Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a scientist in the 21st Century? Did a protruding cloud-like bubble hover over your head of a scientist donning a white lab coat? Think again! Times are changing. With technology advancing rapidly and corporates optimizing resources to gain efficiency, so are the job scopes of scientists. Look around, when was the last time you saw a scientist wearing the all-too-familiar white lab coats? The chances are probably very slim. These days, scientists are so impeccably dressed in business attire and there is a very good reason they do so.
Scientists like many professionals have to take on more responsibilities to continue to be at the cutting-edge to make the next big discovery. Prof. Dr. M. Iqbal Saripan is one of these scientists. He juggles time in his two offices. One at the engineering faculty at Universiti Putra Malaysia and the latter at the university’s administration building as he also holds the position, Director of Quality Assurance Centre (CQA). “My work schedule is compartmentalized to ensure I met all my commitments. A significant amount of my time is spent on research and the rest is divided between lecturing, supervising postgraduate students and working at CQA – to ensure Universiti Putra Malaysia meets its accreditation requirements set forth by the government and education bodies,” said Dr. Iqbal.
Working in the lab alone or in a small team is a not a picture we can paint anymore. Increasingly, scientists have to collaborate with experts locally and internationally from fields other than their own to conduct research that has a positive impact on society. On Dr. Iqbal’s current project, he aspires improve the quality of images produced by Ultrasounds and Mobile Nuclear Imaging Systems to better detect lumps for early diagnosis and treatment of cancer. His research requires him to collaborate with engineers, physicists and medical practitioners. “As a scientist, you cannot solve problems working in silos, you need to collaborate”, said Dr. Iqbal.
His personal motivation for the research is his mother, who in 2012 was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer and sadly passed away in 2014. As a scientist, he was able not able to do anything. If the cancer was detected earlier, her chances of survival would have increased substantially. Seeing a parent succumb to the disease gave Dr. Iqbal first-hand experience and exposed him to the hurdles in the way of early cancer diagnosis and timely treatment. He is determined to find the solution so that others would not be subjected to the same plight.
Dr Iqbal’s early education was in Muar, Johor before continuing his studies at MRSM Taiping. As part of the UTM-MARA Forecast Express Programme cohort, he completed his Bachelors in Electrical-Electronics Engineering. He later went on to pursue his PhD. at the University of Surrey (United Kingdom) on increasing the sensitivity of gamma camera for early cancer detection. He has since focused on the same area until now. Not only is he one of the youngest professor in Malaysia, he is also the recipient of the Top Research Scientist Malaysia, National Young Scientist Award (2013) and was listed as Top Ten Creative Young Malaysian by Top Ten Magazine (2015). He received the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Awards 2015 in research category from the University of Surrey and is also a registered Chartered Engineer with the Engineering Council in the UK.