Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan
Another milestone in our mission to popularise science
In cyber orbit
TIME may be challenging but there is nothing stopping us at The Petri Dish. We are the first science newspaper in Malaysia and the only one too.
And even with limited financial support and human capital, the editorial team of The Petri Dish will plod on to sustain this newspaper.
We strongly believe that the nation needs a media to bridge the scientific community and society; to create a science literate society, to enable policymakers and politicians make informed and science-based policies and regulatory decisions; to give science, technology and innovation a strong branding; and to inspire our younger generation to pursue STEM education and careers.
So, with mirthful enthusiasiasm, I am proud to announce that the nation’s science newspaper is hitting cyberspace.
Yes, we now have the online portal: www.thepetridish.my. Many readers have been asking for the online version and we feel this is the best time to launch it.
But for those who still wish to flip each page and read the newspaper in the traditional manner with coffee cup in hand, we still offer you the print copy.
We are not cutting down cost, in fact we are spending more. We are widening our reach. The circulation of The Petri Dish is still 6,000 per month and we will place more copies at public places and ambitiously hope that it will become a mainstream newspaper one day and that the ordinary Joe and Jane in Malaysia will be attracted to science.
The Petri Dish is available at the Starbucks outlets in Selangor and KL, around 12 private hospitals in the Klang Valley, and at Gardens, Midvalley, Sunway Pyramid and Paradigm Malls.
Being an online newspaper will make Malaysian biotechnology and bioeconomy news travel across our borders.
It will certainly give our advertisers more value for their money.
Beginning this issue, our Research Digest page will morph into Campus Corridor where we will feature stories from around local campuses, not limiting only to “sciency” news.
This is to keep tabs on the going-ons in our institutes of higher learning and let the public feel the pulse of campus events.
Join us in this exciting journey. Let The Petri Dish be your source of research and biotechnology news and bring that sense of science into your life.
Just grabbing the low hangingfruits is not good enough
PUBLIC universities nationwide are facing a severe financial drought that could be the worst universities have faced in their history. I am looking at this with mixed feelings. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Malaysian public universities received more funds than their more advanced counterparts in Singapore, China and Hong Kong. But their contribution to industry development and commercialisation of homegrown technology is limited. There is also a weak link between our universities and society.
So, this might be a good time to evaluate how funds are mobilised, our research priorities, the role of our universities, and for us, to set clear tangible outputs and outcome. Having said this, the end-result must be relevant to our country, society and be able to contribute to our industry and create jobs for our people.
The trend we see now at universities is alarming. Universities are overly anxious with ranking. And this is leading to placing importance to churning out papers and spending a big amount in getting papers published.
Another big expenditure is filing for patents. Are the papers cited? And are there takers for
the patents? With this misplaced priorities, the traditional roles of universities are diluted.
I personally know researchers who are more interested in editing manuscripts produced by their students than helping them with their thesis. A number of them hardly spend quality
time with their post-graduate students to discuss their research and to mentor and inspire them.
Academicians are not interested in writing books, articles for newspapers or engage with
society and local communities because these do not translate into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will help them in climbing up the corporate ladder.
To overcome the financial dilemma, there are calls for universities to be creative in the way
they do business to generate more revenue. One suggestion is to engage the industry more. But this is a chicken and egg situation.
The industry will only grow if there are researches from the workbench that could
be commercialised. How much of technology transfer is taking place currently and how much
of it is high-end? Most of our bio-based companies do not strictly fall into the definition of
We are mainly involved in the low-hanging fruits that are within our arm’s reach. Malaysia
does not have a vibrant industry landscape that undertakes research, especially in the emerging sciences, where the universities could collaborate.This approach might be easier to be adopted by non-science faculties like Economy and Business as there is a big pool of industry that require their services.
Another fear is that the passion to teach will now shift to networking and collaborating with
the industry and potential donors. We saw this happening when publications in high impact journals were set as a key indicator to assess university performance.
The current financial dearth and the way research activities are carried out at the universities do not augur well with the country’s aspiration to encourage more students to pursue STEM education and career. A laboratory that is threadbare and lacking in funds to do research is never seductive enough for young researchers to pursue their post-graduate studies or career. Most of these universities do not have enough funding even for bachelor degree students to do their final year project.
I am afraid that the consequences of the current state of affairs will be seen in many more
years to come and it will take a long time to reverse the aftermath. We are already on shaky
grounds when it comes to basic and translational research.
There is a clear contradiction in the messages we give out – we want 60% of students
to take up science but we do not have a clear career path for them. We do not have industry that carries out vigorous science and research activities that are potential employers for our
STEM graduates. I am still perplexed as to how our agencies come out with the figures that
we need more students in STEM. Where is the growth in this area among the industry or government sectors?
Our PhD graduates are already finding it difficult to get a research or science-related jobs. Maybe the solution to overcome the limited funding is to cut all unnecessary research, revisit our addiction to university ranking system, reduce duplication in research, set national priorities in key areas and eliminate the temptation to reach for the low hanging fruits.
I hope the Year of the Rooster will help to dispel the current gloom and bring opulence
to our roost. Xin Nian Kuai Le!