Haven’t we all once racked our brains on what we should make of our lives? There are so many paths to choose from, each with their own branching routes. However, despite these numerous choices, choosing and sticking with a career path still seems so stifling. Coming from an Asian family, I took the path of least (parental) resistance and started on the road to becoming a doctor. However, even in this seemingly clear-cut route, there were so many choices to make. There were questions of specialization, practice, and whatnot. Graduating from college still somewhat unclear of what I wanted to do, I did not want to finalize any decisions; I only knew that I wanted to help others and that the health sector is a field in which I would be capable of doing so. I did not want to be limited to a specific field, seemingly separated from knowing or being concerned with other aspects of life.
Fortunately, in my year of pseudo-rest before medical school, I was given the opportunity to represent EpiMetrics in an international workshop held in Taiwan’s Academica Sinica, regarding air pollution. It was part of a series of interactive workshops tackling methodology for a project on gathering evidence for guidelines regarding safe exposures to particulate matter. The project or research initiative was titled HI-ASAP, or Health Investigation and Air-sensing for Asian Pollution, under the IGAC-MANGO group. It was an exciting opportunity. Although I have been in Taiwan before, also being a Taiwanese citizen, being able to attend an event such as this was a dream come true. I have to say, the best word I can use to describe the experience is definitely “novel”. The whole experience was completely shocking, with people from various walks of life being present. There was the group of hijab-clad female doctors and public health specialists from Malaysia, the culture shock from realizing that Indonesian weddings can last for up to 3 days with thousands attending, and the at times seemingly unintelligible accent-laced English of the various representing countries. At times I wonder if we sound as strange to them as they do to us?
One of the things that struck me the most was the interdisciplinary aspect of the whole thing. For most, the image that air pollution research evokes is often that of a scientist looking at substances in a lab. However, contrary to expectations, these researchers don’t work alone. There were atmospheric chemists, doctors, environmental scientists, public health practitioners, and engineers. In other workshops, I heard that there were also sociologists. Seeing this conglomeration of widely varied individuals, I was definitely amazed and somewhat humbled. Although I did have something of a background in public health, I was merely a fresh college graduate, surrounded by an assembly where PhDs were the norm and master’s degrees were merely a transition point between their studies. I was even approached by a Panasonic associate who asked me how my PhD studies were going in Taiwan, assuming that I was a Taiwanese student involved in the project. I still vividly recall his bemusement when I told him that I just graduated from college in the Philippines less than a month ago.
However, despite these differences of ours with regards to culture, physique, career, and educational attainment, we were all gathered here to tackle the singular topic of air pollution. Although I am not free to discuss the specifics of the project, in the next few days we learned about how interconnected these various careers were in tackling merely one aspect of this issue. Frameworks of cooperation such as that of Collaborative Conceptual Modelling (CCM) were necessary in order to allow people of various expertise to pool together their knowledge with the least possible obstruction. In fact, not only was collaboration between these skilled professionals necessary, proper communication between LGUs and lay people was also highlighted. The scope of the discussion went far beyond what a glance at most academic curricula would hint of. In fact, even the decorated veterans in the scene were not necessarily equipped with all the applicable tools.
This was a point of personal pride for me, that there was something that even I, a fresh graduate, could contribute to the project. The last day of the workshop included presentations on the previous days’ experimental data gathering and dialogue. Here, I was able to showcase my experience and skill in graphic design and presenting, drawing upon my encounters with college presentations and other performing extracurriculars such as acting, declamation, oratory, and musical theatre to deliver a performance that was praised. Although I am definitely nowhere near the best in either of these fields, perhaps the many years of desk and laboratory work have allowed me to surprise them with a fresh perspective on data visualization along with a more vibrant and active approach to speaking.
I am very thankful that Epimetrics was able to give me the opportunity to learn and experience all of these wonderful things. This allowed me to broaden my horizons on how important these various and seemingly unconnected career paths are in bringing positive change. It made me realize that we all can have our own role to play no matter what field we eventually end up in. The most important thing is that we keep moving forward, and I sincerely believe that the diverse experiences Epimetrics has to offer will definitely help me in doing so.