Prof Dr Ida: Giving back to society through academia


Ida believes that there are many ways one can give back and contribute to society – for her, academia is her path.

PROFESSOR Dr Ida Fatimawati Adi Badiozaman Tuah sees herself as a conduit, especially for those who need additional support in their academic trajectory, having found her career path in academia. She is taking full advantage of her platform as executive dean of research at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus to give back to society, and to Sarawak.

Her ascent up the academic ladder is an example of how obstacles and challenges frequently line the path to meaningful success.

She finds fulfilment in offering a pathway for others to pursue their academic goals through research and networking as she benefits from her labour of love.

“I always remember what Dad used to say to me: ‘Once you’re up there, remember to bring others up’.

“Whatever form of support given from a heart that wants to see others progress can make a difference in the life of those who need it.

“I wouldn’t be here today if not for all the ladies who had helped me a long way to keep me rounded, to keep me sane, to tell me ‘enough, go and rest’.”

As a lecturer and multidisciplinary researcher, Ida has developed a deeper sense of connectedness with the community.

Her involvement with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like the Sri Kenyalang Rotary Club, where she serves as vice president, and Sarawak Women’s Council where she is a member, further broadens her perspective.

Beating myopic gender bias

She cannot help but mention societal issues relating to access and equity when discussing the advancement of women.

“When it comes to certain industries, it’s always a man’s world.

“I feel this significantly even in academia. In most areas of endeavours, women have to prove themselves and work harder to break through.

“I don’t think the gender is the disadvantage, but the preconceived notions about women.

“Such doubts as ‘what can she do?’, ‘what can she contribute?’ are not uncommon.

“There are many capable women, just there’s not much opportunity for the fairer sex.

“Gender stereotyping in the workplace continues to persist globally. It’s systematic and you can’t change things if you’re not in the system.”

Pouring out her thoughts, she adds:  “During the last pandemic, the caregivers were generally women. As women are identified as natural caregivers, they had to stop working to take care of their kids, and to re-enter the workforce was not easy.

“I have also seen how men can be very nurturing when they look after their kids. They can do just as well when their roles are reversed.

“Children must be given the liberty to explore what they’re capable of doing or what they want to do. Given the freedom to choose builds their self-esteem and confidence.

“We are not born with the notion that we must do this and that, or must become this and that. It’s the surrounding that shapes the notion.”

Photo taken in March shows Ida delivering her address as the keynote speaker at the Sixth Sohor University Teaching and Learning Conference, in Oman.

As a direct impact of her research, she works with government bodies, other fraternities and NGOs towards women empowerment in the community.

Based on her findings, she has initiated projects that have benefitted many single mothers and potential women entrepreneurs.

“We curated courses on financial literacy and information technology (IT) for the women. It was part of our efforts to help single mothers who had stopped working after having children go back to the workforce.”

Cutting a feminine figure, Ida stands out as a gracious academician who articulates her thoughts with much grace, eloquence and humility.

At 44, the multidisciplinary researcher has gained recognition for her contributions to the society, and to the state at large.

Recipient of coveted wards

Ida won the United Nations (UN) Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) Award for Community and Industry Engagement Category in 2020. The following year, she was bestowed the Special Recognition Award by the Premier of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg for her contribution to education.

She had successfully managed a network of contributors for the publication of the book ‘Women Practicing Resilience, Self-Care and Wellbeing in Academia’, which was launched in Kuching recently. It was during the long Covid-19 pandemic that the idea of the book came up.

During the pandemic, she was in touch with a colleague of hers, Prof Narelle Lemon who is the editor of the ‘Wellbeing and Self-care in Higher Education’ series, residing in Melbourne.

Catching up with the editor at such a time inspired her to do a book on the practice of wellbeing and self-care among academic women.

Ida was prompted to draw up a proposal for the publication of the book addressed to Routledge, the publisher of the book series in the United Kingdom. Her proposal was accepted, and she soon got the ball rolling by forming a contributor network.

Ida posing next to a bunting featuring the co-editors of the book ‘Women Practicing Resilience, Self-Care and Wellbeing in Academia’; depicted on the print are (from left) herself, Voon Mung Ling and Kiran Deep Sandhu.

‘Resilience, self-care and wellbeing’

‘Women Practicing Resilience, Self-Care and Wellbeing in Academia’ is the seventh in the ‘Wellbeing and Self-Care in Higher Education’ series. It presents stories of adversity and triumph from a variety of academic women through the lens of self-care and wellbeing.

Each story offers practical advice for maintaining one’s wellbeing and self-care, as well as examples of how these women minimised and overcame particular challenges while pursuing their academic goals.

The auto-ethnographic narrative approach, drawn from lived experience, offers an in-depth understanding of the challenges women face in pursuing academic careers as well as suggestions for overcoming them without sacrificing oneself.

Examples are given to illustrate how colleges and universities can better meet the needs of female students and help them cope better in their studies.

“Serving in the university, especially when managing researchers and higher degree students, I see many of them suffering from burnout and anxiety, some are willing to go to counsellors for help.

“This is one reason for the publication of the book,” says Ida.

Twenty-one academic women located in nine different countries, including Dr Soubkeavathi Rethinasamy who is from Sarawak, Dr Roslina Abdul Latif from Peninsular Malaysia and Ida herself, contributed to the book.

The book features stories of adversity and triumph from a variety of academic women through the lens of self-care and wellbeing.

“Doing a book like this has been on my bucket list. I enjoy writing and so I don’t find it a chore.

“It’s another platform for you to talk about what you’re doing to a bigger audience,” says Ida.

“Also, I have a lot of things going on in my head and putting them on paper is very cathartic – what is cluttered inside is decluttered here.

“You’re sharing a part of you and that’s humbling.

“When it comes to writing journal articles, the process to get there is tough with all the data collection, analysis and reviews that come with it, but imagine the joy and satisfaction that come when it’s accepted!” she enthuses.

A minister’s daughter

Ida acknowledges that growing up was challenging because she is a minister’s daughter – her mother Minister of Women, Children and Community Wellbeing Development Sarawak Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah had her when she was in her final year of university.

“It was challenging because I felt that I had to live up to certain expectations, although my parents never put pressure on me.

“I didn’t want people to assume that I could easily get what I wanted because I was a minister’s daughter. This became a stimulus for me to work extra hard in my studies.”

In the end, Ida got what she had been working very hard for – a PhD in Education-TESOL from Massey University, New Zealand.

She had the context conducive to education. Fatimah herself was an educator before she entered politics, and Ida’s father a doctorate holder.

Ida with her supportive parents, Fatimah and Datuk Dr Adi Badiozaman Tuah, during the launch of her book.

“There’s a saying that goes: ‘You’re the average of five people you spend the most time with’.

“In my case, there’s Mom and there’s Dad, all gravitating towards education.

“Education is not necessarily about earning more money. It is also about giving back. That has been the context that I’m in and I’m grateful for that,” says Ida.

“I believe there are many ways we can give back and contribute to society, and I think academia is my path.

“We make sure that any research we do will have an impact as we act on it.

“If there’s a need based on our findings, we can provide various training as an institution such as the financial literacy and information technology (IT) courses for the single women and potential women entrepreneurs that we did before.”

As Ida works towards women empowerment in the community, she finds that there is a huge advantage in women working together.

“Women have special set of skills to bring to the table and are amazing multi-taskers.

“With empathy, compassion and the great sense of camaraderie among them, they can achieve a lot of things together.”

Duty of care begins with family

Yet, to be able to contribute to a healthy society regardless of gender, all begins at home. ‘Parenting’ is No 1 in Ida’s list, followed by education.

Her own life is exemplary of that. As far as parenting is concerned, she is present for her children as any mother would do.

“I want to be there for them. Even though I receive a lot of help, which I’m grateful for, I still make sure I’m there for them.

“During the launch of my book, I included my kids such as having my daughter, who is now 15 years old, to sing on stage as she has the talent.

“In this way, they have a part of what I’m doing, which helps them to understand better my role as a working mother.”

It is like doing what she saw in her parents as she was growing up.

Likewise, she gives emphasis on the importance of education.

“Through education, we can be aware of the implications and consequences of certain actions, and reduce the possibility of you trying to be involved in drugs and other vices that lead to social problems.”

Ida values the opportunity that she has as a high achiever to open doors for others, make significant contributions to society as a whole – and still set a good example for her children at home, in the classroom, and in the community.