Biological Science lecturer Dr Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah took to the Cheltenham Science Festival stage in a calm demeanour.
She was to speak about was tuberculosis control - a topic that could adventitiously turn to a dry recitation of scientific facts, if not careful.
But the 33-year-old captivated the audience with her engaging presence, fine articulation and clarity of content throughout the three minute presentation. The Malaysian won over the judges. She edged out 27 other contenders to win 2018 FameLab International Champion.
That was back in June. The lecturer from University Sains Malaysia still finds it hard to believe that she became the second Malaysian to win the prestigious science communication competition, after Prof. Dr. Abhi Veerakumarasivam in 2016.
“When I watched back the video of me presenting, all I could see was the mistakes. So, when it was announced that I was the winner, I was relieved and mostly surprised. I was quite unprepared as well as I did not know what to say when receiving the award,” says Dr Kye, as she more fondly known now.
The Famelab wins prove that there is talent for science communication in Malaysia
Dr Kye revealed that she had no intention to join the competition in the first place. “I joined Famelab at the behest of a very insistent colleague.”
Her life has changed tremendously since being named World Champion, gaining more recognition from both the local and overseas science fraternity. Yet, Dr Kye feels that making her family proud is her greatest achievement, thus far.
“My dad has passed away almost eleven years now. He was a computer scientist. He was one of the main reasons I went into research after he passed away. I got inspired with his work and how he left something beyond his life and I wanted to do that.”
“I received immense support from my late fathers’ friends and colleagues when they heard the news. They were very proud of what I had achieved, and, in a way, I knew I made my dad proud as well. It was an amazing feeling.”
With Malaysia now having two world science communicator champions, something must be done to build on this historic win as it showed that Malaysians have the capability and talent to excel in science and technology at the global level.
“The Famelab wins prove that there is talent for science communication in Malaysia. The Famelab alumni decided that we must try and sustain the level of science communication in the country,” says Dr Kye.
“With the recent win, people are very excited about this and we wanted to get people together, not to reinvent the wheel but to try and find what we are missing, or to improve ourselves.”
On a personal level, Dr Kye hopes to get more involved in research works. The public attention following from her win serves as a motivation, and a healthy dose of pressure, to take her career to greater heights.
“One of the things that scared me after I won was that people started to ask about my research. I am still quite new and trying to establish myself in my field of study. The win increased the expectations of people around me to produce in my research,” says Dr Kye.
She hopes that her research on the use of antibodies-antigens to diagnose tuberculosis - the topic of her winning Famelab presentation - can be applied in Malaysia in the future.
Watch the full interview with Dr Kye.