From Researchers to Admin Leaders: First 100 Days of the New VC and AVC of OVCRE

For the first time in its history, the top two seats of the UPLB Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension (OVCRE) are occupied by full-time researchers.

In November last year, Chancellor Jose V. Camacho, Jr. appointed Dr. Merdelyn C. Lit and Ms. Fides Marciana Z. Tambalo, both hailing from the Research, Extension, and Professional Staff (REPS) sector, to lead OVCRE.

This is an unprecedented move considering that faculty members are always the first ones to fill the top administrative positions in the university. Many consider this as a sign of recognition to the REPS sector that they can lead not only in research projects but also in offices.

Dr. Lit, or “Bing” as she prefers to be called, is known for her long list of accolades and extensive work as an entomologist, and is now serving as the vice chancellor for research and extension. She is assisted by Ms. Tambalo, a microbiologist and an active advocate of REPS welfare and development.

As they mark their 100th day in office on February 8, how has it been for the two women researchers since assuming their positions?

Researchers by passion and profession

VC Bing started her career as a research assistant in 1983 and worked her way up to become a University Researcher IV at the Institute of Plant Breeding.

Her research interests are host plant resistance to insect pests; stress physiology, particularly UV-B stress; and pest management in corn and other crops.

With a PhD in Plant Science and Entomology from the Australian National University, VC Bing used her expertise to help different stakeholders against major insect pests affecting rice, corn, bamboo, papaya, cassava, sweet sorghum, and ornamental plants, among others. She also published numerous scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals and even popularized articles.

Owing to her productive career and contributions in the Philippine agriculture, she became the first UPLB REPS in 2008 to be UP Scientist I under the UP Scientific Productivity System. She is also among the first batch of UPLB researchers in 2013 to be conferred Scientist I under the Scientific Career System, and then promoted this year to Scientist II.

Dr. Lit also received various awards and recognitions, among them are the 2018 Memorial Leopoldo B. Uichanco Outstanding Entomologist Award, and the 2019 Outstanding Researcher Award that is given annually at the UPLB Foundation Day celebration.

Ms. Tambalo, or AVC Fides as most OVCRE staff call her, is a feisty woman who is often holding the microphone during consultations on REPS welfare. When she is not actively representing the UPLB REPS sector in the UP System, she is conducting experiments as a microbiologist at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

Perhaps, one of her significant contributions to science is the development of Monascus Red Colorant – a natural food color that is safer than synthetic colorants which are mostly toxic and carcinogenic. Currently, it is undergoing product registration at the Food and Drug Administration under the novel food ingredient category. Local food companies have acquired the natural colorant for R&D, while three companies are already using it in their products.

Aside from this, Ms. Tambalo produced industrial enzymes which were used by companies, and put her efforts into converting agricultural wastes to functional products – like using cassava leaves as a potential protein source for humans and animals.

As most researchers do, AVC Fides also spent time publishing her findings in scientific journals. She did this while also being active in different committees, most of which are pushing for the rights of the REPS sector.

As new heads of OVCRE

"Quite challenging but rewarding,” VC Bing said when asked about her first 100 days in office.

The challenge, according to her, is for the office to have an “efficient system that is directed towards the right policies, resources, and outcomes.”

Although an administrative position can be different from her usual role as a researcher, VC Bing said she was able to cope with the new “office” environment that is almost similar to a laboratory environment with so many projects to administer.

She usually clocks in at 8 in the morning, fulfilling the required eight-hour work – an unusual routine for her because she is used to staying beyond office hours and even on weekends as an entomologist. “Test insects have no holidays and [I spend] weekends in field trials,” VC Bing said.

She carried her work ethic, which propelled her to become an award-winning and well-published researcher, to fulfill her new duties in the university.

Since assuming her new role, VC Bing said she needed to examine and be insightful on the administrative and research guidelines.

“The most tedious part of it deals with legal and jurisdictive matters; as an administrator, one must be knowledgeable about this very important aspect of the office.” She found out that legal technicalities are some of the hurdles in conducting research.

"A future-proof research university is a great challenge but with the dedicated and committed team of researchers and administrative staff at OVCRE, we can deliver what is expected of us in the office," VC Bing added.

For AVC Fides, her various committee engagements greatly helped her adjust to her new role, and of course her experience as a researcher.

“As researchers, we are always time-bound and we are conscious with the output. If there are problems, you have to face it squarely to find a solution. That’s probably the advantage of being researchers – our mind is geared towards finding solutions,” she said.

For the first 100 days, AVC Fides and the OVCRE staff focused on streamlining the flow of documents in the office aside from handling her committee engagements.

She made it her goal to expedite the turnaround time of documents submitted to OVCRE. Although challenging, she said she is “very much content” since there are only a few backlogs now.

Symbiotic relationship

VC Bing fondly calls AVC Fides as her “partner," and her colleagues in the office as "OVCRE Team." They agreed that AVC Fides will handle most day-to-day operations in the office while VC Bing looks for funding or grants that will help the university.

“I am fortunate to have AVC Fides as a partner in my new role. She already has prior experience in OVCRE and has been very active in RWC and RPFC and in other administrative matters,” VC Bing said. AVC Fides’ familiarity with the rules and regulations in the university has made the work easier for her.

Their relationship can be considered symbiotic, according to AVC Fides. “Our working relationship is a work in progress. I like how we’re very frank and open with each other”, she added, albeit having different personalities.

Together with the OVCRE Team, both VC Lit and AVC Tambalo are gradually navigating their way to find solutions – may it be addressing issues or streamlining the flow of documents.

“At present, the office is now more organized,” VC Bing commented.

What's next for OVCRE

Looking at the foreseeable future, VC Lit said that as the first full-time researcher to lead OVCRE, the welfare of REPS and Faculty will be her utmost concern.

“Despite the big and obvious disparity between the REPS and Faculty in terms of opportunities, benefits, rights, and welfare, the office will strongly pursue to narrow this gap,” she said.

She will also push for programs and activities guided with the research agenda on food security, resilience and sustainability, smart cities, and public health – the priority areas to achieve a future-proof UPLB under the new administration.

“The next step is to continue the collective effort in pursuing excellence in research and development, extension, and innovation in order to lift the status of all REPS. This can only be done with the cooperation and dedication of the whole OVCRE Team,” VC Bing added.

Simultaneously, AVC Fides will continue overseeing OVCRE’s daily operations while pushing for upgrades and solutions to improve the office’s services to its clients.

She is determined to not waste the given opportunity to be of service to the office and the public.

“This has always been a dream – for the REPS to have top-level management representation. We already opened the doors for the REPS and I hope that the young REPS would have a better involvement and be recognized for their capabilities to be administrative leaders,” she said.

This article was published in RDE Digest Volume 13 No. 1.