research skill webinars or a virtual conference will be scheduled if Aaru is elected. He hopes that this would improve communication and public speaking skills. Additionally, unlike online game nights proposed by other candidates, Aaru would like to arrange a competition using Pace Pedometer app to promote fitness within the PG community.

Q&A Session

SA President Utkarsh asked if Aaru had communicated with the SA staff regarding the possibility of reopening of the PG Hub. This comes as room availability in the SA building is limited. Aaru answered that he had not done so. Incumbent PG Students’ Officer Angela Paul Peter interrupted to add that there exists a PG hub in the SA building, however it is only accessible to Postgraduate Research (PGR) students and not Postgraduate Taught (PGT) students.

Responding to a question about why a support group is needed when PG students already receive support from their research supervisors, Aaru stated that it is because the relationship between a student and supervisor is strictly professional and academic based. This does not allow for personal opinions or problems to be shared. To resolve this, he declared that the Heads of each respective Department will be present in these support groups to provide direct communication to those in charge and to resolve future issues.

A concern was raised about the quality and benefits of attending these online events. Aaru answered by stating that these online events would be strategy-based to provide various methods students can use to solve problems within their research work. He will also consider specific topics voiced out by those from the PG community. Additionally, Aaru intends on welcoming PGT students to attend events for PGR students.

The first two things would be having the support group […] and ensuring that no one is left out

Manoharan Aaruththiran (Aaru), on which two objectives he would prioritize to achieve as PG Officer

Nurul Syahirah

Nurul Syahirah, a 2nd year PhD student in the Faculty of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, has been at UNM for more than 4 years. Her opening speech saw her tout her experience in representative roles such Hall tutor and Hall tutor representative for the Student Council. Nurul Syahirah has also held positions such as the Treasurer of both the PGSN and the Nature Club. Furthermore, she has represented Malaysia and the Malaysian Youth Delegation at multiple Climate conferences and Town halls. Given her experiences, Nurul Syahirah believes she has an edge in people and time management skills as well as the communication and engagement skills to facilitate teamwork that can be brought into the PG Network. Additionally, she believes her time in UNM has made her familiar with UNM’s services and aware of the PhD environment.

My manifesto is aimed at increasing the unity of the Postgraduate community through fun and exciting experiences while boosting up research opportunities

Nurul Syahirah, on the aim of her manifesto

Transitioning to her manifesto, Nurul Syahirah intends on working closely with UNM administrators as she believes this would ensure transparency and fair communication between PG students and the Administration. In addition to this, potential research opportunities and campus-based research quality enhancements would be explored.

Secondly, she proposes a new and interesting one year mentor-mentee system for new PG students. The objective of this system would serve primarily to advise and guide new PG students. It would also encourage new students to participate in activities and create bonds between new and senior students across the PG community

Thirdly, Nurul Syahirah plans on providing access cards to the PG Hub for PGT students (as only PGR students currently have access to this hub.) This, as she states, would not only serve to reduce the inequality between the PGT and PGR students, but to create bonds between them.

Fourthly, research opportunities will be shared through email and PGSN social media. For example, this would include events such as conferences, grant applications and job opportunities which might be of interest to final year students. Ultimately, Nurul Syahirah believes this would enhance research quality and opportunities.

Finally, to increase student bonds and relieve stress, Nurul Syahirah would reserve the Sports Complex for the PG community once a week. Interactive activities will be arranged in accordance with the Malaysian government and UNM Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

Q&A Session

On questions regarding the benefits of being a mentor in her proposed mentor-mentee system, Nurul Syahirah stated that mentorship is entirely voluntary and those involved would receive certificates recognizing their participation. She clarified the system would have a 1 to 1 mentor-mentee ratio with the system lasting one year. Drawing from her own experience as a mentor, Nurul Syahirah states that one of the possible challenges a mentor may experience is finding a balance when allocating time to their respective mentee and their own academic work.

A follow-up question saw Nurul Syahirah questioned about her suitability for the position given her lack of experience in leadership roles. In response, she cited her good time management skills. This would allow her to balance between her PhD work and her responsibilities as PG Students’ Officer. Furthermore, she has experience with the SA network, its expectations and is aware of the procedure to follow if she has troubles in realizing her manifesto.

Returning to the hotly contested issue of additional fees imposed on PG students by UNM, Nurul Syahirah aimed at holding a discussion between the PG community and the UNM administration on this matter. Additionally, she suggested conducting surveys on the affects of these fees on students. The data collected will then be presented to the UNM Administration in an act to persuade them to reconsider the imposition of this and future unannounced payments as the fees in question were not included in the official offer letter.

The final question of the night focused on how Nurul Syahirah plans on granting access to the PG Hub to all PG students. She explained that the first step is to discuss with the Graduates School to determine a reason as to why PGT and PGR students are not allowed to share the PG Hub. Should the reason be “invalid”, Nurul Syahirah will consult with the relevant administration members to allow such an arrangement. If it is approved, she will ask IT Services to grant PGT students access to the PG Hub and instate a social distancing rule when interacting with others. Again, the call for the integration of students in this hub aligns with her interests of reducing inequality between PGR and PGT students, to allow PGR and PGT students to mingle, and to recognize the right of PGT students to access the PG Hub.

Conclusion

The PG Students’ Officer Hustings concluded swiftly at 8:30 PM. It was a strong performance by all 4 candidates who proved individually why they should be elected to this prestigious position. The voting period starts on the 19th of October at 9 AM and end on the 23rd of October at 2 PM. Be sure to check your email if you are a PG Student for your unique voting link! The results will be announced on the 23rd of October at 5 PM. Stay tuned!

Written by Sofiyan Ivan Shahran