Sunday May 28, 2006
Where scientists gather
DON'T LET the brown sandstone facade fool you. Established more than 100 years ago, the University of Queensland (UQ) may be the oldest university in Queensland but it is also one of Australia's leading institutes in cutting edge research.
As a founding member of the Group of Eight, UQ is part of the coalition of top Australian universities committed to providing quality Australian higher education and meeting global standards.
The group of research-strong universities includes University of Adelaide, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the University of New South Wales.
To remain at the frontiers of emerging research fields, UQ is building a cluster of international-quality research centres and institutes such as the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.
UQ’s ranking in the top three for research output and funding has also helped attract not only high academic achievers but also established researchers.
As Australian Education International (AEI) Malaysia's education, science and training counsellor Matthew Evans points out: “You can build the best infrastructure but the best minds are difficult to get. The state government has poured in resources to attract more scientists and academics to this hub.
“If you are a researcher or an academic, you would want to go to a place where there is money as well as interesting and interested personnel.”
The good infrastructure has fostered a two-way flow of expertise and knowledge, creating a good international network.
Senior lecturer for biotechnology at the School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences Dr Steven Reids says: “The biggest attraction is the opportunity for research and the concentration of facilities.
“At UQ, our biotech students can do any project, and link up with researchers in any area they are interested in.”
Another plus point is the four-year science degree programme.
“The science programme used to be a three-year course, plus an optional year for honours, but we are making it compulsory for students to take that fourth year.
“We also encourage students to take up a business subject, as realistically many will work in commercial science rather than basic science, but they can do other humanities subjects, such as a second language, if they want. Two subjects that are popular with students are Commercialisation and Intellectual Property.”
In their fourth year, he shares, students are required to conduct their own research.
“For three years, they work in the labs in a structured way.
“The fourth year is when they are put in a lab and given a project where no one knows what the outcome will be.
“That fourth year is invaluable,” he notes.
Ismaniza Ismail, who has just completed her Masters in Biotechnology, agrees.
“I didn’t do my undergraduate degree here so I can see the difference between this and the programme I did in Universiti Teknologi MARA.
“Having all the experts around gives you a boost. The syllabus is also more flexible, and I have the freedom to choose the subjects I want to do.”
Meanwhile, the opportunity to do a double degree is an attraction for Nuraidila Abdul Razak, 21, who is doing a double degree in Journalism and Economics.
“It’s very interesting because economics is very structured while journalism is very open. You have to think independently and come up with your own story ideas,” she says.
UQ has certainly grown from its first inception in 1909 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the state’s separation from the colony of New South Wales.
In 1946, the university moved to its new campus in St Lucia, Brisbane, which later became its main campus.
In 1990, it merged with Queensland Agricultural College to become UQ Gatton and in 1999, UQ Ipswich opened its doors as one of the first fully wired campuses in Australia.
Around 6,000 international students from 130 countries are currently studying at the university.
The bulk of Malaysian students who go to UQ are doing their postgraduate studies.
However, undergraduate studies are increasingly popular among young Malaysians.
“I chose to study in UQ because my brother is here,” shares Hor Yan Lee, 21, who is doing her final year in Pharmacy.
Her coursemate Joanna Wong, 20, from Kota Kinabalu, also opted to study in UQ because of her aunt. Living together saves cost and makes it easier to adapt to the new environment, she says.
Ismaniza, who opted for homestay when she first arrived, says her bond with her landlady is so strong that they still keep in touch even though she has moved out.
“In the beginning, I found it difficult to adapt. My landlady, who is also my godmother, helped me.
“I was really scared but she advised me to ask my lecturers for help. I did that, and it has helped me cope with my studies.”
Ismaniza is now awaiting funding to pursue her PhD at UQ.
Nuraidila has also been pleasantly surprised by the relaxed nature and friendliness of the Australians she has met.
“Since I came to Brisbane, I have found the people very friendly and helpful.”
More valuable are the opportunities for work experience.
“We get to do attachments here, so we get an insight into the real world before we start work.
“This is particularly important for Pharmacy students as the practices are different around the world,” says Yan Lee.
Nuraidila is also looking forward to her work experience stint.
“The good thing about doing a degree in Australia is that there is a lot of emphasis on work experience.
“By the end of the degree, you will be ready for the workplace.”