Paths to Excellence – Celebrating Journeys in Life Science

Thursday, 08 March, 2018 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Thursday, March 08, 2018
6:30 PM – 9:00 PM

Breakthrough Theatre
Matrix Level 4
30 Biopolis Street
Singapore 138671

“Regardless of gender, a more empathetic and collaborative approach to leadership will be advantageous for leaders in scientific fields”. – Julie Olszewski

From conducting impactful research in academia, starting a life science company as an entrepreneur, to creating a blockbuster product in industry, or becoming a successful venture capitalist, there are many career paths in life science, each with its own set of challenges and rewards. Females also face other challenges in the workplace, especially in areas such as balancing career with family, career advancement and access to job opportunities.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Biotech Connection Singapore and Singapore Women In Science jointly presented “Paths to Excellence – Celebrating Journeys in Life Science”. We brought together a diverse panel of four female speakers who have succeeded in various areas of life science. The aim of the event was to showcase the career stories of these women so as to provide inspiration to others seeking their own career paths.

Full house for the evening! Participants paying close attention to the panel discussion.

The panel discussion started with the moderator, Dr Reshmi Rajendran (Director of Life Science and Healthcare, Budding Innovations), introducing the panellists, Dr Siew Hwa Ong (Chairman of BioSingapore, Director & Chief Scientist, Acumen Research Laboratories), Prof Linda J Kenney (Principal Investigator at the Mechanobiology Institute, National University of Singapore) and Ms Julie Olszewski (Executive director of Singapore IT Innovation Hub – MSD International GmbH). The importance of having a portfolio career in which multiple careers are built in a lifetime was discussed. The panellists shared stories on how they transitioned from basic science to entrepreneurship and careers in the industry. Based on their experiences, it was evident that there is no singular path to a fulfilling career. While Siew Hwa’s career decision was deeply influenced by her passion for cancer research, Linda stumbled upon the prospect of doing a PhD while working in a laboratory to put herself through college. Family background also influenced the career decisions of the panellists. Being the eldest child in a large family, Siew Hwa had to be independent from a young age, which led her to take proactive steps towards a fulfilling career in biotech entrepreneurship and eventually to set up Acumen Research Laboratories. Julie saw Science as a way out of blue collar jobs and chose to work in a corporate environment after graduating with a science degree.

Panel discussion underway.

Despite the different journeys, support, mentorship, taking charge of career decisions, hard work and being inclusive are common facets for career success. Siew Hwa cited her entrepreneurial father and research supervisor who set up companies as supportive role models. Linda’s mother was also supportive of her decision to move to Singapore, where she did some of her best research. Although Julie did not identify specific mentors, she has intellectual discussions with her elder brothers who are scientists. Taking charge of career decisions and seeking opportunities internationally are also vital for career success, as emphasized by Linda. There is no replacement for hard work and all the panellists recall spending many enjoyable hours in the laboratory. Lastly, being inclusive and embracing diversity are key in introducing other viewpoints and perspectives in the workplace.

The panellists had mixed opinions about whether disruptive technologies and the gig economy are conducive to the life sciences. Siew Hwa and Linda were concerned that rapid changes may cause workers and women in general to drop out if they cannot keep up with technology, thus widening the existing gender gap. When discussing the on-going idea of hiring scientists on a short term basis to improve research success rate in life sciences companies, Linda suggested companies should take initiatives to train scientists and help them transition to different fields.

During the Q&A session, members of the audience asked about the pros and cons of entrepreneurship compared with being an academic. They also wanted to know if there were gender-dependent career advantages. Contributing to the discussion, Reshmi mentioned that the entrepreneurial and academic paths are more interconnected these days and one does not need to be exclusively an academic or an entrepreneur. Siew Hwa added that it depends on one’s career aspirations, whether one is happy building something from scratch like an entrepreneur or using existing infrastructure in academia.  While Siew Hwa and Linda did not encounter gender discrimination, they acknowledged that there are still obstacles in the progression of women in their careers. Julie mentioned that collaboration and empathy in leadership – qualities which may be regarded as feminine, will be advantageous in the future. She ended the lively discussion by saying that it is important to broaden skillsets so as to remain relevant in an ever-changing economy.

Participants enjoying themselves at the networking session.

The events of the evening concluded with a networking session. Over food and wine, participants interacted with each other as well as the panellists. All in all, the event was a success and we at Biotech Connection Singapore look forward to welcoming you to the next one!


6:30 PM – 7:00 PM: Registration
7:00 PM – 7:10 PM: Introduction of BCS and SgWIS
7:10 PM – 8:10 PM: Panel Discussion
8:10 PM – 8:30 PM: Q&A
8:30 PM – 9:00 PM: Networking (Dinner and wine will be provided)


Director of Life Science and Healthcare
Budding Innovations

Trained as a scientist (PhD, NUS), business person (MBA, INSEAD) and administrator (Masters, Public Administration), Reshmi enjoys leading transformation at the interface of technology and commercialization. She has extensive experience in medical imaging techniques and has worked in various areas of clinical research. Reshmi has more than 20 highly cited scientific publications in medical imaging, trace elemental analysis and free radical research. She also has keen insight in various aspects of business development and transformation, including operational strategy, consumer insights, commercial development and regulations. Reshmi has set up and built the life sciences portfolio of Budding Innovations (BI) to bring on board most of the major Fortune 500s, mainly in the consumer care and pharmaceutical space as well as built product and process innovation methodologies that are unique to BI. Apart from innovative technologies, Reshmi is passionate about children’s rights and works for various global causes, such as UNICEF in India and the SOS Children’s Village, Philippines. She is also the face of INSEAD’s Limitless Campaign that celebrates 50 years of women at INSEAD and champions women’s rights through this and other related activities.


Siew Hwa ONG, Ph.D.
Chairman of BioSingapore
Director & Chief Scientist, Acumen Research Laboratories

Siew Hwa is the serving Chairman of BioSingapore and a council member of both the SMF (Singapore Manufacturing Federation), as well as the Biomedical and Health Standards Committee under the Singapore Standards Council (SPRING Singapore). She is also an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. Siew Hwa is highly experienced in multiple fields, including cell and molecular biology, genetics and genomics, as well as companion diagnostics and drug product development. Having transitioned to a career in the pharmaceuticals industry, she has worked both locally and in the US, and has subsequently founded a local molecular diagnostic company. With more than two decades’ experience in academia and the industry, Siew Hwa has an impressive track record of translational and clinical research, innovation in biomedical products, and technology commercialisation, including licensing of IP (intellectual property) and strategic partnerships. She has obtained several patents in areas such as sepsis biomarkers and methods for cancer diagnosis.

Linda J. KENNEY, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator
Mechanobiology Institute, National University of Singapore

Linda is a Principal Investigator in the Mechanobiology Institute (MBI) at the National University of Singapore. She obtained her PhD in Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania. Linda has been an active member of the American Society of Microbiology, serving on its council and as a Group Representative, where she was very involved in the programming of many of its General Meetings. In the Biophysical Society, she has served in many capacities, including a four-year term as Treasurer. In 2014, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Society for initiating a new subgroup in the field of Mechanobiology. Linda is committed to the enhanced participation of women in science and was a founding member of the WIS committee at MBI. In 2018, she was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology.

Executive Director of Global Innovation Hub,
MSD International GmbH

Julie began her career 25 years ago in Merck, US as a scientist doing basic research on inflammatory diseases. As her interest in data generation and management for in-vivo experiments and clinical studies grew, she advanced her career in Clinical Development. Since then, Julie has taken on various global and regional leadership roles in Information Technology and Product Development across different countries, primarily in the US, Belgium, China, Japan and Singapore. Julie established MSD’s Global Innovation Hub with an investment of S$8 million in state-of-the-art technologies that aim to harness digital innovation for better healthcare. In addition, she spearheads partnerships with local start-ups and universities to develop emerging fields of data science and cyber security with the dual objectives of developing the local talent pool in Singapore and improving the healthcare ecosystem. Julie also seeks out opportunities to connect with people from different walks of life, where diversity and cultural uniqueness play an integral part in innovation.


Biotech Connection Singapore (BCS) is a non-profit organization that aims to promote life science entrepreneurship in Singapore. Established in 2014, BCS is the Singapore chapter of a global network, with chapters in biotech hubs such as San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. BCS serves as a platform to foster interaction between academia, industry and business in the biomedical and healthcare fields. We connect innovators with industry resources to develop ideas into successful commercial products. We engage our growing community of members by organizing educational events, providing consulting services and enabling communications to our members at large.

Singapore Women in Science is a non-profit organization for women working (or desiring to work) in any capacity in the field of science, whether as active researchers, managers, service providers, science communicators, or any other science-based role. The aims are to recognize and learn from inspiring women in the field as well as from each other, and to develop a strong network. Current activities include monthly talks, followed by networking sessions.



Product Sponsor

Biotech Connection Singapore (BCS) is part of an international network of non-profit organizations, that aims to promote the transfer of ideas from theory to real world applications by providing a platform for fostering interaction between academia, industry and businesses.

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