A framework of personalized support and diversity of opportunity are the hallmark of Prof King Lun Yeung’s tenure as Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies)
The past 18 months have been a time of fresh testing grounds and fruitful results for Prof King Lun Yeung. Not in his usual capacity as a pioneering researcher and educator in chemical engineering in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Division of Environment but as the School of Engineering’s Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies).
As an environmental health expert, Prof Yeung is acutely aware of the need for the appropriate conditions to nurture a flourishing milieu. This, together with in-depth discussions with then Dean of Engineering Prof Khaled Ben Letaief at the start of his two-year term as Associate Dean in July 2014, has given rise to a more personalized, focused support system for the School’s faculty and postgraduates that is already bringing positive gains.
Among the initiatives overseen by Prof Yeung is the systematic provision of greater assistance for proposal writing and grant applications in line with grant-givers’ move away from an emphasis on research vision to research impact. On-going since August 2014, this comprises sharing of grant-writing experience, internal mentorship by experienced faculty members who have successfully secured major grants, and technical writing assistance.
Since then, the School has seen higher application numbers overall, a 10% rise in the success rate for Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council General Research Fund proposals in 2014-15 over the previous year, plus the awarding of two major collaborative Theme-based Research Scheme grants.
Links between younger SENG faculty and those in other university engineering departments in Hong Kong are also being encouraged through workshops and symposia as another way of widening understanding, and building professional and personal friendships that can sow the seeds for large collaborative and theme-based grants.
On the graduate studies front, professional development courses adding know-how that cannot be learnt in a lab, such as communication skills, ethical values and intellectual property protection, have been joined by a broadening of research learning opportunities and greater student diversity at all levels – doctoral (PhD), master of philosophy (MPhil) and master of science (MSc).
South America, North America and Europe have all been a focus for student recruitment, with 39 nationalities among SENG postgraduates in 2015-16. Hong Kong students have been targeted to encourage more to continue study at higher levels to build the knowledge economy. Prof Yeung is also pursuing dual degree arrangements with institutions outside Asia to add to those already established within the region. A dual PhD with the University of Waterloo commenced in 2015. More programs are under planning.
The benefits of broader cultural horizons are clear, he said. “Once you open up a person’s mind, you don’t open it up in one particular way but to all possibilities.”
The response from students to such an approach has been gratifying. From the first cohort of 17 students enrolled in the enterprising interdisciplinary MPhil in Technology Leadership and Entrepreneurship (target ratio: one-third each from Hong Kong, Mainland China and overseas), five companies have emerged. In the second cohort, one student turned down a place at Harvard and another delayed entering Cambridge University to join.
“Students appreciate HKUST’s east-west bridging role as well as the efforts the School makes to make everyone feel at home,” Prof Yeung said. “Hong Kong is also very well situated for moving technologies from lab to market. Hong Kong has the value chain while Mainland China has the manufacturing chain, so everything is close by. That is rare and very dynamic. Even Silicon Valley cannot duplicate it.”
One particularly proud moment for Prof Yeung was the agreement for MSc students to undertake research at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)’s network of 100-plus laboratories. It marked the first time that the CSIC network had opened its doors to a non-Spanish university. The first cohort of eight SENG students (see also "Ms & Mr Young Engineers"
) worked across Spain on projects ranging from exo-skeleton research for faster healing to indoor GPS for automated systems. “To show how much they appreciated our students, more than 100 proposal applications were submitted for SENG students to choose from,” Prof Yeung said. Other countries are now also interested in discussing similar arrangements.
For Prof Yeung, his time as Associate Dean has been both tough, in terms of negotiating and overseeing such arrangements in addition to his own research and teaching, and highly rewarding. “The goal has been to increase SENG academics’ research opportunities and progress, and to enable our postgraduate students to excel whether they choose academia, their own business, or other fields of work. It has been challenging but also fulfilling to see the results.”