The students of Electrical Engineering can prize themselves lucky, since they have not one, but two study advisors! Kirsten Voncken is responsible for bachelor students in EE as well as master students in EE and Embedded systems, but we can assume you know her from the Vonk junction in Edition 3 from 2017. If not, then another interesting junction is waiting for you. The other study adviser, Nesar Moshtaq, has not been properly introduced in the Vonk yet. This is perhaps the reason that Nesar is less known among the students, and that whilst he has an interesting story and a strong drive to help students! He is responsible for bachelor students in EE and the master students for EE and Systems & Control, but is also interested in showing students other aspects of student life. We asked him all about this.
WHow did you end up here at UT in the role as study advisor?
“I used to study at the department of BMS where I studied the masters business administration. When I started my study, my idea was to become a successful manager of a great (national) company. Through personal development I learned about myself that I am more of a social person and I would like to contribute to the development of other people and especially students.
So I saw this job offer at UT and then questioned if for a technical department the basics to be able to listen very well and ask questions and analyse is sufficient. That is when someone comes to you with a question and you can see where the problem comes from. It gives me a lot of self-fulfillment to let students see why they are here and to help them in the process of personal development.
Why at the University of Twente? I really love this university, the environment, all the great things we are doing here. Even when I was a student, I was also working at the university giving workshops and masterclasses at Pre-U to high-school students
Word has it you helped organize a christmas dinner for international students?
How the idea popped up was, I started with this job in August 2018 and Christmas was coming. I was talking to a lot of international students, especially from far countries. They cannot go back easily to their family to celebrate Christmas, but Dutch students do go back home to their families. For me it was quite logical to create some kind of event around Christmas, surprisingly it was not there. So I went to connecting hands, a foundation in the Bastille, they work with refugees. They were really collaborative, and they organized something very last minute. Something is better than nothing.
Did you already have some experience with Electrical Engineering from high school?
‘Electricity and magnetism actually were a large part of physics in my first years of high school. When I arrived in 4th grade, a new computer room was opened at my school. We learned to program in Basic with those large vintage arcade screens. My teacher asked me if I wanted to teach the lower grades, because he was slightly overworked, and I had a decent understanding of the matter and from one came the other and I had my first experience in teaching. I also tutored to earn some extra money, but I really enjoyed writing computer instructions.’
You came from the BMS faculty which is not focused on Electrical Engineering or technology necessarily, but here you are a study advisor for Electrical Engineering students. They are obviously more involved with technology. Do you feel like you’re skilled enough to help them?
“I believe that these days we are all connected to technology. I learned that Electrical Engineering is in everything. That made me even more curious to go more in depth, the more in depth in the field I go and read about it, the more interested I become and the more I value how important this field is. So I think as mentioned, the basic skills that Study Advisor needs are the social skills (communicating, understand and being empathic) and then he/she should know about the content of the program. Find out how the modules work by reading, and talking to professors. What is the module about and why are they [the students] following these courses.
If there are really some content wise question, like field and waves, then I direct them to the professor. My duty is to listen to the student and to analyze what is challenging for the student and if the student is really enjoying his or her study
Is it difficult to get the jargon of the technical side? I assume students use a lot of uncommon words in your conversations.
No, but I can ask them to clarify it. I am curious what it is exactly. What are fields and waves? What are mechatronics? Yesterday I was talking with the program coordinator and I asked: ‘why do you have three masters, what is the difference?’ He explained, Systems and Control is more about regulations and control. An Electrical Engineer is more experienced in the field of electrical parts, for example he knows how a motor works. Embedded Systems is more related to the software. I found out that later they could work together in a team in a company and make interesting projects. By going to the Open Days and seeing what different chairs are doing I was like sh*t, why didn’t I study this program, but then I found out my mathematics is not that good. So far it is challenging and it is really nice. I learned a lot about it. I discovered how detailed and how broad it is. Right now I’m encouraging my friends and telling them: ‘guys you need to know more about Electrical Engineering!’
You have now had almost a year to gain knowledge. Do you think you have an idea of what is going on here and what the problems are?
When I started working here I discovered that the UT is a huge organization, even our in our department there is are a lot of things going on. Every day I learn more and more, by reading and seeing how the structure works and how study associations are involved, so it is a next master study for me.
You said you would like to replace yourself with technology. Why, social contact is important right?
We are in a scientific environment. I am as a person quite innovative and this AI-algorithms and robotics are in our department. We continuously talk as Study Advisors, and we have these appointments with students and we have to make notes on Osiris. This takes a lot of time.
During my study [Business Administration] I learned that you need to think out of the box. I like to do this and share this with others to see if its a good idea. We are in the Electrical Engineering department where there is a lot of skill and knowledge, so it should be possible.
We are now having this conversation and it would be great to connect a device with Osiris and have it automatically make notes. We also have a lot of meetings. If you look on a daily basis at the University of Twente and see how many meetings we have, it could be 200 or something. 200 meetings of an hour each are quite some hours. The costs for this are quite high.
Usually Electrical Engineering students work on innovation and automating and processes and that sometimes results in people losing jobs. You are now proposing to replace yourself by a robot. Are you not afraid to lose your job?
“No. But that is a fundamental question on how to organize society. There are some guys that say that if we work really efficient, you could work 4 hours a day. The rest you can spend on other things. I think this is a long term thing. If you have the basic incomes, everything you do extra is good for the society. There is a young philosopher that says that there are a lot of jobs in the Netherlands that are bullshit jobs.
We have a lot of burnouts and a lot of people stressful. I ask myself what are you doing exactly. Why are you doing it. What is the benefit of it? That is why I am doing this job and not a manager of a profit making company.
Today I had an email from a student: ‘Nesar thank you very much, also on behalf of my parents. You really helped me with the pre-master. Thank you for your continuous support and guidance.’ This helped me a lot. It gives me a lot of self fulfillment. So I think it is not a bullshit job and is actually good to have.
I still believe that 40% of the appointments would not be needed. It is just about providing information, but talking to a Study Advisor is always needed. Students need support and guidance.” And we are there for our students.
So you basically want to optimize the process of a Study Advisor to focus on what is really important. You want to place students in the right place, right?
“I believe that studying is not a goal. Studying is a tool. When you study you need some hard skills, knowledge, and also some soft skills as interpersonal skills. How to collaborate in a multidisciplinary team, how to communicate, intercultural communication, you need to be able to communicate with people from different nationalities effectively. What I try to do is to help students to open their eyes: ‘why am I studying what I’m studying?’”
Do you consider it is one of your strengths that you are able to help students out this way?
“I think it is some experience from my own background. It is also a skill like being empathic and social intelligence and being curious. I don’t see it as a 9-5 job.. Then it would not be challenging. What I try to do is to listen to students and see how I can help them and how they can help themselves. Learn someone to catch fish instead of giving them a fish.
Are there still things you want to improve during the upcoming years? What are your goals?
“My goal is that personal development is something that is throughout your entire life. I want to have a social impact. My goal would be to contribute.”
[Interviewer]: “Are you looking for something bigger than students knocking on the door?”
“Yes it is already bigger. I am now involved in strategic policy development department, I will be talking with them about the public engagement strategy of the University. They are asking me because of my background as a refugee. They wonder if we can help more refugees in Twente from a social impact point of view.
Something else is internationalisation, because we already do great things. When we talk about impact and HTHT, we can do a lot in the field of knowledge transfer to other countriescountries. A question I have on my mind is ‘why is it not possible to have groups of students from different Universities around the world working on the same project and getting credits for it?’
Yes, I see the world as a global village. We have a small village here at the University, with 82 nationalities. All these students that go back to their country are ambassadors of our University. The department of ITC for example is doing great things in that field.
I have ideas, but they go step by step. For now my duty is to do my work as Study Advisor and to help every student on their way and contribute to the improvement of things here. For example: efficiency, the way of communication and helping each other as a team. And to give input from my background on how to help international students study. So, small steps big impact.”
You talked about your Afghan friend you looked back in two years. You are now here for almost one year, have you changed a lot? Have things improved?
“When I came here, most of the people said that the technical guys are introverted and they talk not that much. I said: ‘the technical guys, I like them! You cannot generalize all technicians’. It is easier for people to think in boxes. At BMS they talk about technicians and the technicians talk about the social guys. In the end it is about personal connection. Being honestly interested in something. I call it professional love. There is a book about coaching of students that I read, they emphasize about professional love. This means that you dare to create the connection with the other person. Then you don’t have barriers and you can openly listen to the other person. This is what you need to help students. I try to talk to others around me, sometimes I think I’m too passionate. I say: ‘guys, open your eyes! Don’t you see what I see?’
What I like about this University is that we are constantly working on the improvement. We don’t have the mindset like: oh no everything is perfect. We are an open and learning organization. What we preach we also practice.”
Do you have any final advice for the readers?
“I think any advice for the students… [Silence] ‘Be curious and to get out of your comfort zone’ would be my advise. It sounds cliche perhaps. Explore and enjoy the process of studying, because you have the privilege to fail. If you didn’t fail, please fail, because from failure you can learn. You [the Electrical Engineering student] are very occupied with study, but enjoy the process of personal development, meet cultures and enjoy it. That would be my advise.”