10 Questions with Farid Najm, Incoming Chair of ECE
Farid Najm

Farid N. Najm joined The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto in 1999. Professor Najm's research interests are in the general area of computer-aided design (CAD) for integrated circuits, with an emphasis on circuit level issues related to power dissipation, timing, and reliability.

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Prior to working at U of T, he held a faculty position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1992-1999). He also worked in the private sector, at the Semiconductor Process and Design Centre at Texas Instruments (1987-1992).

  1. What kind of music do you listen to when you want to relax?

    When relaxing, I would probably listen to classical music, although my music collection includes many other genres, such as jazz, some opera and choral, as well as classical middle-eastern music.

  2. What book are you currently reading?

    I just finished writing a textbook, so I haven’t had much time to read in the last two years. The book on my bed side-table these days, is Our Underachieving Colleges by Derek Bok. I have also been listening to audio books during my daily commute; I find that mysteries (detective stories) make great companions on the long commute.

  3. Where did you grow up?

    I am originally from Lebanon, on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. I grew up in a small town of 5,000 people, in the hills overlooking the ancient port city of Sidon. My childhood experiences include temperate climate, lush green hills, and summer work in our family orchards and fields. My formative years as an undergraduate at the American University of Beirut represent the best memories of home.

  4. iPhone or Blackberry?

    Definitely iPhone, but that has less to do with any shortcomings of the Blackberry (I know of none) than with the desire to have a seamless experience in using a Smartphone and a Macintosh laptop/desktop.

  5. What is your definition of leadership?

    This is a tough question. Leadership is easier to recognize than to define. It certainly includes having some measure of self-confidence and independence of thought, but must not be confused with arrogance. It includes listening, both in order to learn and in order to take advice, but must not deteriorate to simply trying to please everyone. It must include some level of wisdom, in order to weigh the alternatives and to make informed decisions, but one must also learn when to stop considering and start acting. Finally, leadership must include the ability to motivate people and build consensus, the ability to communicate well, in order to create support for decisions to be taken.

  6. What are your ambitions/goals for your portfolio?

    We have a large, vibrant, and excellent Department, in every respect, be it teaching, research, or administration. I have the highest respect for what Professor Jonathan Rose has done during his term as chair, especially in terms of the emphasis on good teaching, the emphasis on transparent administration, and the creation of a sense of community in ECE.

    Going forward, we are confronted with a few challenges, many of which stem from the worsening economic situation and the shrinking budgets in the University, in government, and in the research funding agencies. In such times, there are tough decisions to be made. How do we “tighten our belts,” while maintaining our academic mission? How can we do more with less? On the research front, we must double our efforts to attract research funding. We must better advertise our strengths to industry and government, both in Canada and internationally.

    Thus, during my time as Chair, I hope to be able to steer the Department well during these difficult times. I hope also to be able to increase our visibility on the research front, so that ECE at Toronto is on the minds of many more decision-makers in government, industry, and the community at large.

  7. Why did you decide to study Engineering?

    I did my undergraduate studies at the American University of Beirut. At the time, in the middle of the brutal civil war in Lebanon, foremost on my mind was the need to ensure future security. Thus, I wanted a degree that can guarantee a certain level of prosperity and mobility. My strengths in mathematics and physics made Engineering the best choice. Were it not for the civil war, I may have opted for physics, but I have never looked back or regretted my choice to study Electrical Engineering.

  8. Do you collect anything?

    I collect antique books. My collection is not large, but is respectable. My oldest book is a bound volume of a weekly magazine from the mid-1700s, and I am fascinated by first-hand accounts of travelers to the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1800s. There was very little written about the region during the 1700s or before, and very little mystery about it after 1900. To me, the most interesting period is the 1830s to the 1890s, and there are many accounts in English of travelers to the “holy land” during that time. They speak of a world long-gone and of a culture that was somewhat of a mystery to outsiders. My only “antique” book from the 20th century is a volume that contains the full provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, from 1919, which you can see displayed at

  9. Who – or what – would you say, had the biggest influence or impact on your career?

    I am reminded of three of my teachers: my high school math teacher, my undergraduate electrical machines professor, and my professor for a graduate course on probability theory. All these people had a common trait: clarity in communication and an excellent grasp of the technical material. They have not only taught me what I know, but also how to learn and how to teach. My highest goal is to be able to influence the careers of my students in similar ways.

  10. What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment to date?

    The highest goal of academic Engineering research is the creation of new knowledge that contributes to the daily “practice” of Engineering in the industry. In my case, I am delighted that the results of my research during the early 1990s are now used on a daily basis by chip design engineers as part of software packages for power estimation and optimization of digital chips.


Copyright © 2009 University of Toronto | Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. All Rights Reserved.