As the Electric and Electronic Engineering (EEE) lead at University of Southampton Malaysia, Associate Professor Dr Mihai Rotaru teaches subjects covering Applied Electromagnetics, Circuits and Transmissions, and Electric Materials and Fields. These courses lead to and uncover the fascinating world of engineering electromagnetism and its various facets, real-world applications and problem solving – a field he is deeply passionate about.
What made you decide to specialise in electrical / electronic engineering and what has been your greatest academic achievement so far?
Initially, after my Baccalaureate (A Level) I wanted to study Computer Science, but I didn’t get in. Which is how I ended up studying Electrical Engineering. I didn’t like it until I saw and understood how computers can be used to design, simulate and optimise all sorts of electrical engineering applications, from electrical machines to junctions inside transistors. In the last year of my undergraduate programme, I started understanding Maxwell Equations and was able to solve them using a software tool used to design electrical machines. Until then the concept of field (electric and magnetic fields) was very vague to me, but with the help of the computer and the software I was able to see for the first time how a field looked like. And suddenly everything I have been taught for four years started to make sense. It was brilliant, it was like I discovered a new world.
I thought for a very long time that my greatest achievement was getting my PhD. However, after I worked with a few PhD students through to their graduations, I realised that this is an even greater achievement. Helping and guiding someone to solve problems that no one else in the world has solved is something that research and PhD works gives you. I would say that is my greatest academic achievement.
What subjects should students focus on to do this degree and why should they choose those?
Maths and Physics underpin everything in engineering, so anyone who wants to get into engineering should focus on STEM subjects. Programming is also a very important skill for the modern engineer. Writing a piece of code to solve a problem or to gather data or to drive a drone is routine for engineers now, so learning how to do it as young as possible is important.
There are so many jobs available for good electrical and electronic engineers that I don’t even want to try to list them. And in five to 10 years there will be jobs that I cannot even imagine today. in my opinion, graduates with a strong engineering education will be able to get the most exciting and rewarding jobs in the future.
Where do you see the future of tertiary education in Malaysia heading in terms of student growth, courses offered and the competitiveness of the business of education in general?
Malaysia is spoiled for choice when it comes to possible paths for students. When I came here in 2012, I was surprised at the amount of choices and institutions offering degrees at all levels in Malaysia. I believe that the industry will continue developing with quality and serious institutions growing and broadening their offers. However, that will not happen overnight as trust between universities and prospective students and their parents has to be built on something tangible and real. Good and obviously real stories of successful graduates will be the ultimate proof that an institution is successful, not statistics and numbers which can be easily manipulated to create an image that may not be accurate.
What advice would you have for parents who are debating whether to send their child to Southampton abroad or to the Malaysian campus (besides the obvious difference in cost)?
Starting the Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree in our Malaysia campus and then continuing at our UK campus is the best of both worlds. Our Malaysia campus is very focused on engineering, and students are taught in small teaching groups with 24-hour access to labs and lecturers. In their third and fourth years when they start to specialise, go to the UK where they will have access to the best research infrastructure and academic support, and are taught by the best research-led academic staff.
If you had to convince a student / parent to choose the University of Southampton, what would be your three main reasons?
Firstly, University of Southampton is one of the best places in UK to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Second, all the graduates I know have found jobs that interest and excite them within six months and less from their graduation. Many of them were booked by the companies they worked in when they were third- or fourth-year students. And finally, University of Southampton is the only institution in the Russell Group offering the 2+2 model (two years in Malaysia and two years in UK), which is a great way to obtain an excellent Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree from a reputable Russell Group university.