Affliction to Inspiration: RP Alumni Nur Sarah’s journey into the world of Science

Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril received the Edusave Certificate of Academic Achievement Award in 2020 and 2021 where she is recognised as the top 25 percent of her diploma. (PHOTO: Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril)

Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril, an alumni from the class of 2023 reflects on her Republic Polytechnic experience, revealing how her skin condition ignited a passion into pharmaceutical science.

Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril received the Edusave Certificate of Academic Achievement Award in 2020 and 2021 where she is recognised as the top 25 percent of her diploma. (PHOTO: Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril)

Imagine dealing with persistent itching, your skin constantly flaring up, and those around you urging you to avoid scratching your skin. This scenario is familiar to Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril, 20, who suffers from eczema, a sensitive skin condition that causes skin to become dry, itchy and bumpy.

“It was a very draining experience when you have this (eczema) illness,” shared Sarah. 

According to National Eczema Association, eczema is the name for a group of inflammatory skin conditions that cause itchiness, dry skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections.

From a young age, Sarah recalled having to take various medications including steroid pills and creams to manage her condition. Feeling weary and curious about her prescribed medications, Sarah decided to embark on her own research journey. “I learned about the creams and steroids lab because steroids are not good for your body, right?” Sarah added. “Topical steroids are not good for your body, and you can go through steroid withdrawal. I researched a lot on it. That’s when I started to become interested in (pharmaceutical) drugs.”

Driven by a desire to understand the potential side effects, she began to explore the world of medication.

Research as a Lifelong Pursuit

As her research unfolded, this passion became the spark for her to pursue a diploma in Pharmaceutical Science at Republic Polytechnic (RP), where she not only seeks relief for her own condition but also to broaden her understanding of pharmaceuticals. 

The decision to delve into pharmaceutical science was not solely fueled by her battle with eczema but also by her introverted nature which led her to steer away from extroverted diploma choices. “As an introvert, I couldn’t really imagine myself in the media industry or arts,” said Sarah as she shakes her head. 

Highlighting the diverse career paths within pharmaceutical science, Sarah acknowledged options like pharmacists sales. However, recognising her introverted self and the potential energy drain from extensive interactions, she gravitated toward a research role in the lab. “I’m aiming for the research role because I am more of a lifelong learner,” emphasised Sarah, expressing her love for continuous learning and a focused work environment.

Life’s curveballs

Sarah’s journey at RP faced an unexpected curveball with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sarah (white top and pink skirt) with her friends on the last day of their year one, first semester. (PHOTO: Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril)

The shift from traditional classrooms to home-based learning (HBL) marked a transformative period for everyone, including Sarah. Being an introvert, HBL proved to be a blessing in disguise for her. 

The online setting allowed her to ask questions confidently and seek clarifications from lecturers. “In an introverted environment, I am the extroverted one,” chuckled Sarah. Switching on her microphone and engaging in conversations to forge connections with classmates became more convenient. Despite the initial adjustment period, once she found comfort in this online environment, there was no task too daunting for her.

Personal Growth Beyond Academics

Sarah’s journey at RP did not stop at academics but also her extracurricular activities.As the secretary of the School Of Applied Science (SAS) Club, she faced hurdles in building connections within the club due to the online environment. The lack of physical meetings and events led to miscommunication within the club’s executive committee. 

However, Sarah and her peers took matters into their own hands by organising outings with the SAS club to build rapport. 

Sarah organised her first event in her year one as part of the School Of Applied Science (SAS) Club, known as Chiron day. (PHOTO: Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril)

She actively hosted events for her SAS club, including the orientation program for freshmen. Her experiences revealed the diverse perspectives within the club, fostering an insightful environment.

The School Of Applied Science wins the Principal’s Cup during the orientation programme 2021. (PHOTO: Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril)

The relentless effort and dedication Sarah poured into the SAS club proved worthwhile as she received the REPUBLIC and the Service Excellence Awards (Merit).

A Bright Future

Sarah has gained a lot of experience in the field of science, including a notable internship at Illumina. Throughout her internship, she actively contributed to both the chemistry synthesis team and lab management team.

Illumina, the company where Sarah completed her internship, offers services in physical and biological research and development.(PHOTO: Nur Sarah Binte Mohd Shahril)

Sarah took the lead in various lab management projects such as chemical arrangements and even started them from scratch. As Sarah progresses in her scientific journey, she stresses the importance of building connections. “It’s easy to create connections, you have to push yourself to like to talk to them. There’s no choice about it. That’s how you step up the ladder – like to go to Uni (University) or to proceed on to another job. You just have to be shameless.”

A Silver Lining

While others might see a skin condition as a hassle, Sarah’s condition turned out to be a hidden blessing, moving her to take a step into the world of medicine and now possibly a lifelong career.