Dr. Pei Qin (Sabrina) Ng, PhD

Previously "The Dataminer's Diary" | PhD in Plant Epigenetics and Bioinformatics |Bioinformatician| Did someone say coffee?

Embracing cultural diversity in Science

One aspect of my PhD life which I really enjoy is working in a multicultural setting.

Science has known no borders in terms of countries and cultures. Like music, science unites people from all walks of life, regardless of your upbringing and cultural background. Since I have set my eyes to pursue the journey of research, working in a multicultural setting is the icing on the cake to my research training as a scientist.

I will start by writing about my current lab’s multicultural setting. Our team consist of approximately 10 members from all around the world, including, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Australia, England, China, and India. We have also had temporary lab members from Germany and South Korea over the three plus years I have been in my current lab. Outside the lab, we have been actively working with collaborators from USA, China, England, Germany, and Spain as well. While attending conferences, i have manage to build up connection and friendships from countries like Japan, United States, Singapore, Italy, and Argentina.

The multicultural aspect of science makes it more interesting as I have learnt a lot from the past years from different cultures. Each cultures, including my own, has its strength and weaknesses. But having a multicultural lab combines strength from different cultures, channeling the best into scientific discovery.

It can also be challenging to house so many different cultures in a space. I would say, working in a multicultural setting requires one to stay open minded and to be active in communication. There are times I have had misunderstanding with my colleagues, only to find out most of them actually comes down to misunderstanding each other’s culture and language. It is always important to seek clarification when working in a diverse culture setting.

Having to speak five language myself, I have picked up additional language in my tool kit the longer I am in science. I started learning bits and pieces of phrases of science in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, and Korean. I started reading research thesis of other languages in Korean and Mandarin, and attending seminars hosted in Mandarin. Showing interest in other’s cultures helped to bond the lab together over time, as one feels much more comfortable to be in their own skin, as well as assimilating into the local culture while being here in Australia as an international PhD student. As for the local students, being in a multicultural lab has always been an eye-opening experience for then – it’s like travelling the world in a day!

Some cultures have brought up people to be more complicated than other cultures. I have experienced that first hand when I was preparing my first manuscript for publication. A different culture can also mean things can be communicated quite differently. Australian culture, for most, is much more open and transparent to build trust between people, at least that is true for the scientific community. For other cultures, it might take time to build internal connections until trust can be forged. Some cultures avoid straight forward communication; while some cultures in fact are absolutely blunt and outspoken. Some cultures are much more laid back; while some are much more heightened in preparation for future challenges.

I have learnt that in some part of the world such as Japan and South Korea it is totally fine to work late; but for some part of the world that is abusive as it tips the work-life balance. In Australia, it is usually fine addressing your professors/lecturers on first name basis after asking them if they are comfortable with it; for some cultures it is totally disrespectful to even get the person’s name spelt with a space missing, or with an in appropriate title. Some other interesting cultural fact includes power napping is acceptable in some parts of the world during work, while to some cultures it is a sign of laziness. I have also heard stories from scientific friends around the world that some cultures like to get things done on the dot, while some prefers to take their time to slowly get things done. In Australia, I have seen delegates attended conferences in beach shorts and thongs (or sandals in some part of the world), or someone who came in to do their poster presentation right after surfing. I have also seen international delegates of conferences who are so well dressed up in suits and ties as a form of respect to the event itself; and some who just came in their most comfortable t-shirt and jeans pairing – which both are totally fine depending on where you are.

Some of these might remind you of a specific culture in mind. However, the reason why I do not specify which culture it is in my blog post is because I hope by sharing the fun facts about the science’s multicultural setting, the things that made us so different and unique will eventually bring us all together in contributing to more scientific discovery.

3 responses to “Embracing cultural diversity in Science”

  1. Hi there! This article couldn’t be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I’ll send this article to him.
    Pretty sure he’s going to have a good read. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Peculiar article, totally what I was looking for.


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