28 Aug 2019 Conference Travel Grant Enhances IMU Postgraduate Student’s Learning Experience

Recollecting what happened 10 months ago – I was conducting the last part of my Masters research project. Formulations I worked on for about a year failed during the proof-of-concept stage at the first trial. Initially, I struggled a little to cross this hurdle. It took one whole week of being down and lots of personal reflections for me to understand that my formulation had failed, not me. Soon I realised, failures along the way are part and parcel of the journey and I have to keep moving forward without giving up. It was not right nor fair for me to label myself as a failure only because something I worked full-heartedly on did not turn out as I wanted it to be.

Fear of failure was not new to me. Once during my primary school, we were asked to write an essay on ‘I am a millionaire’. I failed in the exam terribly and threw the paper away before going back home as I was afraid of being called stupid. I was forced to believe that I was not smart based on the exam marks. At that age, I did not know the value of one million. I always thought if they asked me to write ‘What you would do with RM100?, I would have written a very good story because I knew what I could do with that. Unfortunately, I carried the fear with me for years. Failing at something was not the problem. But, my inability to look past the failure was very challenging. Standing at this place now, I realized that I should not let subjective definition of others affect me. Fear is a just an emotion that we wear as a coat.

During the recovery time, I learned through a podcast that progress is not always about thriving, but it is a repetitive cycle of learning, experimenting and testing, performing, struggling and thriving. After about a week, I started to feel better emotionally. Mahatma Gandhi once said “The only devils in the world are those running in your own hearts. That is where the battle should be fought”. I realigned my thoughts. Thriving is the journey I am going towards, and I am ready to keep learning, experimenting and struggling in between.

Couple of weeks later, my supervisor Dr Fu Ju Yen from Malaysian Palm Oil Board, who is also my mentor encouraged me to apply for 2019 Controlled Release Society Local Chapters Young Scientist Travel Award to attend Controlled Release Society Annual Meeting & Exposition in Valencia, Spain for 5 days. I thought this would be a great platform to learn, so I applied for the travel grant and was blessed to receive the award. Dr Fu asked me to register for both oral and poster presentations but deep in my heart I was hoping to be selected for poster presentation only.

As always, what you wanted never happens and only what you needed happens. I got selected for both presentations. I had the choice of declining the oral presentation. Truthfully, I actually considered to do that. But why? Again I was surrounded by clouds of fear.  I reminded myself that I must let go of my old habit to be a better version of myself. Hence, I decided to give it a try. Personally, it was a proud moment for me as I did not let the bad past histories of mine to repeat themselves, instead I used them to make a better decision.

As someone who loves arts, I enjoyed the process of designing the poster and PowerPoint slides. It gave me some relaxation time with arts to rejuvenate myself. The presentation preparation was done under the supervision of Dr Mai Chun Wai, A/Prof Mohd Zulkefeli bin Mat Jusoh and Dr Fu Ju Yen. They were always very encouraging not only towards my participation in the conference but throughout my Provisional Registered Pharmacist (PRP) and research journey in IMU. They see more ability in me than I see in myself and helped to bring it out of me. Their constructive feedbacks were the key for my improvement and the expansion of greater version of my research.

I am taking this opportunity to appreciate and thank all my supervisors for being exemplary and visionary supervisors. I am also grateful to IMU for also financially supporting this trip.

Time passed by. I have completed my lab work and started writing my thesis. In the midst of writing, the date to begin my Spain trip came.

Hola! Hola senorita greeted a cab driver whom I was waiting for at Valencia Airport. I got into the taxi blasting with a peppy Spanish song, passing through the coastal road lined with tall palm trees and beautiful old buildings. It was pleasing to the eyes. Then, I reached the Purple Nest Hostel in the city centre. I dropped my luggage and started to walk using Google map looking for a tram to go to Palau de Congresso where the conference took place. It was my oral presentation day. I reached an hour early and quietly sneaked into the conference room where Prof Alfred Fahr from Germany was giving a talk. It was the first and best talk I listened throughout the 5-day conference.

Soon after the talk, the Local Chapter Young Scientist Workshop began. The workshop was attended by well-known scientists, travel grant recipients from all over the world as well as fellow researchers. I was the 8th speaker. I had memorised my script and rehearsed beforehand as I am not an impromptu speaker. I had done a few presentations in IMU during my undergraduate years and received many constructive comments. With those feedback and hardwork, I believed I was well prepared for the presentation.

IMU Postgraduate Student's experience attending the 2019 Controlled Release Society Annual Meeting & Exposition in Spain.

However, during the waiting period, a self-destructive thought started to pop in and distracted me. My insecurities started flooding in. As far as I could recall during my childhood, I was identified with dark complexion and petite look. I completely understand the ones who made those remarks had no intentions of hurting me. I hold no grudges against them but it somehow contributed to my low self-esteem during my early days and whether I want it or not, I am still carrying those insecurities in me. As a naïve little girl, I remember crying to my father asking if it was my fault to be born with these features. Over time I learned to be grateful for who I am and I am proud of it too.

After a moment of silence, I gave myself a pep talk and walked to the stage confidently and presented my slides. I am happy that I managed to overcome those insecurities with my positive thoughts. Archbishop Desmond Tutu shared “suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us”. Every time I suffer from insecurities, I am going to be persistent to beat them down and everyone should too.

During the 5-day conference, I had the chance to meet and listen to the talks of many respected scientists. We were enlightened by the various research advancements of countries around the globe. The insights they shared were valuable and inspiring. It was indeed a fan moment when I had the opportunity to meet Prof Alexander T Florence, author of a reference book I enjoyed reading during my undergraduate years. Besides listening to the talks, I am grateful to have met many young scientists during networking events who were passionate and ambitious towards their research. Exchange of ideas, interest and experience was refuelling.

My trip to Valencia is definitely an addition to my life’s richness. Every day after the conference, I would go around exploring the city with my new friends and other travellers from Spain, Columbia, Denmark and India whom we met in the hostel. A beautiful bond was created among us through sharing of stories, jokes, cultures and values. The city was magnificent at night. The city was filled with sounds of instruments played by independent musicians, chit-chats of families while having dinner, voices of children shouting at each other while playing, aromatic smell of freshly baked croissants from bakeries and warm lights brightening the city. My stay in Valencia was definitely a hygge moment.

In short, this travel was a great learning experience for me and I am very grateful for it. Ibn Battuta once said “travelling it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. Stories!  You do not just tell them to others, you tell them to yourself. A good story can empower you. A good story encourages you to grow. Find and create your own story!

I will end my story here with a line by my favourite poet Rupi Kaur, “You do not just wake up and become the butterfly – growth is a process”. Thank you to my parents, Maniam and Vijaya for always supporting me.

Written by IMU MSc in Medical and Health Sciences Student, Geetha Maniam.

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(Experience doing her Provisional Registered Pharmacist training under Research & Development in academia)
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