UST eyes building molecular hub for students – Manila Bulletin

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Published November 28, 2022, 2:38 PM
by Jessica Pag-iwayan
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, clergy-scientist Rev. Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, who is also professor of biology and theology in University of Sto. Thomas (UST), believes that it’s about time for the country to invest in our youth and encourage them to dream big, and even become a scientist. 
“The most important thing that we have discovered is that the Philippines need to become vaccine independent. Last year we were delayed from receiving our vaccines for eight months and thousands of Filipinos died because of that,” he says during the opening ceremony of The Metro Manila Health Research & Development Consortium 6th International Symposium and 13th Annual Scientific Conference happening in UST from Nov. 24-25, 2022. He served as the keynote speaker, “I returned home to the Philippines to join this great university, to try to make this university a hub for kind of molecular science that we need to make this university the heart of vaccine innovation in the Philippines.”
Fr. Austriaco is a scientific researcher and a professor in Providence College in Rhode Island where he focused on studying molecular processes of cell death. Now that he’s back in the country, he’s helping the government in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. He also acknowledged that achieving the said goal is a tough challenge. 
“It’s a particular challenge because of the red tape, bureaucracy, and the corruption. I’m just being incredibly honest,” he says. “But Filipino people are worth that effort.”
He’s also a believer of the capabilities of young Filipinos and hoping to find ways to encourage them to become scientists. “My biology students want to be doctors and I’m here to convince some of them that they must become scientists,” he continues. “The doctors in the pandemic needed science to heal and cure their patients. Science is a necessary foundation for medicine. Our country is in dire need of scientists and we’re also in dire need of health care workers. Because we have significant brain drain so many of our healthcare workers especially our nurses are leaving the country to practice elsewhere. But you know, I’m trying to convince my students I say stay home, do science here.”
In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Fr. Austriaco, acknowledged the reality that one of the factors that hinders young Filipino to dream of becoming scientists is because of lack of support of financial opportunity for them to have sustainable livelihood for it to become a career. 
To address this, Fr. Austriaco says that President Bongbong Marcos is already thinking some ways to help students. “Yesterday, the President spoke, and he wants to encourage the government to provide scholarships for STEM,” he says. “And I think we have to do the same thing. So we have to provide scholarships for our young Filipinos to pursue science. Not just here, but also all around the world, then we must fund science enough so that just like scientists in other countries around the world, our Filipino scientists will be able to build a laboratory and to earn enough salary for the well being of their families.”
With this he has a message for the youth. “Science is a risk. You take a risk, but you take a risk on adventure, on curiosity, on service to the Filipino people,” he adds. “Come talk to me send me a Facebook message. If you want to talk about science, we’re trying to make UST a hub for exciting molecular sciences for Filipinos who want to be innovative, who wants to be cutting edge, who wants to contribute not only to our country, but to the world. Come join us.” 
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