Imagine what we can do with research

UP Medics Editorial March 2018

“Only in UPCM where a lavatory (washroom) is made into a laboratory for research, and where a laboratory with a limited space is shared by the whole college.”

 

Such is the unfortunate comment that would perhaps give a glimpse of the state of research in UPCM. Despite this, both MD-PhD and MD students win in national and international research competitions and are able to publish in ISI-indexed international journals.

 

Some students have to work in a place that is hot, humid, cramped, and urine-odored, while some are more fortunate to work in well-equipped and air-conditioned laboratories. Many of the researches are “preliminary researches” due to limited time and resources. This has been happening for several years now.

 

Although this may seem to be the case, facilities are continuously being renovated. What could have happened was more of excess demand juxtaposed against limited supply.

 

However, this begs the question, “Why should there be a demand for research if the curriculum does not willingly provide enough time for it, if the reimbursement system does not willingly provide enough money for it, and if the limited infrastructure and facilities do not provide enough space for it?”

 

Unfortunately, these are just some of the many grievances of medical students, especially the MD-PhD students. Often are the perennial lack of funds, the delayed and tortuous liquidation and reimbursement of expenses, the long duration of processing paperwork, and the lack of proper time allotment for research.

 

In addition to that, many academic lectures involve the usage of research data obtained by researches supported by institutions other than UPCM.

 

On February 20, 2018, a memorandum was released by the college requiring each of the LU 4, 5, 6, 7 to present at least three (3) researches for the 30th Students’ Research Forum, and requiring all students to attend the forum. The 30th Students’ Research Forum should have been held on February 6, 2018, but was postponed to April 10, 2018 because of very few research entries. The UPCM medical student is hardly surprised.

 

How could a UPCM medical student, faced with five-digit or six-digit expenses of his or her research project, cough up some money just to begin the research, under the perennially delayed refund system?

 

Assuming that the college spends Php 37,500 per project, then all in all, these would amount to Php 300,000 for LU 4 every year. Because of this existing condition, majority of the results are substandard. We do not have substantial data and quality to qualify for publication, nor to be presented in conferences and fora.

 

Therefore, is this cost-effective? No. This is just wasting a huge amount of money. If the curriculum intends to let us learn research skills or laboratory techniques, then we might as well as turn this into a laboratory class like in undergraduate courses.

 

How could the research group, under the deluge of continuous expenses that include basic laboratory consumables (i.e. gloves, tissue, filter paper), be financially secure?

 

As a result, under a limited allowance, researchers shell out money and begins income-generating projects with the research group despite a hectic schedule.

 

How could a UPCM medical student, under the context of financial insecurity, simply spend their money on laboratory operations which require payment?

 

For instance, the process of rotational evaporation (or rota-vap) costs Php 256 per hour in NIH, Php 350 per hour in the UP College of Pharmacy, both of which are more than two times the price to that of UP Diliman National Science Complex.

 

To adapt through this, several research groups agreed to share the expenses in order to use the same shared equipment. We also do our own income-generating projects on the sidelines.

 

How could a UPCM medical student, under a curriculum that provides only one-day-a-week schedule for research, actually obtain good results for a research that requires consecutive days of operation, such as in a microbiological research?

 

The underlying assumption of this problem is probably because the professors themselves do not have much experience in doing basic science research. Some are pure clinicians; most do not have their own laboratory. The OSI curriculum is extremely geared towards clinical science. This has numerous advantages, but unfortunately, it seems to neglect basic science research.

 

As a result, there’s a trend every year among LU 3 and 4 researches wherein a lot of students get co-advisers in addition to their current research adviser.

 

As tragic as it may sound, we know that this is just a microscopic perspective compared to the brain drain that has brought many doctors and scientists away from UPCM and the Philippines. It still has its underlying complicated ramifications, rooted in the problems of society.

 

How could a UPCM medical student, under such an inflexible schedule, do research without requesting for laboratory accommodation after office hours, up to a fault of being annoying or burdensome for the working personnel or the permission system itself?

 

In UP Manila, the permit goes up to the Vice Chancellor level. This is time consuming.

 

On the other hand, in UP Diliman, only the signature of the Institute Director is needed to be able to work in the laboratory on weekends or after office hours, as well as perform cell culture assays without supervision.

 

Tell us, how could a student do this without simply skipping class altogether?

 

How in the world would a UPCM medical student, having been researching in highly limited conditions that limit the statistical credibility or significance of the findings, believe in the publishability of his or her research?

 

The UPCM medical student is not a mediocre student who would just submit any kind of entry to a research forum, but might actually be compelled to do so given a highly restrictive research environment. The essence of a research forum is to gather the best of the best of researches, even the “small, fruitless” researches that carry statistical, methodological, and experimental integrity.

 

Although we do not want to sound ungrateful, as we are truly aware that there have been efforts to ameliorate these conditions, we still feel that the current environment of research in the College does not reflect the highly regarded reputation and stature that we ascribe to a national university such as UP.

 

If the system really wants its students to love research, then it should promote and incentivize by giving proper amount of time, money and space for research.

 

If it is indeed UPCM’s Vision for each student to be a five-star physician – Clinician, Researcher, Manager, Educator, Social Mobilizer, then they should truly invest in and value student-driven research.

 

If it is indeed UPCM’s Mission towards “Leadership and Excellence in Research”, then it should not forget about supporting students’ researches in a wholesome, concrete way, and not just by, in the name of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), constraining students to produce research results and commit to these research forums.

 

Just imagine what we can achieve if we have better research facilities.

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