The Making of a Scientist – Part Two

Here is part two of the series.

Q: Did you have a chance to work as a research assistant?
Not as an RA, but as a graduate student. The only difference between an RA and a graduate student? The grad student does not get paid. The work is usually performed as part of the graduate thesis.

Q: Did you attend any special programs or schools that nurtured your interest in science?
The special science class in high school which I attended was the only one I could cite as one of those institutions that nurtured my interest in science.

Q: If you had children, would you send them to science schools?
Right now it is too early to tell, but I would if I found out later on that my daughter had a strong inclination towards science. Right now I am doing everything I can to expose her to science, such as by conducting home experiments with her at home. I have bought her several science books – too early for her age, I guess – in order to spark her early interest in the subject.

It would bring me greatest joy if my daughter would consider a scientific career in the future, but I would not stand in her way should she decide to pursue a completely different career. I want what every parent wants for his/her child – for them to grow up and be the best persons they could be, in whatever area or field of expertise.

Q: Of all the science projects you have worked on, which one gives you pride?
My continuing work on superconducting thin films prepared by pulsed laser deposition. It’s a very difficult work to produce an excellent thin film that fulfills the required properties for a specific application. Optimization of several parameters, which eventually dictate the final film properties, takes a lot of patience and hard work. After several years of working on the system, I was able to produce high quality films which would take ourselves one step closer to our goal of using these materials for practical applications in the “real world.”

Q: What subjects or skills did you find useful in your scientific pursuit?
Communication skills – both written and oral – are highly important. I can’t overemphasize this enough. A good scientist needs to be able to communicate his or her results to others, or a particular audience. If you can’t do this properly, then your effort is wasted. How else will they know of your results? If you can’t write, then consider a different career. There’s lots of writing required in science, and half of the time you will spend writing research proposals, technical papers, reports, books, and other materials. One also needs to develop good public speaking skills, to confidently stand before an audience and present results in a concise and logical manner. I remember something that happened when I attended a conference not too long ago. There was a guy who at the beginning of his presentation began to stutter, and everytime he tried to say a word he sounded as if he would choke on it. Finally he hyperventilated in front of a shocked audience. He just couldn’t go on. Clearly embarrassed, he had no choice but to get down from the stage and let his colleague finish the presentation for him. This case clearly illustrates the need for scientists to learn how to speak in front of an audience in a prepared and confident manner.

As a student I used to rehearse my “speech” several times before a presentation. But trust me, in time it gets easier. Now I can make presentations on the spot without having to rehearse beforehand. It takes practice.

Q: What advice can you give to the Filipino youth who are inclined to science?
Pursuing a scientific career, either in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world, is a very fulfilling job. I wish I could say that it is fulfilling not only intellectually but also economically, but clearly this is dependent on one’s location. Nevertheless I would like to believe that all scientists are “citizens of the world,” and the problems that they tackle, even if local, could have significant ramifications on the lives of human beings on a global scale. Choose a subject that you are passionate about, and be consistent. Passion will keep you going even when the going gets tough.

Q: What advice can you give to science teachers?
Never stop striving to learn more and improve your skills. Knowledge is dynamic; it is continually growing.

Never give up on children, especially those who express a strong desire to learn about science. Never take their poverty as a reason not to teach them science. Be an instrument in diffusing strongly held fallacies, beliefs, and superstitions.

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8 Responses to The Making of a Scientist – Part Two

  1. verns says:

    “passion will keep you going….”

    I believe this wholeheartedly :)

    Wow Kat…parang na intimidate tuloy ako sayo upon reading Part1 and part 2 hehehe ibang level =)

    I received this Mercury Drug Excellence in Science award when I graduated in HS. Yes, science is one of my favorite subjects but I never imagine myself having a career in that field though I also dreamed of working in NASA, but it was just because of the movies hehe

    Anyway being your blogfriend/Filipino, I am proud of you :)

  2. Gina says:

    Just finished reading both parts 1 & 2 of the Making of a Scientist.

    what can I say…. very smart cookie, you are Kathy!

    Ang hirap intindihin ng science! =P

  3. kathy says:

    Verns, haha…it wasn’t my intention to intimidate anyone! :)

    Hey, I also got that award in high school. So did my husband. Well, I think it is good recognition, but surely not enough to encourage young people to take up science. If Mercury Drug really wants to do so, it should do more than just hand out awards to deserving students. Like sponsor a scholar or something.

    Thanks for your kind words, Verns! I’m proud to be your friend, too.

  4. kathy says:

    Thanks Gina. Smart enough to never give up, I’d say. If there’s no persistence and determination, it would be very hard to stay in science.
    :)

  5. Frances says:

    Great post. As someone who taught English in Philippine Science High School, I’m really glad that you mentioned communication skills as that which was useful in your scientific pursuit. Our young kids often take that for granted! I guess the science and tech people naturally realize that as they get older.

  6. kathy says:

    True, true. I’ve sat through more than my fair share of bad presentations by other researchers, and I couldn’t help but think, why don’t these guys improve their communication skills so they could get their message across more effectively?

  7. kathy says:

    I’d just like to add – kudos for being an instrument in helping those young students improve their communication skills. I’m sure that at least some of them would be grateful that they learned something from you, when they’re older and wiser. :)

  8. noel says:

    communication skills…wish i could write as half good as you…see, look at my english. anyway, i think one of the reasons why there are few pinoy scientists is that we pinoys dont know what scientists do. i, for one, always associate scientists with dexter and his lab. you know, white lab gown, spending long time working alone in their secret laboratory, and so on.

    wish there could be more scientists like you and baggy.

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