Updated on 5 March 2013
Dr Kanyawim Kirtikara, executive director, Biotec, Thailand
I graduated from Chulalongkorn University with a BS in Genetics, enrolled at the University of Connecticut, US, to continue studies in plant genetics, my area of interest. I obtained an MS in Genetics in 1987 and completed PhD, also in Genetics, in 1993. My PhD research focused on the alteration in protein accumulation and gene expression of the ascorbate-gluthione pathway in tomato.
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I then began a postdoctoral research fellowship at Rutgers University in the Department of Plant Sciences, investigating the effect of oxidative stress. I received a second post-doctoral fellowship in 1995 at the Department of Medicine, University of Tennessee, by focusing on complex regulations of genes involved in prostaglandin biosynthesis.
I returned to Thailand to work as a researcher at Biotec in 1998. It was my first job and I helped set up the bioassay lab at the center for screening various bioactive compounds from natural products. At that time, there were only two choices in Thailand. If you liked teaching, you joined the university. If you wanted to focus on research, you joined institutes. Biotec, in that way, has been a very good place.
I became the director of Biotec central research unit in 2005 and deputy director of the center, in charge of capacity building, in late 2007. As the executive director now, I manage two things: research directions for Biotec and scientists. I have to work at the national level to understand what kind of research is needed in the country. Since we do not have that much manpower, we have to focus on certain areas and utilize resources judiciously. I also engage with scientists to understand what they are doing. It can be tough as we are different from universities, so our output is not a publication. People expect that research should be tangible and public should benefit. So, I have to keep the scientists motivated and that is a challenge.
I came to this position at a time when Biotec switched gears from being a funding and implementing agency to a research institution. This means that we are now continuously looking for funding for our research while trying to keep our focus on what is important for the country. Thailand, at the moment, is in changing and the industry is gaining interest in biotechnology. The difficult task that I have been doing is to prepare people for the industry while also pursuing scientific excellence.