Opportunity for researchers to disseminate their research work in engineering, technology, and quantity surveying 

By Kavina Dias

In an exclusive interview with The Morning Business, Prof. Upaka Rathnayake, the Higher Degrees and Research Committee Chair of Faculty of Engineering, Finance Chair of SICET 2022 and a Professor of Civil Engineering at the Engineering Faculty at SLIIT (Sri Lanka Institute of Information and Technology), a leading education entity in the country, discussed their upcoming research forum.

Excerpts from the interview are below:

What is SICET 2022? 

Like the research conferences held by other universities in the country, the Faculty of Engineering at SLIIT also wanted to conduct such a forum, but on a new platform in which we would like to truly address the international community as well. The conference is chaired by Prof. Niranga Amarasingha from the Department of Civil Engineering. She is a senior researcher in the division of transportation engineering. Working as the Higher Degrees and Research Committee Chair of the Faculty of Engineering, we had several rounds of discussions regarding the conference in which we expressed our preference to uphold the standard to an international level. This was the reason why we decided to target the international standard by getting collaborations with other universities like the Curtin University of Australia. This conference is co-sponsored by Curtin University, Australia, which is a highly recognised university in the world. We also plan to bring research from both state and international universities as well as research conducted by industrial organisations to this platform.

The conference is going to be held on 11 February 2022 starting from 9.00 a.m. onwards. Due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation, we have decided to hold the conference on the Zoom platform. However, we would still prefer to hold the conference on a physical basis, if possible. The deadline for the abstract submissions is supposed to be 22 October 2021 and we are also happy to note that we have already received a large number of submissions. 

What motivated SLIIT to conduct SICET? 

There are few reasons for it. SLIIT’s Faculty of Engineering is a young engineering faculty in Sri Lanka; however, it has a well-developed research culture compared to its age. The Ministry of Higher Education of Sri Lanka in 2015 identified its potential and granted permission to the faculty to conduct research up to PhD level. Each year, several final-year research work as well as research conducted by our postgraduate students are ending at leading best journals in the world. One reason is to attract such quality work and nourish them. Another factor is the lack of platforms to showcase the talents of local researchers at the highest level and the lack of opportunities for the interaction between local researchers and international researchers. Therefore, we thought of having a platform to achieve these objectives at SLIIT through an international conference. Several times, we discussed the importance of such a conference, and Prof. Saman Thilakasiri, Dean at the Faculty of Engineering guided us to initiate the idea into a reality. 

A couple of my personal experiences too encouraged me to push myself to the idea of a conference in the Faculty of Engineering, SLIIT. While I was working in New Zealand, I had a chance to visit the conference organised by the students in the final year of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Auckland. The whole idea was to showcase the outcomes of final year students’ research work. A particular student there who had completed their Bachelor’s Degree was instantly recruited for a PhD position by an Australian university while presenting his undergraduate work. So, like this, we wanted to expose our students to such opportunities. However, we couldn’t let the demography be limited to students of SLIIT as they are not able to get the full experience of a conference being exposed to more research conducted by students of other engineering faculties. We are proud to say that we have received several papers and abstracts from other universities in the world.

What is the primary objective for conducting SICET?

Well, considering the number of aspects of engineering that are currently available, the objectives of this conference are also numerous. So, it wouldn’t be necessarily accurate to limit these multiple objectives to one primary goal. But having said that, we would like to state that it is spanning across the theories, applications, and education of the engineering discipline to reach sustainable development and provide it to the world. Even if students were to follow these engineering principles closely it would be of no use if they are not aligning themselves according to the expected sustainable development standards. So, we would like to direct the attention of participants in that direction.

What were the challenges faced in trying to make this conference a success?

Well, it wasn’t an easy journey. Initially, we were of the mindset that SICET should be conducted on a national level but later we decided to expand the conference’s reach to the international community. Also, the current situation of the world was a great hindrance as obtaining the necessary funding was difficult. But SLIIT provided the initial funding that was required to get the project launched, to which we are grateful. This issue was further mitigated due to generous donations provided by the Curtin University of Australia and various industries in this field. The other challenges that we had to face were the typical issues that have arisen due to the pandemic such as whether the conference is to be conducted on a physical basis, virtual media, or a hybrid model incorporating both, etc.

What are the benefits that SLIIT will receive by conducting such a conference?

I believe that without a doubt SLIIT is the best non-state university in the country. However, Sri Lankans are of the mindset that, if a conference were to be conducted by a non-state university it is performed in the hopes of attaining publicity. But I must point out that this is not the case with respect to SICET because we have openly invited students and researchers from both local and international universities to present their research at SICET. Therefore, we believe that conducting such a conference will be extremely beneficial in the university’s journey to becoming one of the most recognised universities in the country.

What about the advantages that students obtain by conducting such a conference?

Going back to the story about the Auckland University in New Zealand, I was impressed by that concept, and I believed that this would also be greatly beneficial for the students. So, if students are able to present high-level research they carry out, they have a very high possibility of being recruited by local or foreign universities to proceed further with their careers. Furthermore, due to the conference being conducted on an international basis the students can get better exposure to other research environments and therefore, have a better understanding of their theses and  they can further improve their research skills. So, we believe that this is an ideal opportunity for students in proceeding further with their academics.