Senior Research Scientist and Principal Investigator at the National Neuroscience Institute
At IMCB - BSc Honors Year Project in IMCB 1991; Research Assistant in IMCB, 1992
I was a final year Bachelor of Science (Honors) student in 1991, and was fortunate to be able to conduct my research project at IMCB, at the old KentRidge campus then. My mentor was Prof Catherine Pallen. I remember spending a substantial amount of time and effort on the project, which I loved more than attending classes. Ha ! Catherine was my first mentor who insisted that I called her by her first name. She said, "Calling people by their titles is a barrier to working together." This was all so new to me then, yet are now my guiding principles in managing my lab team.
My project was to clone a new protein tyrosine phosphatase gene from a human cDNA library. Although by current technologies this would be rapidly achievable, we had no access to fancy services or molecular kits. I remember I had to optimise many processes to analyse clones potentially containing my magic gene. I was guided by a postdoctoral fellow (who is now a Senior PI at IMCB) Dr Wang Yue, and he was fantastic. He was not just overly intelligent, he had magic hands that could make any experiment work. He used to write his tasks on his benchtop coat, but I did not know that. On one fine day, I wanted to show my gratitude for his guidance so I sprayed ethanol on his bench to clean away all the scribbles. Needless to say, when he got in, he freaked out. The rest is history !
My fond memories of Catherine do not just encompass smooth-sailing events. In fact, one night when I got fed-up of optimising my deletion construct mutagenesis, I carelessly replied, "Oh I will ask Wang Yue to help me." Catherine gave me a big scolding at 1.30 am in the lab. For two days after, I refused to talk to her. Everyone tip-toed around us. By the second day, I felt sad because I always loved talking to Catherine. So I reflected on my actions and decided that she meant well and I started talking to her again about how I felt she was right. I need to show more commitment and drive to succeed in my mutagenesis experiment.
Two years later, I managed to get myself accepted at a prestigious British university and at The Scripps Research Institute in USA. I remember talking to Catherine who advised me to go to the US for my graduate studies. She said, "You'll see things differently and experience competitive science." Now that I have managed a lab for 13 years at NNI with my best friend A/Professor Christopher Ang Beng Ti, and we recently successfully competed for the NMRC Translational and Clinical Research Program grant, Catherine's words remain my guiding principles. Science is a very merciless profession and unless one is willing to work hard for a long time, and be sustained by passion and belief, it can be very hard to strive under challenging situations. In my opinion, mentors are the most important people in any researcher's personal and professional development. Catherine and Wang Yue have impressed upon me that while degrees open doors, what keeps the door open is your own hard work and perseverance.
Carol Tang’s current lab at NNI.
Read more about Carol Tang’s lab here. https://www.nni.com.sg/research/our-laboratories/Neuro-Oncology-Research-Laboratory/Pages/Home.aspx