(Professors with you work – matter. They greatly influence your lives. Most students tell me that there are not many Professors today at the Universities who can serve as role models. That’s a pity.
I am starting posts on the bog to share with students my experiences with some of the great Professors I met and was fortunate to work with. I would invite you to share your experiences too. Let us pay tribute to the Professors with Warm Eyes and Golden Hearts)
In 1981, I credited a course with Professor Fude on Environmental Impact Assessment of Water Resources Projects at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. Professor Fude was 65 years old then, with a PhD on water resources from the University of Iowa in 1939! He was a Taiwanese national, physically fit, an avid golf player and spoke in a Chinese American accent. He served in the army, fought in the Indo-China war and was recipient of the Cloud and Banner award – a military award of the Republic of China, instituted in 1935.
I recall Professor Fude walked in the classroom on the first stay dragging a crate of Heineken beers. The class was at 7 45 am and we were shocked to see this crate of imported beers. Professor Fude then picked up a few bottles from the crate and said “anyone interested?”. And we simply gushed – free beer!! No one wanted to refuse this generous offer. We found the experience of sipping beer in the class while listening to the Professor very exciting and different! The next lecture, there was a repeat and so in the third lecture. In the third lecture however less beer bottles got picked up. We realized that though the beer was offered free, was it real worth to have alcohol at 7 45 am in the morning? Not good for the health and not so good when we are “learning”. So the fourth lecture saw even less number of students “interested” and in the fifth lecture, none volunteered. Professor Fude first made a disappointing face, then smiled, warmly and said “oh, it took five lectures for you to understand what’s not the right thing to do”. We then understood of his novel way of teaching.
The class had assignments to do. Professor Fude asked us to write 1 page of our “experience of reading” (not exactly a summary) of any book of our interest and that is aligned to the title of the course. The condition was that each student will work on different books and ensure that there was no duplication. I thought that Professor was too lazy to formulate an assignment. I expected that we are given something more intellectual and more challenging involving some calculations. Later, I asked the Professor about it and he said – well, the assignment is lot deeper than what you think. First, it exposed the students to our library, what books we hold in the subject of EIA of water resources projects, then it taught the student about how to choose of book out of a few – that compelled them to see more than just one book. Since no student could write about the same book, they needed to talk to each other. This led to networking and making new acquaintances, and finally apart from learning what’s in the book, they understood the subtle difference between a making summary and writing “experience of reading” where self-expressions come in in your own language. And when all 1 page write-ups were shared across 30 students, all got a dossier of 30 interesting books as a resource for “essential readings”. I was simply amazed with this explanation. Very clever.
Once Professor Fude asked me how do I use the library. I said that I go to the environmental section (628) and look at the books on the shelf and sometimes do a “card search” (we did not have computerized database then) using author and subject index. Professor Fude said that this was alright but not good enough. He asked me to start with Alphabet A, at the first library shelf and spend time picking up almost every book and browse or look into –no matter whether the book concerned my doctoral research. “Pick up a book, turn the pages, take a deep breath to smell … If you like the book, sit down and read more”. And I followed his advice. My research was on optimization of ambient air quality monitoring networks and I discovered that the science was similar to the design and modeling of precipitation networks, petroleum exploration and even conducting of gallop poll! This is how innovation in research happens” – Professor had said.
Professor Fude had a principle that books in his collection that he did not “touch” over 6 months do not belong to him! So every six months he used to stack these books on his desk and put a notice for students to come and take away these books. That used to be a treat to us. He would then sign up each book and hand over. I did this practice when I taught at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. You should know how to part and spread the knowledge – he said.
(Professor Fude at a students party)
I was to get married while studying and was really worried how to handle the “cost of married living”. Professor sensed some stress on my face and called me to his room. He was the only Professor on the campus who had a small bar in the room where he would have a mix of rum and coke after returning from a game of golf and a shower. He was on his rum shot when I met him in his room. On explaining reason for my stress, he offered me a job. He said “can you wash my car before I drive back home every day. I will pay you 500 bahts a month”. I was desperate for money and so readily agreed to the offer. The next day Professor Fude took me to his car and asked me to wash. The car was parked right next the main corridor where all students and faculty were walking by. I was hoping to do the “car wash” discretely in the car park to remain unnoticed. But the Professor had another idea. Here all passersby looked at me, some even made comments and few talked about it to others. I was a quite embarrassed. Professor Fude would sit on a stool next to the car and inspect quality of my work, giving me instructions for doing a better job and later giving me a kind of discourse about “life”. When the first month got over, he told me that rather than he pays me, I should be thankful and pay him fees for the advice he had given! Of course that was in sense of humor but when he gave me my 500 bahts, he said “ Prasad – idea was to teach you the dignity and pride of work – no matter what you do and make you humble”. I still cherish his words of wisdom.
When I defended my doctoral dissertation, Professor Fude was in the examination committee and I thought that he was the only member who actually understood what was trying to say! He had the “systems perspective”. When I was told by the Committee that I am through, I remember I was drafting a letter for application of a job. I ended my letter with “Sincerely, Dr Prasad Modak” and Professor Fude just walked into the room then and peeped at the letter I was typing. “Oh, you should not be saying yourself that you are a Dr… others should know and recognize your Ph. D from your work and not you announcing”. Since then, I never write prefix of Dr before my name.
When we parted, Professor Fude called me to his room. He passed me a woolen jacket and said “a small gift for you”. While accepting his gift, I told Professor that I lived in Mumbai where weather was never challenging enough for wearing a woolen jacket. Professor Fude then smiled and said “I know, you may not need this jacket and won’t use it as much… so it will last longer and longer you will remember me!”. And yes, the jacket is still in my wardrobe. Of course, I continue remembering him and indeed so much!
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