Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Do Our Science -Trained Researchers Do?

When we talk of scientific research we invariably think of the Nobel Prize winners, great inventors, successful entrepreneurs and professors, policy makers in government or businesses. We admire and respect these people, make them our role models and even hero-worship them. When we talk about R & D we think of high technology and what their MNC’s do at home. Many of such activities are out of the reach of our people.

We tend to overlook and even look down on the large numbers of local people engaged in scientific work in our laboratories, factories, quality control systems, workshops and hospitals etc. These people provide important supporting scientific services like doing the routine work, problem solving and innovation which require scientific knowledge/skills. These people support the growth of our economy, provide the services required and the jobs we need. They also provide the important basic scientific infra structure for those involved in higher creative and basic research. They enhance the chances of research activities to become useful and meaningful to society, country and Mankind. Singapore has built up some of our S & T services in the past 50 years. We now have to build up our creative and basic research capabilities and quickly integrate them into what we already have to catch up for the years we have lost during the colonial days. Do not overlook our basic infrastructure in our quest for higher goals in S & T development. I have produce a simple chart (please see above) showing the Pyramid of Research Activities we can do and are involved in.

We know money is needed to acquire and generate knowledge and skills. Money is required to keep Science and our interest in it alive. Money is needed to keep our jobs and our businesses going. How many of our science trained personal know how to use their scientific knowledge to create wealth by themselves? Not many. This is because the creation of wealth involves many different parties to work together for a common cause.

The common complaint most scientists of developing countries make is insufficient funding for their research. The questions are:
a. Who are these people?
b. Who are the people responsible for solving this problem and
c. How are they to doing it now?

Since money is so important in many of the things we do in life, making money tend to become an end in itself instead of being a means to an end. R & D and many other things will suffer if the creation of wealth becomes the only goal in what we do.

Another answer to our problem is to produce more scientists who are also entrepreneurs, who dare to take risks and create the funds and opportunities they need. Pass the responsibilities to the science graduates and blame them if nothing happens. Be self sufficient is an ideal solution which is difficult to achieve in most cases. The authorities can step up the education program to produce more S & T personnel. To produce entrepreneurs out of these graduates is a different matter. The question is asked “Can entrepreneurs be trained or are they born? Entrepreneurs have special talents to know what to do. How does this talent come about? Entrepreneurs also need courage to do what they believe in. How can an individual acquire this courage? It must be recognized that it is too much to expect a person to be good scientifically and technologically, entrepreneurial and courageous at the same time. Those who can do all these by themselves deserve our respect for what they are. Our society will need these people more than they need us. The authorities must not stop only at indicating what has to be done i.e. do more R & D and be more entrepreneurial and creative. It must use its resources and authority to encourage active participation among the important parties.

Who are these “science research workers” and what can they do to get and produce what is needed? To get a better understanding of this universal problem I have produced a sketch (please see above) to show the type of people involved. In my profession and career I learned the importance of how to get these people to work together. A lot of work has to be done which may not show immediate results. Bridges have to be built for people to cross and meet each other. Barriers which inhibit important people/sectors from cooperating with each other have to be broken down.

I will share with you some of my own experience and that of my colleagues in articles describing anecdotes of events that happened related to this matter. I will try to describe the issues of the day, the priorities and strategies we set and the way we implemented our policies and plans in the articles in my Blog. The people, technologies and environment may have changed but the need for people to work together in order that R & D can create wealth, and also enhances our development, remains valid and essential.
How to do this remain a challenge to us and the generations to come.

Lee Kum Tatt

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