Junior Research Fellow, 1996
When I was invited to write about my memories of IMCB, I thought about it for a long time. I finally decided that there are 3 defining lessons I learnt in 1996, the year I was in IMCB, that shaped my life.
I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Calgary, Canada, and came back to Singapore in 1992. I joined NUS for a few months before winning the EDB-Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha Scholarship to Japan. I was in Japan from 1993 till 1995, working under the guidance of the well-known Professor Tadatsugu Taniguchi at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo. I did well in the Japanese lab, with a few co-authored publications and first authored quite an instrumental publication in looking for a target gene for Interferon Regulatory Factor-1 (IRF-1) using an mRNA Differential Display method. It was a tough period, but I enjoyed the experience and as a result, learned the most. Looking back, the years in Japan from 1993-1995 and 1997-1999 were the best years in my pursuit of scientific excellence.
I left Japan after the first round in 1995 upon receiving acceptance into IMCB as a Junior Research Fellow in January 1996. I had heard so much about IMCB, and had looked forward to working in an international environment in a beautiful building. I remember telling my parents that I was going to work in a high level institution and to study how cells worked. My father would sometimes drive me up the slope to IMCB, and I can remember my pride when he said that IMCB looked like a futuristic building. We called it the “space shuttle”.
When I was in Japan, I learned everything that could be known about RNA and DNA in the lab; and by that time I had done hundreds and hundreds of cloning, Northern Hybridisation, and Sequencing experiments, I realized that I wanted to learn something new - protein work. I decided to join Catherine Pallen’s lab to learn about the dephosphorylation of Src. I was introduced to a whole new field of proteomics and I learned from Pallen herself as well as from other lab members (one of them was Dr Lim Kah Leong) many invaluable lessons. I remember discussing my results with her and she spent many hours explaining her rationale about certain experiments. Even though I spent only one year in IMCB, the friendships I made there last a life long.
After I left IMCB, I spent a few months travelling before continuing my PhD program at NUS and University of Tokyo. After graduation and spending a year as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, I started my first company, Genecet Biotechnologies, a Life Science education company in 2001. This has since become a market leader in Life Sciences Education in Singapore. I started Veredus Laboratories a year after SARS hit Singapore in 2004, and Veredus is now a global company in the field of Healthcare and Molecular Diagnostics, in partnership with Semiconductor giant, STMicroelectronics. Veredus has designed and developed a world-class Lab-on-Chip, called the ‘VereChipTM’ and has launched and commercialized 5 applications with about 13 applications in the pipeline.
I have been asked many times why I started my own companies. Wasn’t I afraid of failing? I started my own company because I wanted freedom to do my own science. And because of my passion for the subject, I build my businesses around it. I also gathered like-minded people to join my journey. I was not afraid to fail because I did not think about failure. I was stubborn in that way.
Looking back, there were many defining moments in my life, but that would be another story. For now, what are the 3 defining lessons I learned in 1996 from my experiences in IMCB?
- DO WHAT YOU LIKE, Don’t Compromise. Choose a scientific topic you feel for and work on it. When I was in IMCB, I realized I didn’t like proteomics as much as genomics. That is why the Veredus Chip is a DNA/RNA chip and not a protein chip. Of course that might change in the future as my team of capable scientists are far more knowledgeable than I in this field.
- Love what you do. Don’t worry about the PhD. If you love what you do and excel in it, the PhD will follow.
In IMCB, I realized the real fun is to enjoy the process of learning and interacting with fellow scientists. I feel that many people were rushing to get a degree and fail to enjoy the process. My one year in IMCB enabled me to enjoy the learning process, and the environment was stimulating and inspiring. After leaving IMCB, I was able to quickly choose a theme close to my heart for my PhD thesis, and I took slightly more than 2 years to complete it.
3. Make Friends.
The international environment in IMCB was great for networking. Today, a lot of collaborations I have are based on the people I knew in IMCB or introduced to by them.