Every year in CoS, dozens of PhD students defend their thesis and earn their doctorate, the highest university degree. In this series, we catch up with some new doctors to find out about their experience of doing a PhD in CoS, what made them embark on the intense four year journey and what plans they have for the future.
When Dr Oh Zhen Guo first begun his studies, he had known early on that he wanted to go into scientific research. He completed his BSc (Hons) in Biological Sciences in SBS, and thereafter, he was awarded the prestigious Nanyang President’s Graduate Scholarship, and embarked on his PhD under the supervision of Associate Professotr Oliver Mueller-Cajar. Over the course of his PhD, he has also travelled to Japan, Sweden and the USA for numerous academic conferences. In 2019, he successfully defended his thesis, titled Towards a biochemical characterization of the diatom pyrenoid. In the last instalment of this series, we caught up with Dr Oh, now a Research Fellow with SBS, to ask about his experiences as a PhD candidate and his ongoing research into model diatoms.
You are a biochemist. What does a biochemist do?
As a biochemist, I investigate cellular and molecular details of biological processes. My work also interweaves with other disciplines such as genetics and molecular biology. In my opinion, the different disciplines complement and complete each other.
What is your research field, in brief, and its applications?
For my PhD, I researched the model diatom (single-celled algae), Phaeodactylum tricornutum and biochemically characterized its carbon concentrating compartment (known as the pyrenoid), where carbon fixation takes place. Research is still ongoing, but the dream is to better discover the constituents and gain a greater understanding of the bio-material properties of the pyrenoid. We are working towards eventually, possibly, introducing the diatom pyrenoid into agricultural crops to improve their carbon fixation.
Was it an obvious choice for you go for a career in science?
Yes, while pursuing my diploma in Molecular Biotechnology Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I decided I wanted to embark on a career in science. I reckon it was also a natural choice as it stems from my inquisitive nature to pry and discover.
How did your PhD defense go?
My PhD defense consisted of a presentation and private Q&A session. I prepared a 40-minute long presentation to my examiners, supervisor and peers. Afterwards, during the private Q&A segment, it actually felt just like a friendly conversation amongst colleagues. I suppose it was the confidence I had gained over the four years of research, as well as having had opportunities to attend conferences overseas, which provided platforms for me to interact with and learn from like-minded researchers. Overall, it meant my PhD defense went well. I am grateful for the guidance of my supervisor, Assoc. Prof. Oliver Mueller-Cajar, as well as the support I received from my peers.
What are the most important things you have learnt from your PhD days?
The first thing is to stay optimistic and work hard, even when experiments do not go well or when it seems like no progress is being made. The other thing is to remind myself to be humble and open to learning new methods, even as I gain the confidence to take my research to more in-depth levels.
Are you starting up completely new research projects or does your current work follow naturally upon your PhD work?
Currently, I am involved in the genetic work concerning the diatom P. tricornutum and other microalgae. My PhD research is being expanded on by my friend, Mr Warren Ang, who is an outstanding PhD student. It has been my privilege and pleasure to be a peer mentor to Warren: I have learnt a lot from and also been inspired by him.
You now work as a research fellow with SBS. What do you see yourself doing in 10 years’ time and where?
In 10 years’ time, I hope to have become a senior scientist in the field, or maybe even try my hand at translating the skills and knowledge I have learnt in science to other fields. I also want to prioritize myself as a family man – work life balance is important!
Do you have any advice for prospective or new PhD students?
It is important to have good rapport with your supervisor and colleagues!