Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Feature | A*STAR

Making a Star out of You

A*STAR believes people are its greatest asset, and it walks the talk with its scholarship offerings and various talent development frameworks. Read on to find out how A*STAR has propelled Dr Liang Kaicheng and Ms Luo Yifei in their research career and scientific pursuit.

Right: Dr Liang Kaicheng is a Research Scientist with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). He has a PhD and MS in Electrical Engineering from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a BS in Biomedical Engineering at Duke University.

Left: Luo Yifei is waiting to be conferred her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) and A*STAR's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE).

A*STAR conducts research with a purpose: advancing science and innovation to further economic growth and the well-being of society. To achieve its mission, A*STAR strives to nurture and cultivate scientific talents in different fields such as the biomedical sciences, physical sciences, engineering and technology, and computing and information sciences.

A*STAR offers a variety of scholarship and fellowship options. For example, Dr Liang Kaicheng is an A*STAR National Science Scholar (NSS) with a PhD and MS in Electrical Engineering from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is currently a Team Leader and Research Scientist at A*STAR's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) and Bioinformatics Institute (BII), leading a team that develops fibre optic and photonic medical technologies for minimal invasive imaging and in vivo microscopy for real-time tissue diagnostics.

Luo Yifei, an A*STAR Graduate Scholar, recently submitted her thesis for her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU). She undertook her PhD at A*STAR's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), where she worked closely with a mentor to develop sensing technology for plants using novel materials.

The two scholars sat down with us for a chat to outline the possibilities at A*STAR, from graduation to beyond.

How did you get interested in a career in research?

Kaicheng: I did well in my junior college science classes and I remember thinking to myself that I could also be good at research, and that was really it. While in junior college, I joined NTU's Technology and Engineering Research Programme, which gave me a good opportunity to be exposed to a lab environment. That exposure inspired me and brought me towards this exciting path.

Yifei: Since young, I have been captivated by everything related to science. Understanding the mechanisms and processes of how the world works is so intriguing to me. Going into research was therefore an obvious career choice. In the third year of my undergraduate programme in university, I worked in a lab and landed a research internship just to affirm my decision to go into research. Through these experiences, my mind was made up and I am now in pursuit of my passion in scientific research and the impact I can bring about through my research interest.

Luo Yifei

Luo Yifei

Out of all the scholarships that you've applied for, why did you choose to join A*STAR?

Kaicheng: Studying abroad has always been a dream for me, but the thought of having my parents bear the financial burden often deterred me, which was what really compelled me to apply for scholarships. I was excited to learn that I was offered two different scholarships, one from A*STAR and one from another institution. In the end, I decided to take up A*STAR's scholarship as it covered scientific fields that I had an interest in.

Yifei: I was really excited to take up an A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (AGS), as it meant that I could have mentors from the labs of both the university and the A*STAR Research Institute (RI) that I would be assigned to. With two mentors in two different labs, I was exposed to different research cultures, and gained twice the amount of research experience.

“A*STAR provides all-round support for its scholars and every scholar is taken care of by the A*STAR Graduate Academy (A*GA). ” Luo Yifei

Dr Liang, we understand you lead a team at IBN developing fibre optic and photonic medical technologies, and also hold a concurrent appointment at the Bioinformatics Institute (BII) leading a project on deep learning for cardiology. Can you tell us what is a typical work day of a researcher?

Kaicheng: I have just started my new role as a team leader, and at the moment I am busy with recruiting and building a research team, buying equipment, and writing proposals for competitive research grants. It is a challenging time in my career, but it is also incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to build a new research group from scratch, which I must say is a huge privilege for me as a scientist.

Dr Liang Kaicheng

Dr Liang Kaicheng

Yifei, how did the scholarship help you during your PhD?

Yifei: The scholarship has helped me focus better on my study and research work without having to worry one bit about my finances. Most importantly, without the A*STAR Graduate Scholarship, I would not have been given the opportunity to learn from two research groups with different expertise and different mindsets of conducting research. This has not only allowed interdisciplinary and innovative research projects between research organisations, but I have also grown to be more open-minded in my ability to view things from multiple perspectives beyond what a university or textbooks could offer me.

How do you think your respective areas of research will benefit people?

Kaicheng: My current research is focused on building new medical imaging technologies with real-time and high resolution visualisation to help doctors perform surgeries more efficiently, which will help lower risk levels during the operation and minimise potential relapses post-op. This is a very challenging field of research, but I am committed to dedicate the rest of my life towards this mission.

Yifei: My area of research is to develop sensing technology based on new materials like hydrogels, to monitor how plants respond to external stresses, for example, wounds, heat, and drought. On the one hand, this sensing technology offers a better tool for plant biologists to monitor and study how crops adapt to the environment. On the other hand, it can be further developed for field application in agricultural settings, where it helps to spot environmental stresses and to devise remedies before detrimental effects occur and affect the entire batch of crops. The end goal is to produce larger quantities of food, and higher quality food.

“A*STAR is a large and diverse organisation, and there are many options to diversify into different career pathways in science or research related work. ” Dr Liang Kaicheng

Other than having a passion in research, why should someone consider joining A*STAR?

Kaicheng: A*STAR is a large and diverse organisation, and there are many options to diversify into different career pathways in science or research related work. As a scientist, you may dedicate yourself to become a skilled practitioner and work towards a new important discovery that benefits society.

Open Call

Dr Liang shared with us that he is recruiting staff and interns for his new lab. If you (or your friends/relatives) are interested in a research internship or career in medical technologies, please contact him at [email protected].

Other than conducting scientific research, there are opportunities to groom young scientists towards leadership roles in policy planning, enterprise and entrepreneurship, or even science communication.

Yifei: A*STAR provides all-round support for its scholars, and every scholar is taken care of by the A*STAR Graduate Academy (A*GA). Regular sharing sessions are also conducted, where accomplished scholars share their experiences with the newer scholars. I found these sessions extremely useful and insightful.

A*STAR also maintains a strong network between scholars where like-minded peers and potential collaborators for joint research projects can interact and exchange ideas.