Agatha’s Story in Expanding her Capacity through Women in STEM Scholarship by British Council

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Agatha Mia in front of Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England. Source Personal documentation

Women often experience some inequality when working in the professional world, especially in the STEM world which is still perceived as dominated by men. Yet this is not true. Agatha, who is currently studying as an MSc student at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and working as a research assistant in the Malaria Pathogenesis Unit at the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, will share her personal development story in the STEM world. Moreover, her career story in molecular biology is also supported by the Women in STEM scholarship by the British Council that eventually aims to maximise opportunities for girls and women who work in STEM.

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The starting point: Knowledge from a small thing for a bigger impact

Agatha explained that her initial interest in molecular biology started from her fascination with how small and invisible things can affect the human body, either in a bad or a good way. As Steve Jobs said “stay hungry, stay foolish”, so Agatha does. Her curiosity is also accompanied by her indulgence to challenge herself to grasp a bigger knowledge that she has never learned before. “I have this mindset that the more I study, the more I am confused and need to study more,” Agatha explained.

Besides her great curiosity, Agatha also dreams to share her current knowledge that she gained from the Liverpool John Moores University with other scientists in Indonesia, especially in remote regions. This could be done by giving practical training or webinar or supporting them through a collaboration project.

Agatha’s decision to choose Liverpool John Moores University

One of the courses at Liverpool John Moores University offers an updated knowledge about personalised medicine which is necessary to improve public health. This program will also allow me to study various cutting-edge biological technologies related to diagnostic and medical intervention; many are yet to be available in Indonesia.

Agatha was doing field sampling at Timika, Papua for RDT Malaria Research, March 2021 (left) and was working at Lembata NTB, November 2017 (right). Source: Personal documentation

Working on malaria parasitology sequencing

Agtha was doing malaria sequencing training at Sanger Institute, Cambridge UK, November – December 2019. Source: Personal documentation

At the university, Agatha is currently working on the topic of parasitology sequencing as she has been working with malaria at the Eijkman Institute, Indonesia. Her interest was motivated by the reason that parasitology sequencing could address many biological questions. For instance, by parasitology sequencing, it can reveal the disease transmission and predict the origin of infection (COVID-19, for example).

Working on the parasitology sequencing is a challenging undertaking. Regarding this, Agatha is faced with a data analysis issue where she has limited background and experience. Instead of giving up, Agatha eventually felt challenged to learn more deeply, by which it became one of the reasons in selecting this particular topic. 

In addition, the reason why Agatha chose the parasitology sequencing topic is the current state of art of parasitology in malaria  that is related to the sequencing part. Ultimately, her supervisor has the cutting-edge sequencing technologies that could inform the transmission rate that is crucial in the elimination process, in which Agatha has not ever done beforehand.

Break the bias: Women in STEM is normal

Often linked directly with men, the STEM field is not always dominated by men. For instance, in Agatha’s workplace when she was working in biology, especially molecular biology, she has never had any issues or challenges as a woman. On the contrary, in the institution where Agatha works, the Eijkman Institute, 70-80% of her colleagues in Jakarta are women. One statement from Agatha about this: “Don’t ever give up on reaching your goal as a scientist because you are a woman. It has nothing to do with gender, it depends on your will, effort, and luck.”

International Encouragement: Women in STEM Scholarship by the British Council

In line with her passion of science, Agatha has been doing her master study since 2021 in MSc Biomedical Science at Liverpool John Moores University with the Women in STEM Scholarship by British Council. Surprisingly, at first, Agatha never expected to get the Women in STEM scholarship by the British Council as it is a highly competitive scholarship with only 5 applicants from Southeast Asia who were accepted in one batch. Agatha was really grateful and honoured to be the first representative of Women in STEM scholarship awardee from Indonesia at Liverpool John Moores University.

Agatha Mia (2nd from left) with her fellow Women in STEM Scholars at Liverpool John Moores University. Source: Personal documentation

By being one of the Women in STEM scholars, Agatha has a wide opportunity for studying in the UK as one of the advanced countries, in which she can boost her passion for upgrading and exchanging her knowledge in science. This scholarship allows her to focus entirely on her study, as it provides all economic support from tuition fees, stipend, health coverage fees, and many others.

Moreover, as a STEM scholar, the British Council also facilitates their awardees to get to know other STEM scholars throughout the UK and participate in numerous events related to gender equality.

Women in STEM Scholar: Turning Point as a Scientist 

Receiving a scholarship from the British Council not only boosts Agatha’s abilities in academics but also her career development. Career-wise, the opportunity to continue a Master’s degree has also become a turning point to expand her network in the UK. Furthermore, pursuing a higher degree overseas also allows her to initiate a collaboration between LJMU and the Eijkman Institution as her current workplace in Indonesia.

This scholarship also gives her a precious chance to experience a wonderful life as an international student in the UK. Aside from her academic’s life, Agatha also had a lot of unforgettable moments with her other colleagues, such as cooking together with her flatmates, joining a career fair from the campus, exercising in the campus’ gym and fitness class.

Agatha Mia (2nd from right) was enjoying her time together with her friends during master study. Source: Personal documentation

In summary, the opportunity to become a Women in STEM Scholar has considerably turned Agatha’s life both in professional and personal development. As it has several selection steps, Agatha said that to succeed in becoming a Women in STEM Scholar, you have to answer all the questions as honestly as possible. Do not answer in a complex manner but make sure that it is feasible and doable.  Moreover, we have to come up with a problem that can be solved through enrolling in your proposed Master programme and write it in the personal statement.

After completing her study at Liverpool John Moores University, Agatha plan to share and apply her personalised medicine knowledge to her research group. Thus, she will initiate a mutual collaboration between Indonesian (e.g., Eijkman Institute) and the UK researchers (e.g., Liverpool John Moores University). further , she plan to invite the foremost scientists at Liverpool John Moores University to share and exchange their knowledge through seminars and workshops. It will allow an excellent capacity-building opportunity for Indonesian researchers.

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This article was written by Ivone Marselina Nugraha, the IM Columnist for Europe & UK, and is the result of an interview with Agatha Mia Purpitasari, B.Sc. with the following profile:

Agatha Mia Purpitasari, B.Sc. was born in Malang, Jawa Timur. She holds a B.Sc. in Molecular Biology at Universitas Brawijaya. She is currently doing her master study at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) from 2021. Aside from being an MSc student in LJMU, she is also a research assistant in the Malaria Pathogenesis Unit at Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology for almost seven years.

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