Campus and Community

“A certain spirit of adventure led me to accept the challenge”

Rui Martins is a professor at Técnico and, since 1992, at University of Macau, where he is currently the vice-rector for research.

You graduated in Electrical Engi- neering from Técnico in 1980. Why did you decide to follow this path?

Since I was a kid I was fascinated by electronics and communications, so I naturally chose Técnico as it was the most prestigious engineering school in the country.

And you pursued your academic path here…

I entered Técnico in 1975 and fin- ished my degree in 1980, at a difficult time in the country’s history. There weren ́t many opportunities and eve- ryone thought about finishing their studies and either joining the army or ending up unemployed. At the time, however, the great electronics revolution began: the microproces- sors appeared and our program was the first in which they were studied. In 1980 there was an ad recruiting engineers and senior students with knowledge of electronics. I was one of those selected, and worked part time during the last six months of my studies right before graduation.

But as it turned out, you did not remain in the business world.

It would have been natural to contin- ue there after completing my degree, but Técnico started recruiting young
teachers. I applied and was hired as Teaching Assistant in the Electronics section of the DEEC.

This was followed by a Master’s and then a PhD.

I finished the first Master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1985. The next natural step would have been to pursue a PhD, but I couldn’t de- cide whether to do it at Técnico or abroad. My supervisor, Professor José Epifânio da Franca convinced me to stay: publications and international competition are the most important factors, and this can be done any- where.

After completing the PhD, in 1992, you became a professor at the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Macau (UM). How did the opportunity arise?

In April there was an ad recruiting professors for UM. I wasn’t even aware that there was a university there and replied to the ad out of curiosity. Later I was contacted and I hesitated, but a certain spirit of adventure, the appeal of the Portuguese-speaking world (which I shared after living in Africa), the fact that I had recently completed my PhD, and the challenge of starting over again in another place led me to accept the challenge.

What was your first impression?

The arrival in Macau was a shock, and not just a cultural one. The University was very young, mainly dedicated to teaching, and its programmes were new, particularly in the area of Engi- neering. Scientific research was vir- tually non-existent… I immediately thought about returning to Portugal.

But you stayed.

I decided to take the challenge. I started to analyze the Electrical Engi- neering degree program, the Faculty and the University itself, and I wrote what I consider today one of my best reports, “First Impressions, First Pro- posals”. Its implementation was the seed to launch all post-graduation programs at the University. In addi- tion to this report, which allowed me to better understand the environment in which I was inserted, the quality of the students that I encountered led me to stay and accept the challenge of starting from scratch.

You then began occupying top management positions at UM: Dean of the Faculty and, since 1997, vice- rector of the University…

Everything else came as an extension of the presentation of the report and the attempt to implement it. At this moment I am the vice-rector respon- sible for Research, but I never stopped teaching and doing research.

In August 2013, on the occasion of your re-election, you said that it would be “five years of very hard work”. What challenges does the University face?

At the time the statement was pri- marily related to a radical change to a new UM campus, which was twenty times larger than the previous one. We would have to create a function- ing “Univercity”, as I normally say, that includes 80 buildings and an area of a square kilometer. Over the next four years we have to keep working towards building a world-renowned, top university. The new campus is just the hardware of that university, while its software, the faculty, will continue to be built and improved over time.

And you’re on the right track.

We had a nice surprise on October 1st, in the last edition of the Times Higher Education World Universities Rank- ing, in which the University of Macau appeared for the first time at position 287, amongst the top 300 universities in the world. But that increases even further the level of demand which will be needed so that UM can evolve in this very competitive field of high- er education.

Even after 22 years, you are keen on maintaining a strong relationship with “Técnico”. How?

My students have spent periods of time in the research laboratories of Técnico and there is collaboration in the field of robotics. In my specific case, all the published papers that I coordinate continue to include my affiliation with Técnico and the Uni- versity of Lisbon, and I consider im- portant to maintain this connection in the future. Nowadays, with the technological means at our disposal, large physical distances are only a deceptive appearance, because eve- rything runs at the speed of light.