Inspiring the Next Generation of Malaysian Women Scientists L’Oréal-UNESCO honours three outstanding women scientists in annual award

November 09, 2017

First of all, congratulation to three impressive women scientist Malaysia that make us proud. The three wonderful women has won the coveted L'Oréal- UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship recently for research that tackles global challenges while potentially saving lives of millions.

Dr. Ho Weang Kee, 35-year-old from University of Nottingham Malaysia. She has clinched the award for her development of a risk prediction model of breast cancer, which uses DNA and lifestyle information to identify those at risk of the cancer for early detection.

Dr. Jasy Liew Suet Yan, 32-year-old from Universiti Sains Malaysia is recognized for building a system that detects sign of depression by analyzing emotional patterns social media. She hopes that the emotion-sensitive technology will encourage early diagnosis and treatment. 

The 36-year-old associate professor of the school Mathematical Science at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Dr. Teh Su Yan netted her awards with her unification of science, engineering, technology and mathematics to protect costal resources in Malaysia. She is building a model that will groundwater, which may become crucial when other water source are depleted due to global climate change.

In its 12th year, the annual L'Oreal-UNESCO for Women Science Fellowship was create to recognize and promote the contribution women scientists. The partnership was logical. L'Oréal, founded by scientist Eugene Schueller, has been celebrating women's confidence for over a century. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has also advocated for gender equality in the cultivation of scientific knowledge since 1945.

L'Oréal Foundation and its partners aim to boost awareness and interest in science among Malaysians. This is in line the nation's vision of becoming a knowledge economy by 2020. According to YB Dato Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, the minister in the Prime Minister Department overseeing the Malaysian Industry- Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), "A k-economy relies on human resources with strong foundation in sciences. As Year 2020 closes in, it is more urgent that 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. Adding on to her speech, "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."

In her speech during awards ceremony, she cites numbers from the Academy of Sciences Malaysia- only 21% of those in upper secondary choose to study science subjects since 2014.

The Minister of Higher Education has also 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.

As such, Malaysia lack STEM students to power its K-economy drive. The National council for Scientific Research and Development estimated that the country will need 493,830 scientists and engineers by 2020. But the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation is looking at a shortfall of 236,000technical personnel.

The dwindling interest in STEM, according to Nancy, underscores the importance of awards like the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science to foster scientific enthusiasm.

She congratulate the awards winners for their exemplary achievements in the male-dominated field, which " shows that science can be thriving ground for all genders to pursue excellence." Adding to it, "I also hope that such awards will inspire our nest generation to see STEMin a new light- it is not all complex calculation and daunting facts, but a key to unlock a better future for our nation, and our world," says the minister.

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% from last year. The heightened excitement for this scientific award gives hope that interest in STEM among the next generation will climb along,” Bekdache points out. He also congratulated the University of Nottingham Malaysia for emerging as the first private university to have won the award.

This year, on top of receiving a RM30,000 grant to help pursue their research, each winner also developed capacity in idea presentation. All three received training to present a summary of their research on stage during the award ceremony, in a manner similar to the world-renowned TED Talks.

The sought-after award was opened to all Malaysian women researchers or scientists under the age of 40 years, who are PhD holders or currently pursuing research studies in any scientific field. 

Submissions from various scientific disciplines totaled up to 208 this year. The panel of jury this year was led by one of Malaysia’s first astrophysicist, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman, Program Director, Academy of Science Malaysia. Each entry was deliberated 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. Over RM900,000 in research grants have been presented to 38 outstanding women scientists since the inception of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2006.

“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,” says Bekdache.

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