Saturday, August 30, 2008

Story of the Egg: Human Capital of Biotechnology and its challenges (Part 3)

Industries are the bread and butter of science. In a pragmatic sense, what use is there for frontline, hard-edged research if there is no one to translate it into products and methods which are relevant to society? Where would the wheel be, without having it being turned into carts and cars? What use would it be for researchers to discover the perfect anti-cancer compound when it could not be available to the public? In the same line of thought, where would biotech students be, if they are not taught the skills and techniques by which they can be made relvant to the industries?

One of the reasons why I disagree with Maha on a 4-year course would be due to the fact that nothing in academia can be a substitute for the rigours of being in the industry. That is why I feel compelled to stress to students the need to take up industrial training. In my undergrad course, industrial training/interships are not compulsory, and most students feel compelled to take the summer semester as a chance to laze around at home and relax for 3 months before attending another rigorous round of academic exercise. All of this is well, except for the fact that they are probably losing out on the most important experience in their academic life, where they are still excused as students to learn the industry at a less demanding pace, but yet being able to feel the pulse of the industry and get to know further what they will be experiencing out of the ivory tower.

However, that being said, I do have to express great dissatisfaction as well to industry players who treat interns as a form of cheap labour or even hinderance. All is well if they get the chance to learn, however, some corporations guard their secrets so jealously, or are so under-equipped to support interns that students end up taking up the role of office boys and girls and do few, if any biotech related tasks. Their role here is to learn as much as they can so they can be equipped to meet the challenges of work-life. If you as the industry are not nuturing them, then whose role is it to nuture them considering that few academic courses would be able to provide even the slightest glimpse of the real conditions. Then who is to blame if we have grads who don't even understand the simple functions of the commercial line?

Here, I must laud some industry players I have met in my interviews who have be not only strongly supportive of student interns, but also are so willing to impart their skills that they end up employing them as well. My point of view is that industry players should not be shy in teaching, as they probably would end up saving on putting out employment ads on the newspaper in the end. ;) But in all due seriousness, even if they don't end up working in this field, think of it as a golden opportunity to nuture the minds of the next generation who will build up our nation's biotech industry to greater heights.

As a conclusion for my lengthy post, I shall try to summarise several key points. Firstly, student attitudes are paramount. If they are not even receptive to learn, then there is no use for discussion in the first place, and we shall see more biotech grads who don't even understand the basics of biotech. Secondly, the academic institutions should look into instilling more industry-related courses or units, as it is their responsibility for them to educate grads in the various aspects of biotech they would be facing when they exit the ivory towers. On a similar note, industries should be receptive of grads as interns and be willing to impart knowledge. I cannot stress further the importance of industrial training, and hope institutions would look into making it a compulsory measure.

With that, I pray we shall not see a repeat of fresh grads being stumped by the definition of GM.
- by K. C. Liew

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