Research Associate Director
Skincare Innovation Platform
Johnson & Johnson Asia Pacific
My curiosity in biology started when I was a laboratory technician in Prof Chan Soh Ha’s WHO Immunology Center. I was surrounded by people who were really fun to work with and learn from. After graduating from university and turning down an offer to pursue a PhD in Australia, I found a research position with the then Bioprocessing Technology Unit, located in the NUS Faculty of Engineering led by Prof Miranda Yap. She reinspired me to continue with grad school so I went looking for a fun place to pursue a PhD. IMCB wasn’t on my list of potential places as I had by then heard that it was a tough place to do science and long hours in the lab and it didn’t quite fit my definition of a fun place. However as serendipity would have it, I ended up meeting with then Director Chris Tan in his office for a chat. He wasn’t very agreeable with my credentials (or rather, lack off because I did not come from pedigreed schools) but nonetheless introduced me to Uttam Surana and said “Go talk to him” and left us at that. Uttam had just isolated several key yeast clockwork genes regulating the cell division cycle in Kim Nasmyth’s lab. I had for some time been curious about the level of conservation and redundancy of these cell cycle genes. It was very confusing but attractive. PCR had by then also become a mature research tool and it was possible to clone stuff and try things. Chris Tan had quite a persuasive persona and I decided to join Uttam as his first PhD student in IMCB. Of course it helped that I was impressed with what Uttam had done in Vienna and the potential to continue the investigations in IMCB. It turned out that grad school at IMCB was the most fun part of my training to become a scientist. The rumours about IMCB being a tough place to do science turned out to be true (I hope it still is!) but the rigor, repeat failures and re-calibration are really what it takes to chase a hypothesis. The monetary rewards at that time were reasonable but not great compared with contemporaries who were pursuing private enterprise so you end up with friends who did not have much money but a lot of passion. I was glad that once again, I was surrounded by people who were really fun to work with and learn from.
From the humble biology of unicellular yeast I chose to “upsize” to multicellular mammalian systems to get closer to issues that impact human health. Prof Yong Eu Leong’s lab at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, National University Hospital was my next stop. I thought by understanding steroid hormone receptors and their roles in human health and fertility, a significant issue in many developed economies and in particular Singapore, may provide insights into healthcare challenges. It was here that provided an opportunity for me to be awarded a Singapore National Medical Research Council Young Scientist Award. However, the event that left a deep impression with me at the Hospital was witnessing a hysterectomy in the operating theater (I was there to collect precious samples for investigation) and the patient being discharged 3 days later with a better quality of life! I thought that was a miracle but medical advances have made that possible! It made me think about what role can I play? To be honest, I didn’t quite like working in a hospital environment but it gave me valuable insights.
Subsequently I left the Hospital when an opportunity came up to join Johnson & Johnson who was looking for a team to start a R&D laboratory in Singapore. There was a steep learning curve transitioning into industry, but exciting. I was constantly busy with projects that require global connections at “office hours” dictated by geographical locations. You become more conscientious of work-life balance. My roles have evolved over the 9 years that I have been with J&J, focusing on Consumer healthcare innovation to impact the health and well-being of people. Ultimately, my goal is to join the dots to bridge industry and academia so that innovation reaches the users and patients who will benefit most.
I am grateful for those whom I’ve had the opportunity to work with and taught me lessons, and hope that we as a scientific community will continue to stay radical and relevant. I would also love to re-connect with some of you who may be reading this post!