Bashir is an ARM professor of computer engineering at the University of Southampton and dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. He has worked globally on research innovation into energy-efficient and reliable embedded systems and is the editor in chief the IET Journal: Computers and Digital Techniques.
“Engineering is challenging but rewarding and you will learn through experience and by seeking the advice of others. Some of these key people will become major influences on you and what you do and you, in turn, will then be able to reciprocate by offering the same opportunity to others in the future.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
As an academic, my job has three functions – teaching, research and management. My teaching and research are all about designing electronics, such as your phone and tablet computer, to do more for you and to have longer battery life with energy-efficient solutions. This describes my national and international engineering research profile in the theory and practice of energy efficient computing. In my role as Dean, I support our staff and students to do some great work, central to modern society and global prosperity.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I come from an engineering family where my father started as a civil engineer before becoming a very successful businessman. One of my older brothers is also a civil engineer, so it was very likely I would go into engineering from the start. We learn by experience and we all develop as individuals based on the people, situations and circumstances we encounter as we progress through our life and career. I was determined to make a contribution to society using my engineering skills as the platform, first through eight years in industry and then during my academic career. I have not looked back yet!
What do you like most about being an engineer?
There is no such thing as a dream job, but engineering gets very close to it in my view. As engineers, we all problem-solve, but rather than focusing on known questions and problems, I like the challenge of finding the problem that nobody has considered before and the difference a solution could make in my field, not only in terms of academic significance, but also socio-economic impact. The originality and novelty of problems interests me and I tell my PhD students this all the time. Encouragement is important and as a UK Electronics Skills Foundation trustee, I also help more 16 to 18-year-olds enter the engineering profession through summer schools and by training A-Level and GCSE physics and computer science teachers.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
I am most proud of the opportunities I have received over the years as an engineer in both industry and academia. This has allowed me to apply my research to the real world and to demonstrate impact that matters worldwide, developing tools and technologies that will underpin the smarter and safer digital world of the future. Receiving a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year for services to industry and computer engineering has certainly been one of the high points of my career. It has also been my great privilege to be the Dean of a successful engineering faculty for the last four years at the University of Southampton. During my time here, 33 PhD students have graduated, and many now hold academic posts in the UK and abroad, while some are in senior engineering roles in industry. I take huge pride in this.
How do you think racial parity in engineering can be achieved?
I think we have made some initial headway, but the UK still has a long journey ahead in terms of effectively embracing race diversity as a key factor in our working lives. We need racially-diverse academic leaders to nurture a pool of talent for much longer. This has key importance to higher education in the UK - both to resolve uncertainty in the sector and to capitalise on the many potential opportunities we could explore overseas. More widely, the UK has made and continues to make significant progress in terms of gender diversity and this experience and practice should be used proactively to increase and accelerate race diversity at executive levels nationally.
Has being a BAME engineer had an impact on your career either positive or negative?
I have presented previously on my BAME experience but rather than focusing on my career journey, I have preferred to examine the cultural values that have shaped and influenced my working practices, alongside a wider understanding of the expectations within UK higher education that underpin personal progress as an academic leader. I have encountered both positive and negative experiences but the important thing is they remain my own experiences – good or bad - and have helped to shape who I am today.
How has the ethnic diversity of the profession changed since you started working in engineering?
Statistics show that ethnic diversity has become increasingly important to higher education, evidenced by reporting. When I joined the electronics and computer science department in Southampton in 2000, there had never been a Head of School from an ethnic minority background, let alone a member of the University Executive Board (which was finally achieved in 2014). I am pleased to see more and more high-tech companies embracing racial diversity through BAME post holders in key executive roles. By leading the Race Equality Charter submission here for University of Southampton, I hope to champion this further, as there is still not enough BAME diversity in science and engineering roles in UK universities.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
It is easy to become discouraged or disheartened when we work hard and the good things do not happen as quickly or effectively as we would like. It is important to remember those achievements most important to us do not happen without a degree of struggle or challenge, simply because of what they mean to us. Engineering is challenging, but rewarding, and you will learn through experience and by seeking the advice of others. Some of these key people will become major influences on you and what you do and you, in turn, will then be able to reciprocate by offering the same opportunity to others in the future.