The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has been challenging, but being confined at home for such a long time allowed me to reflect on my journey as a woman in science, a mother with young kids, in a traditionally steadfast society. I am Oon Chern Ein, an associate professor in molecular oncology in Malaysia.
Growing up, I always thought it was normal for the authorities to have the final say. I was told to accept whatever I was being asked to do by the authorities, not to invite trouble. Men should bring food to the table and women to potentially take a back seat in their careers to care for and serve the family. Speaking out and having our own thoughts were deemed disrespectful. Doing one’s best was never good enough, in school and at work alike. Kind words of encouragement were scarce, we were often belittled by seniors, and as in some cultures, men and women have no equal standing, as evidenced in professional interactions.
The reflections I experienced during the pandemic lockdown were much needed. But unfortunately, I was too busy chasing after a career promotion before the virus struck, and the moment that life forced me to slow down, I started looking at things from a different perspective.
I was always taught to be grateful even in unfavorable circumstances. I have fought so hard to feel accepted for what I do and stand for as a young scientist. I have placed my self-worth in the hands of those unfamiliar with my work and those whose mindsets have not progressed with time. The new me clings on tightly to two important values that I believe drive empowerment, whether for myself or for others: practicing kindness and sincere appreciation no matter how small the gestures are. I have left behind the once meek girl and have experienced self-empowerment from these realizations. I have a toddler who looks just like me. I teach her to believe in herself and to never let anyone undermine her abilities. She shall one day be a change-maker and serve society, including the underprivileged.