I view science as an adventure to the unknown, playing an indispensable role in making the world a better place. This conviction wakes me up every morning, motivating me to move from Malaysia to Hong Kong, France, and currently the United States. In my cross-continent journey with multiple cultural experiences and intellectual engagements, I have constantly learned to be a better scientist from every exceptional individual I met. In retrospect, my early education in Malaysia, having grown up in a society that discourages myself as a woman from having my dream scientific career, combined with my international research experiences, has shaped who I am as a scientist. I admire and value kindness, critical thinking, integrity, humility, and generosity far more than wealth, degree, and titles. I firmly believe that diversity and collaboration are vital elements in moving science forward. Serendipitously, this principle has been elegantly demonstrated by studies of the immune system, that the effectiveness of immune defense relies on diverse immune cells with distinct functions to collaborate for the common good.
Our research goal to dissect the maternal-offspring immune crosstalk has profound implications for women’s and children’s health. Paradoxically, this fundamental question has been neglected and stymied by inequalities in science. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pregnant women are the last adult cohort to receive the vaccines, and until today, we still do not have any vaccines for newborns. We are striving to understand this rudimentary question not only to improve women’s and children’s health, but also to overcome such longstanding inequities in science.
Throughout my scientific training, I have been fortunate to be mentored and supported by outstanding scientists with different mentoring styles. They all play transformative roles in my career. I also have several experiences mentoring students from different backgrounds. I recognize mentorship and fostering a healthy lab environment as one of the most meaningful and rewarding parts of my scientific career. The lessons that I learned to become a better mentor are as follows:
Being trained in Asia, I am opposed to rigid hierarchy in academia because this undermines creativity and passion for science. Science should always be about generating and testing hypotheses which can come from anywhere and everyone. Intellectual hierarchy will not exist in my lab. I will ensure that everybody in the lab understands that we are intellectually equal, that I am not the best scientist in the room because of my position, and that there are always things we can learn from each other, as I have always applied the same philosophy with my past and current mentees. I want to foster each person’s capabilities and help each of them achieve their goals and potential.
Express both joy and frustration:
In science and daily experiments, we face more failures than successes, but carefully interpreting the unexpected results will eventually lead us to a new direction. I want my lab members to be comfortable coming to me with any ideas, concerns, dataset, success, and failure without any concerns or trepidations.
Allow mistakes but not repeat the same mistakes:
I take mistakes as a learning opportunity. I will never blame or punish people for being wrong, as this will only lead to adverse consequences. I believe that by admitting mistakes, we will take the responsibility for correcting and preventing them from happening in the future. I have admitted mistakes to my mentees, and will continue setting this example to my future lab members.
Wellness is equally important as productivity:
Multiple surveys revealed that graduate students felt great amount of pressure and a significant number of them experienced depression. The physical and mental well-being of my lab members is highly important for their productivity and career advancement. I will constantly seek feedback from my team and make sure to provide the support as much as I can. As a scientist, we all work hard for long hours and personal life needs may encroach upon lab work productivity. That we have high expectations does not mean we should not have a well-rounded life outside the laboratory. By running, I learned the importance of taking one step at a time rather than thinking about reaching the end all at once. In the laboratory, I put all my energy into the present and pay the same attention to the small details as well as the big picture. Science is a marathon. I will encourage my lab members to enjoy the process.
Never compete with my mentee:
Science is not about competition but contribution. We all share the passion for science, I will do everything possible to help my trainees establish their independent labs, without any conflicts of interests. I will also read all the applications and offer honest, constructive feedback and encouragement.
I pledge to foster an inspiring and collaborative environment that values and supports each other, makes science enjoyable, fosters growth to become better scientist, and improves women’s and children’s health together!