Monday, July 28, 2008

Story of the Egg: Human Capital of Biotechnology and its challenges (Part 1)

The launch of the National Biotech Policy has been promising the country's graduate population of the various job prospects in the biotech industry. I, myself, hopped on the bandwagon of enrolling in a BSc in Biotechnology back in 2004. At the end of my course, I have been faced with questions by friends, family and fellow graduates alike, as to whether the industry has been developed as hoped, and if so, why is it so hard to find a satisfactory job in biotech?However, I was also asked similar questions when I am in contact with various personalities in the position of employers in the industry. Why are fresh grads from universities feel so under-trained, that it is so hard to find competent employees among the bunch of interviewees? What are the schools teaching?

Throughout the duration of my course, I can say I've been lucky to gain exposure to the industry through my involvement with MABIC. Comparative to that of my peers, I have been fortunate to be in touch with industry players, policy makers, academicians and various stakeholders alike. My involvement has allowed myself at an undergraduate level to see the various duties and tasks that are required by industry of the human capital that are the future graduates. Several issues came to fore.

Do biotech students know what is in store for them? Are we lacking in jobs for biotech students? Are they not being taught enough? Is a 3 year course, which seems to be the norm for a degree in biotech these days sufficient? Are the students who graduate competent enough for the industry? Are employers asking for too much and being too choosy? All these questions and more constantly pop up among my daily conversation with various people as well as industry personalities.

In short, there are two issues in play here. Namely, the students and their education, the employers and their expectations. It became clearer to me that in most cases, both parties are not meeting each other in the middle, resulting in the described "troubles" of the industry and its human capital.

I remember speaking to a particular CEO of a forefront biotech company during an interview, and through the course of the Q&A, he turned the tables and asked me what do they teach at my university in the biotech course. Satisfied with my answer, he then mentioned that some graduates that he had interviewed recently were very unprepared for the industry, naming a few institutions offering the course. I, in turn, suggested it was due to pre-interview nerves. However, he looked me in the eye, and with a disappointed tone he mentioned that they were stumped when asked for something as basic as a definition of "GM" or "GMO" (genetically modified organisms).

It was shocking that graduates from supposedly some of our best institutions don't even understand the basics terminology of the field. One wonders how much of the coursework which is constantly drummed into the students throughout the duration of the course has been absorbed. We should first begin by questioning the interests of the students themselves. Why did they enroll in the course in the first place, and whether they have any passion in it.

Since being enrolled in the course, I have been quizzed by several juniors from high school who had no idea what the course entailed. They were interested in the course due to the potential and promises of strong development, however what such a course entails, their knowledge was pretty much zilch. Who is to blame? The school, for not exposing them to biotech-related knowledge? Themselves, for not utilising their Google search bar? The various biotech institutions, for not being more visible?

Here, I shall leave you with this thought. How many of our students actually enter the field with a full-hearted interest in biotechnology? I know I did. But how many others? Those who said they are interested, do they know what they are getting themselves into? Would they regret involving themselves in the course? I know several classmates of mine ended up in a completely different field after graduation, because they couldn't stand the environment of the lab. But would this have happened if they knew what they wanted at the start?

(to be continued)

- K. C. Liew

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What happened to Biovalley at Dengkil launched by Mahathir few years ago?