How to Nurture Young Professionals in Science and Technology; Interview With Tan Sri Salleh

Opportunity in Science and Technology (S & T) professions has evolved in a wider spectrum with multiple disciplines derived from the previously defined disciplines However, the perceptions on the S & T profession are somehow stuck with stereotype depiction. To update the point of view on profession is vital, giving the current youth more information, which enlightens them about the career paths in the S & T field. In addressing this context, we had interviewed Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Salleh bin Haji Mohd Nor, a prominent Malaysian researcher, forester, conservationist and academician.

Career  in S & T is not restricted within research laboratory

In the past, it may have been thought that those who pursue postgraduate education should get an academic post or a researcher as a career. Tan Sri Salleh stated that the perspective on professionals in S & T in the past is different compared to now. He said, “the past perception on a science career was limited to roles as lecturer or as researchers in a laboratory setting. Although these roles are important, science transcends all activities of modern society”. In fact, S & T professionals are needed everywhere with the emergence of new disciplines like nanotechnology that cover a wide area of applications that affect human life and behaviour.

He recalls how he built up his own career. Tan Sri Salleh who is notably known for his work on forest conservation, his affection for science nourished through his childhood in Kampung Ulu Inas. He shared that while helping his parents work in the paddy field, he always observed nature and learned many things. For instance, how the leeches in the paddy fields suck blood to the bursting of rubber fruits! He said that, through science and especially forestry science education, he learned to appreciate the science of conservation of natural and genetic resources. Upon graduating from Adelaide University and Australian Forestry School, he worked on forest resources inventory where he continued to observe, recognize and record the wonders of Malaysian biodiversity that kindled his passion and love for the forest. Upon appointment as the first Director General of Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), he developed new and more innovative research programs to underpin natural biodiversity and commercialise research results.

From this illustrious career story of his, one could learn that a science career is not limited to the laboratory, instead could be brought up based on mission. Where best to work will be determined by what you want to achieve in life and not only by what you studied. He added that this misconception of a career in science needs to be addressed first by the students themselves and additionally by various sectors including education, government and industry.

Tan Sri Salleh Hugging Tree in FRIM

Pivotal Roles of Education in Nurturing Young Professionals in S&T

As the higher institution is the last touch point for young professionals in S & T before endeavouring into the society, Tan Sri Salleh stressed that the university roles are pivotal. This is where nurturing young professionals mind in S & T and be formed. First and the most important point is for the lecturer to realize the importance of their influence in forming a young mindset. “The university lecturer is not a teacher but an educationist! He educates the young as against a school teacher who only teaches.’’ he explained. Students will learn from how academia are developing their career and through exposure to various career pathways from researchers pursuing “non-traditional” career paths. Universities also need to be updated with the rapidly changing S & T ecosystem and ready to evolve. He shared how he worked on University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) to focus on marine and oceanography, an area which was not adequately addressed by other Universities in Malaysia. Now UMT has nurtured specialists in various areas of marine science and oceanography.

Another point Tan Sri Salleh brought up was the early education environment. He shared that the important thing is to nature the mindset. The mindset he refers to is the ability to try to solve problems around us by using what we have to phantom the solution, a basis for problem solving approach. For example, it can start as simple as addressing the problem with single polystyrene usage. Introducing the concept of 4R concept (Reduce, Reused, Recycle, Replenished) to students early may support learning from experience. From this, students will start to think about solving the problem, exploring their passion and embracing the power and possibility of S & T to solve global issues in the future.

Completing the Circle, Active Involvement of Society is a must

Tan Sri Salleh

Tertiary education can assist in forming the mindset for future scientists who can contribute back to society. This journey will end abruptly if society is not ready to embrace them. The industry must be willing to work together with universities through providing programs such as they could provide training which exposes the young professionals to the industrial environments. Tan Sri Salleh stated the S & T field is vast and young people themselves need to have courage to go beyond existing defined areas by exploring new opportunities. Moreover, the government should provide more support by increasing the budget allocation to R&D expenditure in the industries. The Malaysian government only invests around 1 % of its GDP on S & T development, which is not enough. Whereas other countries like Singapore, Japan spend around 2 to 3 % of their GDP on S & T development. This extra expenditure leads to more opportunities for young scientists to pursue their career outside academia.

In summary, most young people have misconceptions regarding current S & T professions. This needs to be addressed by the education sector by providing them with the current scenario in the S & T ecosystem with support from government and industry. Correspondingly, Leave a Nest believes that by bridging science between research laboratories with public including schools and also industry, could widen the perception of science careers not limited in the laboratories but could be explored beyond the realm of the laboratories.

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