Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Science and She: Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and its network of Biotechnology Information Centers launched a campaign on social media which aims to empower women in science. The campaign called Science and She, features scientists and science communicators who tell their stories and aspirations for science and the society with the hope that the stories will help bridge the gap between science and the public.

For each week, one female scientist or science communicator serves as the curator of the Science and She social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Recently, Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, a science communication expert and Executive Director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center, took the centerstage. 

According to Dr. Arujanan, science communication is relatively a new field and so much needs to be done in this area in the developing world. She calls on scientists to be “civic scientists” to bridge the knowledge gap between the scientific community and the society. She encouraged them to reach out to the people, engage them, make them understand and appreciate science and research.


Empowering others with scientific knowledge and helping them to make informed decisions gives Dr. Maha a tremendous satisfaction. Her contributions to science communication were first recognized by The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) with the awarding of the 2010 TWAS Regional Prize for Public Understanding of Science for East, SEA and the Pacific Region. Another recognition came in 2015, when Scientific American’s WorldView named her as one of the 100 most influential persons in biotech in the world. In the same year, Biotech Law Report published by Mary Ann Liebert in the USA listed Dr. Arujanan as one of the women in Biotech Law and Regulations. Malaysian Women’s Weekly also listed her as one of the “Great Women of our Time” in their December 2015 issue. 

The importance of science communication

"Communicating and engaging the public with science and biotechnology is crucial. To make informed decisions, every individual needs some basic understanding of science. And this is exactly what we do at the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC)...we empower the public with scientific knowledge. Join us in our rally to support science and science-based decisions," says Dr. Arujanan. This is the reason why she loves her job as a science communicator. “It's really fulfilling to see that my job translates into science-based policies, regulations, and it helps to ensure food security, mitigate climate change, have sustainable agricultural practices, and in the alleviation of poverty…I’m a strong advocate of biotechnology. I strongly believe that if this field is deployed ethically, it can solve many of the problems that we face today," she added.

Dr. Arujanan emphasized that at present, there are several means to disseminate information on science/biotechnology and to engage the public. We do not have to solely depend on the mainstream media. While MABIC resorted to creating a print media that has been digitalized, social media offers another powerful tool as a mouthpiece for scientists and science communicators. Their monthly newspaper, The Petri Dish, is the first science newspaper in Malaysia, distributed to major universities, research institutes, hospitals, government agencies, government ministries and schools across Malaysia as well as in Indonesia. She also reaches out to the public, especially to the young minds, through her Facebook page which has over 12,000 followers as of this writing.

Women in STEM

Dr. Arujanan recognized the tremendous increase in the number of women in science careers such as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and professionals in other STEM-related areas. According to her, this is really an achievement of progressive policies, government measures, and also the society that allowed women to pursue their dreams around the world.

“But the truth is we have not achieved equality yet with our male counterparts. While the number of girls is increasing in the universities, there is still a leaky pipe somewhere along the career path. We still do not see enough women at the pinnacle of organizations, at the decision-making positions and in the boardrooms,” she highlights.

“As a trained science communicator, I feel we have to take the onus to inspire young girls to pursue STEM education and careers. We need to be their mentors and role models. We need to share our stories, journey, accomplishments, and challenges with them. More importantly, we need to stand up for our rights so we pave a road that is with fewer obstacles for the next generation. So that, their journey becomes sweeter than ours and they could contribute much more than us,” Dr. Arujanan stressed.

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