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CAS Future Leaders: Driving scientific community engagement across Malaysia

CAS Future Leaders: Driving scientific community engagement across Malaysia

Have you heard about CAS Future Leaders? Since 2010, the program has provided early-career scientists with essential scientific, business and leadership training to help them make meaningful impacts in science. We're sharing "where are they now" stories written by our program alumni. This week's post features two alumni collaborating to elevate the scientific community in Malaysia, Felicia Lim (2018) and Magaret Sivapragasam (2017).

Strengthening a global network of multidisciplinary scientists

Felicia Lim
Felicia Lim @Felicia5562
Researcher & NMR Specialist, Monash University Malaysia

In the summer of 2018, I departed Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a 9,470-mile flight headed towards Columbus, Ohio, for the CAS Future Leaders program. I was among 30 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers handpicked by CAS to embark on a journey together.

For a group of young scientists, strangers to one another, working in such diverse areas of chemical sciences, we connected on a level that no one had ever expected. We learned, laughed and grew together, and ultimately, supported one another in becoming leaders in our own field. There was something very special about the program; it was not merely the professional development and soft skills that we took home with us, but the global experience, empowerment and lifelong "Future Leaders family."

Returning from such an incredible program was extremely difficult and I anticipated a challenge being so far apart from many of the 2018 CAS Future Leaders. Fast forward 8 months post-program—we are keeping in touch and cheering on each other in all our amazing achievements. Early this year, I graduated with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and did not anticipate the outpouring love and support from so many, especially my fellow Future Leaders! Whether it is research collaborations, outreach activities, job opportunities, awards or social events, we will always have each other's back.

Besides staying connected with the 2018 Future Leaders post-program, I was fortunate enough to get to know a 2017 Future Leader and fellow Malaysian, Dr. Magaret Siva. On paper, we could not be more different; I am an organic chemist, she is a biotechnologist. We were both from different states, albeit the same country. But there is something unique about connecting with another Future Leader. We related and bonded through our shared experience in the program and had similar passion, goals and aspirations. We knew we were fortunate to have had this opportunity and we wanted to share our wealth of knowledge with our scientific community. Little did we know how much it would change our lives.

Sharing the importance of effective science communication

Magaret Sivapragasam
Magaret Sivapragasam @MagaretSiva
Biotechnologist & Postdoctoral Research Scientist, University Teknologi PETRONAS

The CAS Future Leaders program not only changed my life, it also paved the way for so many more good things. Upon returning from the United States in 2017, I landed in Malaysia with a goal—to disseminate all that I had learned in the program.

My passion has always been in science communication. But I soon realized that it is one thing to have a passion and another to put that passion into play! In the CAS Future Leaders program, I realized that science communication was a huge area in science with so much potential. Since returning, I have had the courage and will power to initiate many activities, particularly in the field of science communication. Here at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, I initiated a bi-monthly session, Let's Talk Over Tea. These sessions provide a platform and an encouraging environment for students and early career scientists to speak their science and improve their communication skills.

In developing countries such as Malaysia, using social media to communicate and disseminate scientific information is still scarce. I wanted to make a change and never anticipated what a joy and privilege it was to join efforts with a fellow Malaysian, Dr. Felicia Lim. Shortly after the announcement of the 2018 class, I was elated to see that another Malaysian made a mark on the CAS Future Leaders homepage. Reaching out to her felt like meeting a long-lost family member for the first time! We clicked almost instantly, decided to work together and the rest is history.

One of the many highlights I had working with Felicia was reaching out to universities in Malaysia to create awareness on using Twitter and Facebook to "speak" one's science. We challenged students to be bold in communicating their science through social media and I was elated to learn that many of them started using Twitter. Sometimes, the ability to inspire is a win itself! My aim is to inspire young scientists to speak their science effectively. Be proud of your achievements! Sometimes you must put yourself out there to be heard.

Taking the lead in community engagement

Our first initiative together was to reach out to the ACS Malaysia International Chapter and begin to engage the scientific community in Malaysia. Many had no idea who we were or what it meant to be a CAS Future Leader. We had our low moments, but it never broke us. Instead, it inspired us to work harder to achieve our goals. Soon, we started efforts to establish ACS International Student Chapters in our respective universities. Magaret is leading a team at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, while Felicia leads a team at Monash Malaysia. In fact, the ACS Monash University Malaysia International Student Chapter was officially chartered in February 2019!

Ultimately, the cherry on top, was being recognized by IUPAC’s Periodic Table of Younger Chemists. We are honored to be the first two Malaysians selected to represent the elements Ytterbium (Magaret) and Samarium (Felicia). The CAS Future Leaders program definitely provided the springboard to catapult us to where we are today.

We are a testimony of two strong, bold Malaysian women, with so much motivation and determination fueled by the support we have for one another. A quote by the late Mother Theresa resonates: "None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful."

Are you a Ph.D. student or postdoctoral researcher who would like to blaze a trail toward scientific leadership? Learn more about the CAS Future Leaders program today.