STAR  SCIENCE:  ON  MENTORING

MANILA, NOVEMBER 14, 2006
  (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Caesar Saloma, PhD - A mentor is someone who advises, supports, monitors, and nurtures the progress of a younger, less experienced novice. He or she is usually older and more experienced. The continued success of the scientific enterprise to shape human civilization depends greatly on the capacity of mentors to train the next generation of productive scientists in society. A well-qualified mentor of a graduate student possesses the noble qualities of a good teacher and the proven track record of a successful researcher because a PhD is a research degree that is granted after the contribution of a work that is original, novel and consequential to the body of scientific knowledge.

Principally through the dedicated efforts of the local science community and its advocates in both the government and the private sector, interest in pursuing an advanced science career is rising among the Filipino youth, especially among the ones with more talent and better training during high school and college. The trend is not only propitious for science but also for the future socio-economic well-being of Philippine society. Technological innovation is not possible without the application of new knowledge that is generated by scientific research and development.

Innovation allows industries to develop and offer better and more exciting products and services. A vibrant economy that is fueled by the timely introduction and efficient use of (new) technologies will enable the Philippines to withstand or absorb the attendant pressures of a rapidly increasing population, dwindling natural resources and a calamity-prone geographic location. In 2004, an article in the journal Nature argued about a strong correlation between scientific productivity and the economic wealth of countries around the world. Taken together, the various surveys that have appeared in the weekly newspaper The Economist reveal that countries, which are strong in scientific R&D, are also perceived to be less corrupt and less risky to foreign direct investment. Doing business is also less costly, a climate that is more likely to benefit consumers in such countries. Earnest investment in R&D does not only strengthen a national economy, it also builds the self-esteem of a nation.

The Philippines needs more mentors to mitigate its dire shortage of advanced scientific manpower that prevents it from thriving in a knowledge-based global economy. The need to address the scarcity is urgent because the science community is the primary source of intellectual capital in an advanced society. A mentor provides a young graduate student with the valuable opportunity to efficiently acquire essential technical skills and precious laboratory experience that are crucial to his future productivity as an independent scientist. Mentoring is the lifeblood that sustains scientific tradition and the bequest of knowledge and experience that is achieved by mentoring, giving science the power to formulate an increasingly accurate explanation of the physical world.

The qualities of a mentor are honed through years of scientific productivity and self-rectification. Filipino mentors, in particular, need to develop a sound understanding of their working environment to enable them to rise above the unfavorable socio-economic conditions of doing R&D in a society where scientific culture is still in its infancy. Even productive researchers or dedicated teachers have to toil to become successful mentors who are able to strike a delicate balance between personal engagement and detachment in the course of supervising a PhD student. Mentoring requires a considerable amount of selflessness, generosity and endurance to contend with the ups and downs of scientific research and the exuberance of youth.

The effect of the brain drain is lethal particularly among young BS graduates who depart because they could not find a nurturing research laboratory for their PhD training in the Philippines. In my observation, their failure is not due to the lack of trying or love of country. There are simply too few research laboratories around and their number could increase only if additional mentors are found. Mentors build laboratories and guide students, ultimately inspiring them about the remarkable joy of making a scientific discovery. They play a key role in slowing, if not reversing the needless migration of Filipino scientific talent.

Becoming an esteemed mentor is a worthy challenge that all researchers and teachers should take in the course of their professional life.

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Caesar Saloma is a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines. He is a professor of physics at the National Institute of Physics and presently, the Dean of the College of Science in UP Diliman. E-mail him at csaloma@nip.upd.edu.ph or caesar.saloma@gmail.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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