[OPINION] Connecting experts in the interest of science

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By Aleya Aziz Marzuki

As the world grapples with COVID-19, healthcare professionals are working round the clock to keep COVID-19 patients alive, medical scientists are racing to develop treatments and vaccines, epidemiologists are modelling infection rates to predict how the virus will continue to spread, and science journalists are disseminating news while battling the spread of misinformation.

Now more than ever an appreciation for science needs to be instilled in the public, particularly in our youths who will become tomorrow’s doctors, biologists and science communicators.

Malaysian Bioscience Scholars (MBIOS), a student-led association, aims to do just that. MBIOS’ main goal is to connect Malaysian bioscientists from around the world. Founded in 2017 by a group of Malaysian undergraduates studying in the United Kingdom, MBIOS’ Facebook page now has more than 1.5k likes and supports a very active community of science enthusiasts.

MBIOS serves as both a platform for networking and a knowledge hub. A dedicated Facebook group gives members a chance to ask questions and connect with others in the community. Its website also collates links to various career and scholarship opportunities and has a page where internship experiences are compiled to help students learn about different companies.

The career support does not end there. Free webinars have also been organised with experienced speakers from academia and the industry (such as AstraZeneca) who spoke about internship applications, career prospects after graduation and how to craft a competitive job application.

One of the highlights is a networking session held in February in London called Teh Tarik Social. The event saw student participants from various London universities gathering to meet and chat about the latest issues in science, including climate change and the respiratory disease from China. The society could not have imagined the impact that COVID-19 would go on to have.

As with other organisations and companies, MBIOS had to rapidly adapt to the restrictions brought by the pandemic. Physical events had to be cancelled and social distancing implemented. But this presented the perfect opportunity for the society to expand its reach to bioscience students outside the UK through virtual events and initiatives.

In May, MBIOS partnered with science communication platforms 100 Scientists of Malaysia and Science Media Centre Malaysia to launch “Malaysian Research Insider” that aims to showcase and elevate our scientists as well as inspire more Malaysians to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Held over Zoom and Facebook Live, each week a different scientist presents their research virtually for 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a live question and answer session with viewers. A wide array of topics has been featured, including microbiology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, game psychology, genomics, volcanology and nanoscience.

The sessions are unique as they are geared towards non-specialist audiences, in particular pre-university students and people with a general interest in science. Malaysian Research Insider has already garnered a steady following with several of their videos receiving upwards of a thousand views.

The ongoing success of this initiative has also encouraged the team to convert their annual flagship event, MBIOSymposium, into a two-day virtual event centred on the COVID-19 pandemic. “MBIOSymposium: A Global Pandemic” is set to take place on Aug 15 and 16 on Zoom and Facebook Live.

The current list of confirmed guests includes Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who will deliver the opening address. Others include Azran Osman-Rani, chief executive officer of digital health technology company Naluri; Dr Joel Low, director and clinical psychologist at The Mind; Jin Lim from JinnyboyTV; and, Tan Su Lin, journalist and co-founder of Science Media Centre Malaysia.

For details on the MBIOSymposium, visit MBIOS’ Facebook page at facebook.com/MBIOS.org

Aleya Aziz Marzuki who is in her third year pursuing her PhD in Psychology, at the University of Cambridge, UK is a Research and Development Associate at MBIOS.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Science Media Centre Malaysia

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