OCTOBER 6, 2016, KUALA LUMPUR – There is still an apparent gender imbalance in the field of sciences despite efforts were put in place to promote women in science. Every year, L'Oréal Foundation and UNESCO provide fellowships to promising women researchers at crucial junctures in their careers through the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award.
For the last 11 years in Malaysia, it has been L'Oréal's long-term commitment to accelerating the advancement of women in science that will serve as an inspiration for the future generations to come. Since its inception in 2006, the program has awarded and provided over RM700,000 research grants to 35 outstanding women scientists and will continue to change the face of science in Malaysia.
Held at the St. Regis Hotel Kuala Lumpur this year, the award ceremony was graced by the presence of guest of honor, Yang Berhormat Datuk Dr. Abu Bakar Mohamad Diah, Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation.
In his speech Datuk Dr. Abu Bakar cited the importance of science to nation building, "For Malaysia to move forward to compete with the rest of the world, we need more scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technologists to manage our natural resources and to develop new technologies for future growth and development. Therefore, it is imperative to keep our youths and students in schools interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM and to do this we have set the enrolment policy of 60:40, which ensured that 60 and 40 percent of students enrolled in science and arts respectively. Although to date, Malaysia is yet to achieve the policy provided an important threshold and continues to be used as a benchmark for formulation and development of related policies and programs in the field of S&T. The Government of Malaysia has set a national goal of producing one million specialists in STEM fields by the year 2020. This goal illustrates the government's commitment to align the STEM initiatives to the objectives of the New Economic Model, Economic Transformation Programme and the Government Transformation Plan launched in 2010."
In support of the government's initiative of producing STEM students and specialists, a panel discussion was put together to share issues and ideas on how to pave the way for girls in science. On the panel were:
- Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman, Program Director, Academy of Science Malaysia
- Professor Dato Dr. Asma Ismail, Vice Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia
- Professor Madya Dr. Ramzah Dambul, Deputy Secretary General, MOSTI (Science division)
- Dr. Normi Mohd Yahaya, 2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO Award fellow & Senior Lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Department of Cell & Microbiology
Probably one of Malaysia's most coveted and sought after award amongst women in the scientific community. This year, the fellowship was opened to all Malaysian women researcher/scientist under the age of 40 years, who are Ph.D. holders or currently pursuing research studies in any scientific field. Each recipient will receive RM30,000 grant to help pursue their research. An overwhelming response of 139 applicants from the various field of sciences was received for consideration of this program.
Each year, an esteemed panel of jury members nominated by the Ministry of Education, Malaysia National Commission for UNESCO and Academy of Science Malaysia come together to evaluate the most promising research projects submitted by outstanding female scientists in Malaysia. Our panel of the jury this year was led by one of Malaysia's first astrophysicist, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman, Program Director, Academy of Science Malaysia. The jury panel evaluated each proposal based on criteria such as project significance in terms of its merit and value contribution, originality and purpose, contribution to science, methodology, academic achievements and overall project quality.
After a thorough deliberation, the jury panel arrived at the following winners of the award – each is working on breakthrough scientific research, which addressed critical global challenges that could aid millions around the world. They are:
Dr. Fatehah Mohd Omar, Universiti Sains Malaysia. For her research on wastewater treatment for palm oil industries.
Dr. Nethia Mohana Kumaran, Universiti Sains Malaysia. For her research on a customized treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer.
Dr. Reena Rajasuriar, University of Malaya. For her research on unlocking the code of the immunological aging process.
According to Dr. Mazlan Othman, in order to encourage more science students, it all begins with a child's early education and upbringing as the hand that rocks the cradle rules the lab. So let's all do our part at making this change happen because women in science have the power to change the world.