Student Stories


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ― William Butler Yeats

Firdaus Muhammad-Sukki
Studied in Imperial College London Electrical and Electronic Engineering

I come from a big family. There are 14 of us, and my father’s salary as a labourer was just enough to make ends meet. My parents would always said, “If you want to improve yourself, you need to learn”.

Learning about myself

I did my A-levels in Kolej Yayasan UEM (KYUEM) from 2000-2002 under the scholarship from Yayasan TM. I was one of the two scholars who were successful in continuing our studies to the UK. KYUEM had been a great foundation in helping me prepare for my undergraduate life where I learnt that success is not purely academic. I was actively involved in extra curricular activities where I taught Silat, played hockey, badminton and chess, I joined the kompang team and dikir barat. On top of these, and I managed to complete my Duke of Edinburgh – receiving a Bronze Award.

Choosing a university to attend in the UK where I’ll spend the next four years of my life was such a daunting task, as I have never even been anywhere outside of Malaysia.

I learnt that it is OK to ask for help when you are stuck. MABECS played an important role together with the counsellor, Ms Kasthuri Thilaga in KYUEM, in helping me apply to the right universities and in preparing my university applications.

Learning to adapt

My application to pursue my MEng degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College, London was accepted under the Yayasan TM scholarship. This was the first time I was truly away from home. I was all too excited and nervous to be on the long-haul flight for the first time and did not get enough sleep the night before. I ended up falling asleep the whole 13 hours of flight from Kuala Lumpur to London!

Arriving at Heathrow was overwhelming. Everything was so new. The environment, the language, the culture, the food, and more. I learnt that I needed to adapt in order to survive in my new surroundings. I needed to be independent, I needed to socialise with friends, and tolerate many things. Being your own chef is a requirement or you’ll end up hungry or out of cash for spending too much on take-outs.  I also learnt that travelling and exploring another country is something fun to do with your friends! I spent most of my holidays backpacking with friends around Europe which was amazing until the 7th day when you start to feel tired of all the walking, photo-taking and consuming only canned tuna and bread every single meal. Looking back, I would still laugh over the good memories.

Learning to not to give up

In March 2009, I was accepted to continue my PhD at Glasgow Caledonian University, partly funded by the University. The research was very new especially in Malaysia – the development of a new generation of solar technology. I was excited with the prospect of bringing my wife and two young children to the UK but to bring a family and comply with the UK Visa requirements, I needed additional funding. I sent in many applications for scholarships to support my study. For the next five months, I was rejected by nine funding bodies. It was so disheartening, and it made me feel like such a failure. Throughout this period, it was the support from my close ones that made me stronger. Thanks to my wife and both families’ support, giving up was never an option. I persevered and five months later, I received the long awaited call from Yayasan TM and they were willing to support my family expenses and that made the move happen. But with only a little to go on, budget- wise for all four of us, I was adamant in applying for another funding. I was successful in getting another part of my funding from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). I obtained my PhD in 2013.

My work in renewable energy in the UK today

I want to inspire people to learn and keep seeking knowledge. I am now an active researcher and a lecturer in the Robert Gordon University (RGU), United Kingdom. My research interest is in designing optical concentrator – a type of lens that can be used in many applications. One of its applications is to create a cheap solar photovoltaic system to not only generate electricity, but at the same time generate hot water for buildings. I have managed to get my designed work patented and this design has the potential to replace the traditional solar panel. The results from this on-going research were published in many research journal papers. I am also actively presenting in seminars and conferences about my work. I supervised a number of PhD students to work in this specialised area.

I am the co-founder of an MSc in Solar Energy Systems, the first and only course of its kind in the UK which will be starting in September 2019. I teach Electrical & Electronic Engineering at RGU where I hope I can share my knowledge with other students, hoping that they will aspire to keep learning.

In RGU, I am one of the active researchers and work together with a fellow Malaysian, Mr Ahmad Syahrir Ayub who is actively involved in wind energy research.

Some essential survival tips for Muslim students in the UK

  • Halal food is easy to find in the UK. There are many halal butchers around and thanks to the initiative of the Muslims here, major hypermarkets now carry Halal meat and products too, such as Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda.
  • Hypermarkets here are everywhere and choices are very wide where you can find most of your food supplies. Always read the ingredients lists, and if it says ‘Suitable for Vegetarians’, and as long as there is no alcohol content, you can consume it. Even better, cooking on your own will help you save a lot of money.
  • Once a while, you can eat out. Again, there are many Halal restaurants around the UK.
  • There are many mosques all around the cities in the UK. Besides the Central Mosque, there are local mosques and Islamic centres you can go to.
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