Growth through knowledge and innovation
RESEARCH plays a vital role in the development of any country. The backbone of knowledge is research, and knowledge opens pathways to progress. The more a country invests in research, the better it can work towards progress in areas such as science, history, art and philosophy.
However, a country needs researchers who place higher value on learning than earning. The field of research is not without its perks. One benefit is that you are contributing to the country’s growth, but in the early days of your career, an impressive salary may not be something you see in your grants.
The five research universities in Malaysia have been pioneering significant advancements in the field of research and development despite being allocated only 1.1% of the nation’s gross domestic product. The ideal figure is around 2%, according to Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau.
A workaround to this situation involves local researchers collaborating with private and international organisations that award grants.
Becoming a researcher in Malaysia
The competition among graduate students to enrol in research universities is fierce since spots are open to international applicants as well.
Every applicant wants access to the top-of-the-line facilities major research universities provide.
Having a firstclass bachelor’s degree in a relevant major along with research experience can make it more likely for you to earn a spot in a research university.
Prof Dr Mohd Jamil
Maah, senior professor at Universiti Malaya, says, “At least
80% of candidates applying for a postgraduate degree in research have a cumulative grade-point average (CGPA) of 3.0 and above, but the CGPA is just a guide. Students should not obsess over it.”
According to him, if students are not accepted into a public research university, research positions in private universities or international branch campuses in Malaysia are available.
Lack of affordability is an obstacle one may face when applying to postgraduate research positions in private universities or international branch campuses. However, students can apply for scholarships and grants from these institutions or other private corporations.
Dr Wong Ee Phin, who did her research on non-invasive monitoring of stress among wild Asian elephants, completed her doctorate under the University of Nottingham Malaysia.
“In my first year, I received a grant from Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom and started working there.
“I learnt endocrinology techniques (a fundamental part of my elephant stress research) at the zoo laboratories.
Upon returning to Malaysia, the university helped me set up a laboratory here so I could continue with my research,” says Dr Wong.
According to her, the laboratory was not as well equipped as the one in Chester Zoo, but she took it in stride.
“The university offered me the best it had. Sourcing other things I needed for my research only contributed to my learning process,” she says.
Because of Dr Wong’s partnership with Chester Zoo, the zoo sent a laboratory technician to Malaysia to assist Dr Wong in setting up her laboratory.
The local research climate
Research universities in Malaysia are subject to strict government supervision to maintain and enhance their standards of research.
“Research universities must meet these standards to continue operating. We cannot afford to be complacent,” says Prof Jamil.
“We are audited every year on everything from number of researchers and quality of research to number of publications and citations. Everything is rated periodically, which means we constantly strive to perform better.
“As a nation, we are doing very well in research and development despite the cuts in research grants.
“With the price of raw materials increasing, we need more grants to afford better research materials and to attract students to work for research projects by paying them well for their work.”
On the bright side, he says, Malaysia has an abundance of knowledgeable supervisors, state-of-the-art facilities and an academic environment that supports research, which bodes well for the nation’s future performance in research and development.