S.E.T. for socio-economic growth
Prof Saurabh Sinha
Prof Sinha was the proud winner of the 2012/13 TW Kambule NRF-NSTF Award, awarded annually to an emerging researcher for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) through research and its outputs over a period of up to six years after award of a PhD or equivalent in research.
For most modern humans, it is impossible to imagine a world without electricity, electrical gadgets, appliances and computers. Engineers play a very important role in developing and refining a number of applications that make our lives easier, such as radio, television, computers and car electronics. But what does it take to become an electrical or electronic engineer, and what can you expect should you decide to follow this career path?
Prof Saurabh Sinha, former head of the research group for Electronics and Microelectronics in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria (UP), and director of the Carl and Emily Fuchs Institute for Microelectronics at UP, seems like the ideal person to explain what this field of engineering is all about.
Upon completing his electronic engineering degree, Prof Sinha specialised in the field of microelectronic engineering. He completed all his qualifications at the UP. Today, Professor Sinha serves as the Executive Dean: Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, University of Johannesburg.
Winning an NSTF-BHP Billiton Award
Prof Sinha was the proud winner of the 2012/13 TW Kambule NRF-NSTF Award, awarded annually to an emerging researcher for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) through research and its outputs over a period of up to six years after award of a PhD or equivalent in research. The award is sponsored by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Prof Sinha, who serves as a Vice President of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), developed the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) initiative in 2009, in conjunction with Prof Kapil Dandekar of Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA. The concept of EPICS was founded by Prof Leah Jamieson of Purdue University, USA. Purdue University had started an EPICS programme in the 1990s, which IEEE adopted and further developed.
EPICS-in-IEEE partnered with non-profit organisations, university students and high-school learners to contribute to disadvantaged communities. In South Africa, graduate students from the University of Cape Town worked with Emasithandane (Emasi) on the design of a solar geyser. Emasi provides shelter through extra-mural activities to orphans, abandoned, abused and other vulnerable children including those who are infected and/or affected by HIV in South Africa.
During an interview on Radio Tuks in September 2013, Prof Sinha described the field of electrical and electronic engineering as follows: “Electronic engineers apply their knowledge of electronics towards solving problems. Electronic engineers and technologists, together with a number of other professions, such as business analysts and marketing experts, enable a number of applications that make our lives easier (radio, television, computers, car electronics etc).”
Asked what opportunities are available in electrical, electronic and computer engineering fields, and who should consider this area of study, Prof Sinha said that it would be best suited for individuals who have an interest and ability in mathematics, physical science and languages. “Contrary to popular belief, languages are important because engineers eventually have to communicate their solutions to others, not just to other engineers but also to people from other disciplines.”
A 2014 study by the Department of Higher Education and Training found that the majority of occupations (49 out of 100) in high demand in South Africa are engineering related, with electrical engineering coming in at number one.
According to Prof Sinha, the fields of electrical, electronic and computer engineering continue to converge. “There are opportunities to contribute to multi- and cross-disciplinary fields. Research and development in electrical, electronic and computer engineering is mainly market driven. That means that as the demand for technologies with certain specifications arise, research opportunities emerge to supply that demand. Among other areas, you can do research in future wireless technologies, broadband services, a field called e-inclusion, astronomy, biomedical services, smart infrastructure, internet applications, contents creation and delivery. The broader service economy (which includes mobile health, e-Services, and e-Education) also offers research and service opportunities.”
In an interview conducted in July 2013, Prof Sinha had the following to say about career opportunities in the field of electrical engineering: “As an electrical engineer, you can pursue careers at electricity and utility companies, mining houses, municipalities, and at transportation, rail and sea companies in South Africa and abroad. Electronic engineering graduates may work for large and small companies in the computer and telecommunications industries and in other industries. Many engineering graduates decide to become entrepreneurs. Some start their own consultancy business while others choose to work for consultancy companies.”
For those from previously disadvantaged communities, Prof Sinha had the following advice: “Many universities offer a five-year programme in addition to the traditional four-year one. This allows for some level of bridging which is important since the student is allowed to settle into the complex university environment. Some universities have created pre-university programmes that expose learners to the university and engineering while they still attend school.”