HERstory: Leading DOST-ASTI Women in Technology Transfer

6 Apr 2020 4:53 PM

The DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI), known for its contributions to the growth of Space Technology, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and Microelectronics in the Philippines, is more than what meets the eye. Its award-winning projects such as the DATOS ProjectCOARE, and PREGINET – among others, together with numerous publications wouldn’t be possible if not for its commendable researchers and staff working behind the curtains to ensure the delivery of quality outputs constantly expected of the institute.

However, in a field that is usually perceived as male-dominated, it may come as a surprise to some when women start sharing the spotlight in science and technology. In 2010, a research report conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) proved that stereotypes and barriers unfavorable to women do exist in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The report therefore recommended spreading the word about women’s achievements in STEM and creating an environment that supports their development in a field previously known as male dominated.

With this in mind, a few of the remarkable female researchers from DOST-ASTI shared their own experience as women in Research and Development (R&D).

Staying on top of an ever-changing field 

“One fact about the field of science and technology is that it is ever-changing,” says Jeanette Carlos, Science Research Specialist II at DOST-ASTI's Solutions and Services Engineering Division (SSED). “When I graduated, I only have knowledge on Visual Basic and MySQL. But Visual Basic became outdated, and I had to learn other programming languages to cope up with the changes. One must continuously learn and evolve to survive in this industry.”

In December 2017, Jeanette was part of the award-winning team that wrote the published paper entitled, "HydroMet: Deployment of a large scale nationwide hydrometeorological sensor network for flood warning and monitoring.” Focused on DOST-ASTI’s Automated Weather Stations, the research was presented in the 2017 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference.

"Since our outputs already have target users, I just hope that they continue using it and hope that this will contribute to the betterment of our country," Jeanette says. "Having projects that aim to benefit the whole nation, we can expect that there will be people who will not be satisfied. But when your target users appreciate your work and recognize that it helped them, I think, that is already a success story."

When asked about what inspired her to take the career path she is currently in, she shared how her father and grandfather inspired her, instilling in her the importance of kaizen and innovation. For Jeanette, women are already as empowered as men, and are already given equal footing when it comes to their rights and chosen career fields.

“It is still a male-dominated field,” she says. “We just need to let them see what we are capable of doing, and we should do what we do best. Eventually, they will realize that we have so much to offer in this industry.”

Adapting to a fast-paced environment

For an institute that utilizes its outputs for disaster management, among a few others, change is not a new concept for the people at DOST-ASTI. “Things move quickly in our project, DATOS – especially when there are disaster events you must adapt to quickly. I have also learned a lot from being surrounded by researchers in various fields,” shares Marion Gelido, Science Research Specialist I at DOST-ASTI's Research and Development Division (RDD).

But for them, the fast-paced nature of their job is only one of its many charms.

“I have always wanted to work in the Remote Sensing (RS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) field because I see a lot of potential with this technology even if it isn't as widespread. Working in a project where we actually get the word out about these technologies and its many applications is very fulfilling,” she shares. “I'd like to believe that we would all benefit from R&D. Science, when properly applied, can always help us move forward and progress.”

Marion is currently part of DOST-ASTI's DATOS Project, which produces and communicates relevant disaster information to agencies and key end-users. In March 2020, DATOS was announced as a nominee in the IDC Smart City Asia Pacific Awards 2020, being the only project from the Philippines nominated this year.

"Having more women in the workforce is always good,” she shares. “Having women take the lead in more areas can help other women feel empowered. It can even make for a more comfortable workplace for other women and encourage them to be more open to share their ideas and thoughts. Promoting the talent that women have to offer can be done by women by simply doing their best in their work and being confident in their ideas.”

When asked about her message to all other aspiring scientists out there, she has a concise yet very meaningful message, “Just go for it!"

A challenging yet fulfilling experience

 For Jasmin Yabut, Science Research Specialist I at SSED, working in R&D is a “challenging yet fulfilling” experience.

“It’s challenging in terms of research and how to make it useful, accessible, and sustainable. On the other hand, it’s fulfilling because you get to be a part of accomplishing helpful projects that benefit the community,” she shares. “I feel proud that our contribution, not just as women, but as skilled members in the scientific industry are being recognized. This just goes to show that women are valuable in this field of work.” Women have become assets in R&D through being role models and leaders of the industry.

Jasmin is part of the team working on DOST-ASTI's Meteorological Data Acquisition Stations for Information Dissemination Plus (MASID+) technologies, created to tailor fit end users which are, but not limited to, Local Government Units (LGUs), academe, and researchers with flood monitoring and warning needs. "I hope that these resources can be of practicable application to the field. End users should be able to cope alongside the technologies in order to increase efficiency and support in disaster prevention monitoring to save valuable human lives. I also dream that more people will be able to gravitate to the use of modern technology because they are willing to learn,” Jasmin says. Furthermore, she dreams for more Filipino people to easily see the help they can acquire from these new methods.”

Despite the lacking numbers, women in STEM like Jasmin proved to be unstoppable when it comes to showing off their skills and willingness to learn and adapt to the changes around them.

“I think here in our country, women empowerment is not perfectly visible, but it is progressively getting better,” she shares. “We have been given our freedom to dream and achieve what we want to be. Our voices are heard, and the support system is high. We are lucky to have many groups creating different advocacies for women that show support and empowerment. These initiatives paved the way for us to be more confident and to be able to break the norms.”

Empowering women in S&T  

When asked about their thoughts about female empowerment in the workplace, our interviewees differed in views, but one thing remained the same – they take pride in the excellence they bring in the playing field. For Roxanne Aviñante, Senior Science Research Specialist at DOST-ASTI's Computer Software Division (CSD), today’s generation of women excel even in a male-dominated workplace.

“However, one of the places where gender disparity is most pronounced is in STEM. Seeing women leaders excel globally in this area makes me dignified as a woman. In terms of suitability and competence for the positions relative to S&T, ICT, and microelectronics in DOST-ASTI, there is almost a 50-50 ratio in the management and operations team,” she shares.

In June 2018, Roxanne was part of the award-winning team that wrote the published paper entitled, "Predicting Decisions of the Philippine Supreme Court Using Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning.” The study aimed to use Natural Language Processing to provide a solution to alleviate these problems by predicting the outcome of court cases. The research was presented in the 2018 IEEE 42nd Annual Computer Software and Applications Conference (COMPSAC).

“With the modest influence that I have in the institution, I will follow the Harmonized Gender and Development Guidelines (HGDG) in implementing R&D projects. The HGDG tool helps us achieve gender equality in R&D project implementation by promoting the equal participation of women as agents of change in the scientific community. I will not be biased in selecting researchers for our projects, I will give equal opportunity for both men and women who will apply for a position in my team.”

Growing within expanding spheres

 Camille Larios, Science Research Specialist II at DOST-ASTI's Knowledge Management Division (KMD), also shared her own experience in proving her own competence and suitability inside the workplace. 

“I was initially hired as a Technical Writer in DOST-ASTI in May 2012. I was groomed to be a project manager and for a couple of years now, I have been handling software development projects under KMD,” she shares. “It was out of the blue – at least for me, when my boss asked me if I would like to take the role as project manager. I grabbed the opportunity and while I struggled in the beginning because I work with highly technical people, project management has now become part of me. Now, I am happy that I am able to work on projects that I know could change how the government does things.”

Camille also works alongside Girlie Fernandez, who leads the Management Information Systems (MIS) Unit for KMD.

While the main function of the MIS is to provide technical services within DOST-ASTI, in the past years, it has been engaging in projects for the whole of the government. Two of their notable projects include the development of a web-based Enterprise Resource and Planning (ERP) System which streamlines and automates government administrative processes, and the development of the Deduping and Matching Application and the Onboarding and Registry Application in partnership with the Department of Information and Communications and Technology (DICT), which aims to discover and merge duplicate records in government databases and facilitate data sharing among government agencies.

“The fact that the Philippines landed in the top 10 out of 145 nations in terms of gender equality in 2017 tells us that the country has been faring well in women empowerment. I believe though that we still need to exert due effort so that women empowerment will be highly integrated in our culture and be felt by everyone,” Camille adds.

Breaking the norms

 Machele Felicen, Senior Science Research Specialist at RDD, shares the same sentiment about her experience in attending R&D trainings where 50% of the participants consist of women. “The Philippines, like other developing nations, habeen good at promoting women empowerment by providing them equal opportunities as men,” she adds.

Machele also works with the DATOS team, an experience which she finds to be challenging and fun at the same time. “Being part of the ASTI family allows you access to powerful computers, do research in remote sensing topics, and apply it to generate information that can be used by LGUs and other agencies. It somehow provides you a sense of fulfillment for being able to contribute your knowledge and skills for the benefit of those who need it," she shares. “New knowledge allows them to expedite their processes and services, allowing them to deliver to the people in a much faster time and helping them avoid certain disasters. Research also allows you to monitor atmospheric and terrain conditions. Information derived on this can be used for better governance and decision-making in the future.”

When Machele was asked about what message she would like to leave young aspiring female scientists, she advised, “Remain humble. Promote unity in an organization and learn more by listening to other people who have walked these paths we intend to take. Take everything, the good and the bad, that comes in your way as an opportunity to learn.”

At the end of the day, success takes skill, grit, and passion to do what you love – regardless of gender.

Bridging Technology and the People

With the DOST – ASTI’s continuous commitment to the development of the Filipino society and the Philippines as a nation, its women researchers together with the Technology Licensing Office (TLO) unit, which is also an all-woman team, aim to bridge ASTI’s technologies and the Filipino people through technology transfer initiatives and commercialization.

“My dream is for our government to be highly integrated with the aid of the tools that we develop such that citizens will have the best experience when availing government services,” says Camille.

“I hope that the outputs prepared by the team are translated well in real life - that they really prove to be useful to those who need them, especially in disaster risk reduction” management field, adds Marion.

Roxanne also agrees with the sentiment of Marion, saying, “I hope that the outcome of the projects I am doing right now would have a societal impact and would help improve the condition of marginalized sectors, explicitly or implicitly.”

On the other hand, Machele looks forward to “providing outputs that will be beneficial for the people of today and tomorrow.” She said that there are some studies today that might not be integral for people but in a few years’ time, will be able to save other people. She encourages everyone to not ignore one’s humble beginnings.

From a personal standpoint of Jasmin, those who will mostly benefit from their developed technologies are the local communities, especially those in remote areas. According to her, their technology was “built and focused on mitigating disaster related casualties. Thus, the developed technology is able to complement the current plan for disaster risk management of our local government units.” In effect, their technologies will enable them to be connected to a wider network which can mutually benefit them and those nearby.

Jeanette has another point of view. She said, “I realized that we should give more focus on the medical community, given the current health crisis. We are behind in terms of medical/health technologies and infrastructures.”

Finally, Marion hopes that not only their tangible outputs but also their shared and transferred knowledge during coordination meetings will prove useful to Filipinos. She hopes that their shared knowledge with partner agencies be the impetus for their technologies to be disseminated and exhaustively accessed by their fellow Filipinos.

Currently, the DOST-ASTI researchers and TLO officers are actively participating in the Honing Innovations, Research, Agreements, and Negotiations of Government-funded Technologies (HIRANG) Internship Program. It is a program under DOST 500 which aims to strengthen Intellectual Property (IP) and technology portfolios of DOST for higher commercialization success.

First DOST-ASTI TLO HIRANG internship meeting together with their mentor, Atty. Anne Mariae Celeste V. Jumadla at DOST-TAPI Conference Room.

DOST-ASTI TLO generates business linkage to Wireless Emergency Response Technology (WERT) System in the recently conducted National Invention Contest and Exhibits (NICE) on March 3-5, 2020 at SMX Convention Aura, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

DOST-ASTI's all-woman Technology Licensing Office (TLO) unit with former DOST-ASTI Acting Director Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano 

Other TLO technology transfer initiatives include, but are not limited to, workshop on Intellectual Property and Mobile Applications, IP Valuation Writeshop-Trainingvarious stakeholders’ meetings for potential licensees of the DOST-ASTI technologies, and consultancy meetings for Basic IP and Invention Disclosure.

The Technology Licensing Office is also supported by the strong female leadership executed within the DOST community such as its Technology Transfer lawyer, Atty. Lucieden G. Raz, its HIRANG Internship mentor, Atty. Anne Mariae Celeste V. Jumadlya, the Chief of Invention and Development Division (IDD) of DOST – Technology Application and Promotion Institute (TAPI), Atty. Marion Ivy D. Decena, and most importantly, the DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development, Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara.