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Research and Advisory Manager Cheryl Ong shares her fulfilling Postgraduate Experience in the lead-up to her Dream Career

Published by Afterschool.my on Jul 28, 2021, 03:20 pm

My name is Cheryl Ong Sue Peng and I’m a Research and Advisory Manager at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

After working for almost a year in my previous job in the pharmaceutical industry, I came to realise that I wanted to pursue a career related to research. However, I first needed a relevant postgraduate qualification as it would equip me with the right knowledge and skills.

I was looking for a university that had both a qualified research supervisor as well as research work that was in my field of interest, which is in environmental science. Growing up, I always had an interest in the environment; how it affects our lives, why is it important and what can we do to preserve it?

I was made aware that environmental science was available as an option for a postgraduate research programme at Monash University Malaysia (Monash). This was why I was so keen on pursuing my Doctor of Philosophy (Science) qualification at Monash. The plus point was that as a Monash degree graduate, I was already familiar with the campus life and the lecturers.

Unforgettable Memories

Compared to my undergraduate experience where students needed to attend a set number of classes per week, life as a postgraduate student at Monash is quite flexible. Throughout the four years of my postgraduate study, I can safely say that I spent most of my time either in the lab or out in the field, collecting samples for my research.

However, on top of my research work, I also had to commit a set number of hours of teaching and marking undergraduate reports and assignments, as this was part of the requirement of my scholarship in which I was lucky enough to receive.

Teaching is something that I did not expect while I was doing my postgraduate study at Monash. It was a nerve-racking, first time experience with almost 40 students in a class at one time.

However, as time went by, I became more and more confident standing by myself and talking to the students. This teaching experience also helped me to understand certain topics better than I did before.

Balancing my research with teaching as well as marking reports and assignments can be very stressful at times, yet it was such a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I was also lucky to have coursemates that were very helpful. The experiences I had with people I’ve met and worked with during my postgraduate years were some of the most meaningful, especially when coming from an environmental field.

As the majority of us were researching the same type of environment or forest, it was very helpful to be carrying out fieldwork together. For example, my labmate will come and help me when I go out for field work, and in return, I will help her with her own fieldwork too. With an extra pair of eyes and helping hands, it was easier to navigate through the whole process of collecting samples for my research.

Other than that, Monash’s postgraduate programme required research students to mingle with researchers from other fields of work. It was a requirement for us to attend presentations from other researchers, so that we would be exposed to these new fields and not be narrowed down to our own area of study.

Amazing Opportunities

The level of support I received from Monash was tremendous, which allowed me to explore and develop myself. I could always reach out to my supervisor whenever I needed help and guidance, and at the same time, I was given the freedom to explore and plan how I would have liked to conduct my research.

The campus also provided students with a very comfortable, supportive and engaging learning space, with many opportunities for students to further develop their skills. Aside from the research work which included the use of lab equipment and the funding that we required for research, Monash also provided me with various interesting opportunities. For example, travelling and participating in research conferences and workshops, both locally and internationally, where I could connect with other researchers.

Although I pursued a career in research, Monash’s postgraduate programme equipped me with the skills to be able to work in multiple settings. I also gained knowledge on research project design and development and scientific-based writing, all of which are helpful, relevant and transferable skills to aid me in my current position at work.

In fact, I learnt about my current organisation during my postgraduate study at Monash. When I graduated and knew my research work was related to this organisation, I decided to apply to this organisation to offer my skills.

The teaching position in university helped improve my communication skills – to speak comfortably in front of my colleagues and network with people from different organisations.

Postgraduate programmes can be very demanding, but with the right mind and the right people by your side, you can push through it.

The School of Science at Monash University Malaysia offers a PhD programme that allows students to pursue research in key areas such as biodiversity and conservation, chemistry, infectious diseases, microbiology, food science and technology, natural products and drug discovery, and more.

CLICK HERE for more information on the postgraduate programmes available at Monash University Malaysia.

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