A Day in the Life: “The world economic crisis really affects research in Malaysia”

Malaysian-based researcher Nur Syamimi Ariffin talks about her pride and motivations in cancer research, despite the challenges she faces, both in terms of funding and infrastructure.

World Cancer Research Day

24 September is World Cancer Research Day, which raises awareness of the important and lifesaving work done by researchers. As part of this the EACR asked a variety of members to share a day in their life as a cancer researcher.

Name: Nur Syamimi Ariffin
Nationality: Malaysian
Place of work: Universiti Teknologi MARA, Puncak Alam Campus, Malaysia
Job title: Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Pharmacy
How long you have worked there: Since 2017

Nur Syamimi Ariffin
Nur preparing cells for Boyden chamber assays

Being a first-time principle investigator is challenging for me. This is especially the case when many things need to be handled from scratch on my own. The lab has very basic equipment and it is difficult to perform extensive work in molecular cancer that requires expensive biologicals and chemicals. The biggest hurdle is funding. The world economic crisis really affects research in Malaysia because there has been no funding from the government for over a year since I started working. Apparently the situation in a developing country is as bad as it is in third world countries. The only way to continue my research is by pooling some money from several sources, nationally and internationally. Although it is tough and time consuming, I can at least manage to buy some research items and run a few experiments to collect some data.

Nur Syamimi Ariffin
Nur talking at a conference organised at her institute

In addition to my research, I also give lectures and conduct practical and tutorials. This is the part of my work that I have opportunity to talk to students and share my knowledge. This is the most satisfying as they learn and grow wiser as a person. The students are also given opportunity to join the lab every semester. This in order to perform their final year project, supervised by me. I nurture their interest in research as a way of helping others to live a better life. It inspires me enough to see some progress in my research that can contribute to the community.

I find it more motivating when people are supportive of my effort. Moreover, it is always my ultimate goal to see more breast cancer patients survive a metastatic disease and I hope that statistics of breast cancer death due to secondary cancer can be decreased in the future.

Nur Syamimi Ariffin
Nur and her friends at an international thematic workshop on cancer research

Sometimes I find it difficult to juggle both commitments of being an academician and a researcher. Expectation are always set high for lecturers to perform well at work, publish papers, obtain research grants and teach lessons to students. One hand is full with responsibilities and the other hand needs to deal with problems that come and go without warning. Everything is under control so far. Furthermore, I have learned to be patient, persistent and professional. I am able to make decisions under pressure, think fast under any circumstances and act quickly for the best solution. This is important, otherwise it will affect quality of work and performance.

Regardless of the hurdles, being a researcher with a clear intention of helping patients always sets me straight. It is the motivation to drive me forward every day. For me, nothing beats the happiness of seeing the smile on others knowing that their excruciating pain and is gone.

How can you get involved with World Cancer Research Day?

1. Sign the World Declaration for Cancer Research

2. On 24 September share a snapshot on social media from a day in your life as a cancer researcher: use #WorldCancerResearchDay

Click here to see more posts about a ‘Day in the Life’ of other cancer researchers.

About the author

I started working at my institute in 2013 after obtaining my Master’s degree in Pharmacology from the University of Otago, New Zealand. I pursued my PhD studies in Pharmacology at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom in 2014 and returned to work after graduation in 2017. Currently, I am teaching pharmacology and toxicology to Pharmacy students and conducting my research in breast cancer metastasis. I focus particularly in preventing breast cancer cells from spreading to other regions in the body and developing secondary cancer.