May 2017

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In general, people try to avoid problems. Not Professor Patrick Hosein, in fact it’s the opposite. For Hosein, Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Computing and Information Technology at St. Augustine, problems are where the magic resides. Problems are the catalytic element for creative breakthroughs. He doesn't avoid problems, he hunts them.

“In Trinidad, our students, if you give them a problem, they know how to solve it,” he says. “But when you go out in industry the issue is not the solution, the issue is the problem itself. How you take real world scenarios and come up with a problem that you solve, to me that's where the innovation comes in.”

With a remarkable career among technology and communications giants such as Ericsson, Bose Corporation, Bell Laboratories, AT&T and Huawei, Hosein has gained renown far beyond our borders as a successful finder and solver of problems. His latest challenge, one which he has already been confronting with laser focus, is unlocking the research and innovation potential in Trinidad and Tobago. In other words, Professor Hosein is cultivating a new generation of problem hunters.

“I am trying to help my students see opportunities and take them,” he says in an afternoon interview at his office in the Science and Technology Faculty.

A few days earlier, Hosein had given his first professorial lecture at the Engineering Lecture Theatre. Held on April 13, the topic was “Research, Innovation and Education in STEM”, an area in which he is more than well-versed. Apart from his work experience at the big firms, he has five STEM degrees from MIT, has been published in over 100 technical journal and conference publications and holds 40 granted and 42 pending patents in telecommunications and wireless technologies.

“I consider myself an electrical engineer interested in solving mathematical type problems,” he says without flourish or fanfare.

The professor looks youthful, is easygoing, and has the aspect of someone who enjoys his work and is very good at it. Unlike many in extremely technical or scientific fields, he has the capacity to see the big picture. It was Professor Hosein who first connected Trinidad and Tobago to the Internet in the early 1990s and was involved in the early phase of TSTT's provision of Internet service to the nation. Today he maintains his interest in the tech development of T&T as the CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Network Information Centre (TTNIC), the body which manages the .tt domain on the Web. He provides website hosting and domain names free of charge for hundreds of schools throughout the country.

As an educator with The UWI, Professor Hosein is particularly interested in unearthing the potential for research and innovation in his students.

“When I came back to Trinidad I wanted to find students to do research with,” he says. “What I found was my masters' students weren't really interested in research.”

Having spent years in the US in an industry supported by a vibrant research and innovation culture, Hosein recognised some powerful disincentives in the local environment – factors like rigid and inflexible systems at the tertiary level and the society in general, and a conservative mindset that inhibits students from taking the kind of risks that lead to creative breakthroughs.

“I see it in some of my students,” Hosein says. “They can do a lot more than they think they can do. They are afraid to go out on the ledge and take that risk.”

He has taken a two-pronged approach. On the teaching side, the professor has developed a Master of Science programme in Data Science, a high-demand field in the international technology sector.

“We have companies like Google and Facebook doing a lot of work in data analytics and our local companies need to start doing the sameso on,” he said. “They are scooping up all the top data scientistsanalysts.”

The Data Science programme will also contain elements of Operations Research, another promising area. In addition, the MSc in Computer Science, which he also developed, has a specialisation in mobile computingapps, a component of wireless technology, the third area of strong demand in the technology sector.

Hosein's other approach for the development of scholarship and innovation is TTLabsTTLAB, an informal body external to UWI that is a hub for students and professionals with an interest in research and publication. Founded in 2015, TTLabsTTLAB's focus is helping students to publisch inbecome published by reputable conferences and journals. In 2016 they had 16 publications and one patent granted, an impressive record that has already created international opportunities for local researchers.

Although publication is still a major focus, in 2017 TTLabsTTLAB has expanded its activities to working with local industry for the development of predominantly data analytics f products.

“The main reason is that we need to have some kind of funding mechanism,” Hosein says. Funding for TTLabsTTLAB fellowships and travel to conferences presently comes from TTNIC.

The response from local industry has been encouraging; several companies have approached them, including – Massy Technologiesthe Massy Group, Sagicor, and Digi-Data Systems. TTLabsTTLAB is also working on a project in collaboration with on behalf of the Ministry of National Security. It has even been doing work for The UWI.

Developing products that find and solve problems for local industries and society is not necessarily the same as conducting research that can be published internationally. Professor Hosein is well aware of the difference: “Doing research that is good for the country may not be publishable and vice versa. It is a balancing act but one we can achieve.”

In trying to meet his obligations as a relatively new UWI professor, a family man and a consultant for some of the leading communications and technology firms, Hosein has had to deal with a difficult balancing act himself.

“Coming back to Trinidad is a bit of a sacrifice,” he acknowledges, “not only because I have to give up opportunities (in the US)) but also because my family is still there. I see my family six weeks of the year because that is the time the University allots.”

However, he is hoping that the University can implement a solution that will allow for greater flexibility, a move that will not only help him but many other returning scholars that can make a substantial contribution to teaching and research.

In general he is optimistic about what can be achieved in research and innovation:

“It will take time. But I know the (Campus Principal) Professor Brian Copeland is aware of what needs to be done and is trying to make changes. I think UWI has a good future if directed properly.”

Joel Henry is a freelance writer and editor.