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The chemist and mentor
Young scientists should be resourceful and a good team player to succeed in academia. Dr. Koh Ming Joo shares his passion for discovering new chemistry and how interacting with his students keeps him going.

I became a scientist because...

As a young kid, I was fascinated by pictures of amazing animals and plants in non-fiction books which got me interested in science. As I grew older, I became intrigued to learn more about how chemical molecules interact at the microscopic level, which eventually led me to becoming a chemist.

I chose to work in academia because...

As an undergraduate student, I was fortunate to be mentored by various professors, which inspired me to pursue a career in academia. I love discovering new chemistry through my independent research. At the same time, I also enjoy interacting with students and guiding them towards their desired career pathways.

A typical day looks like...

After breakfast, I typically attend to my e-mails. The rest of the day is spent engaging with my research students, during which they will share their progress in their projects and any challenges they encounter. Active discussion and brainstorming usually enable us to discover better ideas and conceive solutions to tackle problems.

My lab is currently working on...

We take advantage of organometallic complexes containing sustainable base metals (e.g. Fe, Ni, Cu) to develop new chemical bond-forming reactions. These complexes serve as catalysts by accelerating the pathway leading to the desired chemical products. The lower price, greater earth abundance and unique properties make these catalysts highly attractive options for the chemical industry.

Ultimately, we are interested in using these catalysts to promote transformations that facilitate facile preparation of important chemicals ranging from bioactive natural products and pharmaceuticals to polymeric materials.

We also publish...

An article which is currently pending review. It presents results from a collaborative project with a materials chemistry colleague (Professor Loh Kian Ping), focusing on the design of heterogeneous single-atom catalysts for use in drug synthesis.

Apart from what I do in the lab, I am also involved in...

Outside of research, I get the chance to interact with undergraduate students through lectures and tutorials, which can sometimes be refreshing and stimulating. I also spend time gathering ideas to write proposals for research grants. As part of the NUS chemistry department's search committee, I actively scout for talent around the world to strengthen our faculty.

The biggest challenge in my job is...

Compared to other larger countries such as US and China, we do not have the luxury of plentiful resources and manpower in research. Conceiving novel ideas and maximising productivity with our current resources within a certain time can be challenging, but also allows us to learn and grow as better researchers.

The biggest misconception about scientists is probably...

Scientists live in their own world and are out of touch from reality. In fact, modern scientists are constantly engaged with current affairs/needs of the society, and many are devoted towards addressing today's real-life challenges.

In my free time, I enjoy...

Jogging and exercising as it helps keep my mind and body invigorated.

I enjoy my job because...

I enjoy discovering new chemistry. It lightens up my day whenever we manage to solve complex problems in chemical synthesis.

I also enjoy passing on knowledge and experience to the younger generation, the same way as I was mentored during my college years.

To aspiring young scientists who wish to pursue academia as a career, I would say...

Be focused on what you want to achieve, and persevere. Be resourceful and willing to learn, accept failures along the journey because they will eventually lead you to success. Be a team player because teamwork and collaborations can broaden your knowledge and perspective to overcome obstacles.

Click here for the complete issue.

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Asia Pacific Biotech News

APBN Editorial Calendar 2019
Taiwan Medical tourism
Marijuana as medicine — Legal marijuana will open up scientific research
Driven by curiosity
Career developments for researchers
What's cracking — Antibodies in ostrich eggs
Clinical trials — What's in a name?
Traditional Chinese medicine in modern healthcare — Integrating both worlds
Digitalization vs Digitization — Exploring Emerging Trends in Healthcare
Healthy Ageing — How Science is chipping in
Disruptive Urban Farming — Microbes, Plasmids, and Recycling
Editorial calendar is subjected to changes.
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