Dr. J.ZOLZAYA: Lack of basic research experience causes problem in obtaining an academic degree abroad

  • By chagy5
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  • 2024-06-12
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Dr. J.ZOLZAYA: Lack of basic research experience causes problem in obtaining an academic degree abroad

We spoke with J.Zolzaya, who recently defended her doctorate degree at the National Taiwan University. She won second place in the 12th Congress of the Asia Academy of Osseointegration 2022. At that time, when we offered to talk to her, she said, “I have just finished my research and am in the process of writing it. I can’t talk before I publish it. Let’s talk after I finish it”. Fortunately, a great message from her with happy news that she had successfully graduated from the university and defended the academic degree were shared with us. Now, let’s dive into what the new Doctor said.


First of all, congratulations on successfully completing your Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). It definitely took a lot of time and effort. What are the pros and cons of pursuing a degree abroad?


Thank you. It took a total of 6.5 years to complete the doctoral program. It is true that it needs a sacrifice of time and a lot of work. Although I have published two research articles as the first author in an international journal with an impact factor according to the requirement of my university, and successfully defended the doctoral thesis, I am still continuing the unpublished research, since the scope of my research is quite wide. It consists of four research series.

There are many advantages and opportunities about studying abroad. We all directly benefit from the advantages that the country has created. But whether or not to create other opportunities depends on the individual. I like to say that opportunities don’t come naturally, they come to those who work hard. For example, in the first two years of my research, I was able to work at my school’s hospital thanks to my hard work, which made it difficult for me to even sleep. When I was young, my mother used to say that I was “a child with great dreams”. I still am. By the time I realize, I will have found a new idea and will be trying to fulfill it. 

In Taiwan, all the opportunities and environment for learning in convenience are very well created. For example, the library of their schools can be mentioned. One of the places where I spent most of my time was the library. Because National Taiwan University ranks in the top universities in the world, the library has very valuable and beautiful books. It is comfortable to sit for a long time and you can even take a nap when you are tired. Moreover, school libraries have research rooms for post-doctoral students. Students book their rooms using an online card, and enter and exit by having their cards scanned, there is no need to communicate with a librarian or a staff member. In addition, you can book a room in the school library for groups to hold meetings and watch movies. There is also an animal testing center that meets international standards. In this way, the school library has created a pleasant and comfortable environment for sitting and learning for long periods of time.

As for me, I sat in the school library and finished writing research articles and my dissertation. In the course of laboratory research, experiments were conducted on two types of animals. Previously, while working in Mongolia, I visited hospitals in soums with some project teams in the field of monitoring and evaluation. To be honest, the arrangement and equipment of the animal experiment center that meets international standards is much better than that of soum hospitals in our country. There are many examples of such differences. 

Also, if the student has initiative, they can be supported in many ways. But the university doesn’t demand, “You do this, attend a meeting, fill out an application, complete your doctoral program according to this schedule”. It has the advantage of being given the freedom and responsibility to initiate and plan everything by yourself. This is also a great challenge. You will feel as if you are testing who you are in many ways over a long period of time. It is interesting that it allows you to face yourself from a different perspective.

On the other hand, I would like to emphasize two things about the difficulty of defending a degree abroad. First, our lack of basic research experience makes it difficult. During my undergraduate studies at the School of Dentistry of Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences (MNUMS), students did not have the opportunity to choose a research course. In general, our medical schools do not possess specialized laboratories and have not prepared their human resources according to the policy. It seems that this is not something that universities can decide on their own, but should be supported by the government.

During my studies in Taiwan, which is known for its high level of technology, I understood more about the importance of government support for medical science development. For example, the supervisor of my PhD program has received huge research grants from the National Science and Technology Council of Taiwan. Other professors at the National Taiwan University College of Medicine also conduct their research with grants. Moreover, many professors in non-medical, technological fields and other universities receive research grants, so the Ministry of Science and Technology of this country will be able to determine how much money is spent on university-based research and development.

It is very overwhelming. The  National Science and Technology Council spends four percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product GDP, or approximately 27.8 billion USD, on research and development every year. If the money spent by the private sector on research and development is added, the number is going to be enormous. To this extent, they are able to keep pace with evolution. The above-mentioned difficulties in obtaining an academic degree abroad seem to only occur to doctors like me, but on a wider scale, I see them as Mongolia’s weakness. Another disadvantage is that there are few opportunities to focus on the development of research while working as a doctor in Mongolia.


After graduating from MNUMS, you had experience working in the capital city and local areas. What made you choose National Taiwan University to pursue a M.D.?


I was keen on studying abroad for a long time. I also attended several short-term clinical and public health training courses in Taiwan. What I like is that the society is very pleasant, stable and safe because of the culture. Compared to other countries where many ethnicities are mixed, it is observed that it has its own established and unique culture. And the society is very humane. Public places have toilets and hand washing facilities, Internet access, and all the infrastructure is there to ensure people with disabilities are not isolated from society.

The health insurance system is very well developed. Kindergarten, primary and secondary school education arew superior. This can be seen in the results of the international PISA assessment. According to the assessment of 2023, Taiwan is ranked third in the world after Singapore and Macau. During the “COVID-19” pandemic, it was fortunate for those of us who are studying and living with children, that Taiwan was one of the countries that survived without causing educational delays and with minimal damage. We thought, “We have come to the right place”. Education and health, technology industry systems and high risk management capabilities can be seen in many things. I chose Taiwan regarding those factors. 

National Taiwan University was founded in 1928 during Japanese rule, and the university consists of 11 colleges, 56 departments, 133 graduate studies, and about 60 research centers, and is considered the largest and most comprehensive university in the sense that it is a research center for other national universities in about 30 academic fields. Of nearly 33,000 students, around 17,000 are studying the bachelor’s level, and over 16,000 are studying the postgraduate, doctoral or research level. It is evident that the university is a research center because the ratio of undergraduates and postgraduates is almost the same. I studied Chinese in Tianjin City. Both English and Chinese, which are ranked first and second in terms of use in the world, also helped me a lot during my studies.


How many people from Mongolia study at the university, and is there anyone who has obtained a doctorate in medicine other than you?


A small number of Mongolian students are enrolled in other branches such as agriculture, economics, and law. Actually, the university has many campuses, and I live here with my family and have little time, so I don’t know exactly where and how many students are studying. I heard that there is a Mongolian student studying at the medical school. While looking for information on the school’s online system, I found out that several people from Mongolia graduated in public health. There is hardly any time to meet people here. Many students leave without participating in any of the club activities. There was no other Mongolian student in the professional or dental school I graduated from. I am not only the first Mongolian student, but also the first foreign doctor. In fact, National Taiwan University trains the nation’s best.


Your doctoral research has attracted a lot of attention. Could you please explain to our readers in a simple way what exactly tissue engineering studies and what is its significance?


Tissue engineering is very engrossing and challenging. The main goal is to restore and heal the structural loss of tissues and organs caused by injuries, tumors, and birth defects.


Can you talk about your research in detail?


There are three key factors in tissue engineering to improve tissue regeneration. It includes special tissue matrix or biomaterial, some molecules and stem cells, which means that the biomaterial created by imitating the structure of the tissue in many ways is modified in many ways, cells are cultured on it, and with the help of special molecules, it is studied in many ways whether it differentiates and develops. The animal studies using bone tumor cells, neural stem cells, and bone marrow stem cells have not yet been written or published, so I will be able to talk more about that in a little while.


You took second place in the 12th Congress of the Asia Academy of Osseointegration for the doctoral research work. Did it motivate you to study harder?


Of course. Sending materials to high-ranking international congresses and getting the right to participate and being awarded as best are different things. It’s exciting. Calling out the name of my father and country on the international stage was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. On the contrary, one of the many skills you need to develop while studying at a doctoral level is to develop your research results and present them. I have experience in participating in scientific conferences in Australia and Singapore. I feel like I can not lose the trust of a supervisor who selected me for a doctoral program and entrusted me with major research projects. Achieving a goal is good, but not disappointing others is more valuable.


What is the level of research related to tissue engineering in our country?


I don’t know whether the medical, scientific and technological schools of our country have a basic foundation or the construction in this area. What I know for sure is that there are no specialized laboratories in this field, and the human resources are not trained in the School of Dentistry of MNUMS, from where I graduated. The field of tissue engineering was first introduced in America in 1980, and the first research article in this field was published in 1991. This industry has been developing rapidly in the last 20 years.


You got your master’s degree in Mongolia in the field of public health policy and management. Public health is also a crucial field.


As mentioned earlier, tissue engineering is the concept of regeneration of tissues and organs that have lost their structure after a person is sick. Therefore, the public health sector focuses on the prevention of infectious and non-infectious diseases and the promotion of their health and well-being, not on individual citizens, but on the whole. Research in this field examines the biological, behavioral, social, and environmental influences that lead to disease in the population. It creates innovation in medical and social services, or in health and social service organizations. Only those countries that are able to develop and effectively implement public health policies and ensure health equality are able to keep their quality of life and happiness index high. As a result, they are able to create a successful society.


You participated in volunteer works to reduce dental diseases among children and even implemented a program in local areas while you were in Mongolia. Do you spend time on such works now?


I had the opportunity to work as a public health administrator in the local area for a while. At that time, I tried to work proactively and effectively, and initiated and implemented several projects and programs, one of which was the “Sealant” program for the prevention of oral and mouth diseases among children. At that time, people did not really know what “Sealant” was. The government of any country does not prefer to capture its citizens and treat them at great expense. Instead, the emphasis is on implementing the most effective preventive measures at the lowest cost or for the most groups in need. This was the content of the program. To tell you the truth, it is not easy to work in government organizations. Since the budget is small, it is necessary to plan the work accordingly. If you start a new project, there is a lot of trouble starting with lack of money. Therefore, I used to find the funding for the intended works by writing a small project and sending it to international organizations for support.

Furthermore, for children in cities and rural areas who cannot get accurate medical care and services, head of the Department of Prevention of Oral and Mouth Diseases of MNUMS, and professor B.Oyuntsetseg with her students, as well as in cooperation with international health organizations, voluntarily provided mobile dental treatment and services. 

The doctoral program in Taiwan lasted a long time, but I managed to visit Mongolia only twice. So I have not done such work yet. But in 2020, I participated in volunteer work in Nepal. Dental care and services were provided to children who lost their homes and parents due to the strong earthquake in 2015. I am very grateful to travel with an experienced team that provides medical care and services in many countries. This year, we are thinking about going to rural areas of Mongolia to work. But we haven’t decided specifically which soum to go to.


Do you have any plans to come back to your country and work?


I will go and work in Mongolia. But there are no plans to visit in the near future.