By Aznan Mat Piah
When I retired from the civil service in 2007 at the age of 56 after serving the country for 32 years, I felt it was too early for me to go into full retirement. At that age, I still had a lot of energy to spare so I thought I should do something useful and not waste my time. So, when I was offered a teaching post by the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in 2008, I was very happy and welcomed the opportunity as this would fulfil my dream of giving back to the community and the nation. It would mean sharing my experience and imparting knowledge in academia.
Fast forward, the years that I had spent at the IIUM have passed so fast that I would have to call it a day after serving for 14 years. Semester II, 2021/2022 was my last as my present contract with the university expires on 31 July 2022. I did not intend to continue working at the IIUM so I did not seek for the renewal of my contract. Therefore, I would have to say goodbye to the place that has brought me a lot of sweet memories to treasure.
As I look back, serving this seat of learning has been a great experience, self-fulfilling and indeed a great satisfaction as well for allowing me to contribute something back although it may not be that much. I could now see two sides of the same coin; between working in the field on the practical side on one hand, and teaching theories, concepts, and principles in university on the other hand.
Before joining the university, I had served the nation in two Ministries, firstly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and secondly, the Ministry of Information (including a four-year stint in the Department of Information). I had also served in Malaysia’s diplomatic missions overseas for 14 years in the four capital cities of the world, apart from serving in the Foreign Ministry.
My involvement in the field was mainly in aspects of communication involving policy matters of the government and in communicating with different target audiences both within Malaysia and outside the country. By and large, I did public diplomacy, public relations, and strategic and corporate communication. I would say the experiences that I went through during those days were enriching and I thought this would help me in my teaching by imparting my knowledge and experiences to students.
My several years of working experience especially in communication were useful to guide me in my teaching and to deliver my job effectively as I could easily relate to the industry and the expectations of the job market. Apart from the theoretical part, my teaching was based on the practical and professional context, where students were asked to look beyond the classroom to see the practical reality. This I thought gave the students added value.
I encouraged students to look at industry expectations and how they could build on their knowledge and skills to face expectations at the workplace after they graduated from university. Apart from that, they could learn to adapt themselves to job demands, to develop their resilience, tolerance, passion, and patience to face challenges in the market while still studying in university. Knowledge and skills of the industry are significant for students to acquire.
The IIUM has laid down good values for students to imbue themselves of; the philosophy of khalifah, integrity, amanah, iqra’, rahmatan lil alamin, the Sejahtera framework, the 3III & CE (Internalisation, Integration and Internationalisation and Comprehensive Excellence), in the ‘Garden of Knowledge and Virtue’ that they are in.
These philosophies are clearly spelt out and laid down by the university that are useful for the character building of students, in addition to the different aspects of knowledge that they are exposed to in their respective fields. Blending these philosophies, principles, and knowledge together with the guidance that they receive from their lecturers, students who graduated from this university are expected to be all rounders and serve the nation and global community well.
Based on my years of experience in the field, I have been able to gauge the expectations of the industry and the capabilities expected for graduates, where among the other characteristics is the ability to withstand work pressure, of which this is lacking among the younger generation. The industry often perceives them as the ‘strawberry generation’ as they are seen to be soft and easily bruised. Unlike those in the earlier generation (I belong to the baby boomer generation), the present set of students are not used to facing hardships in life, hence they find difficulties in coping with problems. This indeed calls for potential graduates to develop the culture of resilience and endurance in their student days so as to remain in the industry later.
Resilience is an important aspect to survive in the industry where graduates should learn to absorb work pressure and be able to bounce back immediately. They need to develop their resilience, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. The communication field demands graduates to be multitaskers, versatile, with the ability to withstand work pressure, and to walk the extra mile. That is the nature of the job where professionals are expected to be on their toes, to be able to think on their feet, and to make good decisions on the spot.
In the years that I have been teaching in the university, I had attempted to instill this kind of culture among undergraduates. Hopefully, this effort has somewhat given positive results and more students and potential graduates would be able to strive hard to acquire the resilience and be able to survive out there upon graduation.
Students might also notice that I had always strived to drive my message to the student journalists when I was at the helm of the editorial board of this news portal (IIUMToday) for the past several years, to instill in their minds the need to build their resilience. I made sure the students paid attention to important details when filing stories, including giving attention to the accuracy of facts, developing their curiosity of news value, working long hours, and meeting deadlines, among others. It might appear stressful to some, but this is the hard way to learn to adapt and cope with the challenging workplace situation.
Students serving on the editorial board must try to emulate the working spirit and create the atmosphere as though they are working in the real media environment out there. This would give them the drive to come closer to the expectations of the industry. IIUMToday is very useful for students to put into practice not only their reporting and writing skills, but most importantly, to develop their physical, emotional, and mental strengths when facing issues and challenges. This would later contribute towards building resilience to face a much tougher situation in the real world.
Well, it is now time for me to say ‘sayonara’.
As a final parting note, I wish all students who are currently in the editorial board and potential journalists for those joining IIUMToday, as well as students and readers in general, all the best in your studies and endeavours. My prayers for your success in whatever field you intend to join upon graduation. ***
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