10 Aug 2020 My Journey as a Pharmaceutical Chemistry Scholar at IMU

If someone were to ask me why I am doing Pharmaceutical Chemistry for my degree, I will be outright honest with them and tell them that it was not my first choice to begin with. And then, I would often end up getting confused faces from them. Well, they may think that I am bragging because I managed to adapt well and excel in this course even though it was not my first choice. Truth be told, I was left with no choice but to take up this course.

It all started out with my dream to serve in the healthcare industry and dentistry was my first choice. I fought for it and even received an offer to be enrolled for the course. However, I did not manage to secure a scholarship and I did not have enough resources to support my dream to be a dentist. I then made up my mind to take up Pharmaceutical Chemistry, so that I could be a part of the healthcare scene, with a focus in the field of drug synthesis. I chose to study this course at IMU because this degree from IMU is accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), UK, the world’s leading chemistry community and professional body, ensuring that the curriculum is benchmarked to international standards. Given the eligibility of the school to apply for international research funds under RSC, I was confident that IMU was the right place for me to pursue my degree. Topping it off, I was awarded a full scholarship to study the course in IMU. It must have been one of the euphoric moments of my life when I learnt that I was the only candidate awarded the scholarship.

My Journey at IMU
My time in IMU was a fruitful one. I have had so many ups and downs throughout my three-year journey in IMU. I started off my journey with a million expectations for myself, especially in both academic and co-curricular activities. It was tough at first because I needed time to adapt to a new environment. I had burnout moments occasionally since I had to juggle between my studies, extra-curricular activities, and family difficulties. I am grateful that my mentor, Prof Mallikarjuna Rao Pichika, was there to listen to my problems when I was in low spirits. The Self Development Unit has also offered encouragement, support and guidance when I was down and lost my pace.

Indeed, there were also funny moments throughout my three-year degree. These moments mainly revolve around practical sessions in the laboratory. For example, we got really excited when we got a perfect endpoint for a titration, meaning we did not have to repeat the experiment and could leave the class earlier. I also remember those days where we first used the separatory funnel to extract our reaction mixtures from certain solvents, we were so scared to handle the separatory funnel at first. One of the group mates forgot to open the stopcock after shaking it vigorously, and the stopper eventually popped out with our reaction mixtures spilt out everywhere. Not to forget to mention the moment when a coursemate of mine used the millivolt (mV) mode of the pH meter to measure the pH of a solution. We were frustrated with our mistakes back then but looking back at those things that we have done; it was definitely an enjoyable journey.

There were also a few memorable moments. I was the only undergraduate student chosen to represent IMU to present my research findings in the 7th International Postgraduate Conference on Pharmaceutical Sciences (iPoPS2020) held in Tokyo, but unfortunately, the conference did not take place due to the global pandemic outbreak. However, I am grateful to have prepared myself for the conference beforehand. I learnt how to design my own poster using Microsoft Publisher and brushed up my presentation skills. Although it was cancelled, the learning process was a rewarding one.

Besides, the faculty has always been really helpful throughout my learning process. There was once when I was chosen to receive a bursary award and that I had to attend the ceremony in order to receive the cash reward. Coincidentally, the ceremony was on the same day as my class test. I told the programme director, Dr Cheong Kok Whye, about how much I needed the bursary. He told me that it was possible to reschedule the class test date if my classmates agreed to it, which they did. In the end, I managed to attend the ceremony and not miss the test. This is just one of the many occasions that I could recall, as I contemplate on the significance of teamwork, collaboration, interpersonal relationships, and more. There were days where I made mistakes while juggling between my studies and personal matters, but eventually these moments taught me to become a better person in life.

While maintaining my grades and scholarship, I had also actively participated in the outside classroom activities to hone my soft skills and competencies. As a scholar in IMU, I was given chances to work on different projects. During my second year of study, I was elected as the Secretary of IMU Scholars Committee. I have assisted several campus events hosted by IMU as well as under the IMU Scholar’s team. I played a significant role in many projects, one of which is the Head of Sponsorship of TEDxIMU 2018. Besides acting as an active team player in IMU Scholars Committee, I also actively participated in community service, namely the IMU & APU Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association (IMU & APU Tzu Ching), a subgroup under Tzu Chi Foundation which aims to nurture young people like us to serve with love and unleash our youthful enthusiasm to work for the greater good of humanity. We had the opportunity to meet friends not just within our varsity, but also young volunteers from the region and worldwide too. Volunteering with Tzu Chi allowed me to understand that professional development is not all, through the act of service, I gain deeper insights into life in the process.

Recipient of Tun Zahir Merit Award

I was thrilled when I was informed that I am the top student in my class, winning myself the Tun Zahir Merit Award. Winning the award was one of my goals set ever since I entered IMU for my degree. I am glad that I did not let my mentor, lecturers, friends, and family members down. It is definitely a dream come true.

Other Achievements

In the year of 2017 and 2018, I was the winner of the BRAND’S® Smart Achiever Award for two years consecutively. This annual award recognises top achievers who excelled in both their academic and extra-curricular performance. All thanks to IMU for preparing me well in terms of my academics and involvements in extra-curricular activities, hence allowing me to emerge as one of the outstanding scholars selected from hundreds of entries to win this prestigious award. Besides, I was recently nominated by the IMU School of Pharmacy to be one of the recipients of the IKM Graduate Chemistry Medal Award from Malaysia Institute of Chemistry. I am grateful to be the representative of IMU to receive this award and to bring IMU’s name to a national level.

My  Motivation
Throughout these three years, I have achieved a lot. Some achievements are even beyond my expectations. My motivation stemmed from the support of my family especially from my mother and sisters, my dedicated lecturers (special thanks to Prof Mallikarjuna Rao Pichika), my closest friends whom I shared wonderful memories with. Without them, I am nobody and my life is incomplete. They have taught me that it is absolutely alright to make mistakes.

There were days where you were under intense pressure. When that happens, talk to someone that you trust. Take a break from whatsoever you are doing before you carry on, and never give up.

Preparation for my Future as a Chemist

IMU Pharmaceutical Chemistry has prepared me well enough for my future. All lab skills and knowledge gained from practical sessions, lectures, group works, assignments, and research projects really pushed me beyond boundaries. Since I have plans to further my study in the field, I personally felt that the practical sessions are extremely useful. People tend to overlook the benefits of joining this course due to the small number of students pursuing the course. The number of students does not define the quality of what it offers.

Recently, I secured a research position to continue my postgraduate study. Living through this pandemic, most people find it difficult to seek jobs. Fortunately, I am really grateful and proud of my course as I was immediately recruited as a research assistant after sending in my resume and had my interview session conducted. I personally do not think that it was just because of my resume and interview session that secured the position, but it was more of the learning experience of what I have gone through in IMU that has prepared me for the industry.

Right now, I am preparing myself for the scholarship application to pursue my postgraduate study and I am working hard in writing review papers related to my research project. I am confident that with the knowledge and soft skills that I have gained in IMU, I will be able to secure the full scholarship again to continue my study. Upon getting my PhD, I aim to delve into the research field of the pharmaceutical industry, namely in the synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Advice to Students Interested in Studying Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Here is a piece of advice to students who are interested in studying Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Do not be discouraged by the small cohort of students whom are taking this course, as most people would initially choose their choice of course only if it is popular and difficult to get in. I personally feel that it is up to the individual to decide which path we would like to venture on. If you think you are interested in drug synthesis or drug formulation (basically anything related to drugs), then you might find this course suitable for you.

A few words before I end this write-up. Winners never quit and quitters never win. Life is a bumpy journey on its own, and there could be many doubtful moments awaiting you. Next, fate might have decided a lower starting point for some of us for some reason or what is not, but a setback is a setup for a comeback. And remember, you are the master of your own destiny.

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Written by Wong Xi Khai

2 Comments

  1. Ooi Su Yin 13 Aug 2020 at 11:16 AM - Reply

    Congratulations! Well done! All the best in your future undertakings.

  2. Low Jun Sheng 14 Aug 2020 at 8:59 AM - Reply

    One of the nicest and realest juniors that I get to interact and work with. He’s a very strong individual who has gone through many struggles in life, and now he has shone as the brightest diamond after years of polishing. Your hard work and efforts have paid off, and I am very proud of you. All the very best in your future endeavors!

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