Sunway Scoop: School of Medical and Life Sciences

Working towards equipping students with valuable theoretical knowledge and practical skills, Sunway’s School of Medical and Life Sciences is well known for producing graduates that go on to contribute to the development of higher healthcare standards and advancement of life sciences through research and consultancy. The school consists of four departments and three research centres, all of which are filled with academicians and practitioners dedicated to the betterment of healthcare for the global community and work towards the sustainable development goals. In this Sunway Scoop, exclusive limelight will be shone on three particular departments- Biological Sciences, Psychology, and Nursing. 

Are you interested in making an impact on global healthcare services, as well as psychosocial, organisational and environmental health, or curious about what it entails to be part of the school? If so, continue reading Echo’s exclusive interviews with lecturers and students from the School of Medical and Life Sciences to gain insight into the school’s culture and accomplishments!

Dean of Medical and Life Sciences – Prof. Abhi Veerakumarasivam 

Tell us about yourself

I’m a geneticist through training and took my Ph.D. in Cambridge. Ever since I came back to Malaysia more than 15 years ago, my focus has been on three things: 1) To answer important genetic questions that can help Malaysian cancer patients, 2) Properly communicate about science to policymakers, stakeholders, and other groups. To this extent, I chaired the International Network for Government Science Advice and other organisations to help scientists go out there, promote, communicate science, and make sure people are receptive to evidence-informed decisions. 3) The one I’m most passionate about is creating an education where it can create successful generations. I came to Sunway University because of two things: 1) I enjoyed how lively and “happening” the campus is. 2) Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah’s decision to make Sunway University and other institutions under Sunway Education Group to be “not-for-profit” was an important distinction that Sunway University has–promoting good education that is not based on economic benefits but rather on the quality of education provision was very appealing to me.

What are your plans to promote the growth of SMLS?

We want to position Sunway University to be the heart that connects different organisations, which could help the growth of SMLS. Sunway University has great partnerships with institutions worldwide, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and MIT, which could provide us with inputs to improve our curriculum. Furthermore, we have a Sunway Centre for Planetary Health led by Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, which hopefully provides all students with a greater appreciation of planetary health in their programme, creating an interdisciplinary dialogue ability within the students. Looking at the programme in SMLS, Psychology has been looking into masters in counselling, applied behaviour analysis, and clinical psychology because we understand how important mental health and behavioural science is. Finally, Biomedicine and Biotechnology were the reason why we are able to be back on campus, thanks to their vaccines and technology. We want to be pushing the boundaries of the unknown and becoming a proactive solution provider rather than just being reactive.

What guiding principle should students of SMLS adopt in their academic and career journey?

As a guiding principle, students of SMLS really need to dig deep inside themself and ask, “What are they passionate about? What do they care about?” Once you have found your passion and purpose, the purpose must be associated with you being the solution. Try not to become the boss, but try to boss the problem by being the solution. Don’t be hampered because of a problem, but be innovative to solve the problems. Lastly, the solution you have come up with must benefit and help others.

You were recently elected as the Provost, how has that experience been?

It has been a sleep-depriving experience. However, I am very grateful for the trust that has been in me to place me in such an important position. From a more operational standpoint, I see the whole university and care about all departments and students. We keep talking about interdisciplinary, where problems can be solved if different groups of people come together as a team. From my position now as a provost, I can see all the departments and help create teams from different departments to come together and solve problems. For example, the School of Life and Medical Sciences needs to work with the School of Business to create a healthcare solution with proper economic elements.

Is there any message you would like to express to the students of SMLS?

I would like to show my gratitude to all SMLS students. For me, being grateful to someone who trusts their future in us is so important. By choosing SMLS at Sunway University, you, as students, put your trust in us. I’ve felt the desire for them to improve, commit to education, and their willingness to be proactive, so I would like to thank the students for their active participation. Now, my wish for them is to be thankful. All of us have our own unique issues, but you have to remind yourself that being part of Sunway University means you are in a position of privilege, and you have a lot of opportunities to solve your issues. As much as I express my gratitude, I want all of you to express the same gratitude to your father, mother, or anyone who enables you to continue your education.

Department of Biological Sciences

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust humankind into an unprecedented era. However, it has also highlighted the importance of biological knowledge in navigating a world rampant with multiple unexpected diseases and disorders. Therefore, students of this department will explore a breadth of domains within the biological science field, ranging from deep-rooted areas such as microbiology to contemporary ones such as bioinformatics. With state-of-the-art facilities and support from industry leaders, students of this department can be assured that they will be fully supported in their undertaking into the vast discipline of biology.

HoD of Department of Biological Sciences – Assoc. Prof. Dr Kavita Reginald

Tell us about yourself

I graduated with a Ph.D. in Biology focusing on allergy and immunology from the National University of Singapore in 2006. Following that, I received post-doctoral training in Austria and France from renowned laboratories in allergy and immunology. However, due to familial matters, I had to return to Malaysia. I chose to join Sunway University as it was a leading private university in Malaysia growing from strength to strength. In the last five years of being here, I have had a very conducive environment to work and conduct research.

How did the Biological Sciences department manage to overcome the pandemic?

The Academic Enhancement Division of Sunway University has provided training to the lecturers and held town hall talks to discuss the changes involving both faculty members and students. Furthermore, I created WhatsApp groups for my classes, allowing students to reach out to me in a group or private setting to clarify any doubts. However, it wasn’t easy to boost the morale of the students. The pandemic has affected many facets of our lives, not only the teaching and learning aspect. Some students were struggling financially, and others had emotional turmoil. Luckily, Sunway University had some hardship funds set up and had a group of qualified counsellors to help out for students in need.

What’s your impression of the students of the department?

I find that students in the Department of Biological Sciences are very hard working and understanding. During the start of the pandemic, we were all forced to move online very rapidly. Although it was difficult, most students managed to transition without many issues. Regarding the changes in the movement restrictions, the department also changed its teaching and learning strategies. Fortunately, most of our students were very accommodating once they understood the rationale behind the change.

What is your proudest moment as HoD?

My proudest moments are when I see the Department faculty grow and excel in their respective fields and my students graduate with their degrees. The external world may only see the point when they are successful, but I’ve seen their struggles and challenges, making their success even sweeter. Every member’s success strengthens the department, which fills my heart with pride and joy.

How would you like to promote the department to prospective students?

The Department of Biological Sciences is a vibrant department that caters to the needs of the industry, and meaningful research was made in this department for the community and the nation. Moreover, the recent pandemic has highlighted the importance of knowledge in biological sciences for the continued survival of all of us. Join us, and be the difference you want to see in the world.

What is a motto or quote that you tend to follow as HoD?

“Hard work always pays off.”

Department of Psychology

If you have ever been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind, then this department will absolutely captivate you. Students in this department uncover the biological, social, and cognitive underpinnings of what makes humans tick. A diverse field, this department provides a gateway for inquisitive students to pursue their curiosity about the complexities of human cognition, behaviour and emotions, and apply them in real-world settings, solving various problems in individuals, families, organisations and the wider community. Along the way, they also get the chance to hone their craft in management, communication, and leadership skills.

HoD of Department of Psychology – Dr Woo Pei Jun

Tell us about yourself

I am a Developmental Psychologist by training and obtained my PhD in Developmental Psychology from University of Grenoble, Alps (France). My PhD research was in the area of face perception in infants, children and adults and I work as an early intervention psychologist  with at-risk families and developmentally delayed children. In Malaysia, I had worked as a developmental psychologist for children and I was also involved in early intervention programmes and parenting programmes for young children. Psychology interests me because I was fascinated by the factors that affect human behaviour, especially in children. Additionally, I noticed many misdiagnoses and mistreatments in the area of Psychology. Hence, my colleagues and I decided to change this by training ethical psychologists.

How did the Psychology department manage to overcome the pandemic?

To facilitate the students, we had weekly town hall meetings to update students and held regular meetings to get feedback from them. Furthermore, the staff had trainings in using various online teaching methods to support students’ learning. Lecturers have also been very supportive in giving students more flexibility in managing their assignments and learning. To maintain the lecturer-students bonds, we have a mentor-mentee system where students are assigned an academic staff as a mentor. In addition, our lecturers have always maintained an open-door system to talk to students who need help. In classes, I have always encouraged my students to try their best because every effort, even small ones, needs to be celebrated, and I ensure my students understand this.

Do you have any interesting stories/anecdotes about the department?

Our psychology alumni Shasvini Naidu, Daryl Loh, and Ethan Ganes, created a project titled The Reframe Project, which is a mental health hub for Malaysian young adults to get correct knowledge and information on mental health to curb stigma, encourage help-seeking behaviour, and connect with other young adults. Shasvini’s encounter inspired the Reframe Project through young childrens who shared their excruciating stories of the mental health stigma that they had experienced. Together with Daryl and Ethan, The Reframe Project has grown and positively impacted mental health awareness.

The department also recently launched the Mending Hearts book, which is a collection of true stories of loss and separation from our BreakUp Exhibition event held in 2018 and 2019. 

What common stereotypes may people have about the department and its staff and students?

One of the most common questions staff and students get is “So you can read minds?” or “Can you tell me what I am thinking now?”. Many people think studying psychology allows you to read people’s minds; however, that is not the case. Instead, Psychology is the scientific study of the human brain, mind, and behaviours. Another misconception is that psychology is not science, and you do not need to know maths to study psychology. Contrary to this misconception, psychology uses a scientific approach, empirical research methods, qualitative and quantitative methods, and statistics to study and understand the human mind and behaviour.   

What makes the department unique?

The Psychology Department at Sunway University has strong internationally linked academics that are not just academic researchers but people who have industrial experience as well. Moreover, some of our staff are also involved in public policy with the Ministry of Health and Women and Family, which gives students opportunities to learn real-world applications of psychological theories. We also invited international psychological speakers during events such as Psychology Month and held conferences such as the 7th Asian Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Conference and the 1st Malaysian Applied Behaviour Analysis International Symposium to expose our students to applied knowledge in psychological science.

What do you think the department can contribute to SMLS?

SMLS is dedicated to the discovery, advancement, transmission, and application of medical and life sciences knowledge that can contribute to the good health and well-being of our society and global community. Psychology deals with understanding human behaviour, which naturally relates to the School of Medical and Life Sciences, where we aim to understand diseases and improve an individual’s medical and mental health. For example, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, while the study of the virus is much related to life sciences, the impact of this virus and diseases on humans are very much related to psychology.  

How would you like to promote the department to prospective students?

Our department offers students both a good foundation in applied psychology through our meaningful research and applied work with the industries and community. After the recent pandemic, people have begun to realise the importance of psychology in various aspects of our lives. If you want to know how you can help make a meaningful impact in supporting health and wellbeing, join us and be part of the change.

What is a motto or quote that you tend to follow as HoD?

My motto is to “Never stop learning” and always to continue improving ourselves no matter how old we are. Learning is about our ability to reflect on things around us – one of the greatest teachers in our lives. We learn not just from books or schools, but we continue to learn from things, events surrounding us, and experiences in our lives. 

Department of Nursing

This programme is for those with a special fascination with nurturing the well-being of others. In this praiseworthy department, industry veterans teach aspiring nurses the sophisticated and compassionate art of nursing. This programme merges various fields such as anatomy, communication, and nursing care to create knowledgeable, capable, and attentive professionals. By the end of their programme, students will be equipped with all the necessary core medical and nursing knowledge required to provide the best holistic healthcare for all patients. 

HoD of Department of Nursing – Professor Dr Khatijah Lim Abdullah

Tell us about yourself

I started training in the 1980s and have always worked in a government setting. I then left and went to England to pursue my undergraduate and postgraduate studies and spent nearly 10 years there. Now, I have a degree in Nursing, masters in Health Service Management, and doctoral degree in  Child Healthcare. Then, I decided to come back in the 1990s to improve Malaysian nursing education and training. I started teaching at the University of Malaya but moved to Sunway University because my son did A-levels here, and my family loved the environment and facilities. Moreover, I’m impressed by Sunway’s 40-year vision and hope that I can learn to be more of a visionary through Sunway.

How did the department manage to overcome the pandemic?

Since the pandemic hit, internship and clinical posting have become an issue since students cannot go to the hospital physically. Therefore, we negotiate with the hospital to inform us when they are open for clinical practice. Other than that, parents were also concerned because they feared the students might get COVID-19 if their child went to the hospital. So, we held a town hall meeting with parents and students to address their concerns and give them a choice if their child wants to attend clinical practice at the hospital. I also asked the IT department to teach me how to use BB Collaborate properly and improve my IT skills. Additionally, sometimes I would add games or quizzes between classes and hold weekend classes if the students requested it and the lecturer in charge also agreed to it. To ensure that the students are fine during this pandemic, each staff member is assigned 8-10 students with whom they can share their concerns.

What’s your impression of the students of the department?

Some students are very passionate about being a nurse, but some are unsure whether they want to be a nurse. There are also students who are in nursing but are not interested in nursing. In that case, the students will talk to their mentor, me, and the counselling team to allow them to think. Most students are rational, so explaining things to them about the department’s decision is enough.

What are some common stereotypes that people may have about the department and its staff and students?

In Malaysia, nurses are considered secondary roles, whereas a doctor is the primary one. The stereotype is that nurses should be quiet and follow the doctor’s order, which feels like the nurse is the maid to the doctor. This stereotype rises because most nurses are diploma trained (O-Level), so their thinking and foundation aren’t there; therefore, they are not confident. They would just leave the thinking to the doctors and follow their orders because the doctor tends to have a higher degree than them. If nurses are more degree trained, they are more articulate, mature, and have better thinking capabilities, making them more confident.

What makes the department unique?

Our department aims to empower the nursing students with the knowledge and confidence to work efficiently with the doctors, not behind the doctors. There is only a diploma level for nursing, but we are also aiming to have an undergraduate nursing degree. Nurses need to be knowledgeable, so they can think, plan, and do things independently, and to achieve that, they need the qualities from higher education. Our department has a team of very experienced and qualified staff who can help the students to achieve their dreams to become a knowledgeable practitioner.

What do you think the department can contribute to SMLS?

Many people don’t know what to do when a person is choking or when a person collapses; that’s why educating them on first aid procedures is essential. So, our department plans to create a workshop for all students and staff of the university to educate them on first aid procedures. Besides that, our department used to have a health checkup and clinic at the university, which helped create more health awareness and encourage people to have healthier lifestyles.

What is your proudest moment as HoD?

My proudest moment was when we received full accreditation for our diploma in the nursing program with minimal issues. Another proud moment was when the 2021 intake had 3 international students, and 33% of the students were unsponsored students, indicating the increased interest in nursing in the Department of Nursing.

What are your hopes for the department as HoD?

In 5 years, I need to train my staff to take over my position. Currently, I have 2 potential staff for the position, and I still have 2 years left to train them. When I leave, I hope the current staff will be equipped with knowledge and do well in leading this department.

How would you like to promote the department to prospective students?

First, you must be patient with sick people, be someone who likes people and enjoys talking to them. Contrary to popular belief, hospitals are quite noisy, so you must be prepared. If you join nursing, you will always get a job because there are many career paths as a nurse, such as a hospital director, army nurse, crew nurse, international nurse, etc. Besides that, you are equipped with the knowledge to serve others, which is useful when you need to take care of yourself, your family, or your friends. For instance, if your baby is crying, you know how to handle them because you also handle babies in the hospital.

What is a motto or quote that you tend to follow as HOD?

“Nothing is impossible; everything is possible if you put your mind into it.”

“You can be very intelligent or knowledgeable, but you must know how to adapt, you must be open minded, you must know how to change. You must be very flexible and adapt to change.”

Recent Accomplishments

Achievements help serve as crucial milestones for us to look back and reflect upon the journey and growth that has led us up to this crowning point. So, let us take a moment to bask in the spectacular trail of achievements championed by the students, alumni, and staff from the School of Medical and Life Sciences.

Winners of WWF Malaysia Echo Champion Award 2022

Recently, Chia Dane and Lei Li Lin, under the supervision of Dr. Jane Gew from the Department of Biological Sciences, claimed the WWF Malaysia Echo Champion Award 2022. The winners were awarded with a RM 5000 seed grant for a project titled “Food waste segregation and management”, a project initiated by Sunway Materials Smart Science and Engineering Cluster. With this project, they aim to reduce food waste which aligns with SDG 12. 

Associate Professor Dr Felicia Chung  wins the L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowship for Women in Science Award

Associate Professor Dr. Felicia Chung of the School of Medical and Life Sciences was one of the winners of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowship for Women in Science 2021. This award was given to female scientists in Malaysia to celebrate and promote their work in science. With this award, Dr Felicia received a platform to educate more people about mutational signatures that arise in upper tract urothelial cancer (cancer located on the renal pelvis or ureters).

Finalist at Health AI Hackathon 

Lim Jing Yu, a biomedicine student, has recently snatched third place at the Health AI: Innovate for Health research hackathon on healthcare solutions. With her fellow teammates, Jing Yu was able to conceptualise the idea of an AI-powered diagnostic mobile application in the form of the DiagMon Health App. This revolutionary app integrates hospital databases, contactless monitoring, and online medication delivery services to bring accurate diagnoses and delivery of medications to users’ fingertips.

Teoh Wan Yi wins the Singular X Sunway Innovation Case Challenge

In September 2021, Sunway’s Future Leader Academy (FLA) and Singular, an investment management application corporation, organised a joint case challenge for the Sunway students. The participants had to propose solutions to analyse and improve Singular’s business model. Wan Yi and her group, F3, won the judges’ hearts as they presented the best solution that would crown them the winners of the challenge. 

Monumental Milestone: Nursing Students Achieve 100% Pass Rate

All 54 Nursing Diploma students from Group 201807 have passed the Malaysian Nursing Board Examination with flying colours and are now on their path to becoming registered nurses in Malaysia. Despite temporary setbacks, such as limited clinical postings and online classes, the entire department students and lecturers, were able to join forces together to attain success.

New Wave of Psychology Superstars 

Two psychology undergraduates, Chelsy Wee and Aileen Sze Yan Tan, recently reigned triumphant in the Lancaster University Undergraduate Research Conference and seized the Best Presenter Awards. Another psychology student, Bryan Tee, also won the best poster presentation at this year’s Malaysia Psychology Student Assembly (MAPSA), a student psychology conference for all universities that study psychology in Malaysia. Besides that, four final year psychology students, Cheng Miao Shan, Lai Zhong Xun, Kuan Jie Meng, and Anastasia Lim Ya Nah, also prevailed in the #Bangkit Challenge and rose triumphantly in the NGO sector.Final year psychology student Yeung Yeu-Mynn achieved the first runner-up position in the 11th Malaysian Public Policy Competition, 2021 along with her close friends Rebecca Chan from University of Toronto, and Chrystal Foo from Universiti Malaya. Finally, the last four valedictorians for the SMLS Convocation session all came from the Department of Psychology; these were Marisha Barth Ubrani, Raenuga Indran, Sandra Chin Yue Xin and Jasmin Tang Yi Xin.

SMLS Academics awarded the Student Appreciation of Teaching Award

In December 2021, 6 academic staff from SMLS were graciously awarded the Student Appreciation of Teaching Award to recognize their peerless dedication toward advancing the students’ education in the field. The proud recipients included Ms Chee Gek Neo, Assoc. Prof. Dr Chew Jactty, Prof Datin Dr Chia Yook Chin, Dr Eliza Berezina, Dr Lee Ai-Suan, and Assoc. Prof. Dr Yow Yoon Yen. 

Students’ Take

In this section, Echo interviewed several students to get their perspective on the experience of being a student at the School of Medical and Life Sciences, and what future students should expect.

Nicole Lim Sue Ann

Nicole is a student from the April 2019 intake and is currently pursuing a Diploma in Nursing.

Why were you interested to join SMLS and how has your experience been?

“Truthfully, in the beginning I did not see myself becoming a nurse. I had several ambitions and somehow Nursing was not part of it. In fact, I had thought of becoming a doctor instead but as always, life surprises us, and I ended up in Sunway’s Nursing programme. Joining SLMS was life-changing in a way and I am happy that I chose Sunway. SLMS has made me grow towards being a quality nurse and changed my character quite significantly. The journey of being a nurse has been rather bumpy but satisfying and I believe a big part of it goes to being in SLMS.”

Sharis Lo Wan Ting

Sharis is a student from the January 2021 intake who is currently pursuing a BSc (Hons) in Biomedicine.

Why were you interested to join SMLS and how has your experience been?

“The sole reason is that I have always been interested in the science field, especially biology. The experience has been rewarding. Meeting different lecturers from different backgrounds opened up and broadened my mind. Lecturers have shared with us their different experiences, which has made me realise that besides working hard studying, we also need to balance our work and social life as well.”

Chan Siew Yi Evon

Siew Yi is a student from the January 2021 intake and is currently pursuing a BSc (Hons) in Biomedicine.

What do you hope to achieve in SMLS and how has SMLS helped your self-development?

“Apart from graduating successfully and getting my degree, I hope that I really did learn some knowledge from this programme. Although I might not end up being a great scientist, I still hope that I can acquire useful skills that will benefit me and the people around me in the future. Throughout my studies, SMLS has helped me develop not only the theories of the subjects but are more focused on the practical. This allows me to comprehend better when absorbing new knowledge, such as the practical classes provided let us have close observations of the microorganisms, so that they are not only limited in the textbooks.”

Vejay Sivanathan

Vejay is a student from the April 2021 intake and is currently pursuing a BSc (Hons) in Biomedicine.

What do you hope to achieve in SMLS and how has SMLS helped your self-development?

“I hope to gain more knowledge on the medical field . Not only that, but I also build connections with my fellow classmates. In SMLS , we are guided properly by our lecturers so that we are able to become excellent researchers. SMLS has made me become more disciplined; improved my time management and also my social skills which are required in the modern era.”

Thoraya Arif Abdulrahman Alsheibani

Thoraya is a student from the January 2021 intake and is currently pursuing a BSc (Hons) in Biomedicine.

From your experience, how do you think future students should prepare themselves to join SMLS?

“My advice to future students is that they must have the skills of teamwork, leadership, communication and most importantly, have a good background in Science and English. They also need to be prepared to conduct many researches, manage projects, conduct safe experiments, and analyse data.”

Diong Wen-Xin

Wen-Xin is a student from the January 2020 intake who is currently pursuing a BSc (Hons) in Biomedicine.

From your experience, how do you think future students should prepare themselves to join SMLS?

“I feel that a good mindset will do. Like the old advice, stay curious, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and enjoy the learning process. For me, focusing on how much I can learn instead of aiming for perfection in my work and assignments motivates me in my studies. So do try to have fun learning and exploring the field!”

Karran a/l Kumar Narayanan

Karran is a student from the January 2020 intake who is currently pursuing a BSc (Hons) in Psychology.

From your experience, how do you think future students should prepare themselves to join SMLS?

“I think the one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of research the course entails, but it has been fun learning how to conduct psychological studies. Besides that, I think future students just need to keep an open mind.”

SMLS is filled with great lecturers and staff who are always trying to create a successful generation of students who can improve other people’s mental and physical well-being as well as improve our understanding of Earth and life. That being said, the lecturers of SMLS also don’t neglect their students’ mental health or needs and support them to the best of their abilities. If you have read this far, we hope the interviews with the HoDs at the School of Medical and Life Sciences and testimonies from students have piqued your interest in joining the School of Medical and Life Sciences.

Written by: Julia, Daniel and Yun Jing

Editor: Maki and Jamie

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