December 15, 2019, by khyx2lyn
Interview with 100 Scientists of Malaysia founders
This article is part of a series featuring projects and work done by alumni from the School of Psychology in the University of Nottingham Malaysia.
We recently spoke to the co-founders of the 100 Scientists of Malaysia project to talk about their experiences running the project. 100 Scientists of Malaysia seeks to spread awareness about Malaysian scientists pursuing careers in the various STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The co-founders of the project are Anthony Beh (A), Joshua Khoo (J) and Sara Wong (S); Anthony and Joshua are alumni from the School of Psychology who graduated from the school in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The co-founders of 100 Scientists of Malaysia. From left to right: Anthony Beh, Joshua Khoo and Sara Wong. Pictures taken from the 100 Scientists of Malaysia Facebook page.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you are currently doing.
Anthony and Josh were alumni of the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. All three of us are current PhD students at the University of Nottingham UK.
A: I work with stroke survivors that have lost their vision after the stroke. My PhD project uses brain imaging techniques to work out a plan to recover their vision and help improve their lives. It’s an amazing project and I’m very lucky to be a part of it! I’ve always wanted to make a difference and to give back to the community, so being able to do that in a research setting was a dream come true. Outside of my PhD, I spend most of my time working on 100 Scientists of Malaysia (100SoM). I am in charge of the designs and illustrations you see in each story. It’s a great way to scratch my artistic itch as it is both fun and challenging to illustrate someone’s science in a simple but insightful manner.
J: I am fascinated by the things the human brain can and cannot do. What enables us to learn? Why do we find it difficult to sustain attention or fail to remember important things? With technologies that allow us to probe the brain, we can begin to investigate these questions. In particular, I am interested in the functions of an area of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex. It generates a signal whenever an error is made, which can be detected with brain imaging techniques. Perhaps it helps you learn and remember the consequences of leaving your ice cream outside the fridge!
S: I am a final year PhD student looking at the potential therapeutic use of oxytocin, a brain neurotransmitter that modulates social behaviour amongst other functions, for human diseases that display socio-behavioural deficits such as autism and schizophrenia. I have always been interested in disorders of the central nervous system, so to be involved in a project that may translate to clinical usage with patients, although still a work in progress, is amazing!
How did you meet each other?
We first met when Josh and Anthony were doing their MSc and Sara was doing her PhD. We were originally supposed to rent a house together but it fell through. By chance, when Josh and Anthony started their PhD in turn, we got in touch again and decided to rent a place together and are current housemates! That was when we decided to start 100SoM.
What is the 100 Scientists of Malaysia project about?
We felt that Malaysians in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are not well represented. Do you know a Malaysian scientist? We decided to create a platform that could feature profiles of Malaysian scientists to increase visibility of Malaysian STEM scientists, showcase the diversity of STEM subjects and inspire the public to pursue and/or engage with STEM subjects.
It was really fun working out how we wanted to present everyone’s story. We wanted to stand out from other similar platforms that showcase scientists and their work – we didn’t want to merely post a picture with a long caption and leave it online without further engagement. In the end, we settled on a system that worked! Currently, we post ‘photocards’ on our Instagram, giving the readers a quick snapshot of our featured scientists, while we post the full caption on our Facebook. The featured scientists also curate our Twitter feed, and we make sure to post interesting facts as well as Q&A sessions on our Instagram Stories. We want to make sure that the public feel as if they were part of the 100SoM family, in alignment with our goals for the project.
We hope to remind people to be proud of their fellow Malaysians and to acknowledge their achievements and their perseverance. We notice that nowadays Malaysians tend to shy away from pursuing a career in STEM fields due to reasons such as lack of understanding of what research is about, why research is important and, of course, perceived future prospects of being in a research career.
But we want to change that perspective. We want the younger generation to have role models, to dare to step out of their comfort zones and to challenge their world views. We also hope that by featuring numerous talented scientists and their research, they will receive support from the public and that their fields of research will be invested in as part of retaining our scientific workforce in Malaysia.
Why did you want to be involved in the project?
Each of the aims of 100SoM resonated with us strongly. For example, raising visibility was about drawing attention to work done by talented and hardworking Malaysians who are trying to change the world and whose work would have otherwise not been noticed by their fellow Malaysians. Showcasing diversity was to let the public realize how diverse science actually is – that science is more than just medicine, pharmacy and engineering! There is much more to science than what we were conditioned to and brought up to believe in. If we could inspire just one young mind to consider a career in STEM because they read about how a Malaysian beat the odds and succeeded in their field, this project would have certainly been worth our time and effort.
Are there any rewarding or interesting experiences you have obtained from this project so far?
It was heartening to have scientists that voluntarily reached out to share their stories with us. Some of them have battled personal odds and came out stronger. Hearing their stories inspire us, and we wanted to share them with everyone. It humbles us and reminds us that scientists are humans too.
A: Working on this project has changed how I look at things in many ways. One of them, funnily enough, is the diversity of Malaysians in STEM. One of the main goals of this project was to promote the fact that we have so many amazing and intelligent Malaysians all around the world who are making a difference in their field. I thought I knew quite a handful of them already, being in a STEM field myself. Never have I been so proven wrong! Each and every day we learn about another Malaysian in a different field who is at the forefront of their research area, making great strides to change the world.
I think my generation comes with a subtle streak of pessimism that puts us in a box in life. Hearing these stories reminds me of the potential we have and the things we can do if we believe a little more. Curating these stories has left me in a sense of awe. It’s quite a powerful feeling to have, and I hope that our readers feel the same upon reading the stories too.
S: I think one of the most rewarding experiences for me was when we first launched 100SoM. The amount of reposts and shares by friends and strangers promoting our project was really heartwarming, even though they may not be in STEM themselves! It goes to show that Malaysians are proud of their own – they just need to know about them first! Also, when the post about myself went up the first week, the response that I received was definitely unexpected! Having 350 people share the post and knowing that it resonated with them made me even more determined that this page had to succeed because I want other scientists’ stories to be told, to reach the same impact, and to let the younger generation know that there are others out there who have made it. Sometimes, all you need is that single spark of motivation to keep the fire going.
J: Conducting the interviews has been the most rewarding bit of the project for me. We have to thank the people who agreed to talk to us about their life, admit very personal struggles and share what they think helped them succeed. They have indeed provided real, concrete and lived examples. I often find it difficult to put into writing what they have shared, as their personal stories are so rich with heartfelt emotions. Opportunities to have conversations like these are rare, and I am very glad to have been a co-founder of this project.
Overall, we are pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support from the public the moment we launched – we didn’t expect to grow as fast as we do now! Knowing that we are providing stories that people genuinely engage with gives us hope that this project will go far and achieve its aims.
Are there any challenges that you have faced while undertaking the project?
The biggest challenge we faced was presenting everyone’s research in a way that even your grandmother could understand! We had to tackle highly technical subjects such as particle physics, stem cell research, and aeronautical engineering. As such, we wanted to make sure no one felt alienated and they could be part of the science too.
Transcribing and making sure we did our featured scientist’s story justice was also a learning curve. In the beginning, Joshua took 5 hours to transcribe a 1-hour conversation because he wanted to make sure everything was perfect!
It was also hard to illustrate science in an attractive and relatable style. Science is often seen as boring and tedious, but we wanted to show people a fun and lighter side to it. Anthony had to learn graphic designing from scratch because the rest of us didn’t have that artistic streak.
Sara, who is in charge of our platform’s social media, put a lot of time into doing extra research into the different scientific fields featured to make sure that the ‘fun facts’ posted on our stories were factually correct!
Finally, how can we find and/or contact you?
This piece is reported by Markus Loke, psychology lab technician.