Left: Dr Lim Yee Hwee - National Science Scholarship (PhD) recipient, Senior Scientist II, Covering Head of Division, Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES), Director of Graduate Affairs, Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) at A*STAR.
Right: Dr Chew Wei Leong - National Science Scholarship (BS – PhD) recipient, Senior Research Scientist & an Associate Director at A*STAR.
When reading about a new scientific breakthrough or academic study, we often wonder, "Well, what does it have to do with me?"
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has the answer to that question. In this agency, all research is undertaken for the public good, with an eye on tangible gains that directly benefit industries, processes and people.
Standout examples of this ethos include Dr Lim Yee Hwee, Senior Scientist II, Covering Head of Division, Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES) and Director of Graduate Affairs, Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC), and Dr Chew Wei Leong, Senior Research Scientist & Associate Director.
The two National Science Scholars (NSS) took some time to speak with us on their research, its applications, and most importantly, the opportunities that came along during their fascination journey.
First off, how did you get interested in science and research?
Dr Lim: My enthusiasm for science blossomed during my internship at a pharmaceutical company, during my university life. It made me realise that I wanted to pursue research as a career. Since then, I have not regretted my decision.
Dr Chew: Throughout my education, I have particularly enjoyed the hard sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology, and the non-fictional subjects like geography and history.
Over time, as my education got more sophisticated in junior college and university, the focus towards biology sharpened, particularly because of the tremendous impact that biology has on people and because biology is the new frontier, where much is still to be discovered and invented.
You both are recipients of the National Science Scholarship (NSS), with Dr Lim at the PhD level. Why did you each choose this particular scholarship?
Dr Lim: Given my passion for a career in research, I decided to apply for the A*STAR National Science Scholarship to pursue a PhD. I believed that it would provide me with a multitude of opportunities and a strong foundation to contribute towards the community in an impactful and meaningful way.
Dr Chew: The NSS was the only scholarship that I embarked on, as it is the top-tier scholarship that focuses on cultivating the scholar's education and career towards professional scientific research. My deep interest in science as a life goal and career pursued me to apply for the scholarship.
I am very happy that I am able to turn my passion into a career!
How does A*STAR align with you?
Dr Lim: In Singapore, A*STAR plays a key role in bridging the gap between academia and industry in terms of research and development. A*STAR's mission aligns with my interests to take on research that involves the practical application of scientific methods to everyday problems.
Dr Chew: I always wanted to apply my scientific skills to make an impact on people's lives in meaningful ways. A*STAR is one of the top places in Singapore for science and technology, and we have a strong mission towards social impact and commercialisation that aligns perfectly with my interest in technology development.
Could you each tell us more about your roles at A*STAR?
Dr Lim: I am a Senior Scientist and Head of Division for Functional Molecules and Polymers, one of the research divisions at ICES. I lead a research team of about 10 to design functional molecules for pharmaceutical or specialty chemicals applications, and develop more efficient, greener, or sustainable processes to make them.
As a Head of Division, I manage a group of close to 30 researchers, and I am responsible for charting the research direction in alignment with the overall direction and mission of the institute.
Dr Chew: I am a Senior Research Scientist (Principal Investigator) and Associate Director (Genome Design Domain) at the Genome Institute of Singapore. My role is to lead and manage technology development within my team and with collaborators.
How does the research you do benefit people?
Dr Lim: By designing better functional molecules and more sustainable routes to access them, my work aims to reduce waste, energy and materials required to make the products that we enjoy or use every day, such as medicine or plastics, for example.
Dr Chew: Genome editing therapeutics and nucleic acid therapeutics represent a new class of medicine. Unlike small-molecule drugs, antibodies, and antibiotics, these new genome editing therapeutics operate on disease causes that those traditional drugs cannot access. Genome editing is now enabling new medicines that treat previously incurable diseases.
Dr Lim, other than the area you specialise in, what possibilities are there at A*STAR?
Dr Lim: There are many possibilities for people working in A*STAR. It is a place that encourages one to pursue one's best.
Based on your area of interest, one can choose to explore a variety of career pathways from deep science, applied research, commercialising your research, policy making and more. In a nutshell, you can find your place for yourself, if you are good at what you are doing.
Thank you for this enlightening discussion. Last question: what qualities are needed to excel in a research career?
Dr Lim: Aside from aptitude, passion and interest motivate one to enjoy the journey even when the going is tough, or unpleasant at times. For research, this is essential as the journey of research (generally into the unknown) is often not linear, full of setbacks (or learnings) and frustrations. Perseverance and determination are also often necessary, as there may be many naysayers along the way.
Another quality that I think is also increasingly important is the collaborative spirit. Even as you develop yourself to be a deep expert in a particular field, it is important to be able to collaborate and work with others so that the sum is greater than its parts.
Dr Chew: As with any career path, interest is essential. In research, the interest in discovering new knowledge is essential. Because experiments are at the frontier of human understanding, it also means only a subset of the many experiments would yield evidence towards new discoveries. Therefore, perseverance in the face of uncertainty is critical.