Admissions Blog

Kwek Swee Sen (MD-PhD Entering 2012 Class)

swee sen md-phd duke-nus
Swee Sen (center) with his classmates

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Microbiology and Immunology in 2011. While I was in UW-Madison, I spent 2.5 years in the lab of Professor Shannon Kenney, an Infectious Diseases doctor who also has a laboratory working on lytic reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus in associated malignancies. After graduation, I returned to Singapore and worked as a Research Officer in Singapore Immunology Network under Dr. Katja Fink, looking at B cell development and also the role of natural killer cells in Dengue virus infection. Inspired by clinician-scientists like Prof. Kenney, I applied to the MD-PhD program at Duke-NUS and joined the school in 2012.

How did you come to know about Duke-NUS and what made you apply?

My experiences in UW-Madison got me thinking hard about coming to medical school. Pursuing an undergraduate degree that focused a lot on how microorganisms cause diseases made me consider if I could make use of that knowledge to help people more directly. I had always been interested in research so an MD-PhD program was the perfect combination for me to be trained in both Medicine and Science. A relatively young school at that time with a unique curriculum, Duke-NUS promised many new exciting developments and I saw an opportunity to mature with the school and the budding MD-PhD program. Furthermore, being able to pursue the MD-PhD program while being closer to my family in Singapore made Duke-NUS the perfect choice.

You have been in the PhD component of the programme for a few years now, would you share what your research is about?

I am pursuing my PhD in the Emerging Infectious Diseases program under the mentorship of Professor Ooi Eng Eong. I started my PhD journey looking at developing a novel method for identifying live attenuated flavivirus vaccine candidates. Members of the flavivirus family include Dengue and Zika viruses which are very relevant to Singapore and many parts of the world. With the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas, we switched our focus to Zika virus. We now have a better grasp of its biology and have identified potential vaccine candidates. Vaccines are much needed to protect the many vulnerable populations around the world against Zika virus infections and its associated sequelae.

What are some of your interests and hobbies?

I have always liked watching anime and putting together Gundam models but these days, I would be happy to catch up on sleep and my readings. I am also trying to adopt a more active lifestyle by going for jogs and swims.

Would you share a great experience or opportunity you’ve had at Duke-NUS?

I think being part of the MD-PhD program has been a tremendously exciting experience. While my MD-PhD batchmates and I went through the bittersweet experience of our MD classmates graduating, we know that we are looking at carving a clinician-scientist career path we are determined to pursue. The MD-PhD program has evolved from its nascent form at the time I joined to one that ensures we are given opportunities to develop as future clinician-scientists. During our PhD training, we are trained to understand the rigors of scientific research and think as scientists. At the same time, we now have bedside teachings and clinical electives to maintain our clinical skills and knowledge. Even though both Medicine and Science have steep learning curves, I am thrilled (although overwhelmed at times) to be given the honor to pursue both at the same time.

Want to know more? Contact Swee Sen at