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  8 April 2013  
  Chia Woan WONG, Ph.D  

When I was an undergrad doing my Chemistry Honours degree in NUS, the name IMCB came to me and my classmates as ‘a very interesting place for doing R&D’ – especially when we looked at the fascinating building which was being constructed behind the Science Library then. As someone with a first degree in Chemistry, we were initially puzzled when some of us were called for interview by IMCB -- why would a research institute in molecular biology recruit Chemistry graduates? The question was easily answered when some of us were given the opportunity to join IMCB and experience the vibrancy of multi-disciplinary research activities in the institute. Of course, as a Chemistry graduate, I had a lot more to learn than my colleagues who were trained in Biochemistry or Microbiology.

We have always considered ourselves fortunate to have the opportunity to be the pioneer batch of postgraduate students working in one of the research institutes which was formed to steer Singapore to a higher level of R&D activities. The lab which I joined focused mainly on the studies of the chemistry aspect in the field of molecular biology. It was an eye-opening experience when we were first taught the chemical synthesis of oligonucleotides as well as how alkylating agents caused DNA mutations. As our lab was also the designated lab to provide chemically synthesized oligonucleotides to other labs for their R&D, we had good interactions with other researchers and got to know different aspects of R&D outside our own field.

IMCB provided a conducive environment for researchers from different disciplines and research interests to come together for greater interactions and synergy. The institute encouraged good exchanges of ideas by organizing a relatively high number of seminars with world renowned researchers as speakers and also internal presentations like journal club sessions. I still remember vividly the various discussions we had – continuing even in the staff lounge as well as the pantry.

I graduated from IMCB in 1993 and joined ESSO Refinery as a Chemist. Though this did not appear to be a ‘normal’ career path one would expect to see for a PhD from IMCB, I have to say that the training at IMCB provided me with precious knowledge and good experiences that certainly set a good foundation for me to start my career in a chemistry lab providing critical technical support to refinery operation. Though my work was mainly on technical operation when I was in ESSO, I continued to follow the progress of the development of research institutes in the local scene as more and more research institutes were formed locally in view of the great success that pioneer research institutes like IMCB had achieved.

In 1996, I joined the Planning and Policy Division of the then National Science and Technology Board (NSTB) and subsequently became the Head of the Department of Materials, Chemicals & Environmental Group. My job focused mainly on administration of research grants as well as working closely with research institutes on technology planning and research initiatives. One of my first tasks at NSTB was to plan and coordinate the corporatization of the research institutes and this gave me the opportunity to interact with staff at IMCB again. By then, the institute had already grown to be one of the biggest research organizations in Singapore and had established its name in the global R&D scene for the various scientific achievements and impact it had attained.

I joined the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in 2001 to establish the Research Administration Department. My work requires me to be familiar with R&D projects as well as management of intellectual properties. As someone who has gone through the technical training in a research institute as well as the administration of research grants at a funding agency, I feel that I have a good understanding of the requirements and expectations of both ends which helps tremendously in my work now.



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