The winners of the Dean's Excellence Awards are personally selected by the Dean, from the pool of the Achiever’s Award winners, to accord them the highest recognition for their exceptional contributions and significant impact within and beyond the school. 

The Dean’s Excellence Awards 2014 go to:

Each accomplished in their respective fields, all the three winners feel honoured and at the same time, motivated that there was more they could do in and beyond their areas of work.

When quizzed about his thoughts on winning the award, Ian expressed surprise. “I had no idea that I was nominated, but I’m exceptionally honoured to receive it. It’s always very fulfilling to be recognised for one’s contribution to the department and institute. Awards are not why we chose to pursue our professional endeavours, but when your peers have faith and are interested in what you do, it’s quite rewarding.”

Persevering through the journey

It is this spirit of persistence and dedication towards their chosen disciplines that spurred these winners through some of the more challenging moments of their careers. During an early stage of her career at Duke-NUS, Mara recalls a particularly trying period, “When the inaugural batch became seniors in AY2010-11, an Exit Exam called the CPX4 (Clinical Performance Exam Year 4) was required to test their clinical skills. It was logistically difficult to plan a brand new exam that lasted two full days and tested 26 students across all domains of clinical skills. Calvin Tan (Senior Education Specialist) and I spent many late nights prepping for it. The exam ran smoothly, the external examiners found the assessment to be robust and the students performed exceptionally well.”

While it is difficult to imagine the rigours of research work without experiencing it first hand, the insights shared by Ian and Na Yu reveal that the stamina required for their work seem more befitting of a marathoner than a sprinter, as results were long in coming, if any. So, how then does one keep up a positive spirit and enthusiasm despite the challenges?

Na Yu shared this personal tip, “It is essential not to give up when the research process does not go as planned, but instead adopt a positive attitude to seek out the underlying reasons for the ‘negative or unexpected results. Discussions with colleagues or your mentor may open your mind to alternative perspectives. Perseverance and determination bring you out of the situations where you are stuck."

It is not all about work, it is equally important to refresh & rejuvenate!
Left: Na Yu enjoying the scenic views of Switzerland. Right: With her lab team at the Escape Hunt Experience (Singapore) 

Savouring the fruits of their labour

It is heartening to know that for these three winners, the sweetest rewards come in various forms. Mara shares that her greatest professional satisfaction is the appreciation she receives from the students. “I have been honoured to have received Faculty Appreciation Awards from our students every year since 2012. I love the teaching that I do here, and it is really rewarding to see students learn and apply their learning. Every year, the graduating class chooses two faculty members to ‘hood’ them at their graduation. The hood is part of the graduation regalia. This year, I am really honoured to be one of the hooders."

Graduation & Hooding Ceremony on 30 May 2015
Mara with fellow ‘hooder’, Associate Prof Koong Heng Nung and 
Dr. Goniyamalimage Shashendra Ravinath Aponso (MD, Duke-NUS' 15).
For more pictures on this ceremony, click

For Ian, his defining moment at Duke-NUS was receiving the grant from the NUS Initiative to Improve Health in Asia Grant (NIHA) 2011. “Three of us had designed a study in two weeks. The project studied infectious diseases in different animal groups in Singapore and we received money for a field car and to hire two staff. Last year, I was given an opportunity to design and direct a course on bat-borne virus surveillance. We hosted researchers from six different countries over two weeks where they attended lectures, went into the field to catch and sample bats, process those samples and learn how to analyse the genetic data generated. It was a rousing success and this September, we are implementing our second training course in Kazakhstan,” he enthuses. 

Ian with his students at fieldwork and in the laboratory.

Going the extra mile

The motivation each award winner derives to push themselves further in their professional and personal development comes from varied sources.

Mara feels that the Duke-NUS programme offers students holistic support through a comprehensive curriculum.

“Medical students, like all students in the caring professions, have a long career that involves many stresses and challenges. We expect doctors to be knowledgeable, capable and caring all the time. It is stressful! And research shows that burnout rates are very high for junior doctors. Duke-NUS looks at the education of its students broadly: teaching in a team-based way, providing wellness activities, and striving to develop personal leadership alongside the mastery of a vast amount of medical knowledge.”

Ian relishes the fact that he is able to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime research opportunity while teaching, which is something he loves. 

“Teaching and research complement each other well. During teaching, I offer the opportunity for interested students to intern in our lab. We’ve had a few stellar students spend time with us and their contributions have definitely pushed our research forward. The projects we have created, locally and regionally, are breaking new grounds and I hope the results will better our understanding of emerging infectious diseases.”

For Na Yu, maintaining an appetite for exploring and discovery is crucial, as she feels research success means getting outside of one’s comfort zone.

”Go the extra mile to try new approaches or find a new angle to address a question. You can actually learn more from failures than successes, and this becomes the catalyst for breakthroughs. Keep on publishing great works and eventually become an expert in your field of research.”

The Insider: Our heartiest congratulations to  Ian, Mara and Na Yu for winning this prestigious award.