Friday, August 8, 2008

Story of the Egg: Human Capital of Biotechnology and its challenges (Part 2)

Since the "grand" push for biotech, courses in biotechnology have been popping up in various universities, with most offering 3 year courses on various general aspects of science and relating that to the industry, like microbiology, biochemistry, bioinformatics etc., and later following up with industrial training in various institutions and companies across the country, like MARDI, FRIM, Sime Darby etc.

My own training involved work at FRIM's seed lab, where I was taught various techniques which may have not been sufficiently covered in university including tissue culture. The experience was eye-opening for me, as all previously-learnt techniques were brought to life. However, I must admit, 3 months of indutry experience was less than sufficient, in my opinions, as I was only attached to one lab, and had no other chances of looking at how the other industries work. Moreover, I had classmates who ended up in some companies and were mainly treated like office boys/girls instead of being given a good view of what working in the industry is like.

On whether the schools are providing sufficient training to their students, in terms of coursework and length of study, Maha and I have a slight disagreement. She prefers a four year course, where students are exposed to more research with hands-on-experience and even have time to take a few elective subjects on business and marketing. Whereas I believe that exposure should begin at the industry level, as there is only so much the schools can teach us. Hopefully, we'll be able to hear her argument soon, but I shall present my thoughts on this.

In school, students are split into groups during laboratory session which ends up with most of them not actually being able to have hands-on experience in the end. Similarly, experiments are designed according to coursework, which are mainly in the line of pure sciences, very few if any industry-related techniques are being introduced. Hence, I believe that training begins on day one when we start getting in touch with the industry.

I am lucky, for being able to have sufficient exposure, be it with industry personalities and industry players, while being similarly blessed with opportunities for training at institutions. However, not all of my classmates are so lucky. Few even knew who are the bigger players in the local biotech scene, nor do they know what is going on outside the walls of our ivory towers. Whose fault is it then? The school, for not providing sufficient exposure? Student apathy, for being brought up in a grade-centric environment? Industry, for being less than accessible?

I shall end this week's installment with one anecdote. When I first started with MABIC, I remember it being located in a fairly central corner of Monash University, as it is just next to the concierge, opposite the finance department, with a big sign in front saying "Biotechnology Resource Center". In fact, many students used to hang out just at its doorstep, as tables and chairs were set up by the school for them to study there. However, I have to shamefully admit, I had not hear of MABIC, neither had I even ventured a step into the "resource center" until I began my stint. Similarly, for my first few years at MABIC, few if any of my classmates had even heard of MABIC, and even mistook us for BiotechCorp which was formed slightly later. So the resource is there, but how many of us would take the first step in utilizing it? If the chick in the egg did not even attempt to crack the shell with its egg tooth, will it hatch into a beautifully plumed Ayam Serama?
- K.C. Liew

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