DR REENA RAJASURIAR, SCIENTIST & UNIVERSITI MALAYA MEDICAL FACULTY LECTURER
Dr Reena Rajasuriar is the type of person who looks forward. It is just as well that she is working towards a better future – decoding the drivers of premature aging among HIV and cancer survivors. Through this research, Reena hopes to improve the quality of life and survivorship of these patients.
Progress, to her, comes from being able to reexamine research hypothesis and retest them. The scientist is used to experiments proving her wrong. “There is a sense of honesty in scientific research that I love. Science never lies. Very often, I may start off with one hypothesis. But when I actually run the experiments, it tells me something entirely different. You have to be open minded enough to accept that you had a narrow view of a scientific process, and not many people can do that,” says the Universiti Malaya Medical Faculty lecturer, who is one of the few immunologists in the country. She is also among the three winners of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award this year.
DR REENA RAJASURIAR “The challenges are greater for woman and we have to work harder to move up the ranks.”
Reena has witnessed scientists who would not budge from their original positions, even though the evidence of an alternative hypothesis is staring them in the face. This reaction is, of course, not limited to those in lab coats. People commonly resist admitting errors as it requires change, which can be a herculean undertaking.
Research is a good example. Informed by evidences from experiments, Reena and her colleagues are is constantly tweaking their hypothesis and methods, as well as evolving the core questions buttressing the research. It’s been two years since the study began, and they “have only just began to understand some of the important players in driving this process”.
The long research process is a huge factor why there are less women in the field. “Working in the science field can involve long grueling hours in the lab, especially in the early part of your research career. It is hard for woman with young kids and families […] to juggle these commitments. When women take time off for maternity leave or to look after young kids or parents, this can often derail their momentum and it is hard to get back into the field after you have left it for a while.
“I do not think it is fewer opportunities for grants or promotion that leads to fewer women career scientists, but rather their sense of responsibility to family. Having said that, we have many successful woman who have made it in their scientific careers. So, I do not think it is impossible, but perhaps the challenges are greater for woman and we have to work harder to move up the ranks,” says the 40-year-old, who is unmarried.
Not that the soft-spoken PHD holder plans to let anything stop her from reaching the skies. Reena stands as tall in her career as she did in front of the camera. Since her eye-opening doctorate studies at Monash University in Australia about a decade ago, Reena measures her performance by international standards. She imposes the same standards on her students, and laughingly confesses that she is a tough lecturer to please.
Not one to swallow her opinions, she believes that speaking up, and knowing when to stop, are both equally important. “Speak your mind, don’t stay quiet, but you must also appreciate that you are a single player in a larger team and cannot be adamant, otherwise you would just be a difficult person to work with.”
Text by: Foong Li Mei/Styling: Azza Arif/ Photography:Kim Mun/ Art Direction: Karen Hoo/ Video Direction: Lira Jamaluddin/ Videographer: Mode Media/Makeup: Taisu using NARS/Hair CKAY Liow