A conversation with Deputy President and Provost Professor Wing-tak Wong — Advancing an interdisciplinary framework to foster education & research
With extensive management experience and an in-depth understanding of PolyU, Professor Wing-tak Wong assumed the post of Deputy President and Provost in December 2020. He graduated with a BSc first class honours from The University of Hong Kong, and obtained his PhD degree from the University of Cambridge in 1991. Professor Wong joined PolyU in 2009. Over the years, he has held various leadership positions, including Head of Department, Dean of Faculty, and Deputy Dean of the Shenzhen Research Institute. As the Chair Professor of Chemical Technology, Professor Wong is an internationally recognised scientist with outstanding research achievements.
You joined PolyU in 2009. How has PolyU changed over the past decade?
PolyU has evolved into a research university with a very vibrant academic atmosphere. We have developed multidisciplinary research areas, and a multicultural student population. We are among the first tertiary institutions in Hong Kong to develop connections with the Mainland. Also, we have established various regional bases over the years. We have furthermore cultivated strong partnerships with the industry, which reinforce our ability to actively translate research outcomes into practical solutions which address societal and commercial needs. This is nicely guided by our University Motto.
What is your vision for the future development of PolyU’s graduates and academic programmes?
We aim to nurture more dynamic graduates who are eager to try new things, think positive and be creative. It is important for us to equip students with knowledge in cutting-edge technologies, such as AI, data science and analytics, as well as an innovative mindset. We also encourage students to actively engage in entrepreneurship.
We have a long history and good track record of producing exceptional talent for different professions. In response to the rapid transformation of the economy and society, we are keen to further enable our graduates to take the lead in the development of the new economy over the coming decades.
The University will change its curriculum structure by introducing programmes that incorporate innovation and research-based elements in order to cultivate a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit and creative outlook among our students. We will also equip students with scientific knowledge in their areas of interest. Besides this, we encourage students to pursue their own endeavours in research with the provision of various support measures, ranging from funding incentives to research infrastructure. Ultimately, we aspire for our students to be able to translate their research discoveries into products of value to the market and society. Some of them may take the career adventure of forming spin-off companies or their own start-ups.
What is your vision for PolyU’s research development?
A robust framework or structure to foster interdisciplinary research is essential to the University. The President has advocated the establishment of the PolyU Academy for Interdisciplinary Research. Also, we have recently set up seven more research institutes covering different aspects of life, from healthcare, clothing, food, transportation to accommodation, while drawing talent from different disciplines. Having the right structure in place will facilitate our synergistic efforts in advancing interdisciplinary research that tackles important areas of concern to society.
On the other hand, we need to enhance our academic strength and tap into the resources in Mainland China, as well as leverage the vast opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), as well as the countries and regions under the Belt and Road Initiative. We hope to capitalise on our research competence in order to participate in and pave the way to lead more projects on a national and international scale.
You are currently still leading a sizeable research team. What drives your devotion to research?
I am always passionate about research and discovery. Research brings tremendous fun to me. I am dedicated to further promoting an active research culture at the University, not only among academic colleagues but also among our undergraduates. After all, the responsibility of a university is not just to pass on existing knowledge, but also to generate new knowledge, which hinges on research.
Could you share some words of encouragement for young scholars/researchers and students?
Young talent can always be bold, think big and think out of the box in research endeavours, starting with identifying a research focus. We can establish a strong foothold after sailing through all sorts of challenges using our intelligence, agility and diligence. Challenges sharpen our mind, strengthen our skills, and pave the way for success ahead.
How does your previous management experience help with your current position as Deputy President and Provost?
My experience in different positions, from a teacher, researcher, department head to faculty dean, has furnished me with a good understanding of the concerns across different parties, including students, colleagues, academics and industry. I understand the importance of aligning the interests of and facilitating the communication between different parties, which is instrumental in formulating policies for the development of the University.
Do you have a motto that you live by?
I find two mottoes most inspiring to me.
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” - Albert Einstein
We should not aim to be successful only for ourselves, but rather we should aim to ultimately generate actual value to contribute to society. It resonates with the University Motto, “To learn and to apply, for the benefit of mankind.”
“Never feel tired of learning or teaching others.” ( 學而不厭，誨人不倦) - Confucius
It reminds me to keep working hard and drives away any fatigue during teaching, research or work.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy watching movies a lot. Those related to science fictions are always among my favourites. This pastime helps me to unwind and refreshes my mind from daily work.