In today's spotlight, we are very pleased to introduce you to: Andy Tay! Andy is by far the most famous early career researcher on our editorial team, and we are super proud to have him. Just to mention some of his incredible accomplishments: he has been listed as a "Forbes 30 Under 30", "World Economic Forum Young Scientist" and "Straits Times ‘30 and Under’ Young Singaporeans to Watch". Apart from his work at the bench, he is a very active science communicator and has written several blog posts for Nature, Science and The Conversation, mostly centering around life in science and career advice. Andy has also been an eLife Early Career Advisory Group (ECAG) member since 2019, where he strives to create better support systems for early-career scientists in publishing, science communications and job market navigation. So, if you are looking for inspiration and a role model of a very energetic and triumphant scientist, search no more! For all of you, with love: Andy Tay :)
In a few sentences, could you introduce yourself, tell us where you are and what you study?
Andy Tay (AT): I am Andy Tay and I am currently a Presidential Young (Assistant) Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the National University of Singapore. My lab is focused on developing materials and technologies to engineer the immune system. One project we are working on now is to deliver biomolecules like DNA and mRNA into immune cells more efficiently for cell-based cancer immunotherapy.
What do you enjoy the most about being a scientist?
(AT) I enjoy that being in science challenges me to be curious. I love asking questions, and research provides me the critical thinking skills, tools and space to answer my questions. There are not many jobs that can offer this kind of privilege, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be leading a lab in a world leading university.
What is the greatest scientific challenge you have overcome so far?
(AT) The greatest challenge I have faced and still face from time to time is overcoming imposter syndrome. One of the downsides of being a researcher is that one would have to manage high self-expectations and deal with multiple rejections (papers, grants, awards, etc). I think it is easy for scientists to start wondering whether they are good enough, especially when they start comparing themselves to more successful colleagues. Interestingly, when I spoke to many renowned scientists including Nobel Laureates, I have been told that they still suffer from imposter syndrome! I think this phenomenon is not new and it may never go away, but what we can do as a community is to better support one another. For instance, be a reasonable peer reviewer and provide good mentoring to early-career researchers.
What is the main change that you would like to see in the scientific community?
(AT) I would like to see greater diversity and representation in science. As a child of a low-income family, I would never have thought that I would one day become a professor. The observation I got from mentoring underrepresented students allowed me to conclude that many of my students feel that they are outsiders to science, and that they lack role models they can aspire to. Efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and representation are crucial so that we can excite students from all backgrounds to know that they have a place in science, and science can also benefit from having more diverse perspectives.
What motivates you to communicate science?
(AT) Research can take a long time to bear fruit, but to convince society that our science deserves to be funded, researchers need to demonstrate to the public what we have done and what we can potentially accomplish to make the world a better place. This is where science communication is so important. Being a science communicator allows me to bring science closer to society and I have done this through different platforms, like writing articles, lab tours, volunteering in science museums, and designing toy kits for children undergoing clinical trials.
(AT) What is your favorite thing about ecrLife?
What makes ecrLife special is that we have a variety of content and we provide a platform for early-career researchers to share their stories. Many of these stories come from under-represented scientists as well, and I think these stories can inspire many young students to consider pursuing their studies or careers in STEM.
About the author: Andy Tay is a Presidential Young Professor in NUS, Singapore. He is also member of eLife's Early Career Advisory Group (ECAG) and a freelance science comunicator. Connect with Andy on LinkedIn.
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