Ching Jianhong (Instructor) & Ho Jia Pei (Research Assistant) 
Programme in Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders

The Insider: Partners in science and in real life. Married with a 2 year old kid, Jianhong is an Instructor at the Metabolomics Core Facility, while Jia Pei is a Research Assistant in Jean-Paul Kovalik's lab. Contrary to popular belief, Jianhong did not get to know Jia Pei in Duke-NUS. More of that later.

1) The Office Spouse

Jianhong (JH): There are advantages and disadvantages to this. The advantage is that we get to spend more time together, like while travelling to and from work, and during lunch hours. This is a big deal to us as we do not have much time to communicate at home as we have to take care of our daughter. The disadvantage is also that if Jia Pei is unhappy with me about anything, it will continue to bug me for the rest of the day!

Jia Pei (JP): We do spend a great deal of time together, except during working hours (our job scopes are different). At home, we can’t talk much and it’s basically me screaming at my girl to stop doing this or that and also at Jianhong to get things done around the house, haha! That’s why I cherish our travelling time together where we can have a proper conversation about work, home issues, life and basically everything under the sun. 

Having fun together 

2) Your science journey

JH: In 2007, I started my PhD in chemistry of natural products. Metabolomics was still a very new field at that time. It took my PhD supervisor some nudging to make me explore this new field, where I developed a metabolomics method to predict bioactive compounds in plants. The skills in metabolomics came in handy when I landed the job in Duke-NUS to set up the first ever Metabolomics Facility in Singapore. Work was hard as everything had to be done from scratch. The facility has now come a long way with 4 other colleagues working in the facility.  As a team leader, I continuously think of ways to spearhead new projects ad directions to improve the facility's standing in Singapore.

JP: I did my Honours Degree in Melbourne. I enjoyed the education system tremendously and even applied for Australian permanent residency (PR). It took a few attempts before my PR application was successful but by then, I had already secured a job and made new friends in Singapore, including Jianhong. 

3) Teamwork in the lab

JH: Unlike the usual labs that do research, the core work in the facility involves a great deal of routine and does not offer as much time for personal research. Thus, to keep the team motivated, I get them involved in the decision- making aspects of the lab, acknowledge their innovative methods and invest in their training to hone their skills. I also seek to understand their interest and give them small research projects that they can work on during their free time.

JP: We all have our respective projects to manage but we get along really well as a team. 

4) Work life balance

JH: Family and work life is fairly balanced though I get complaints from Jia Pei for bringing too much work home. We rarely talk about work at home, just to keep things separate and balanced. As my skills are mainly based on chemistry, I benefits a lot from Jia Pei when I need technical help in biology, such as cell culturing and writing essays.

JP: We help each other a lot in terms of work. I share my expertise with Jianhong and vice versa. Our work can range from technical skills and equipment usage to administrative matters and team management. Jianhong has a bigger workload than me and he has to frequently check his emails after working hours. However, we only get real quality time with our daughter on weekends.  When my daughter sees anyone using a hand phone or computer, she’ll want to watch her cartoons too. I am trying to reduce her screen time, which she gets a lot of on weekdays with her grandparents. Sometimes I’m frustrated because I want the father-daughter bond to be stronger. This is tough because Jianhong often brings his work home. Work life balance is still something we are striving to achieve, slowly but surely. 

5) The Taiji connection

JH: I’ve always had a liking for martial arts and learnt fencing and Southern Fist in Junior College. During my undergrad days, I took up Taiji and volunteered as an assistant instructor for more than 5 years at a community centre. I still enjoy Taiji and offer free coaching to interested students at my home every Friday. It was also during my Taiji days that I met a young lady (or rather the only young lady – Jia Pei) in the group whom I fell in love with immediately.   Since she was carrying an A*STAR bag, I figured she was a scientist too. I guess Jia Pei fell in love with me because of my charismatic teaching skills.

JP: Actually, I started learning yoga when I returned to Singapore. I was so passionate about yoga and could master most of the poses in a year. It was my mum who discovered Taiji in Brunei. She was so impressed with it and encouraged me to take up the sport too. That was when I met Jianhong. I was shocked that he was studying for his Science PhD at such a young age. Then again, do you call this fate?

Fun fact:  Jia Pei's mother happened to be in the same Taiji lineage as Jianhong, and Jianhong is in fact her “senior”. However Jianhong has to bow to her whenever he sees her -Because she is his mother-in-law! 

The young family spending time together

6) Your personal mantra

JH: Always make the decision that does not go against my conscience.

JP: Life is short, enjoy the moment (carpe diem)