Despite the rain last Monday, the College of Science of the University of the Philippines in Diliman held a recognition program for its students who have garnered grades that qualify them as University and College scholars. These are those students who have grades higher than 1.25 and 1.75 respectively. Their recognition as scholars do not carry any monetary remuneration but is a testament to their academic achievements and is a source of pride for their parents.
This year we had an average of 162 University and 254 College scholars (out of a thousand students) for the College of Science. Nearly one fourth of our student population earns this recognition, which is a testament to the quality of their mental abilities and their instruction as well.
The whole activity had to move indoors due to the late afternoon downpour but it did not deter the enthusiasm of the students and their parents to listen to the guest speaker and to receive their certificate of recognition from our Dean Dr. Jose Maria Balmaceda. The guest speaker was Dr.
Reynaldo Garcia, the current director of the Technology Transfer and Business Development Office of the University of the Philippines System and a Professor at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in UP Diliman.
Dr. Garcia taught briefly as a Teaching Fellow at the Institute of Biology in the mid-1980s before he took his first steps in the interesting interface between science and business innovation. According to him, during the 20 years that he was away from the country, he lived in six countries, worked in six universities, obtained his PhD in Molecular Biology from the Australian National University, did three postdoctoral fellowships and added a business degree from the University of Cambridge along the way. His dual background in biomedical research and in the management of technology and innovation led him to work both in industry and academia as a consultant in many biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Garcia decided to move back to the Philippines two years ago as a DOST Balik Scientist Awardee and later returned as a professor at the UP Diliman. He gave the audience some useful perspectives that he gained from his 20 years of being away from the University.
He pointed out that generally what is lacking in the University is innovation. Limited by the small grants and by the research priority areas as specified by government funding agencies, he lamented the misguided policy of giving stress to find immediate applications for research. He says that there is “a lot to be gained from basic research, even from those with no immediately apparent industrial applications.”.\ He pointed out that universities do not have to “productize.”
Garcia said that value comes from “intangible intellectual property that is a result of basic research” and this would still require further work by potential licensees and investment from the private sector to become products. If there is little innovation and the University produces only “me-too” technologies, investments would be hard to come by.
Another point that he made was to improve the procurement of research materials needed in laboratories. Reagents and equipment take weeks or even months to be delivered. He also scored the problem in hiring of research assistants whose appointment papers would be approved months after he or she was initially hired. These “little problems, as Dr. Garcia called them, hold the University back in becoming a true research university.
He offered a few further points to improve on such as the workload of faculty and researchers. Reducing the teaching load of faculty enables them to do more research. Garcia pointed out that “recruitment of overseas-trained faculty alone will not make UP a great research university if these PhDs are consigned to teaching and administrative work with very little time left for research.”
At the end, he pointed out that we still need a lot of expertise to stay here in the Philippines. He said that the “biggest issue of all is the lack of critical mass and the gaps in expertise across subject areas.” He appealed to the University and College scholars listening to his talk to fill in the gaps and consider to have their research careers in the country.
He laid down the wide areas of interesting research projects to pursue and niches to fill in such as the gap in bioprocessing and proteomics and in medicinal chemistry for drug discovery. He laments the small pool of scientists vying for a small pie of research money that cause other scientists to venture into projects way beyond their area of expertise.
Dr. Garcia’s talk may be an eye-opener for some but sadly this is the situation in the top university in the country. We hope that as UP transforms itself into a national university geared towards research, education and service, the whole scientific enterprise in the country resolves these “little problems” as we move forward into solving the larger problems of society.