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[Y-SPACE] From Barren to Lush: The Promise of a Young, Filipino Scientist

By Jerome Monroe P. Bernardino

A young man wanders aimlessly along the vast expanse of greenery before him. Slender blades of rice rhythmically sway with each whisper of the wind, unwittingly obeying the directions thrust upon them. In the middle of the field that stretches across the horizon, a sickly, old farmer stood working on one bald patch in the field. The young man instantly spots this conspicuous, bare patch in the sea of greens, and starts headlong for the farmer working silently. The two men — one who emanates youthfulness and the other, frailness — catch up with one another and talked about the matter that caught both their attention: the plant disease that has begun and is spreading across the field. As the old farmer forges on with his stories, the young man absentmindedly stares at the crimson-colored setting sky, and thought, “There is so much more to my being a biologist. I will make the most out of the master’s degree I will be earning abroad.”

There is a huge responsibility ascribed to being a young, Filipino scientist. Being at the cusp of one’s adulthood and career, someone with such appellation has his fate unfurled before him — years dedicated to science and the improvement of the lives of many await him as he embarks on this journey. Tackling this fate entails exploiting one’s talent and passion, and it is in this sense that such responsibility becomes an honor.

Confronted by the barriers of research in the Philippines and wanting to acquire skills that can be applied to my home country, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in France. As one may share a viewpoint of it — and he is fully entitled to do so — obtaining a graduate degree abroad may seem prestigious of an endeavor. I would not oppose such view for there is a kernel of truth to it; however, I would point out that the prestige it brings lies not in the glitter and glamor alluded to one’s experiences gained along the way, but on the potential of the graduate to use his acquired knowledge on improving whatever it is that warrants such action.

The present status of research streamlined on molecular approaches dedicated to improving plant health is not lacking in our country. It is, however, far from reaching its full potential. There is so much more that can be done to improve this status. For instance, procurement issues could be resolved, funding for research and development could be allocated wisely and rather generously, and support from institutions and grant-giving bodies could be further strengthened.

Having experienced the research system and everything it engenders both in the Philippines and in France, I am certain that it is not the matter of how pressing the issues the research topics are addressing, nor it is the unyielding drive of researchers to realize certain scientific inquiries, that yields the stark contrast between the two systems. It boils down to misaligned priorities set by those seated in authority and the discouraging frame of mind of those who are indifferent to research.

The lack of support given to this fundamental field of endeavor is most certainly disheartening, not to mention unedifying. As such, there awaits something rewarding to those who are willing to endure these rigors. Those who forge into the research arena are equipped with armaments of curiosity and passion, and in most cases, these vital arsenals drive one to earn his laurel. There is, however, another factor that is a bigger determinant of success in this field — the drive to be of greater service to others.

Being a young, Filipino scientist entails using one’s noble goal of serving the Filipino people, complemented with one’s knowledge and skills, to drive the progress of our nation. This goal isn’t so much ambitious as it is righteous — like a torch almost obscured by a thick fog, it burns brightly amongst the setbacks that attempt to enshroud it. I know that I am doing my best to lift this torch and maintain its intensity so that its light touches those who feel hopeless and discouraged.

With all the hardships we’ve seen and overcome, I believe there is nothing more insurmountable other than the Filipino spirit — that is, the spirit of “bayanihan” and “walang iwanan”. With the remaining years of my youth laid in front of me, I have nothing but gratitude and hope for our nation. To everyone who’s reading this, whether you’re a student taking a break from cramming or a diligent worker riding in a jeepney on the way to work, I want you to know that there is someone enduring all the rigors of living and studying abroad just to make the lives of his beloved countrymen better.

A young man wanders aimlessly along the vast expanse of an empty field before him. The formerly lush, green field now stands barren, as though a devastating typhoon swept through the region. It wasn’t a typhoon that brought this about, but a highly invasive and destructive pest. In the middle of this nothingness, a sickly, old farmer stood, his shoulders limply slouched, the lines that etch his face spelling out nothing but sorrow. Upon seeing the old farmer in the field, the young man made his way towards him. With tears trailing down the lines on his face, the old farmer recounted everything about the infestation that took hold of his field. The young man responded with proper knowledge on biocontrol solutions seeded in his mind. At that moment, he was ready to plant this seed and reap its rewards. Patting the frail shoulder of the old farmer, the young man said, “Worry no more. I am ready to help you out.” The young man is none other than me.

Jerome Monroe P. Bernardino is a passionate academic youth leader advocating for molecular management strategies for plant health, quality education, and accessible Science for the people. As a full scholar of the French government from a developing country, he is taking his Master of Science in Biocontrol Solutions for Plant Health degree at the Université Côte d’Azur in Nice, France. Prior to his becoming of a full scholar, he worked as a full-time instructor at the University of the Philippines and has received a number of recognitions on this zeal-driven work of his. He holds a BS Biology degree, cum laude, from the University of the Philippines

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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