Posted by: Hendra Siry | 2 August, 2010

Sidrotun Naim: Becoming a shrimp pathologist

Article by Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Mon, 08/02/2010 8:25 AM | PeopleIndonesia is one of the biggest shrimp producers in the world along with China, Thailand and Vietnam. While the latter three countries have experts on shrimp pathology, Indonesia does not.

JP/Prodita SabariniJP/Prodita Sabarini

But the country will have its first shrimp pathologist hopefully in less than two years. Indonesian marine biologist Sidrotun Naim is currently studying at the University of Arizona under a Fulbright scholarship to become just that.

When Sidrotun Naim emailed the world’s leading shrimp pathologist Donald Lightner from the University of Arizona on her interest to study shrimp diseases, she said the latter’s response was “finally”.

“He said he had been waiting for so long to have a student from Indonesia,” she said.

Studying under Lightner and other reputed names on shrimp pathology, she is preparing for her PhD on environmental science and pathobiology.

Popularly called Naim by her friends and colleagues, she is one of the 2009 recipients of the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science award in Indonesia and will represent Indonesia for a similar competition at the international level. Naim is also the 2010 recipient of the Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future award.

Naim is currently in Indonesia for a reunion of the L’Oreal-UNESCO fellows. One of Naim’s lecturers at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) Fenny M. Dwivany is also a L’Oreal fellow, one who inspired her to apply for the award.

Naim said she hoped to win the international L’Oreal–UNESCO For Women in Science award. “I feel like an athlete carrying our national flag,” she said.

The mother of one said she became interested in studying diseases on shrimps after working for the WWF Indonesia-Aceh program as a Marine program consultant. In the field, she found a lot of experts in water quality or fish pathology, but she had never encountered an expert in shrimp pathology.

“When an outbreak of a shrimp disease occurs, we have no adequate knowledge to define, analyze, and diagnose the problem,” she said. “A researcher from the fisheries ministry said that we have no a credible reference. Say there’s a shrimp disease in East Java, there is not one person that can say what they’re infected with,” she said.

Shrimps are very sensitive to dirty water and crowded places. They are also prone to viral infection, Naim said. When that happens, shrimp farmers have to be haste in harvesting them before.

“That’s why bigger shrimps usually cost more compared to smaller ones. Small shrimps might be a result of sudden harvesting due to an outbreak,” she said.

“I will try in the next two years. I will learn everything I need to learn to become a shrimp pathologist,” she said. Aside from her PhD, she is also taking two related Master’s degrees at the same time.

“I have to make reports for each of the different degrees and for my dissertation. I have to work three times as hard, because I’m running three different experiments,” she said.

The drive to work hard was an ample opportunity and gave her access to journals and labs in America.

“Opportunities are limited sometimes. While I’m in America all labs are available, this is my chance and I’ll use it the best way I can,” she said.

The seventh child of a big household of 11 kids, Naim said she once aspired to be a medical practitioner. Naim fell in love with biology during her high school days.

However, over concern on higher expenses that her parents had to provide if she went to medical school, she decided to take biological sciences in 1997. Her career has taken various paths and she said she finally found her passion as a researcher. “Now I’m almost a doctor, though not for humans but shrimps,” she said.

Naim has plans for the next three years. After she finishes her PhD dissertation, she plans to apply as a visiting scholar to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“And after that I will go home and teach School of Life sciences and technology at ITB,” she said.

She has previously worked for a private company, Freeport, environmental NGO, WWF and taught primary school and high school students sciences.

Naim said she found her passion as a research scientist because it made her feel alive. “I feel that a researcher is always alive because there’re also new problems in the field.

“It always changes. There’re always new challenges.”

Popularly called Naim by her friends and colleagues, she is one of the 2009 recipients of the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science award in Indonesia.


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