Pursuing her doctorate in medical oncology at Oxford University from 2007 to 2011 was a life-changing experience for Associate Professor Dr Oon Chern Ein. During her time abroad, she was actively involved in community service.
“I realised that I can do more for the public and help change the world. I volunteered in cancer research and was involved in Mencap, working with the disabled community.
“The priceless experience had taught me that life was more than just working in the lab,” said Oon, who is now working at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Molecular Medicine Research Institute.
The scientist recently won the Professional Achievement Award at the Study UK Alumni Awards 2020 organised by The British Council, which recognises alumni members who demonstrated exemplary leadership in their professional field.
Besides her, engineer Howe Wong and entrepreneur Goh Ai Ching also received the Social Impact and the Entrepreneurial Awards, respectively.
All seven Malaysians finalists, comprising leaders in business, entrepreneurship and community, will compete with alumni from other countries and stand a chance to win £50,000 (RM277,000) at the global Study UK Alumni Awards 2020 in May.
Honoured for her cancer research and inclusive education advocacy, Oon, 36, faced challenges in putting her research in molecular targeted therapy into practice upon her return to Malaysia.
The therapy, which targets specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells, is not widely accepted locally, compared with standardised and traditional cancer treatments.
“I was told that my area of research was not feasible in this country. I had to decide between following other people’s dreams or living my own dream by making my research work. I chose the latter,” said the mother of two.
Oon said she had also relentlessly conducted educational outreach with orphans and people with disabilities in Malaysia.
The Entrepreneurial Award highlights alumni who have played a leading role in innovation or creative solutions.
Goh, 34, co-founded Piktochart, a visual communications tool that condenses information for visual storytelling. Studying in the United Kingdom had unclipped her wings and nurtured the rebel inside her, said the University of Bristol experimental psychology graduate.
“I tried to live the most international experience possible. I made friends with people from all over the world, which made me who I am today. It also played a role in growing my business.
“Even though I don’t practise clinical psychology, I acquired valuable skills, especially critical thinking and leadership, from my degree that are important as an entrepreneur.”
Goh said living in the UK had given her many opportunities and nurtured her entrepreneurial spirit.
“Co-founding Piktochart with my husband was a very intense experience in the beginning. We didn’t raise any venture capital and we decided to go as slow as possible. We also manage the culture differently, having mentors and co-workers from different countries. It’s amazing how my start-up in Penang has been able to serve 18 million users globally. It gives me great joy that I have taken a whole new approach to the idea of growth.”
Social Impact Award winner Wong graduated from the University of Leeds with a Master’s in electronic and electrical engineering in 2011. His award was received by his representative, Gan Bee Bee.
Through his rural electrification projects, Wong worked closely with government agencies to benefit 30,000 households in Sarawak.
“Studying in the UK has enabled me to pursue my goals to make positive changes and improve the lives of rural communities in Sarawak. Since then, I have pursued my passion, which has brought me to where I am today,” he said.
British Council Malaysia director Sarah Deverall said: “We are proud of our three winners and all finalists, who have maximised their UK education experience and made significant impacts on their communities. The Alumni Awards allow us to celebrate these individuals and the role of international students in making the UK one of the most diverse, dynamic, and rewarding higher education destinations.”
Present were Institute for Democracy and Economics Affairs president Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, British High Commissioner to Malaysia Charles Hay, Permodalan Nasional Bhd president Jalil Rasheed, Anya Hindmarch and Halcyon Days Malaysia managing director Shea Pin Soo.