Interview with Professor Dahlan: A Discussion on Research, Collaboration, and Gender Inclusivity

By Kai Forster, Nomanesi Makhonco and Jiska deGroot, October 19th

Professor Nofri Yenita Dahlan

The Transforming Energy Access – Learning Partnership (TEA-LP) had the privilege of gaining valuable insights from Professor Nofri Yenita Dahlan, a TEA-LP member who serves as the Director of the Solar Research Institute (SRI) at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). Professor Dahlan recently received the Excellent Researcher award, which is a testament to her dedication and passion for making a difference in her field. Our discussion with Professor Dahlan primarily focused on overcoming research obstacles, harnessing the power of collaboration, addressing gender inclusivity issues in Malaysia, and how this could be enhanced.

In our discussion, Professor Dahlan emphasised the significance of collaboration and expressed her gratitude to mentors, colleagues, her research team, and the wider academic community, highlighting their crucial role in her award achievement. She shared that:

Research is a journey filled with challenges and discoveries, and this award serves as a reminder of the importance of perseverance and the pursuit of knowledge. It is a testament to the dedication and passion that drives me in my work.”

Professor Dahlan pointed out that while research often presents challenges and obstacles, especially due to the lack of access to essential data, resources, equipment, or funding, effective collaboration and networking with colleagues, institutions or industries, can be instrumental in overcoming these hurdles. Such connections can facilitate resource sharing and productive partnerships. 

She holds the firm belief that expanding one’s network can be achieved by attending conferences, joining professional organisations, and maintaining connections with peers. Furthermore, Professor Dahlan indicated that challenges and obstacles that are funding-related could be overcome through grant writing and institutional support. 

 Professor Dahlan serves as an inspiration to many other women working in the electrical engineering field. During our conversation, she identified critical issues of gender and research, shedding light on the gender-related stereotypes and biases that impact women working in the field. Professor Dahlan indicated that between stereotype threat, receiving less recognition and visibility, balancing family and work responsibilities, and fewer mentorship and networking opportunities, women are often at a disadvantage compared to men working in the field. To help bridge this gender gap, Professor Dahlan, who also directs the UiTM Solar Research Institute, works mostly with women, helping to empower them in the field:

“Notably, my main research fellow comprises mainly women scientists, and I have several female research assistants who work alongside me. To assist my female researchers in securing research grants and projects, I offer them guidance and opportunities to connect with significant players in the renewable energy industry, as well as government agencies in Malaysia…”

Professor Dahlan also offered some advice for Malaysian universities and how they could go about becoming more inclusive in teaching, learning, and employment. She suggested that universities need to develop more inclusive curricula (e.g., by representing a variety of voices, cultures, and experiences), offer support services, promote inclusive excellence, and provide bias training and awareness to all university members, which will make learning more accessible to all students. 

Furthermore, Professor Dahlan also offered some pointers for the international educational sector as to how it could become more inclusive. In particular, the sector should start building a foundation for inclusivity in early education by promoting diversity and inclusion in school curricula and activities, ensure educators receive comprehensive training on inclusive teaching practices and classroom bias, ensure that all students have access to quality education (regardless of their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or gender), engage with the community to foster collaboration between educational institutions and local communities, and promote global perspectives in education. 

Moreover, Professor Dahlan extended her advice to the international educational sector on fostering greater inclusivity. She emphasised that in her experience, these are key entry points for making education more inclusive, and must: 

  1. Lay the groundwork for inclusivity in early education by integrating diversity and inclusion into school curricula and activities.
  2. Ensure that educators receive comprehensive training in inclusive teaching practices and addressing classroom bias.
  3. Guarantee access to quality education for all students, irrespective of their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or gender.
  4. Foster collaboration between educational institutions and local communities by engaging with the community.
  5. Promote global perspectives in education.

She stressed that the above measures are essential for advancing inclusivity on a global scale.

As a distinguished role model for aspiring researchers and women in academia, Professor Dahlan concluded our conversation by imparting valuable advice to those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue careers in academia or research. She stressed that:

“Building a supportive network, pursuing research that you’re passionate about, seek funding and grants, publish and share your work, be resilient, embrace collaboration, document your achievements, and balance work and life”.

We wish Professor Dahlan and the team at UiTM all the best as they work on implementing two of TEA-LP’s new Master’s-level courses, Local Solutions for Energy Access, and Appliances for Off-grid Communities.