Tang Yew Chung,  
Research Fellow, Program in Cancer & Stem Cell Biology

“What do you do?” is a simple question that can elicit some very complicated answers, especially when you are a scientist. “I’m a researcher,” is the answer that inevitably draws the query “Oh! What research do you do?” When the question comes from someone who is not a scientist, I try not to say that “I am working on using genome-wide siRNA screens to identify PTEN-synthetic-lethal genes in cancer cells!” A general but one-dimensional answer like “I work on cancer research” tends not to satisfy those who are more inquisitive so I am often left grappling with the challenge of how can I tell people what I do in a simple (but not simplistic) way. That is one reason why I think communicating science is just as important as doing science. For me, learning about scientific discoveries made by other scientists can be as exciting as making an important discovery myself. Considering how often a scientist makes a major discovery (not very often), this may be a way I keep myself motivated in my own research.

The best training I could have in science communication came from having to explain to my parents why, having been trained as a chemical engineer, I went on to do my PhD in a biochemistry lab. The rest of this “on-the-job” training came from having to bridge the communication gap between engineers and biologists. I realized that even scientists seldom understand what other scientists do, unless they work in exactly the same field. Therefore, I firmly believe that overcoming the barriers posed by technical jargon and specialized word usage is really the key to fostering interdisciplinary collaborations. 

After completing my PhD in 2009, I joined Associate Prof. Steve Rozen’s lab in Duke-NUS. I was Steve’s first hire for several months after he moved to Singapore. Since the school had not yet moved into our current building, we did not have any lab space. I worked out of a cubicle at the old Duke-NUS campus at Jalan Bukit Merah. Today, our lab is located on level 6 of the Duke-NUS building. Lab members who focus on computational projects and bioinformatics, like Dr John McPherson and Ioanna Cutcutache, are located in the Centre for Computational Biology on level 6 where Steve’s office is also located. Because Steve is known for his computational work, most people are surprised when they learn that the Rozen lab also has people working in the “wet lab”, which is where I work together with Elisabeth Tan, the lab manager. We also have PhD students Yuka Suzuki, Mini Huang, Liu Yujing and Thomas Thurnherr who work mainly on the computational aspects of cancer-related projects.

The Centre for Computational Biology team

What do I do? In a nutshell, I am trying to find a novel way to treat a particular type of breast cancer that can be identified through the absence of a functional protein that is produced by a specific gene. Because of my interest in science communication, I started writing for Asian Scientist Magazine as a contributor and am currently an editor of the online news portal that focuses on science news and research in Asia. These are exciting times for Asian Scientist as we recently launched the printed edition of the magazine in December 2013 and will be publishing an issue every quarter. 

Apart from my research and science writing, I also have a passion for photography. My most recent fascination has been with nature photography, where I try to capture not just the intricate beauty of birds, butterflies, dragonflies and other wildlife, but also their behaviour in their natural surroundings. While this fascination probably has something to do with my being a scientist, I really just enjoy documenting the elegance and artistry of nature. 

I think the key to managing stress at work and achieving a work-life balance is the same: knowing what is meaningful and important in life and filling your life with these things. My wife Eunice and I love travelling, especially to places where we can indulge in our passion for nature and photography. We both play musical instruments and sing in the choir, in fact, we first met because of our mutual love of music and we continue to use this gift to serve in our church’s music ministry. 

Taiwan 2013 - Enjoying the beautiful scenery with my wife Eunice