The Insider chats with Ms Lai Yih Shin (Senior Executive) and Prof Wang Linfa from the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID).

The Insider (TI): Congratulations Yih Shin, for winning the 2014 Achiever's Awards (AA) - Administration Category. Tell us more about your background and what drew you to Duke-NUS?  

Yih Shin (YS): I was previously a laboratory manager at the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore. After the Institute relocated to its current building, I decided it was time to have a career switch to learn new things.  My objective was clear - to do administrative work in a research environment, so I can continue to use my scientific knowledge to assist the investigators. Then, EID was recruiting for a  new Executive. I felt the job description matched my personal objectives and I applied!

TI: Your thoughts on this award... 

YS: I am truly honoured. I was told my strengths lie in organisational and interpersonal skills, and these skills have helped me to achieve good results so far.

TI: Let’s hear what Linfa has to say on that…

Wang Linfa (LF): We are lucky to have Yih Shin in the team.  I recalled the interview I had with her. She left a great impression on me, someone who is very honest, has clear goals and a good understanding of the job requirements. For the last two years, she has demonstrated exceptional personality and professionalism, which led to great achievements for herself, her peers, the EID programme and Duke-NUS. When our Senior Business Manager, Sharon, was on extended leave, Yih Shin stepped in as acting Business Manager. She did a great job in ensuring that the programme ran smoothly. She is well liked and respected by the EID’s principal investigators and staff.

TI: Linfa, what are the most important attributes of an administrator, especially one who works closely with researchers?

LF: All administrators must have the right professional and interpersonal skills to be effective. However, for an administrator working closely with researchers, it is an advantage to also have some scientific background. It is extremely difficult to find someone with all of these qualities and skills, and Yih Shin is one of these “rare species"!

TI: Besides Yih Shin, another EID member Dr. Ian Mendenhall also received the 2014 Dean’s Excellence Award (Education Category). Congratulations! We believe this has a lot to do with a leader’s style of management and mentorship... perhaps you could share more?

LF: As a scientist, Ian has demonstrated outstanding capability in teaching and mentoring. This was evident in both his routine mentoring of staff at Duke-NUS and in conducting a high-profile training course for international researchers on bat-borne infectious diseases in 2014. His success can be attributed to three important qualities: good character, great communication skills and strong knowledge in his subjects. Today, he is internationally recognised and is a well-sought trainer internationally.

To me, the most important aspect of leadership and mentorship is to focus on motivation and guidance rather than on lecturing. “Giving orders” is the worst thing any aspiring leader/mentor can do.

There are many great mentors in my life, but I will highlight two: My first important mentor is my mother (photo below), who had zero formal education yet successfully nurtured her three children. Two of us became professors and the other is an engineer. To her, being a nice person is more important than being a “successful” person!

Her motto is “if you are truly a nice and capable person, doors will open for you eventually!”

My second key mentor is my PhD supervisor, Prof. Roy Doi (a member of the National Academy of Sciences USA), who led by example on how to be a successful scientist: work hard, be honest, collaborate, and focus on solving real scientific problems rather than publishing papers.

TI: Yih Shin, do you have a quality you particularly admire in your bosses?

YS: My reporting officer Sharon is an excellent administrator. I have learned a lot from her the past two-and-a-half years. During my first two weeks, we would meet daily for 30-45 mins to go through the various policies and workflow. She has always been there to guide me. I also work closely with Prof Wang Linfa and Assoc Prof Ooi Eng Eong. They are very supportive of the administrative team, and are always ready to guide us whenever we encounter roadblocks at work.

TI: The EID programme has grown over the years and some of the labs have moved to Academia. Has this been a challenge for both the administrative and research functions?

LF: There were two key drivers for EID to expand into the Academia: Firstly, to gain more space; and secondly, to increase collaboration with SingHealth's clinician scientists. There were many challenges during the planning, moving and the daily operations of the new labs. Physical integration, including IT network and sharing of equipment was a long and tedious process, but the intellectual isolation (i.e., majority of EID staff are in the Duke-NUS building) posed more challenges in the long term. We are doing everything possible to resolve that, including holding frequent programme meetings in Academia.

YS: Although there are more challenges for the research teams, it is always important for the lab staff to have constant interaction to exchange scientific ideas. We have been conducting our fortnightly meetings at Academia and we plan to hold these meetings alternately at the two venues. It has become more important for us to engage all EID members based at both locations through activities and meetings.

TI: Any inspiring quotes/words of wisdom to share with our readers to spur them on in their endeavours?

LF: I have often shared this quote with my students and post-docs, and hope this is also relevant here: “Being a nice person is more important than being a successful scientist; Solving real scientific problems is more important than publishing papers”.

YS: Do what makes you happy. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will excel in it.

Yih Shin and her family loves travelling. Their favourite holiday destinations include the Bahamas and Niagara Falls.

Sharon Wong (Senior Business Manager, EID Programme) is extremely proud of Yih Shin because...

"Ever since Yih Shin joined the EID team, she has provided excellent support for the Programmes’s wide spectrum of operations. Thank you Yih Shin for your contributions! It is not just your capabilities and competencies, but also your passion for the work that makes you so deserving of this Award."

The Insider: We would also like to recognise our other 2014 Achiever’s Award recipients. Congratulations to Ms Ryna Tan (Office of Corporate Services), Ms Katheryn Maung (Joint Office of Academic Medicine), Dr Lai Siang Hui (Office of Education) and Mr Reza Shah (Office of Communications, Organisational Development and Alumni Relations).