(This is an abridged letter I wrote to my students, both graduate and undergraduate, at the National Institute of Physics. Due to the academic calendar shift, the University of the Philippines will be having their graduation on June 28. )
I WRITE this both in celebration and in retrospect.
As an undergrad, you have gone through at least five years of tough academics and three years of research. You have distinguished yourself for being one of the few who chose to stay in physics and who have survived it as well as all the problem sets, exams and your thesis.
As you finish your masters, you have already passed the most difficult hump. The Masters of Science (MS) is one of the toughest phases in one’s career as a student. You had to take your core courses while doing research work, and– for some– teaching as well. The MS in physics is not only tough, it is brutal. It is where you learn physics from an entirely different viewpoint and use new tools different from what you have learned during your undergrad years.
But rejoice, your harried days are over. You should now have one remaining objective in mind: to get that PhD. Course work should be easy as you have– well, should have– learned the fundamentals already.
According to Dr. Caesar Saloma, writing in the Philippine Journal of Science last December 2014, the researcher density in the country have remained around approximately 81 researchers per million from 2007 until 2011. The Department of Science and Technology Science Education Institute also noted this year in a report that “despite the overall increase in the number of S&T workers…there were significant decrease in key professions in the fields of mathematics, statistics, life science, physics, and chemistry.”
In the Philippines, the number of PhD physicists hovers to only around a hundred actively practicing research and development. This is for a country of over 100 million in population. That makes us physicists literally “one in a million!”
That’s a statistic that might inflate your ego– but only for a few seconds– until you realize that you now have on your shoulders the burden of answering for the physics needs of a million Filipinos: to explain things, to make things or even to simply do research.
The urgency comes from the fact that we have a people in need for development. We do not have the luxury of the first world in terms of science and technology. We have to play catch up sometimes while making our own new contributions at the same time. That is where you are, that is where you have been. Being in dire situations not only builds character, it builds skill, knowledge and the drive to move forward.
It is with that same urgency that I push you to do what you can, and more in order to contribute to research in the country and into addressing the severe lack of scientists in the country.
Being your mentor was not an easy task but it pays that you are one original thinker who can transform a suggestion into a new thing in just a few steps. You are also a sterling example of how to be the well-rounded student as you have successfully tempered the demands of your research with your other passions.
You have had the courage to name both the powerful and the obscure based on your results. I stood by it because I know you have put it into the wringer and it still came out the same. I realize that an adviser should do more than just advise but to also stand ground when ideas, procedures, or techniques that we know have been validated are being unfairly questioned. That confidence in your results is there not only because of its scientific correctness but because I know that my students always do things correctly and conscientiously.
It is challenging to explore new topics with you where we need to have constant collaboration with other fields. We are slowly building up our capacity in doing these things and I am glad that you were there to do it.
We have a lot to do and a lot to learn. Your mentors can only provide opportunity and the direction, you have to supply the will and the need. What we need are young hungry graduate students. Not hungry in the epicurean sense but hungry to figure out things and to test new ideas. Hungry to stay and do research in the country despite inherent structural challenges.
Yet it is an opportune time for all of you to be doing research. Many opportunities, funding and equipment are now here that were absent a few years ago. There still exist structural limiting factors which we must challenge and change. We must remember that what we have right now is not the norm in the country. We are more of outliers than normal.
Lastly, we have to remember that urgent call of a people in dire need for development. We should always keep that in sharp focus so that we can always answer the question of science “for whom” with a clear resolve: for the people.