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Articles

Do you want to be a Professional?

Dr. K.P. Mohandas, Professor, National Institute of Technology Calicut

1. Introduction

If one were to ask a young student in the tenth or earlier class what he or she aims to be, the answer will invariably be ‘to become a doctor or engineer’. It is a fact that many parents want their children to join a professional course which to them means their ward becoming a doctor or engineer. Very often people tend to ignore the fact that medical and engineering professions are only two among the large number of professions which include legal, financial and many others. It is fairly obvious that the reason for this mad rush to become a doctor or engineer is the glamour and the financial rewards that they will be able to accumulate on a successful professional career. However, they tend to ignore the basic and essential obligations of a professional to the society. This note is intended to throw some light on the responsibilities and behavioral characteristics required of a true professional. A model code of conduct of one of the largest professional societies in the world also will be discussed

2. Why Professional education is different?

We have heard about amateurs and professionals in sports. There was a time, when only amateurs were eligible to participate in the Olympics. In tennis, the courts of the All England Club for Wimbledon were open to professionals only recently. In the games like tennis, football and basketball, teams or individuals play for the prize money rather than for a trophy and the fame associated with the prize.

But of late, the distinction between the categories of amateurs and professionals in sports and games has become almost negligible. However, it has been accepted that professionals in sports or games play for monetary rewards rather than fame and recognition, even though the latter comes automatically. In terms of a professional career like engineering or medicine, a professional has to undergo a specialized training programme over a reasonably long period of time before becoming a professional.

The training or education of a professional is more intensive and rigorous, than that of a non professional. For example, the students in a medical college often have to work for hours or days at a stretch  without sleeping a wink, at times. The regular class hours are much longer than in arts and science colleges. Normally, classes start from 8AM and may go up to 7PM or beyond on most of the days. Holidays are very few and week days and Sundays are alike as far as work and practical classes in the hospital are concerned. Moreover, students in the professional colleges are required to stay in the campus as professional institutions are to be residential in nature. Major part of the learning is not through reading or listening to lectures, but by seeing how things are being done by teachers and practicing professionals and ultimately by doing things under supervision when they are mature enough to do things.

3. Profession and occupation

  • Profession is an occupation requiring special education
  • Occupation is the principal activity in your life that you do to earn money

Occupation fetches you the money for the needs of your life, but a profession gives you much more than that. Monetary benefits are not necessarily the primary aim of a professional. Professionals are dedicated to their profession and the primary objective is to serve the humanity. Once they have acquired the education / training for the profession, they can practice their profession. In many professions like medical or legal profession, a formal registration is required.

For example, a medical doctor has to register himself with Indian Medical Council and satisfy the conditions of registration. Similarly, those who have acquired degrees in law have to register or enroll as lawyers after their legal education. Professional architects and engineers have to register. Registration here means acceptance of certain norms and code of conduct in the profession. In the event of a violation of these codes of conduct, the registration can be suspended or cancelled altogether, in which case he or she will not be  allowed to practice in the profession in the country in which they have registered.

Occupation, on the other hand, needs no such registration. Once the person is found to be capable of doing the job to the satisfaction of the employer, he or she can be ‘occupied’ by the job and receive monetary rewards for their efforts. In rare instances, engineers may work as clerical staff or administrative assistants and this can only be called an occupation rather than a profession. A professional can sometimes opt for an occupation that does not necessarily be related to his chosen profession.

4. Behaviour of Professionals

Professionals have to set examples for their behaviour in the society as perfect human beings and therefore some important behavioural traits of professionals are worth discussing.

Honesty and Integrity

These are expected characteristics of every human being, but essential for a true professional. A professional has to be honest and honorable in his deeds and honour brings in honour as reward. Integrity is a word often used, which broadly means moral soundness or totality or moral soundness in the   behaviour.

Responsibility and accountability

It is natural that a professional is responsible for his actions and behaviour. He or she has to be ready to accept responsibility for their actions and they have to be accountable. Accountability is a term usually forgotten in the day to day activities, particularly for government employees, these days, as many of them find an excuse for being accountable for the deeds, because of no single person can be held responsible for a decision taken in an office.

Accountability is associated with responsibility. The importance of accountability has been accepted in government establishments now as promotion and other incentives are based on what you do rather than when you have joined an establishment. There was a time when promotion to higher posts was simply based on the length of service, rather than the amount of work that you have put in during the period.

Norms have been evolved to give incentive for extra work and people who cannot deliver, cannot go up the ladder even in government institutions. Of course, private institutions pay well to those who do well and those who do not perform will be shown the exit door at the earliest. In these days of high competition, accountability is the watchword. Many employers have done away with the annual increment in the salary and switched over to occasional incentives on successful completion of certain jobs.

These are days of consumer courts and consumer protection societies and doctors and other professionals who deals with human life have to be very careful in their decision making. Some   decisions may go wrong, even if you have taken it in the best of faith, but some times, it may not be easy to prove your best intentions in a consumer court. In general, a professional has to be accountable to the institution to which he or she is attached to, to the public at large and to himself or his conscience.

Respect

Respect others if you want others to respect you. Some people may respect you because of your position and power you have, but true respect should come from within, because you deserve to be respected. Respect your elders even if they are in a lower professional cadre than you are.

Achieve excellence and be scholastic

A constant endeavor to achieve excellence is the hall mark of all successful professionals and even if you are not able to achieve extreme levels of excellence, there should be a conscious effort at improvement. Updating the knowledge should also be a continuous process, even after graduation or post graduation, the knowledge should be upgraded.

Even after acquiring the highest degree of Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Science, one has to keep their knowledge upgraded by constant reading and be aware of the recent developments in their area of specialization. This will result in your becoming second to none in your knowledge and will take you the goal of excellence.

This is particularly relevant for engineering and medical professions where the facts and findings of today become obsolete tomorrow as the technology is updated with better understanding of the biological processes are made available with the help of technology. Remember , excellence is not an end, it is a pursuit which has to be continuous.

Leadership

A professional should be able to lead. Leaders are not born. By taking initiatives to do things in the early stages of one’s career and personality development, one can develop leadership qualities. It is easy to follow some one who is leading, but leading a group successfully to a destination requires skill, tenacity and initiative. Reluctance to make decisions in the proper time may result in your chance to lead a group. Please note this statement is not applicable to at least a section of the political leaders who get leadership thrust on them by their godfathers or sycophants for their short term benefits. True leader comes up because of his abilities and leadership qualities, not by sponsorship from his kith and kin. Remember the message “LEAD, FOLLOW or GET OUT OF THE WAY”. The leaders lead and the followers follow, but there is a group, though small who will do neither. These people become an ultimate nuisance to the society if they are allowed to continue as such.

Altruism

Altruism or selflessness is:

  • the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others
  • acting with less concern for yourself than for the success of the joint activity

This can go a long way in building up the career of a professional. The world has given us so much, at least try to pay something back to the world. Any act done without expecting a reward will be ultimately rewarded by some one else. Things done without ulterior motives or without guilt feeling and without expecting a reward is real altruism. The ultimate reward for such selfless act will only be ‘ a feeling of goodness or satisfaction’.

Caring, Compassion and Communication

These are again essential qualities a professional should develop. A professional should be caring and considerate to their subordinates and should show compassion and sympathy to those who are in distress. The fact that one cares for others should be expressed in a suitable way, so that the person in distress will feel the comfort of being cared for. Sometimes, even verbal or physical expressions of compassion can sooth the person to a significant extent. Mere expression of sympathy with hollow words cannot be of any use and can be easily detected by an intelligent person, even when he is in distress.

5. Professional societies – their role

Professionals like doctors, engineers, lawyers etc form societies which are called professional societies. These are nongovernmental organizations formed of groups of professionals to do service to the society and for social contacts among them.

Indian Medical Association (IMA), Institution of Engineers(IE), Computer Society of India(CSI), Systems Society of India(SSI) etc are typical professional societies. Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE,USA) is  the largest professional society in the world (www.ieee.org) with more than three million members all over the world and nearly 8000 student branches attached to several universities and other educational institutions.

Most of these societies publish several journals on research papers of outstanding nature and IEEE has more than 50 journals on different aspects of Electrical Electronics and Computer Engineering. Being a member of these societies either as a student or a practicing professional makes you a part of a big network of professionals who will be ready to exchange valuable information between them either through publications or even through personal communications.

An individual who wants to learn from experienced professionals can learn a lot by this networking with professionals. Most of these societies have their own Code of Ethics which the members are committed to follow.

Code of Ethics of IEEE

Now as a sample for code of conduct of a professional engineer, let us consider the Code of ethics of Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers IEEE.

In accepting a personal obligation to our profession, its members and the communities we serve, we do hereby commit ourselves to the highest ethical and professional conduct 

  • to accept responsibility in making engineering  decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment;
  • to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist
  • to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data ? to reject bribery in all its forms;
  • to improve the understanding of technology, its appropriate application, and potential consequences
  • to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;
  • to treat fairly all persons regardless of such factors as race, religion, gender, disability, age, or national origin;
  • to avoid injuring others, their   property, reputation, or  employment by false or malicious action
  • to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional  development and to support  them in following this  code of ethics.

(The author can be contacted by email: kp.mohandas62@gmail.com )

Dr. K.P. Mohandas, Professor, NIT CalicutDr K.P. Mohandas is a Professor in Electrical Engineering in National Institute of Technology Calicut. He is a Senior Member of IEEE and active member of several other professional societies. He is in the field of technical education in Kerala since 1968 and has been on foreign assignments abroad in Data Storage Institute Singapore, Cukurova University Adana Turkey and European University of Lefke, North Cyprus as Visiting Professor. He has just completed his term of three years as the Dean (Post Graduate Studies & Research) in NIT Calicut

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