Sunday August 12, 2012
Brains this way please!
By AMINUDDIN MOHSIN
A new programme has been initiated to lure bright young Malaysians studying overseas to return and serve in established local corporations.
A BUNCH of Malaysian overseas graduates once sceptical about returning to work in Malaysia after studying abroad, are now trying to convince our youth who’ve completed studying overseas to return.
They want the fresh graduates to take up local internships under a special programme.
Known as the Otak-otak Internship, the programme aims at placing the best and brightest Malaysian students from the most prestigious universities in leading Malaysian corporations, says its co-founder Joyce Tagal.
“I studied Political Science at Yale University in the United States (US). Back then I was cynical about coming back and finding a job here, but after a while you outgrow that mentality.
“You realise that it isn’t perfect overseas either and that there are just as many great job opportunities here in Malaysia. Students just don’t bother finding out before making their judgement calls,” she says at an Otak-otak event at Perdana University, one of its corporate partners.
The young analyst who works for the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) in the Prime Minister’s Office says that she discussed the matter with like-minded friends and that gave birth to Otak-otak.
“We had different experiences while studying but all of us wanted to come back to Malaysia at the end of the day. It’s home and we want to make it better.
As for the name of the internship programme, Joyce says that it all started while she and her friends were driving back to the Klang Valley from Singapore.
“When we passed Muar, we saw signboards advertising the famous fish-based delicacy at stalls and restaurants and joked about it.
“But that grew on us and it seemed apt since otak is brain in Bahasa Malaysia and we are drawing in the best brains to our internship programme. It hits the right notes with the youth too,” she says.
Joyce explains that Otak-otak doesn’t simply offer internship placements. It also provides external leadership and skills training and a site visit was organised for 30 interns at Perdana University. Two interns Allisha Azlan and Dheeya Rizmie are already attached to the varsity and will be sharing their experiences with their peers.
“This kind of sharing and the talks by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine faculty members who are Perdana’s partners are the kind of personal development our interns get. They build connections as they move on,” she says.
Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine (Pugsom) in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US, offers a graduate entry medical programme using the latter’s “Genes to Society” curriculum.
“The niche nature of the programme offered by Pugsom is one of the reasons we selected Perdana University as a corporate partner as we want to give our interns the widest choice of companies to work with.
“We want to give students who come to us looking for internships what they want and the kind of experiences they want. That’s why our partners are not limited to big conglomerates.
“Yes, we have Citibank on board, but we also have Teach For Malaysia and Voice of the Children as partners too,” adds Joyce.
Pugsom founding dean and CEO Prof Charles Wiener explains that he is happy to have the Otak-otak internship programme in Pugsom as well as house two of its interns.
“I found out about this programme through my son after he met the Otak-otak founders over dinner. He was really excited and after listening to him, I became just as enthusiastic. It has been an amazing experience working hand-in-hand with the founding group and their interns,” he says.
He remains Professor of Medicine and Physiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Prof Wiener gave a short talk on the birth of Pugsom and why he viewed graduate entry medical programmes as better than conventional ones.
“In the US, entry into medical programmes are only for graduates. It really helps because it gives the student time to grow up and be wiser before choosing to be a doctor.
“In conventional programmes, the younger students either find out they don’t want to be doctors halfway and quit, or they graduate as doctors and then realise it is not the job they want to be in, and pursue different professions.
“There is a high number of trained doctors pursuing different career paths here in Malaysia. In the US, the attrition rate among doctors is very low, and they don’t have to go through housemanship. They graduate as full doctors,” adds Prof Wiener.
He adds that graduate entry medical programmes save money and time for students who are unsure if they want to be doctors.
“Instead of jumping into it, they take a degree in Science for example and decide if they still want to be doctors.
“They then join a graduate entry programme and if they don’t want to, they can then proceed to work,” he says.
His speech was followed by discussions on topics such as “Nurturing a New Paradigm in Biomedical Research” and “Ethical, Political and Translational Challenges to International Biomedical Research”.
Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah who was at the event has only praise for Otak-otak’s initiative and its aims.
Employers have to be responsible with interns and train them properly instead of giving them menial jobs, he says.
“They have to respect this new generation of interns and engage them instead of simply being critical,” he said.
Allisha, a Journalism and History major at Northwestern University, Illinois, in the US, shares that her internship at Perdana University has been a challenging experience.
“Perdana University is still very new. It has been focusing on building the academic groundwork. It has not been strong in the fields of marketing and communications.When they accepted me as an intern and put me in marketing and communication, I knew I was in for some hard work.
“I started by making an introductory video for the university using my talent in free-hand drawing and then established a social media presence for them. Now I’m handling the university’s social media accounts,” she says.
Allisha adds that despite the hard work, she has been having fun as an Otak-otak intern.