Monday 1 December 2020
Jennifer Herek and Hasib Mustafa are no strangers to each other. Their paths first crossed when Jennifer was a member of the reading committee of Hasib’s Master’s thesis. Their shared passion for light brought Optical Sciences and Electrical Engineering together. Since then, Hasib has really found his place at the UT. Time for Jennifer to find out more…
Hasib: ‘Hello ma’am.’
Jennifer: ‘Ha! Ma’am! Hi Hasib. Or should I say Dr Mustafa.’
Hasib: ‘Well, if you want to address me like that…’
Jennifer: ‘I do. You and I have the same academic title. And we’ve known each other for quite a while too. How come you’re still calling me ma’am?’
Hasib: ‘I think it’s because of my cultural background. I come from Bangladesh and respect is very important in our culture. I always call my professor “professor”. It makes him feel old, he says, and he asks me to call him by his first name. But that feels odd.’
Jennifer: ‘I understand. My greatest mentor was one of my college professors. I’ve always had a hard time calling him by his first name. Anyway, please call me Jennifer. We are peers. You’ve earned your place in the academic community.’
Hasib: ‘OK. I’ll try.’
Jennifer: ‘Good. So why did you come to the Netherlands, and the UT in particular?’
Hasib: ‘Europe has always fascinated me. It has so many different cultures and nations, while the borders are open. After my Bachelor’s degree, I applied to different European universities. I also got accepted at Chalmers University in Sweden, but I chose to come to the University of Twente. I had a lot of background information about the Netherlands from a Dutch pen friend. She motivated me to come here.
Jennifer: ‘Interesting! I have to ask: have you now met her?’
Hasib: ‘Yes, she became a good family friend, actually. My wife and I cook Bangladeshi food for her, which she loves. Funnily enough, she now lives in Sweden.’
Jennifer: ‘Nice. I lived in Sweden too, right after I did my PhD. Did you know that I also worked with ultrashort lasers during my PhD? I guess we share a passion for light. Where did your passion for light come from?’
Hasib: ‘I was first introduced to the study of light during my Bachelor’s. It mesmerised me. Especially the concept of photons. They are massless, yet intense. Invisible, yet they exist. The physics of light constantly surprises me.’
Jennifer: ‘My absolute favourite property of light is coherence, in the way that lasers are coherent light sources. I like to think about coherence not only in light, but in life.’
Jennifer: ‘And I was inspired by a quote in your Master’s thesis, from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist: “When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.” I really believe in this too. What kind of role does coherence play in your life?'
Hasib: ‘That’s a very interesting question! Coherence is important in the way we work. The more coherent our work is, the more appealing it is to others. Human beings are very structured in their thinking. So, when we make our message coherent, we get our meaning across much more easily and further, like a laser. Even about difficult or abstract topics, like sustainability.’
Jennifer: ‘Yeah, true. But then again, you and I do think differently. So, there is more than just structure. It is also about hearing different voices, looking for overlap and finding ways in which we can reinforce each other. Coherence is also about creating synergy.’
Hasib: ‘Yes, you’re right.’
Jennifer: ‘Speaking of different ways of thinking, I’m really interested in your ideas about inclusiveness, very important at the UT.’
Hasib: ‘I think I’m a good example of inclusiveness. I come from a developing country. I don’t speak much Dutch. Still, I feel at home at the UT and in the Netherlands. I really felt it when I crossed the border back into the Netherlands, coming from Belgium, during a bike trip on my omafiets [a typical Dutch bicycle, ed.] ...’
Jennifer: ‘Haha! An omafiets?’
Hasib: ‘Yes! It’s perfect! A bike I could fix myself, if anything happened to it.’
Jennifer: ‘Smart. And very sustainable. What does sustainability mean to you?
Hasib: ‘I think of sustainability in three different ways: environmental, economic and social. But the main reason for me to focus on sustainability is climate change. For a long time, humans seem to have forgotten that we live in bigger world, in an ecosystem. We only focused on development. But at what cost?
‘We now know that our actions have an effect. And developed countries are working towards being CO2-neutral. But people in developing countries argue that they, too, have the right to be developed. And therefore to emit just as much CO2 as developed countries used to do.
‘I understand this reasoning. I have conflicting thoughts about this dilemma. But I also believe that the only way forward is a sustainable way. We need to find ways that allow for development, without compromising the possibilities of future generations.’
Jennifer: ‘Does that mean that sustainability is going to limit our freedom?’
Hasib: ‘Well, the concept of freedom comes with responsibilities. It is time for us to rethink how much freedom we can really take without hampering the balance between humans and nature.’
Jennifer: ‘OK, and will your being involved in Shaping 2030 contribute to this?’
Hasib: ‘Yes, it will. I really want to actively contribute to my campus, to my university. And I believe in the power of today. If I may share another one of my favourite quotes by Umar Ibn Khattab: “No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future”. For me, this means that uncertainties about the future will always be there. So, I should focus and work on what feels right to me today. If I do nothing, based on the information I have now, no amount of guilt in the future will give me back this opportunity to act.
‘When we talk about climate change, it is so big, that people sometimes feel lost. They wonder – will my actions, as an individual, have any effect on such a big system? But at the UT, there are around 15,000 people. That’s a lot of manpower. Imagine what all these individuals together can achieve. Earlier, we talked about coherence and light. That made me think of fireflies. Do you know fireflies?’
Hasib: ‘I love a beautiful night sky with blinking fireflies in Bangladesh. Now, our future is somewhat dark, uncertain. The people of the UT, however, are lighting up this dark sky. Like fireflies, they are all shining their little light, a piece of hope. But if you look at fireflies closely, they blink in sync. First maybe one or two, then slowly other fireflies join by slightly changing their blinking frequency. Then, after a while, a whole group starts to blink in perfect harmony. And when they do, it’s such a powerful sight. I believe Shaping 2030 will be like this.’
Jennifer: ‘That’s lovely. I like to talk about collective impact. It is very powerful indeed. But I also believe that sometimes we need people to beat their own drum, in order to change things. I think you are one of those people. You are creating a movement.’
Hasib: ‘Well, I don’t see myself as a leader. I am only one of the many fireflies. I just started to blink with a couple of motivated others, like yourself.’
Jennifer: ‘But you chose to do this! Why don’t you call yourself a leader? I think you are an inspiration. You step out of your comfort zone and take on a wonderful challenge.’
Hasib: ‘Thank you. And you’re right. It’s a great opportunity for me personally as well. As a university, we have a big role to play in the shaping of future professionals, so in a way, we shape the society of the future. We are the ‘people first’ university. Changes will come through people. If we can implement these ideas of a building a fair, sustainable and digital society into the DNA of our employees and students, we will see change happening.’
Jennifer: ‘Hm... I don’t think we shape people ourselves, but we do give them opportunities for development, so that they can shape themselves.’
Hasib: ‘True! And I’m glad you point this out. Because “people first” is not really my favourite phrase. Always giving people the highest priority is one of the reasons why humanity has ended up where we are now.’
Jennifer: ‘So are you advocating “planet-first”?’
Hasib: ‘Well, no, I would still say “people first,” but “people first, for a better world”. It certainly should not mean “people only”.’
Jennifer: ‘Good point. It highlights the danger of terminology taking on a life of its own, like in this case “people first”. But of course, it is part of a bigger statement that we make in our mission.”
Jennifer: ‘Now, I don’t know about you Hasib, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you better. I sure hope that at this point you feel comfortable calling me Jennifer. And I’m looking forward to bringing our groups together. Let’s make that happen.’
Hasib: ‘Sure, ma’am. Er… Sure, Jennifer!’