AsianScientist (Nov. 3, 2017) – Three scientists in Malaysia have been awarded the 2017 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship for research that tackles global challenges while potentially saving the lives of millions.
One of them is Dr. Ho Weang Kee from the University of Nottingham Malaysia who was recognized for her development of a risk prediction model for breast cancer, which uses DNA and lifestyle information to identify those at risk of the cancer for early detection.
Another winner, Dr. Jasy Liew Suet Yan from Universiti Sains Malaysia, was recognized for building a system that detects signs of depression by analysing emotional patterns on social media. Working on sustainable resource management, Dr. Teh Su Yean of Universiti Sains Malaysia netted the award for her research on groundwater conservation.
In its 12th year, the annual L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship was created to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women scientists. Other than honouring scientific excellence, L’Oréal Foundation and its partners aim to boost awareness and interest in science among Malaysians. This is in line with the nation’s vision of becoming a knowledge economy by 2020.
“A knowledge economy relies on human resources with strong foundation in sciences. As Year 2020 closes in, it is more urgent than ever for us to cultivate a rich pool of knowledge talents in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, otherwise known as STEM, to take our country to the next level,” said Dato Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, the minister overseeing the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).
“The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship supports this vision. It not only inspires more Malaysian women to pursue science as a career, but also fuel interest in science, which is waning among secondary school and higher tertiary students.”
The Ministry of Higher Education has warned of a shortage in STEM graduates due to the declining interest in science subjects among upper secondary school students, coupled with the upswing of students taking arts-related courses in higher tertiary institutions. The National Council for Scientific Research and Development estimated that the country will need 493,830 scientists and engineers by 2020. At the same time, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation is looking at a shortfall of 236,000 technical personnel.
Mr. Malek Bekdache, Managing Director of L’Oréal Malaysia, offers a silver lining.
“This year, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship saw the highest ever number of submissions, with an increase of 66 percent from last year. The heightened excitement for this scientific award gives us hope that interest in STEM among the next generation will climb along,” Bekdache said.
This year, on top of receiving a RM30,000 (~US$7,000) grant to help pursue their research, each winner also received training to present a summary of their research on stage during the awards ceremony, in a manner similar to the world-renowned TED Talks.
The judging panel this year was led by one of Malaysia’s first astrophysicists, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman, Program Director, Academy of Science Malaysia. Each entry was judged based on a comprehensive set of criteria, including project significance in terms of its merit and value contribution, originality and purpose, contribution to science, methodology, academic achievements and overall project quality.
“At L’Oréal, we hope that this award will help pivot the crucial work of women researchers in progressing our societies, as well as fan the passion in science among our next generation of nation builders to carry Malaysia towards its goal of becoming a high income developed economy,” said Bekdache.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.