Recipe for creativity and innovation

Dr Chuah delivering her talk

A talk titled “Are there Recipes for Creativity and Innovation?” was organised by the Centre for Extension Education (CEE) on 2 July 2018 at Sungai Long Campus in collaboration with Lee Kong Chian Faculty of Engineering and Science  (LKC FES)  and Department of Consultancy and Commercialisation (DCC). Invited to give the talk was Director of WiNS Laboratory Dr Chuah Mooi Choo. She is currently a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Lehigh University, USA.

Present at the talk were LKC FES Dean Prof Ir Dr Goi Bok Min, CEE Director Lim Guat Yen, staff and students. Based on her own life experience, Dr Chuah lined up several factors that would help to increase the creativity and innovation of an individual. During the talk, she emphasised on the importance of having a strong foundation in science and mathematics.

She gleefully recalled the times when she had helped her father to run a sundry shop. “When I was young, I loved mathematics so much that I ended up being my dad’s unofficial accounting clerk. I would review all the invoices that the employees issue and try to find mistakes. Hence, I was able to do mathematics very quickly.”

Dr Chuah also took a stroll down her memory lane in her hometown in Penang. She went to SJK(C) Hu Yew Seah in George Town and later to Penang Chinese Girls’ High School. She then pursued Bachelor of Degree (honours) in Electrical Engineering at Universiti Malaya.

“I would do very well in the examination, but Prof Chuah would try to prove me wrong by doing it even better. This happened for many examinations. It was indeed a healthy competition. We fought a lot when we were young, but we grew up to be very good friends in the university,” she said as she recalled her younger days being the sister of UTAR President Ir Prof Academician Dato’ Dr Chuah Hean Teik.

Upon completing her study, she worked at the R&D Department of Motorola Penang Sdn Bhd before deciding to pursue her PhD in electrical engineering at the University of California, San Diego, USA. “I was working at a well-known company called AT&T Bell Laboratories for 12 years until Prof Chuah suggested me to go to a university. Since then I have been a faculty member at Lehigh University until now.”

She also mentioned that she felt fortunate to have received her primary, secondary and tertiary education in Malaysia. It helped to set a very strong science and mathematics foundation for her. She also stated that she has never regretted her decision of obtaining a bachelor degree from the local university.

According to Dr Chuah, it is essential for one to have a strong logical thinking other than being adept in mathematics and science. While she was working for Motorola Penang Sdn Bhd she noticed her colleagues, who were trained in UK and USA, had good problem solving and logical thinking skills. Therefore, she decided to pursue her study in the USA to get more exposure on how things were done on the other side of the world.

The talk then saw Dr Chuah accentuating the importance of having the right motivation. According to her, creativity and innovation also require motivations. For new ideas to be generated in mind, a person needs a reason for it. “Motivation to be creative can come from different sources. When you are curious about something, most of the time, you will end up thinking of a new idea. When you have the urge to help the less fortunate or to improve healthcare, you also tend to come out with creative and innovative solutions.”

Throughout her study life, the surrounding pressure was also a motivation for Dr Chuah. “When I was studying electrical engineering, out of 200 students in my batch, there were only four female students. Being a female student in a male-dominated course pushed me to strive harder to be a successful female engineer.”

Her late parents’ condition also became one of her external motivations. “I am well-known for the wireless network system and protocol design, however, I am more interested in healthcare related research because my parents had health issues and they were bedridden for many years before they passed away. Every three months, my two sisters who took care of them had to get help from the maid to bring them down from upstairs and into a car to go for a physical examination,” she said. She was named Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2015 for her contributions to the wireless network system and protocol design.

She was inspired by the idea of using a wireless sensor network to conduct examination at home and send it via internet without the need to travel out. However, due to some limitations, she had to put the idea on the shelf for a certain period of time until smartphones came into existence.

Dr Chuah also highlighted the need for communication in generating creative ideas. She said, “Communication is also important. When you conceive a new idea, it could be half-baked, not completely formed. If you communicate the idea with those from the similar field, their feedback can help you to further develop the idea. An idea would worth a million dollars if it can be communicated well to others.”

She also said ideas can easily be generated through observation; by recognizing problems that require solutions in daily life. She then provided the participants with some tips to improve their logical thinking skills before ending the talk with a Q&A session.

Dr Chuah (middle), Lim (left) and Prof Goi (right) with the full-house audiences 


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