Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) has always been proud of its scholars, educators and researchers. At the 2019 SUSTech Teachers’ Day Awards Ceremony, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Professor Zhang Xinhai received one of the “Excellent Mentor” awards. His humble and gracious acceptance of the award belies his efforts in the pastoral care for his doctoral and undergraduate students.
Professor Zhang Xinhai’s research interests include terahertz technology, ultrafast laser spectroscopy, fiber lasers, and their applications. As a scholar, he has applied for more than 10 patents, published more than 100 papers in world-class academic journals, and been cited more than 3,000 times. As a residential college tutor, he cares deeply about his students, and guides them down their own path according to their abilities, research interests and skills.
Zhang Xinhai struggled to find a university that truly suited him when he first returned to China in 2013. However, it was the efforts of SUSTech President Chen Shiyi and the progressive atmosphere of Shenzhen that drove him to SUSTech. The entrepreneurial genes that imbue SUSTech and Shenzhen were also attractive to Zhang Xinhai. The open communication culture with the faculty and staff at SUSTech proved to be hugely positive, which has seen Zhang Xinhai stay here for six years.
Speaking of his way of teaching, Zhang Xinhai said that when he chose to come to SUSTech, he liked the atmosphere of free and tolerant colleges and universities. He also liked to get along with students. Teaching is a thing that can bring happiness to him. What can he do to turn what he likes into a career?
“Teaching is a sacred profession, and teachers need to take on more responsibilities. I have always believed that the best education is by example. You don’t have express yourself solely through your words, but also through your attitudes and deeds, as they have a greater yet more subtle impact on your students.”
Zhang Xinhai believes that student-teacher interactions in the classroom are critical. The traditional teaching mode of “teacher speaking on stage and students listening below” is not conducive to the development of students’ innovative thinking. Therefore, he encourages students to ask all kinds of questions in class. Zhang Xinhai also actively asks students what they don’t understand in class. “Scientific inventions and developments stem from infinite curiosity. If you can’t ask questions, it’s hard to innovate.”
He also encourages his students to challenge him. In group discussions, students often use papers to prove their point of view, while Zhang Xinhai tells them not to believe too much in the existing literature. “Authors are not necessarily completely correct. Equally, I may not be completely correct in some of the things I say. As long as they can reasonably raise their own questions, I welcome them to question my views.”
Zhang Xinhai has few limits when it comes to conversations with his students. He was influenced by Chua Soo Jin, his mentor and professor of electronics and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore. Chua Soo’s friendly, respectful and equal attitude towards students and his encouragement-oriented education style deeply infected him and made him unconsciously follow his mentor’s example. Therefore, students also like to share their joys and worries with him, covering a wide range of academic, scientific and personal topics. Zhang Xinhai is always like a life mentor, and he gives them his own suggestions in a gentle way.
Students are always advised to study what they love instead of following the hottest topics in science. Zhang Xinhai’s advice comes from the knowledge that hot topics of scientific research are constantly changing, so following your heart is the smartest option. This advice reflects his love and concern for his students, and it is also shown by the encouragement he gives students to travel overseas. It is not unknown for Zhang Xinhai to occasionally financially support a student to attend an international forum or conference.
Despite getting along well with students in daily life, Zhang Xinhai is still a strict teacher in his major. He has high professional and detailed requirements for his students. Sometimes he will also make amendments to the PPT when students give speeches. “While I am strict with my students, I am also strict with myself. If I would not do it myself, I would not ask the students to do it. I want to set a good example for my students.”
As a college tutor, he comes across many different types of students, and those that leave the deepest impression on him are those that are able to overcome significant challenges in their lives. One such student has failed ten subjects and received an academic warning. Through the patient efforts of Zhang Xinhai, it was discovered that the student was struggling to meet the exceptionally high standards of his parents, and had simply given up.
With this in mind, Zhang Xinhai invited his parents to SUSTech and explained that putting so much pressure on their children could be counterproductive. Every person has different definitions of excellence, and through his persuasive words, the student was able to reconcile with his parents. With the pressure greatly reduced, he was able to catch up and graduated without further problems.
When Teachers’ Day rolled around, the parents sent him a text message, thanking him for supporting their son. The quiet encouragement of their son was a reflection of their decision to send their child to SUSTech. Zhang Xinhai smiled at the receipt of their text message, believing that he fulfilled his societal duty as an educator.
It is the unremitting efforts of our conscientious tutors across SUSTech that helps our students develop into the future leaders of the new era.
Translated and Adapted By SUSTech Newshub
Proofread ByXia Yingying
Photo BySu Jiahui, Qiu Yan