With Gratitude: A Tribute to Professor Mukul Asher

19 Jul 2018

Farewell Tribute to Professor Mukul Asher 3

Savita Shankar (PhD 2011), Associate Professor, Keio Business School, Keio University, Yokohama, Japan

I met Professor Asher for the first time in the year 2007. I still remember how nervous I was on the day of my meeting! I had gone through his profile on the web site and realised that he had been with NUS since 1975 and had an extraordinarily rich research and teaching experience. I wondered if he would be open to my idea of doing a PhD on a relatively new topic then, micro finance. Moreover, I was not the typical Public Policy PhD student, having had a career in corporate banking after my MBA before getting into academics and research. I wondered what his reaction to that would be. During my meeting, I was pleasantly surprised by Professor’s approachability and his interest in my research. I realised then that he was not a rigid academic in an ivory tower but a very grounded one, open to new ideas, with a deep and genuine interest in knowing about recent developments in the field.

I had the pleasure of working with Professor Asher for four years as his PhD student and have learnt a lot from him. A number of things he would often tell me, and his other PhD students still echo in my head every now and then as I write research papers and teach. Here are a few of my favourite ones…

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“What do the numbers say?”

Whether I was working on a journal article or op-ed, at every stage right from the introduction to the conclusion, Professor Asher would inevitably keep asking me this question. At times, I would excitedly tell him my opinion or idea about a topic, but his question would quietly remind me that the numbers don’t support it. I still use this as a check every time I feel very convinced about a position or a stance.

“Keep contributing to the public debate”

As researchers and writers, all of us sometimes feel that not many people read our work or that one article or paper written by us may not have a huge impact on widely help opinions or ideas. Professor Asher is always convinced that every paper has its value and he often mentions that it is our duty to place balanced perspectives in the public domain. He is also a believer in trying to reach wider audiences. He truly walks the talk and publishes regularly, making a conscious effort to reach out not just to academic communities through journal articles and books but also to the public through op-eds and interviews. He is also active in engaging with policymakers in various ways. Whenever I slow down while working on a paper, I remind myself of Professor’s words on the importance of joining the public conversation and presenting an unbiased view.

Empathy and honest feedback

One of the main reasons why Professor Asher is one of the most popular professors at the LKY School is his empathy for students and staff. He understands people’s problems and always tries to do whatever he can to help. I personally know of many cases where students have benefitted from Professor’s kindness. He also believes in providing honest feedback to students so that they can truly get better. As a Professor myself, I try to adopt these principles as I deal with students.

While Professor Asher was my PhD adviser for only four years, as with other students who have worked closely with him, he continues to be my mentor to this day. Whenever I need to make a decision on whether to take up a new assignment or project, I continue to rely on him for prompt and sound advice. Moreover, even now, when Professor comes across a paper or article that relates to my research area and he thinks I should read, he makes it a point to send it to me. He is truly the embodiment of lifelong learning with a genuine interest in mentoring students.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had a knowledgeable, patient and encouraging PhD adviser like Professor Asher. Having been with the MPP program at NUS from its inception – a period of more than twenty-five years- Professor Asher would have undoubtedly touched the lives of numerous public policy students positively.

Professor Asher, thank you very much for everything you have done for us and hope you have a blissful and happy retirement!

You can watch a tribute video to Professor Mukul Asher below.