Left: Dr Sarah Luo is a Principal Investigator at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB). Her lab investigates brain regulation of appetite and metabolism. Her work also includes managing research direction as well as securing research funding.
Right: Dr Singh holds a PhD in electrical engineering, completed under an A*STAR scholarship, and a post-doctorate fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is currently a Senior Research Scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering & Bioimaging (IBB) and the founder of Respiree Pte. Ltd., which focuses on combating chronic respiratory diseases and mental health disorders.
If you want a career in research, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the place to be.
A*STAR has something special for the dedicated researcher; its Graduate Academy provides scholarships and fellowships up to post-graduate and PhD studies at celebrated universities locally and overseas.
At A*STAR, learning never ends. It is rebuilt and recast repeatedly into innovations and inventions that improve lives and benefit society.
Dr Sarah Luo, Principal Investigator at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), and Dr Gurpreet Singh, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Bioengineering and Bioimaging (IBB), are A*STAR researchers who took up A*STAR scholarships as students. While their specialisations may differ, both of them are determined to delve deep into research and make the world a better place.
Firstly, how did each of you get into your respective fields?
Dr Luo: During my undergraduate studies, I became interested in neuroscience and how our brains control behaviour after reading books by neurologist and author Oliver Sacks. His studies described not only the science behind these syndromes but also brought in a humanising perspective to how these syndromes affected patients’ lives.
As a result, I decided to do an attachment at a developmental neuroscience lab at the Institute of Medical Biology and then did my Ph.D. in a lab studying neuropathology. It has always fascinated me how minute regions in the brain can lead to changes in human behaviour.
Dr Singh: Math and physics are fields that have been closest to my heart since I was young. What really got me excited in this space was my exposure to industrial attachments during my first degree. The ability to condense information into simplified mathematical formulae while still accommodating to physical laws was fascinating. It was indeed art in one of its purest forms.
What made you choose the A*STAR Scholarship?
Dr Luo: While I was in junior college (JC), I knew I wanted to pursue Biology as a major so I looked for scholarships that would fund science majors, and A*STAR was one of them. I also wanted to do my studies overseas so I shortlisted those that would fund overseas studies.
A*STAR was especially enticing as there was the option to do a Ph.D. beyond just undergraduate studies.
Dr Singh: A*STAR provided a good exposure to a network of other similar scholars in this field. In addition, I received good mentorship and guidance from two mentors for the same scholarship – one from the university and another from A*STAR. With the A*STAR mentor providing good alignment leaning towards industry-oriented research, and the university mentor guiding me in academic-oriented research – A*STAR stood out as the choice for me.
What are some university takeaways you apply to your work today?
Dr Luo: My key takeaway was to learn broadly without limiting yourself to a specific field. The US undergraduate system encouraged a broad-based education so I was free to take courses outside my field and I fully embraced this. I ended up taking classes in psychology, sociology, animal behaviour and even Greek mythology.
In my current lab, we try to understand brain regulation of feeding behaviour using pre-clinical models. During the course of my work, I rely on a culmination of wide-ranging ideas I gained during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
Dr Singh: I would say that my biggest takeaway from university was, “Persistence will eventually lead to positive outcomes.” You learn the value of persistence when you fail multiple times during experiments and still hold firm to your determination to confirm your hypothesis.
I believe that life always gives us multiple opportunities to succeed, but it may not be easy to convert such opportunities into success – what will enable us to convert them into success is persistence and being firm to our beliefs.
Can you tell us about your work at A*STAR?
Dr Luo: I am currently a principal investigator at IMCB and my responsibilities include managing the people and research direction of the lab as well as securing enough funding to maintain our lab activities. I have just started this new chapter in my career so it means learning many new skills!
Dr Singh: I’m a senior research scientist with IBB. My research focuses on technological developments and clinical translation of digital health platforms.
I’m also the proud founder of an A*STAR spin-off, Respiree Pte. Ltd., which focuses on combating chronic respiratory diseases and mental health disorders by monitoring and recognising abnormal changes in breathing and cardiac using artificial-intelligence driven analytics.
Dr Luo loves basketball – she’s been playing for six years now, and still occasionally enjoys a game!
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring scholars looking to join your organisation?
Dr Luo: The opportunities at A*STAR are not limited to careers in academia. Many of my peers have gone on to successful careers in strategic planning, industry, consulting and beyond.
A*STAR values talent and this can come in many forms such as research, organisational, teaching or planning. If you have the talent, drive to succeed and willingness to contribute to the scientific community, A*STAR will be a good place for you.
Dr Singh: The A*STAR scholarship provides a holistic opportunity to do academic-driven research while also channelling me to deliver impactful outcomes for society. I got two mentors for the price of one scholarship – that was a good deal!