How this researcher-turned-HR leader evolved with Thailand’s priorities

By Si Ying Thian

Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA)’s Vice President and Chief HR Officer, Dr Manaschai Kunaseth, shares lessons from having navigated both the technical and leadership sides of the national R&D institution.

Researcher turned technologist, and now a HR leader, Dr Manaschai Kunaseth has worn multiple hats at Thailand's national R&D institute. Image: Dr Manaschai Kunaseth. 

Dr Manaschai Kunaseth has worn multiple hats in his professional career thus far.


As part of Thailand’s national research and development (R&D) efforts since his graduation, he has been a researcher, technocrat and is now a human resource (HR) leader who helps to develop the country’s R&D talent.


A graduate from the University of Southern California, with a specialisation in supercomputing, Dr Kunaseth has contributed to the establishment of the national high-performance computing (HPC) centre in Thailand.


In this role, he assumed both strategic and technical roles, including setting up the HPC policy roadmap and the technical training programme for HPC users.


HPC is the process of combining computing resources to solve computationally intensive tasks faster than a single computer.


Two years ago, he stepped into new shoes as the Chief HR Officer and the Vice President of IT at the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), which oversees Thailand’s R&D strategy.

Passion aligned with national priorities


Dr Kunaseth is no ordinary bureaucrat. He has a gleam in his eyes and a passion for supercomputing, as he thinks that is the route to take to strengthen Thailand’s R&D capabilities.


“My dream is to build a supercomputer in Thailand… So, I want to do everything I can to make that happen,” he says.

"My dream is to build a supercomputer in Thailand." Image: Dr Kunaseth.

His interest in HPC dates back to his postgraduate years when he chose to pursue the emerging field of supercomputing in a scholarship programme granted by the Thailand government.


HPC is a multidisciplinary subject that encompasses both computer science and natural sciences.


Back then, his university advisor cautioned him that supercomputing was not a conventional career path for most students, and most would be better off specialising in either one.


But he saw HPC’s massive potential to advance science and technology in Thailand, with supercomputers having the ability to process complex tasks at a scale and speed that exceeds traditional computers.


His university specialisation came in useful after he graduated when the Thailand government started to increase investments in computational infrastructure and artificial intelligence (AI).


In 2019, Dr Kunaseth was invited to be part of the founding team at the NSTDA Supercomputer Centre.


During his course of study in the US, he noticed the apparent discrepancy between the US and Thailand when it came to government policies, infrastructure and funding that supported innovations.


Seeking to be part of the team driving the innovation efforts back home, he turned down an opportunity to work at one of the US’s national labs and returned to work in NSTDA.

Staff advocate turned HR leader


“There are many more things Thailand can do to [promote innovation efforts], including policies to take care of its staff,” Dr Kunaseth says.


His entry into HR field came about when an opportunity presented itself during a leadership change. During his time at NSTDA, he volunteered as a staff representative working with the HR team and negotiating for staff interests.

Prior to being the CHRO at NSTDA, Dr Kunaseth volunteered as a staff representative working with the HR team and negotiating for staff interests. Image: Dr Kunaseth. 

“I decided to join and bring along my experience as a scientist to really make the system better,” he says.


Dr Kunaseth shares two key projects he is involved in that aim to both improve the meaning of researchers’ work and bridge the lab-to-market gap.  They aim to provide financial incentives for researchers to embark on industry projects.


“If we can bring the technology to the industry, we can help to improve the economic value of the research,” he explains.


The first project is a talent mobility programme where NSTDA researchers will be deployed to industry, such as in biotechnology, to work alongside their business counterparts with the aim of commercialising end products.


Profits would be shared between the researcher and the industry partner, he says.


The second project is a programme that provides financial incentives for researchers to seek out industry partners to support their R&D projects.

Next-gen researchers need to have an entrepreneurial mindset

AI is doubling the speed of change, so it is important to be able to adapt and collaborate with others, Dr Kunaseth says.


AI, among other digital technologies, will continue to converge with the sciences moving forward, he adds. It is important to be open-minded and accept this trend as part of the research work.


On his hopes for the future of public sector innovation, Dr Kunaseth thinks that Southeast Asia, as a developing region in general, can leverage on this technological shift.

“Obtaining a PhD is about persistence and perseverance to focus on academics. The same could be applied when practicing soft skills and learning management." Image: Dr Kunaseth.

Dr Kunaseth feels that researchers and technical experts can make a jump to leadership or management roles like him.


Most researchers tend to have very logical and systemic thinking capability due to their academic training, he says.


“Obtaining a PhD is about persistence and perseverance to focus on academics. The same could be applied when practicing soft skills and learning management.  


“I think if people are really passionate to shift [from the technical to leadership side], they will be able to do it,” he explains.


He also underlines the importance of flexible and evolving government policies to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.


Dr Manachai Kunaseth recently spoke at the Embracing Skill-First Learning: Driving Digital Transformation in the Public Sector panel alongside panelists from MyDIGITAL and Coursera. You can find the on-demand video recording here >>>