Ms Chen Jiaxuan, Head, Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) during her vacation at Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Nurturing Top Talent for the Local R&D Ecosystem
A Commitment to Public Service
06 Feb 2023
Looking back to more than a decade ago, Ms Chen Jiaxuan recounts fond memories of A*STAR when she was still a fresh graduate who had embarked on basic research at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). She later pursued pharma research at a global pharma company before returning to the public sector to do clinical research at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
After obtaining her Masters in Public Health at the National University of Singapore, she was motivated to join the policy and planning team in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) where she contributed to policy processes related to governance, resourcing, and performance measures for A*STAR. Thus, it came as no surprise when she subsequently took on her current role as Head of Admin and Ops division of the planning team within A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council (BMRC).
This came as a natural progression as public health has always resonated with Jiaxuan and aligns with her personal interests and values. With each new role that she took on, Jiaxuan gained new perspectives and has grown to be where she is today.
Outside of work, Jiaxuan looks forward to planning holidays, catching up with friends over meals, and keeping active to achieve work-life balance.
In this feature, Jiaxuan shares what drives her to pursue biomedical sciences in the public sector and life lessons that have shaped her public health journey.
Q: What do you think is unique about Singapore’s biomedical research approach?
A: The strategy of scouting world-renowned scientific names (whales) to groom and nurture local R&D talent (guppies) was instrumental in Singapore’s thriving biomedical sector. This approach has allowed us to continuously attract, develop and retain top talent in A*STAR and other research organisations, and maintain our competitive edge in biomedical research.
Q: What motivated you to pursue biomedical sciences in the public sector?
A: At MTI, I managed the A*STAR portfolio and worked on policy processes related to governance, resourcing, and performance measures for A*STAR. These serve to ensure the organisation’s economic relevance as well as for A*STAR to maintain its position as Singapore’s Strategic Innovation Engine. It felt like a natural move to want to gain a deeper understanding of how the different A*STAR entities worked together to achieve its objectives.
Q: Describe a typical day at work.
A: A typical day starts with a to-do list coupled with a mandatory cup of black coffee. After my daily dose of caffeine, I would attend to meetings, emails and presentations. During the day, I will try to find time for a walk in the park to refresh my mind and wind down to my favorite shows on Netflix.
Social gathering with the BMRC Planning team
Q: What is the most valuable life lesson from your career so far? What keeps you motivated in your career?
A: I believe you learn the most about yourself when the going gets tough, as you learn how to deal with difficult situations and figure out what is the best approach that is most aligned with your values and goals. It is also important to tell yourself that it is alright to make mistakes even though it might not have seemed that way at that point in time. Finding the purpose and meaning in my work, and working with like-minded and passionate folks keeps me motivated in my career.
Team bonding over indoor golf
Q: Do you have a mentor in A*STAR who has inspired you?
A: That will be Sharon Lim, Director of BMRC - The way she leads her team, communicates ideas clearly, with commitment, heart and a sense of humour has been inspiring to me.
Q: What advice would you give to those who have a passion for science?
A: There are many ways in which you can contribute to the ecosystem, be it in research, policy, planning, admin or operations. There are always transferable skills in each stint or foray.