by Dr. Edgardo D. Gomez | June 21, 2018

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Thinking back to my earlier professional career, I recall my first visit to Naawan, some 40 years ago when the late Dean Domiciano Villaluz was in charge of the fisheries facility that is now the Naawan Campus of the Mindanao State University. If I remember correctly, the development of mangrove aquaculture with a focus on prawns was being addressed at the time, as the “sugpo” or “lukon” was a highly prized commodity in Japan. At the time, I was tasked to develop what was then the new marine research unit of the University of the Philippines, the Marine Sciences Center, now the Marine Science Institute. In that endeavor, I visited the existing research facilities in the country that were devoted to marine science-related activities. Naawan was and continues to be one of the known centers of excellence, although the formal designation by the government as such came much later.

It is indeed an honor and a privilege to return to Nawaan and to be your Commencement Speaker, at the kind invitation of your Chancellor Prose Gomez-Roxas. I am not sure if we share the same Gomez genes, but I do know that we share many values and aspirations as scientists with an interest in the marine environment. MSU Naawan, however, has broadened its mandate to include the development of many disciplines, as evidenced by the number of graduates in diverse subject areas, including many outside of the marine-related subjects.

But lest any of you feel left out by having a marine scientist as your guest speaker, let me mention a small detail in my professional journey. I started my academic career as a secondary school teacher, with an education baccalaureate degree major in English coupled with a Bachelor of Arts in the social sciences. The broad liberal arts background prepared me well for my future science career. The one lesson that I wish to share with you in my life’s journey is that I tried my best to excel at every step and stage, which helped to propel me to the next stages of my ultimate goal of becoming a marine scientist.

Before going more deeply into my talk, let me mention a few linkages between your institution and mine, the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines, (UPMSI) the first and consistently the Center of Excellence in Marine Science. We had the privilege of having had as a student your former Chancellor, the late Dr. Marcelino Tumanda. Looking through your faculty roster, past and present, I noted a few other marine scientists who either studied or collaborated with the UPMSI faculty. Hence, I am not a total stranger to your community. In my twilight years as a professional marine scientist, my only regret is that our collaboration has been quite limited. It is my hope that with your current Chancellor, some steps might be taken to improve on the situation.

After I was invited to be your Commencement Speaker and had agreed to come here, I learned that the theme of this year’s Graduation is “PURSUING INNOVATIONS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS”. With your indulgence, I will focus instead on what I call “THE IMPERATIVES FOR PURSUING INNOVATIONS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS.” This is because my training and experience is more on basic rather than applied marine science, and I would like to emphasize the foundations of success in the professions and in commerce.

In doing this, I will ask your indulgence a second time and give you a glimpse of the MSI’s trajectory as the first and only Center of Excellence in Marine Science in the country (as far as I know), and what led to that achievement and distinction. I believe that some of what I will share with you applies to all disciplines and professions, hence, I refer to them as the “imperatives” for pursuing innovations and entrepreneurship. “Innovations and entrepreneurship” are more advanced stages to scientific research and invention. Oftentimes, the problem in this country is that we cannot get to and through good science and discovery for unknown reasons. It may be worthwhile to examine why this is so and pay some attention to approaches to solve the problems. I take the long term, or at least a medium term perspective, since we are in academe, or perhaps in S & T. For some, these suggestions may fit the profession that you choose better than others. The ideas I will share with you have worked for the UPMSI. It is my hope that sharing them with you may help you in achieving your ultimate professional and personal goals in life.

When I was tasked in 1974 with the challenge of creating, de novo, a marine research center, I needed a model. An appropriate model was not easy to find, because we are in a developing country context and at the time, no obvious example existed. Hence, I turned to my alma matter, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California – San Diego. I had been a very fortunate foreign graduate scholar of the then National Science Development Board, the predecessor of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which now funds R&D for S&T in generous proportions and offers many local scholarships for various fields of science. By my second year as a graduate student in La Jolla, San Diego, in California, U.S.A., I was so impressed by the institution where everybody worked, everything worked, and everybody helped everybody else, that I dreamed, mused and asked myself: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a small version of Scripps in the Philippines?” For you graduates, and perhaps the faculty, it is good to sometimes dream, even impossible dreams. It is what makes us humans.

I had to complete my doctoral degree in five years as dictated by my NSDB or “DOST” scholarship (as some of you in the audience may appreciate- a deadline is a deadline if you are a government scholar). Soon I was home, looking for a job, as required by the terms of my government scholarship. Unfortunately, there was no marine science institution in existence in early 1974, there were only fisheries agencies and departments at the time. In my quest, I learned from the then Executive Director of the NRCP (National Research Council of the Philippines) that the University of the Philippines was in fact, in the process of establishing, a marine research unit. To make a long story short, I inquired in Diliman and, indeed, there was such a move and that they were looking for someone to get it started. As the planets and the stars were aligned, I was offered the job. And what was my model? None other than the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

I will not bore you with the history of the MSI. Instead I will share with you my thoughts about how individuals and the institutions that you either belong to or which you will join, may make their way into the future with some positive indications. The ideas that I am sharing with you have worked for us in the UPMSI, and it is my belief that the basic principles and practices will work for others as well. Needless to say, some modifications or adaptations will be needed, but I believe the basic philosophy and practices have a wide relevance. Hence, by necessity, I will be referring to our experiences in the MSI to highlight my points. (They worked for us and it is my hope they will work for you individually or as institutions, with adaptations. Try to distill the essence of the ideas, practices, and achievements that were positive and useful for us.)

There are three (or four) foundations of success in the pursuit of global competitiveness, which is the theme of this graduation, as follows:

1. Competence;
2. Professionalism (and uncompromising honesty);
3. Cooperation and collaboration (affirming and promoting unity, avoidance of conflict, divisiveness and bias).

In elaborating on the aforementioned bases or foundations, you will note that they reinforce each other, that each one is a part and parcel of the other.

Firstly, pursuing anything that is globally competitive presumes a high level of competence. It is my hope and assumption that all the candidates for graduation in front of me this morning have a high level of competence in some field. I would like to assume that the Mindanao State University, including the Naawan Campus, has set adequately high standards of excellence for its students to graduate with their respective degrees. It is highly competent individuals who apply themselves assiduously that have a chance to be globally competitive.

Secondly, to be globally competitive, one must be a professional. It is also my assumption that you have all acted professionally in your years of study, with uncompromising honesty. I hate to think of individuals who want to be globally competitive but who are less than professional in their work. This includes uncompromising honesty. In my experience in dealing with scientists and scientific organizations internationally, honesty is a conditio sine qua non. I would not have been accepted in any international committee or forum, if there were doubts about my integrity. Parenthetically, I brag to understanding friends that I have been invited to nearly 80 countries in my life, and only had to pay my fare to a few of them.

Thirdly, and the last point I wish to convey for global competitiveness, one must relentlessly pursue cooperation and collaboration in building a base or foundation. As a graduate student for my PhD at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography I witnessed the great productivity in oceanography of the institution, because faculty, staff, and students cooperated and collaborated extensively. They worked for a common goal and did not create barriers among themselves. In that fashion, the productivity of the institution reached the highest levels, making it a world leader in oceanography and related sciences. (One example of a research output of Scripps that you may have heard of is the Keeling Curve in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, in these days of global warming and climate change.)

Let me elaborate on what I consider the foundations and conditions of success in organizations. I have mentioned professionalism, which includes uncompromising honesty. That is a 24/7 required condition. Coupled or embedded in this is competence. I would like to assume that you are graduating today because you have demonstrated an adequate degree of competence in some field, the degree or major that you chose some years ago. I also assume that you gave it your total dedication to complete, and, indeed, some of you are graduating with honors. The academe has measures of achievement and accomplishment, often grades and awards. Although there are exceptions, there is usually a correlation between academic excellence and professional success.

For institutions and groups to succeed, cooperation and collaboration are essential. As I mentioned earlier about my experience as a graduate student at Scripps, all the members of that organization actually or potentially collaborated or cooperated as needed in achieving their goals, whether it was simple experiments that needed help from others, larger programs of research, and other tasks of a more complicated or complex nature. I did not see negative actions or deadweight. Criticism was in evidence, but was always constructive, that is, how to improve actions or results, but never putting down anyone for the sake of showing oneself better. There were no silos among laboratories. Graduate students were particularly singled out for assistance, since Scripps was a graduate department in the university.

In my work in building up the MSI, I never found time to criticize or put down other people or departments. That would have been a waste of my time and energy. One consequence of that was that it eliminated animosity and ill-will. As a matter of fact, there were many occasions when faculty from other departments would voluntarily recognize some of our work and compliment us for what we were doing.

Allow me to insert a short note here about the National Academy of Science and Technology or the “NAST”, which, as you may know, is the national recognition body of the government for science and engineering, an agency attached to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Nationally, there are presently 66 members of the academy, referred to as “Academicians”, of which 13 have been given the additional rank and title of “National Scientists”, who, because of their past outstanding work in science, are rewarded by being given an additional pension by the national government plus medical privileges and other perks. It is my understanding that up to now, no one from any Mindanao institution has become an academician although someone from Central Mindanao University has just been elected and will be inducted into the academy in July. Thus, Mindanao will have its first member in the prestigious academy soon. It is my hope that the MSU system will not be far behind.

By some hard work and achievement, there are 9 faculty members of the MSI (including several who have retired) who are academicians. It might be noted that today, there are only 20 MSI faculty members, the highest number ever 7 reached. And of the 13 living National Scientists in the country, 3 are from the MSI. A little arithmetic would indicate that about one of every 8 academicians comes from our institute, and nearly one of every four National Scientists is from the MSI. In the College of Science of the University of the Philippines, the Marine Science Institute has consistently led all departments or institutes in terms of total science papers published in Scopus or ISI journals, thus leading the country at large. This has happened because of the work ethic of the institute and the practice of the attributes of professionalism that I am sharing with you on your graduation day.

In ending this message to you, the young graduates of MSU at Naawan Campus, let me repeat my thesis about the foundations of global competitiveness that you may wish to pursue in your professional and personal lives: competence, professionalism (including uncompromising honesty), cooperation and collaboration (including the promotion of unity, the avoidance of conflict, bias and divisiveness).

For the sciences and mathematics, as well as the social sciences, one of the tools or indicators used by universities and companies is the Hirsch index or H index. This is a metric used to quantify one’s publications and their usefulness. There are actually several definitions of the H index, but to simplify this talk, I will limit it to the Google H-index, which may be accessed freely on Google Scholar. Simply, the number in the H index indicates the number of publications that have been cited that same number of times by others in their publications. Thus, if one has a Hirsch index of 6, it means that six of his publications have each been cited by other authors 6 times. Should your index be 20, it means that 20 of your publications have each been cited 20 times by other authors, and so on. Internationally, not only schools but many companies look at the H-index of job applicants, particularly in science-related fields.

It is my hope that MSU Nawaan is using or will use this or an equivalent index as one tool for measuring achievement and productivity. It will encourage and acknowledge productivity internally, while preparing the student for employment after graduation. Hand in hand with the H index is the count of total citations of one’s publications in reputable journals. For the more successful researchers, this reaches into the thousands. This metric is also provided free by Google Scholar, although there are other systems that may be paid for which may provide more information. I will not elaborate further by going into what is meant as the impact factor of a journal. Suffice it to say, some journals like “Science” and “Nature” have very high impact factors. The use of the H index or similar indices is one way to recognize or measure excellence in a global context.

For departments or institutions as a whole, there is a need to go beyond “one’s borders”. This might be referred to as “internationalism”, the opposite of parochialism. Early in the development of the MSC, we opened up to and fostered receptiveness to outside systems. Initially, this meant individual communications by faculty and graduate students with scientists and researchers abroad. Before too long, it was institution to institution contacts and involvement in regional marine science programs related to environmental issues and the assessment of natural resources. By fielding competent Filipino scientists to interact with researchers and administrators abroad, the opportunities for collaboration and training developed. Soon, many of our graduate students in addition to our faculty and staff became involved in conferences and workshops abroad, some of the initiatives eventually developing into regional scientific programs dealing with mangroves, coral reefs, and fisheries. Specialized individual topics were also developed. These contacts slowly developed and expanded, so that opportunities for exchanges and training grew, contributing in no small measure to the success of our research and conservation initiatives.

It is training and the adoption of these attributes and habits while in the university that prepares one for innovation and entrepreneurship. As you are more exposed to local challenges and perform your tasks well, your performance in the international arena will allow you to be more competitive and successful

Congratulations to you dear students, to your parents, to your professors and teachers and to the MSU at Naawan Campus. You are the future of this country!       view gallery