Biotechnologist Aing Sophea considered many scholarships before choosing an Australia Award
Born in a small village about 30 kilometres from Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat, Australia Award graduate Aing Sophea recently completed postgraduate studies in Biotechnology (Clinical Microbiology) at RMIT in Melbourne.
Sophea currently uses her postgraduate studies in her dual roles as the Medical Affairs Manager for anti-infectives at GlaxoSmithKline (Cambodia), an international pharmaceutical company, and in her spare time as a Lecturer at the University of Health Sciences - Cambodia’s only public university providing courses in health science.
From a small family of only three children, Sophea’s parents had a small shop in her village, and it was in her village primary school where Sophea first developed a love of learning and a desire to pursue studies at university.
Sophea places high importance on education while her brother and sister are more relaxed about it.
“I was one of the high achievers during the whole of my school time”, Sophea explained. “My only childhood goal was to be a medical doctor.”
“And although I really loved subjects like Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics, I was also interested in Literature.”
Sophea’s thorough approach to everything she does was also evidenced by the strategy she used to identify the best postgraduate program in Australia.
“I searched for the universities in Australia that would offer courses related to microbiology that I wanted to study. “Both RMIT and Griffith University offered suitable courses, but in the long run and to get maximum research benefit, I chose RMIT.”
Sophea’s had already had seven years’ experience in medical research laboratory, after completing her Bachelor of Biochemistry at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and later on, her Masters in Public Health at the School of Public Health, in the National Institute of Public Health, Phnom Penh.
After graduating with her Cambodian Masters Degree, Sophea applied for other international scholarships, including an Australia Awards in Australia, a Monbukagakusho Scholarship for Research Students to Japan, and a PhD Scholarship in Epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in the United States.
“But I persevered in applying for an Australia Awards, and after three attempts at gaining one, was finally successful in obtaining the prestigious Australia Leadership Awards, and I began my course at RMIT in 2013.”
Sophea was particularly keen on gaining an Australia Awards as it offered her the opportunity to study in an English-speaking country with minimum requirement in application process, and the flexibility to choose the university and course which best suited her needs and life plans.
“The Australia Awards scholarship also offered me the chance to take my family with me while enabling my spouse to work full time to support our expenses and my child to have access to Australia’s free education system”, Sophea explained.
“And while the scholarship provided a fair living stipend, I was also allowed to work up to 20 hours each week to supplement that Award allowance.”
Sophea believes that the time she spent in Australia was challenging, yet very rewarding.
The Australian tertiary education system was completely new to her, especially the need for self-directed studies. And as her Masters program continued, she realised the importance of being an independent learner.
“I also learned how to balance family, work and student life, as I was working part time and had my spouse and five-year old son with me in Melbourne.”
In Australia, Sophea made new friends and learned new cultures from fellow students of many different nationalities. As well as enjoying the social aspects of living and learning in a new country, she also gained greater understanding of the importance of networking.
Back in Cambodia, Sophea is applying her new skills and knowledge at both of her workplaces, which have potentially very high positive impacts, as she is working with large groups of people important to Cambodia’s future – such as doctors, pharmacists and medical students.
And while Sophea values greatly her Australia Award experience, she advises other potential applicants to prepare well - both for their application and for their subsequent studies if they are successful in gaining a scholarship.
“Understand the requirement of scholarships that you are interested in applying for, and be aware of your current qualifications, strengths and weakness,” she explained.
“Then, when you’ve investigated the range of scholarships available, target those and work to improve your chances of gaining a scholarship by improving your skills to match the requirements applicants are asked for.”
Sophea also stressed that having family support, whether parents, spouse or kids is the core of success in every step you take starting from planning for the scholarship until successful completion. “Always remember to ensure they understand you and be there for you when needed” said Sophea“I couldn’t have gone that far without the unconditionally love and support from my husband, son and families and I am in debt of gratitude to them”.
A strong advocate for overseas studies, Sophea encourages other Cambodian professionals to apply for an Australia Award.
“Do your best and believe in yourself that you can do it!”
Sophea is taking her own advice very seriously; one of her own current five-year goals is to gain another Australia Awards so she can return to Australia to complete a PhD in Australia.
“I gained a lot from my Australia Awards scholarship, and I am always keen to contribute back to the Awards program – to repay the opportunities it has given me.”
Sophea certainly demonstrates her commitment to “giving back” in practical ways.
“I have participated in many charity and voluntary works both at school and society, as I love contributing to society and at the same time building network with new people.”