“Anong favorite subject mo?”
“Science!” you reply with passion.
Then, you can almost always expect the unfolding of a familiar scenario: The faces of half-amazed, half-confused people asking why the sciences. Understandably, these people perceive science as difficult, far-fetched and therefore, exclusive to the likes of Albert Einstein. But is it really?
There’s no need for evidence. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) has radically changed the world right-side up with discoveries and innovations that keep life going, people growing, and the times ever changing. Just look around you! Its magic manifests in the big and small, in the skies up above and in the veins deep inside you.
If so, then it must be just a matter of what perspective you were taught—to see science as detached and unreachable, even though it really isn’t. For a developing country like ours, this is both sad and unsurprising. How do you break this kind of mindset and discover, if not develop, a love for STEM instead?
While there is no one-way formula or scientific method to follow, we can take it straight from the hearts of these brilliant minds who braved the path towards a career in STEM:
From curiosity to interest
There is rarely love at first sight in STEM, but there are little sparks of curiosity that lure people in, one question at a time.
At least, that’s what happened for Alaine Bonoan, an agricultural technician at LM10 Corporation who took up BS Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). “I was just really intrigued [with] the course because I have never heard of it before. I wrote it on my application form and months later, I passed the exam and got admitted to the program. The rest, as they say, was history,” shares Alaine.
FUTURE IN AGRICULTURE. Alaine Bonoan presented her undergraduate study at the
Philippine Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers Annual National Convention in Davao.
For some, curiosity started way back with fascination with how science was taught in school just as it was for Jicker Lado—a BS Biology graduate who now works in the academe, igniting the same spark of interest in his students through teaching and doing research and extension work.
Like seeds planted into the ground, a little interest slowly grows into affection for the sciences, watered by hunger to learn new things every day. From the seemingly menial things to the groundbreaking discoveries, STEM covers all fields and offers no less than an exciting adventure that keeps students on their toes.
Innah Montala, a biologist in the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), recalls the thrill of “digging things that cannot be seen by the naked eye.” By that, she meant isolating DNA, amplifying genes, and interpreting data. And that’s just one field of science we’re talking about. To put it simply, there are no two days alike in STEM. It thrives in the discoveries, the changes, the black hole of data waiting to see the light of day.
YOUNG SCIENTISTS. Innah Montala shares her love for microbiology to students.
“May kilig feeling kapag mine-mentor ako ng profs ko about techniques, troubleshooting ng error, and brainstorming ng concept for a project. (There’s a feeling of delight when my professors mentor me about techniques, troubleshooting errors, and brainstorming concepts for a project),” says Dez Labrador, a Ph.D. student of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in UPLB. She was a research associate at the Institute of Biological Science prior to her postgraduate studies.
Her thirst to learn more despite knowing enough, if not more than enough, was ignited when she realized how STEM can help win our country’s fight against poverty and hunger. She can’t seem to stop learning now, and has no plans to stop any time soon—a trait that must’ve been embedded in every scientist’s DNA.
From interest to challenge
A lamp that runs on saltwater. A dengue detection kit that detects infection in an hour (or less). A locally made microsatellite that was launched in space. These are just three STEM breakthroughs of the Philippines from the past years and just three of the many examples proving the potential of Filipinos in STEM, just waiting to be tapped and harnessed for our own development.
Being a researcher at the Philippine Genome Center, Hannah Llames believes in the impact STEM can make for our country. “Filipinos are very talented and passionate in their work. When we go out of the country, palagi tayong branded na masisipag talaga (we are always branded as hardworking). I think STEM is one of the major solutions for our country’s progress.”
The challenge, however, lies in creating an enabling environment for our people. Specifically, addressing the lack of funding and misguided culture that discourages students from pursuing STEM and forces our scientists to seek greener pastures overseas.
“I personally think budget and support from the government is a really big factor,” Labrador explains in Filipino. “Based on my experience in Japan, it doesn’t take longer than two to three days when we need reagents or materials for an experiment so it goes smoothly. We don’t have to waste energy where to get our budget. We are just focused on the experiment and research.”
SCIENCE SCHOLAR. Dez Labrador presented her masters thesis at Osaka University in Japan.
While funding is a valid concern to address, an even bigger challenge is cultivating the right culture in the country. For starters, eliminating the notion that the sciences are only for the Einsteins wearing white lab coats, sporting a frizzy haircut, and averaging to zero social life.
Carlo Francisco, a BS Applied Physics graduate, might be the first one to say that it’s not always the case. As a Product Engineer at Maxim Integrated, who admittedly wears whatever decent attire he pleases going to work, he actually enjoys a work-life balance.
Without discounting the fact that STEM can be a highly technical field, he embraces the constant challenge of learning things in a multidisciplinary lens and, at the same time, grows personally outside his profession. “Of course, I have to learn a lot of technical knowledge when pursuing this kind of career. I’m still studying technical stuff while working in order to grow. But in the end, it all pays off. Everything is about personal and career growth,” he added.
From challenge to passion
Not all scientists started out with a passion for science, but all scientists would agree that they cannot move forward without it. Whether it’s in the academe, research, or the field, STEM professionals know how difficult and tedious work can be. The same way they know how valuable their work is, that their labor is not in vain.
Faith Maranan, a BS Biology graduate and educator, swims through papers every day but it’s her love for science and her students that pushes her to get up in the morning. “Investing in science and technology (S&T) can help us find solutions to various problems in our society by finding new, more timely and innovative ways of addressing issues and concerns. I want to educate and impart those knowledge, skills, and values to my students.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE. Faith Maranan teaches her students inside and outside of the classroom.
Trisha Rojas found her calling in the academe too. She took up BS Chemistry in college and pursued a career in teaching, fully convinced of her dream to help students appreciate science since she was a little girl, “My three-year old self wouldn’t have imagined being a chemist someday but here I am fulfilling that dream! Our country is really blessed with rich, natural resources. If we’re just able to maximize these resources and turn them into S&T innovations, it can help a lot of Filipinos. I hope more people, especially the government, will come to realize that.”
Perhaps, it really is the heart of STEM. The knowledge-giving, knowledge-sharing community it grows. It’s that sparkle in the students’ eyes when they learn and understand something comprehensively that makes all the difference, just as how BS Food Technology graduate Treyna Macute puts it. As an educator at the Philippine Science High School, she shared that there’s nothing more fulfilling than a room full of active and participative students. Now, wouldn’t that make learning more fun and meaningful?
GIVING BACK. Treyna Macute teaches Chemistry in her high school alma mater.
Gearing Up for the Future
It’s these eureka moments when studying science that raises a generation of curious and passionate students, that gives us a glimpse of what the future is like for our S&T. With the K-12 Curriculum pushing forth STEM, we hope to raise up the next generation of scientists, innovators, educators or to put it more widely—changemakers.
Our country needs more of them.
And though, we still have a long way to go before then, we can start now by cultivating a culture that teaches science plain and simple at home and in school, and accepts that it can be challenging to comprehend yet necessary to understand. When that happens, just imagine the progress we can achieve. And the best part is—you can be part of it.