October 2016 | Issue 26
Professor Michael Ferenczi on chairing the NTU Senate

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By Nicole Lim, Assistant Director, Communications & External Relations

The recently installed Chair of NTU’s 5th Senate may come from the youngest School at the university, but he has already won the confidence of senior research faculty from across the university.

Assistant Dean for Years 1 & 2 Professor Michael Ferenczi said, “I am honoured to have been elected Chair. My mission as Chair is to encourage all NTU faculty to take an active part in the discussions of the Senate, to remain informed about the issues that are of concern to them and management, and to voice their views.”

Only through active participation, Prof Ferenczi believes, will the Senate maintain its mandate as the representative body of NTU faculty and thus be able to effectively influence decisions that affect all aspects of faculty life and work.

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Introducing the NTU 5th Senate Steering Committee

Senators, who are tenured faculty, are elected by their peers, collectively known as the Academic Council, which at NTU amounts to more than 1,200 tenured and tenure-track faculty members. LKCMedicine is allocated two seats in the 50-member Senate. Senators then elect the five-member Steering Committee, which includes the Senate Chair. Appointment to the Steering Committee is determined by the number of votes cast in favour of a candidate, with the candidate who garners the most appointed Chair. Senators can serve a maximum of two 2-year terms. Before being elected Chair, Prof Ferenczi served as Deputy Chair during the 4th Senate.

Having arrived in Singapore less than two years before, Prof Ferenczi didn’t hesitate to step up and represent LKCMedicine when the call for Senators went out in 2014. “Being closely integrated with the main university benefits individual schools and colleges,” said Prof Ferenczi, who has observed this from his own working experience.

Having started his career as a biomedical researcher at University College London (UCL), Prof Ferenczi worked at the heart of a medical school that was closely integrated with the university (the teaching hospital lies directly opposite the main university building in central London).

After a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Prof Ferenczi moved to the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), a highly regarded research institute. At the time, the NIMR was located in the north London suburb of Mill Hill, and attracting graduate students was a challenge. Prof Ferenczi said, “Graduate students are very important in a lab. They bring new ideas and are ultimately those to whom we want to hand over the mantle.”

Two key factors emerged as hurdles to top graduate recruitment: the PhD-awarding university, given that the NIMR could not award its own degrees, and the Institute’s location – a good 45 minute ride on London Underground’s Northern Line followed by a 15-20 minute walk up a steep hill. “This really brought home the importance of being part of a world-class university,” said Prof Ferenczi, who used his connections at UCL to help set up a more attractive PhD programme.

After spending 17 years at the NIMR, working on research focusing on the mechanisms underlying muscle movement and teaching graduate students, it was time for a new challenge.

When a professorship at Imperial came up, Prof Ferenczi didn’t hesitate and in 2001 joined Imperial as Professor of Physiological Sciences. With his lab once again located at the heart of the College campus, Prof Ferenczi soon became involved in teaching and the organisation of teaching blocks. “Getting involved with College life was very natural,” he said.

Over the following years, he took on teaching responsibilities for courses such as Molecules, Cells & Disease, and later became Head of the BSc year that forms part of Imperial’s MBBS programme.
Prof Ferenczi said, “It was an interesting transition from a 100% research job to one which still retained research as its main focus – and for which I gained recognition, but which included a large component of teaching, and the organisation of teaching.”

While this brought much committee work, Prof Ferenczi discovered that he enjoyed interacting with people from different backgrounds, who were equally committed to delivering the best teaching experience for students. He added, “I also found that I was able to get people to work together, and I realised that passion and enthusiasm are contagious.”

When Imperial sought senior faculty to lead a new collaboration with NTU in 2012, Prof Ferenczi was one of the first to join LKCMedicine and remains among the School’s pioneer research and education faculty.
Prof Ferenczi believes that for LKCMedicine to reach its full potential, playing a visible role in the wider NTU community is vital. “There is the contribution that doctors and aspiring doctors can make to NTU and society beyond medicine. As a hard-working, talented and passionate group, they have much to offer to our Colleges and schools, from Art, Design and Media to Engineering.

“LKCMedicine is not just a training ground for doctors. Our faculty is involved in cutting-edge biomedical research. But we can’t fulfil our potential if we work in silos. Working with the wider faculty community from engineering and science and beyond, we can generate new ideas and breakthroughs that transform the way in which doctors care for patients,” said Prof Ferenczi.

While playing an active role is particularly important for a new school like LKCMedicine, Prof Ferenczi is encouraging all NTU faculty to make their voice count.

To encourage more to take an active role, Prof Ferenczi intends to make the work of the Senate more relevant to their needs and interests. One way in which he plans to do this is by adding a new sub-committee to the Senate’s remit. The four previously existing committees on academic governance, faculty development, university life and education will be re-established and complemented by a fifth focusing on research, for all of which a call for faculty contribution will soon go out. 

“The Senate has an important role to play in further developing NTU into one of the foremost seats of learning and innovation in Asia, attracting aspiring students, researchers and educators passionate about learning, teaching and innovation, where faculty is nurtured to deliver its full potential,” said Prof Ferenczi.
He added, “If there is one short message that needs to be put across, it is ‘Look after the people!’”