Gisela Garcia Alvarez & Vivian Poon's amazing friendship
Programme in Neuroscience & Behavioural Disorders (NBD)

Gisela: I met Vivian on my first day at Duke-NUS. I was working four benches away at our lab but I remember hearing her laughter and seeing her speed-walking around the lab.

We attended RNA journal clubs at Biopolis together and got to know each other more during those MRT rides. We really clicked and got involved in each other’s extracurricular interests. Our early days with DUNES (Duke-NUS Early Career Scientist Association) in 2010-11 were very active and we had many opportunities to participate in a variety of events. These experiences were really enriching as we had the chance to interact with researchers from Singapore and abroad. Around that period, Dr. Dale Purves, former Program Director of NBD, approached me to organize the first NBD annual retreat and yes, I pulled Vivian into the working committee! .After listening to my proposal, she simply asked,  “So what can I do?” As a result, the first retreat was such a success that we are still a part of the organizing committee. 

Gisela and Vivian working on-site at the first NBD retreat - Working with Dale and the rest of the organizing committee was a fantastic teamwork experience

In early 2011, I transferred to Assistant Professor Marc Fivaz’s lab and we became bench mates.  Although our projects do not overlap, we help cover each other especially when the other is away.

Professionally, I am respectful of Vivian’s credentials. She is both an A*STAR Scholar and the recipient of the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Postdoctoral fellowship, and she is my professional inspiration.  Sometimes I jokingly say “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.” She replies “I should be more like you. You always think about others and make an effort to stay in touch.”

Since we have become close friends I can see that Vivian has a pragmatic approach to problem-solving, which keeps me grounded when my “emotional” Spanish ways kick in. For example, she has taught me how to organize my thoughts by laying out the pros and cons of a matter. In exchange, I have influenced her with my more personable style in handling certain things.

My hot(pot) date on Thursday with Vivian

Over time we have become neighbors and developed our own little traditions; we hang out on Thursdays just to unwind and catch up over dinner, and every morning we each bring a different newspaper that we exchange in the evening to read on our way back home.

I feel our differences make us compatible friends and that we influence each other positively. Through her, I ended up singing in a choir and thanks to me she is now into dragon boating. More importantly, we know we can count on each other. This was very evident when I was hospitalized in late 2011, and Vivian visited me every morning. As a foreigner without any direct family in Singapore, this support is simply priceless.

So even though she always says no when I ask her if she will miss me, should we move on to different career paths, I know she would!

Getting ready for the Duke-NUS Dinner and Dance 2012

Vivian: I am not really sure how I ended up getting closer to Gisela. I guess she is a natural at making friends and was willing to get to know me better though I'm generally quite aloof. Through working together in different settings, her professionalism and immense sense of responsibility has always impressed me and hopefully, some of this has rubbed off on me.

I got to know her before she became my immediate colleague and we have never encountered a problem related to having close friends as colleagues. If anything, it has been a bonus as she has been a great support to me both professionally and personally.

Some fun facts: 

a) Who used to play the bass clarinet? Answer: Answer: Vivian

b) Who was a former synchronized swimmer? Answer: Gisela

c)  Who has been involved in the Olympics? Answer: Gisla

d)  Who has hiked to Machu Picchu, Peru? Answer: Vivian

e)  Who is terrified of needles? Answer: Gisela

f) Who has jumped off cliffs in the Dominican Republic? Answer: Vivian

g) Who has completed a marathon? Answer: Vivian (and Gisela soon!)