Science Faces

Biomedical scientist thrives on motherhood

After her daughter was born, Dr Lin switched from academic research to industry work when she was seconded to biomedical diagnostics start-up Vivo Diagnostics from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. She hopes that prominent women in leadersh
After her daughter was born, Dr Lin switched from academic research to industry work when she was seconded to biomedical diagnostics start-up Vivo Diagnostics from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. She hopes that prominent women in leadership roles will inspire more girls and women to join the field. PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Her proudest achievement so far is working on commercialising HFMD diagnostic kit

Becoming a mother has put more on her plate but it has not slowed biomedical scientist Lin Zhaoru down. If anything, it has given her a new focus and drive at work, she says.

"I think most working mothers are very efficient. You maximise every second you have at work," says the 32-year-old with a laugh. "In the past, I used to stay in the lab past dinner. Now, by 7pm, I want to rush home to my daughter."

Last year, a year after her daughter Isabelle was born, Dr Lin made a major switch from academic research to industry work when she was seconded to biomedical diagnostics start-up Vivo Diagnostics from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

As one of only two people in the company, she picked up a whole range of different responsibilities, from project management and organising meetings to business development.

"I went from caring about only research to caring about everything," she says.

Vivo is working on commercialising a 15-minute diagnostic kit for hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), which could be used in schools.

It is just one way that research scientists can apply their skills in an industrial setting, and it is an achievement Dr Lin is most proud of so far.

  • Call to do more to encourage female students

  • When it comes to women's participation in science and technology, Singapore is punching above its weight. Close to one in three members of the Republic's research community is a woman.

    This is more than in research heavyweights such as the United States, France and Germany.

    Closer to home, the figure for South Korea was just 18 per cent in 2014 and, in Taiwan, the figure was 22 per cent, taking into account postgraduate students and non-degree holders.

    France and Germany had women's participation rates of 25 per cent and 28 per cent respectively in 2013, the latest year for which Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development figures were available.

    But Singapore still has some way to go in encouraging girls to consider careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).

    A recent survey by MasterCard found that of girls aged 15 to 19 here who are studying Stem subjects, only 53 per cent wanted to work in those fields, compared with the average of 72 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Singapore's score was the lowest among the six countries covered, with India (87 per cent) and Indonesia (80 per cent) at the top.

    The other countries surveyed were Australia, China and Malaysia, with a total of 1,560 girls aged 12 to 19 interviewed in December last year.

    The reasons given most often by the local respondents included feeling not good enough for the job, that it is difficult for women to be successful in Stem careers, and that there is a gender bias.

    More can be done to help girls here studying Stem subjects to carry on with their interest, said MasterCard Singapore's group head and general manager Deborah Heng.

    "More efforts to promote female role models in society, together with parental support, can help girls increase their interest and confidence in Stem careers, building a strong pipeline of talented female leaders in Stem," she said.

    Joanna Seow

She also helped set up the first Asian chapter of the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable here in 2013, to give scientists in academia the chance to network with those in the biomedical industry.

"We wanted to allow other scientists from research institutes and universities to be more aware of what the industry is looking for," she says.

The organisation is now known as Biotech Connection Singapore and generally sees more than 100 people at its events.

Science is something Dr Lin has been keen on since being inspired by her secondary school and junior college teachers, and she pursued the subject all through her schooling years, doing a PhD in pathology at Cambridge University.

It was there that she met her husband Eliot Read, 32, a fellow researcher doing his PhD two labs down the corridor in Cambridge.

Despite the field remaining a male-dominated one in Singapore, there are few barriers for women who want to excel, she believes.

Her hope is that prominent women in leadership positions in both research institutes and private companies here will inspire girls and women interested in science to join the field.

"Having women in top positions sends the message that the field is friendly to women and that the sky's the limit, regardless of your gender," she says.

Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'ScienceFaces Biomedical scientist thrives on motherhood'. Print Edition | Subscribe