This article features two recent graduates –Reyster Santos, a DOST scholar and Chemistry student who graduated Magna Cum Laude from De La Salle University- Manila, and Arianne Nicole Manuel, who studied Microbiology at the University of the Philippines – Los Baños.
Does the thought of working in a lab or discovering new species excite you? Are you curious about chemical reactions and processes in nature? Hold that thought! These two, young, scientists-to-be from the country’s top universities have some words of advice for you on what it takes to excel as a student in their respective fields.
PLUS, this article features a lecturer of Plant Protection who studied Entomopathogenic Nematode (who knew there was such a thing?) at the University of Arizona: Professor Leslie Toralba of The University of the South Pacific.
- Hello amazing scientists! What inspired/motivated you to take up your course?
Prof. Leslie: The fact that there are only few who major Entomology inspired me the most (“The road less travelled,” ika nga). I see opportunity and challenge in studying Insects. An opportunity for my future because, as I have said, there are only few Entomologists in the country so I have a better chance and more opportunities in terms of employment; and a challenge, because insects are interesting creatures and one of the most appreciated and at the same time dreaded group of animals in the world.
The level of difficulty in studying Entomology based on rumors did not stop me from pursuing it, instead it gave me the drive to excel and prove to myself that I can do it.
Reyster: Personally, I have this innate curiosity and eagerness to understand how our physical world works. I’m fond of asking questions on how and why certain things happen. Prominent figures and brilliant minds in Chemistry, including Nobel Prize laureates who have contributed so much in the scientific discipline in order to better the lives of many, inspire me to become like them someday.
Arianne: When I was a kid, I kind of knew deep down that I had the aptitude for Science. I represented our school in a science competition back then in my elementary days. In high school, I was fascinated with our science courses (except physics because it involves a lot of math) and how it is being taught.
I remember when we first used a microscope. I was ecstatic when I was the one who was able to use it properly to focus the cells of an onion skin. I knew then that this is what I want to do. The research subject in my fourth year of high school was tormenting but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed how we were the ones who would think of answers to a certain problem and choose an approach to do it. Not only did my science subjects in high school inspired me but also my mom had been a great influence. Being a biologist herself, she supported me in pursuing my love for science and let me explore its wonders in my college years as I was taking up Biology.
- How can students who plan on taking STEM courses best prepare for this field?
Reyster: It is, in reality, a survival of the fittest. Not only will you get to experience sitting in long hours of lectures but also, alongside with it are your exhausting laboratory classes. Strengthen and improve not just your intellectual abilities but most especially your physical, emotional and mental health.
Arianne: I think there is no set standard on how to prepare. As long as you keep that passion and remember the reason why you do what you do, it will take you far. But I also believe that loving what you do, in this case, learning science, is the first step on how you can prepare for the challenges ahead of you.
Prof. Leslie: In my case, being a barrio girl, I was a product of public school education with no access to science laboratory facilities, my inclinations in Science is purely from being inquisitive, I constantly ask questions after questions. I fell in-love with life I guess. And my love of reading also prepared me for it.
As for the students who plan to take a Science course– ask yourself questions that you will be interested in finding the answer yourself. Embrace Chemistry and Biology because that’s the foundation you need to at least have a good start in college.
- What challenges did you experience while studying?
Reyster: The challenge which I struggled with while majoring in Chemistry was primarily the culture of academic pressure that has been long cultivated inside the College of Science. We are part of a community that is headed by a lot of exceptional researchers and scientists. There is, for some reason, a need to seek approval from our peers and professors through acing an exam or achieving high grades. This kind of academic pressure has been a serious issue not just to me, but to all of us in the college.
Arianne: When I was studying microbiology in the earlier sem of the academic year, I had difficulty in understanding fundamental concepts. Some of my batchmates already have a background of microbiology from their high school education, and they are already familiar with it. So I had to study more and read books that I usually wouldn’t just so I could keep up with the lessons. Another challenge I encountered was the experiments I was doing for my thesis. My experiments failed around 3 times before i figured out what to do. I had to redo all the experiments from the start and meticulously check all the procedures and the right amount of reagents I need to use.
Prof. Leslie: Similar to Arianne’s experience, my foundation courses in Science were very poor, therefore I need to double my effort to cope with the lessons and with my classmates (because they will not adjust for you!) The tasks in the laboratory were all rigorous, from dissecting insects like flies and cockroaches to insect collection, rearing, identification and preservation you need loads of patience and perseverance. In addition to memorizing scientific names. Field trips to collect insects were rather enjoyable than exhausting.
- What are the essential skills an aspiring scientist should have while studying?
Prof. Leslie: There are two skills that I think will be useful: reading and memorization. I guess everything else can be learned thus, a student must have the ability to learn and listen then everything will be fine. Skills like microscopy, dissection etc. will be honed through constant practice and perseverance.
Reyster: Definitely, an aptitude both in science and mathematics is a major requirement. Upon finishing senior high school, a student who wishes to pursue a science degree (for instance, chemistry) must have developed high level of critical thinking ability, should possess strong foundation in numerical subjects and has a sharp attention to details and the ability to communicate well his/her findings. Visual and memorization skills are also helpful.
- Any final words of wisdom you’d like to add?
Arianne: Science and research are not like looking through rose-colored glasses. Experiments will fail –that is a given. You will not know everything you want to after just one study. You have to continuously seek knowledge. And as I learned, NEVER assume anything. It is better to question everything. Science is not constant, it is dynamic.
Reyster: I want to make this point clear: Before you finally decide to enroll in a science program, be absolutely sure first that your heart really belongs to science and that you have an intense passion for it. Attaining a science degree entails mental and physical endurance. It is not the field for students who are quick to quit when everything falls short of their expectations.Sometimes, you’ll be discouraged either from a failed exam or you might be having a hard time finishing your thesis/research paper. But as long as you love what you’re doing and you are certain that this is the right field for you, this kind of drive will keep you going and eventually you’ll succeed.
Prof. Leslie: Never fear to learn new things, ask questions and then record all the things you find interesting. Develop the love for reading from novels with uncomplicated plots to highly technical books while you are young, it will prepare you for the never-ending reference/literature search that is very essential in Science.