Dr Abhi Veerakumarasivam on his Wolfson experience

Dr Abhi Veerakumarasivam in the lab

Alumnus Dr Abhi Veerakumarasivam (2002) is a geneticist at Sunway University. He reflects on his time at Wolfson and his involvement in the upcoming ASEAN Emerging Research Hub event on Sustainability and Conservation.

Dr Abhi Veerakumarasivam in the lab

Abhi came to Wolfson with a clear plan - to enhance his knowledge before returning to Malaysia for a career in academic medicine. Now the Dean of the School of Medical and Life Sciences at Sunway University, he is dedicated to helping young researchers network and collaborate through platforms like the ASEAN Emerging Researchers Hub - a new initiative between Wolfson and ASEAN researchers.

How have your studies at Wolfson helped you?

I recognised that a Cambridge education would enhance my career trajectory. As a Malaysian Government scholar, I also knew that I would return to Malaysia after my time at Cambridge. My PhD was in cancer genetics and a subsequent career in academic medicine in Malaysia was always the plan. However, I never expected the magnitude to which the Wolfson experience would shape my personal and professional journey.

The close-knit multinational college community and egalitarian philosophy at Wolfson has certainly influenced my perspective of life and purpose. Wolfson taught me about what it means to be a global citizen. From learning to respect and embrace the amazing cultural diversity to engaging in robust (often random) interdisciplinary dialogue, the rich interactions at Wolfson made me realise how privileged I am. The experience created a sense of responsibility to serve a greater purpose; one beyond self-gratification. 

What is your fondest memory of your time at Wolfson?

From rowing and winning blades at the bumps to dancing salsa every Wednesday, and ‘dressing up’ for Toga Nights and Halloween Formals, there are just too many memories to choose from. Thank God that mobile phone cameras weren’t ubiquitous during my time at Wolfson. It has been more than a decade since I returned to Malaysia. Cliched as it may sound, the friendships gained and the kilogrammes lost remain my fondest memory!

What you are doing now? 

I am currently Dean of the School of Medical and Life Sciences at Sunway University. I am also Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice - Asia, which aims to enhance greater science advisory capacity and influence in the region. I also co-chair the Association of South East Asian Nations-Young Scientists Network (ASEAN-YSN) that offers an important networking platform for young researchers in the region. We help equip early career researchers with the necessary skills and tools to realise the impact of science, technology and innovation in the region. 

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

The ability to learn something new every day, and believing that my actions and the choices I make can shape minds and transform lives. 

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Be Present. Our frustration over past regrets and anxiety over future uncertainties often inhibit our ability to live in the present moment.  

What have you learnt that might be relevant to other aspiring researchers, particularly in the ASEAN region?

Fight the need for instant gratification and being satisfied with surrogate output; instead be driven by the desire to make a tangible positive impact. Fight the preoccupation to benchmark against others without reflecting on resources and challenges; instead celebrate each others' accomplishments. Fight the preoccupation to be better than all; instead be better for all. 

What role do you want the ASEAN ERC events to play in supporting this network in the future?

The on-going pandemic and the struggles the governments across the world have had in dealing with it, reminds us that the solutions to grand challenges require global perspectives and collaboration. Greater integration of the social sciences in these solutions is critical as well. The ability to improve our preparedness for future global crises and our collective ability to create a more sustainable human race depends on strong international collaborations between institutions and the strengthening of local capacities.

This is why I support the collaboration between Wolfson and Sunway University: working with the ASEAN Young Scientists Network and the national young academies in Malaysia and Thailand, our collaboration provides a fantastic platform that gives many young researchers and students in the region the opportunity to engage in robust scientific discussion and access to leaders in the field. This was the same privilege I had while at Cambridge, and I want to share it with the talent in South-East Asia. Our collaboration also provides an opportunity for the brightest minds in Cambridge to hear from different perspectives, it is rather easy to get stuck in our own echo-chambers.  

What are your favourite books?

My all-time favourite is the Mahābhārata, the Hindu epic. I am named after a character in this epic who, ironically, was brutally killed in the war!

My other favourite is The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddharta Mukherjee. It reflects on the failures and successes in cancer research, shining a light on humans at our best and worst, and on the power of hope for a better tomorrow. 

The ASEAN Emerging Researchers Hub is a collaboration between Wolfson and the ASEAN Emerging Researchers Conference. This year's series of virtual events is supported by our Sustainability & Conservation Hub. The programme can be seen on the event page, and the event is now open for booking:

ASEAN Emerging Researchers Hub - Challenges in Global Development: Sustainability and Conservation
Mon 30 Nov 2020 (09:30-11:30)


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