In Conversation with Dr. Momin Ayub Uppal, Recipient of Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence
Dr. Momin Ayub Uppal, Associate Professor, Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering (SBASSE), is one of the five awardees of the inaugural Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Teaching Excellence. The Award celebrates exceptional and inspirational teachers at LUMS.
A dedicated, passionate, and innovative teacher in the field of electrical engineering, Dr. Uppal is an exemplary lifelong learner who places great value in what he can learn from his students. Leading by example, he shares his guiding philosophy with students each semester: “If you only do what you can, you will never be more than what you are now,” (Master Shiffu of Kung Fu Panda).
Dr. Uppal’s teaching inspires students to question, to learn, and to relearn as they pursue their education at LUMS. His ability to provoke students to think critically and to make connections in their learning is captured well by one of his students, “There was this ‘thinking mode’ I used to enter in Dr. Uppal’s class which is proving to be beneficial in my other courses as well. This course made me think about concepts from scratch, rather than just accepting facts.”
He has taught many students in his courses, which include Art of Engineering, Signals and Systems, and Information Theory and Machine Learning. Whether he is using a new technological tool, finding unique applications of the course LMS, or personalising his lesson recordings on YouTube, Dr. Uppal is truly dedicated to making his courses focused on helping his students to learn.
Dr. Uppal received his BS in Electronic Engineering with highest distinction from GIK Institute of Engineering Sciences, Pakistan in 2002, and his PhD and MS in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2010 and 2006, respectively. At LUMS, he serves as the director of the Advanced Communications Lab and the Smart Data Systems and Applications Lab. With over 50 papers in leading IEEE journals and conferences, he also has two US patents to his name.
Sharing his experiences spanning more than a decade at LUMS, Dr. Uppal shared his teaching style, and how research and teaching go hand in hand.
In your experience, what makes a good teacher?
To be a good teacher, you have to learn from your students. I have probably learnt my subject matter more when I was teaching, than when I studied it myself. Which is why recognition from students is the most rewarding part of teaching. The feeling you get when a student excitedly announces that they have understood a concept is something very special.
How has your teaching style evolved?
I am known to be a tough instructor. My mantra for all students is to be in a constant state of self-improvement. My teaching style is grounded in a strong work ethic and I expect my students to work hard and give their best. For those who tend to struggle through this rigorous training, I am always available to help.
How significant has collaboration been in your teaching career?
I believe that teaching is a big part of research; one cannot be done without the other. And for both to benefit, it is imperative that there is collaboration. I have been a part of several collaborative teaching exercises. One such example is how different faculty members at SBASSE conduct an immersive training programme where we teach sophomores advanced skills and concepts. In the previous semester, I led an initiative where seven faculty members from our department came together to revamp the EE100 course. Each of them tried to present their cutting-edge research down to a level where it became accessible to freshmen. And that is what good teaching is all about.
What value does the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence hold for you?
It is a humbling and exciting experience to be awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. It feels great to be recognised and such a thing at LUMS was long overdue.
What role has LUMS played in your journey as a teacher?
During my time at LUMS, I have secured research funding from national and international agencies including Ignite (formerly National ICT R&D Fund), Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, National Instruments, and United Kingdom's Grand Challenges Research Fund.
LUMS is the best employer I could have had after coming back to Pakistan. The University has provided me with the flexibility to do what I want and to be my own boss. One of the key reasons behind this institution’s success is that we pick talented and motivated people, we let them do what they want, and then they excel. LUMS has provided extraordinary support to me in both my teaching and research endeavours.