Going there feeds an appetite, but what you do with it is up to you.
– Sharon Chan, Deputy Director of NUS Overseas Colleges
Week 7 had proven to be a very trying week for me. With 3 mid-terms and 2 submissions, I was a little stressed out, to say the least. Not to mention I was still going to work, albeit leaving slightly earlier on Thursday to squeeze in more study time. “Isn’t it mid-terms week?”, a colleague of mine asked. I nodded back while rushing out a design, and she couldn’t conceal her dismay, or maybe it was a worry. Should I be spending more time to study? More time would have been good, but going MIA from work just to study, didn’t sit comfortably with me, especially when this period is crunch time for the office too. Nonetheless, part of me felt guilty, while the other tried to be reassuring. That’s why you started revision early. You got this. With my hectic schedule this semester, time management has played a big role in keeping me sane. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true. We only have 24 hours in a day, and what we do with it is up to us. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about spending more time on studies, or how I’m spending less time than my peers but I feel like this is really how I wish to spend my time. So far, I have enjoyed my internship and I’m learning new things each day.
Which brings me to my next point: my current thoughts on NOC. Last Saturday was NOC connection– a gathering of the NOC alumni, out-going and prospective students. The day left me and my fellow NCSG 25 batchmates excited and anxious for what was to come. Crazy work hours, intense workload, and oh yes, you need to manage your academics too. I can’t even begin to fathom how it will be next semester, but I’m eager for it to come. I guess that might be part of the reason why I chose to step up as the batch representative. I really want to make the most of my experience, and that includes my batchmates and their experiences too. We’re going to be in the same boat for 6 months, hopefully, we can help each other swim to shore even if we hit rocky waters. In the weeks to come, I hope to share more about the placement process and hopefully some good news of my own placement too!
This week we heard each other’s presentations for the various CRISPR applications and I was most interested in the one presented by Sophia, whereby the paper investigated the use of hairpin secondary structures to improve accuracy. I feel like there would be a lot of potential if they are able to show more accurate evidence of its effectiveness because forming the hairpin structure itself appears quite simple and straightforward. However, being based on mathematical modelling, I had a tinge of doubt towards the accuracy of the results, more so when there were no previous studies or reasons sited for choosing their modelling software used. From this it made me question how easy it is for us to take for granted certain methodology, especially when it is either well-established or commonly used.
Personally, I thought it would be easier to analyse a short paper, but I was proven wrong. My own paper was theoretical in nature so, in terms of methodology and materials, I really struggled to find points to critique. But at the same time, the short article made me appreciate every line that was written, after having combed through each line over and over again. While critiquing the paper, I kept wondering, “Why didn’t they include this (or that)?”, and that is when I realised how important it is to accurately communicate information in a succinct manner. There are certain things that seem important but may not be relevant to the current proposition. The author has to re-evaluate the direction and focus of the paper and ascertain if the content is in line with the message to be conveyed.
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work. – Hebrews 6:10
After a whirlwind of a weekend, I finally decided to check my email. It’s strange because I usually check it every day. The one time I don’t, I actually get an important email– my NOC application results!
Well, here it is:
NUS OVERSEAS COLLEGES, JANUARY 2020 INTAKE
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been offered a place in the NOC Singapore intake.
In a matter of two lines, I got the results. It took a while for me to process the words, the feelings. To be frank, I had only ever considered my first two options (Israel and Munich) until recently when more and more reasons started to arise for me to want to stay in Singapore. I have been pretty blessed to have everything come full circle in this way. Drawing near to this date, I think there has always been a small nudging in my heart, “Maybe I wouldn’t mind staying in Singapore.” but I always thought that would be because I get rejected from the NOC programme entirely.
In a nutshell, for anyone who is reading this that may have a genuine interest in NOC programme, the curriculum for the overseas programmes and SG are practically the same. They both focus on teaching you the works of being an entrepreneurship, the only major difference seems to be that the SG programme carries slightly more modules (28 MCs vs the 20MCs for other 6-month programmes). From Figure 1 you can see that the main difference is in the last two modules, the start-up case study and the seminars. Notably, all the modules for NOC SG are credit-bearing, so if the ante isn’t already up for you, here it is.
Independent and communal living seems to be a big part of the NOC experience so similar to the other programmes where you would be finding an apartment/flat with your programme-mates, for NOC SG you’ll be living on campus with the rest of the NOC SG programme attendees and alumni. The accommodation this time is in N-House, located at Sheares Hall, likely because it is near BIZ and NUS Enterprise making travelling for seminars and workshops a breeze. I’m looking forward to staying back on campus, even though it has only been one semester of being home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents but I definitely embraced the independence of campus life.
So at the end of the day, my thoughts are this: I’ve been given all that I wanted and maybe even more by accepting this opportunity, I’d be a fool not to accept it. When life gives you lemons, squeeze the hell out of it or make do, no? I’m happy to say that I have accepted the offer and we are already having our first briefing this coming Friday. Exciting times ahead, so for you dear reader, if you are considering your choices now, please consider what you want out of the NOC programme. Is it just to travel overseas? I’m telling you now that, I can already feel the pressure of what’s to come, but I tend to thrive off difficult situations. Your perseverance and personal motivations will bring you where you need to be. Don’t worry child, you’ve already got it all.
I always look forward to our field trips, so I would say that the highlight for this week would be the trip to NovogeneAIT. Before the trip, I had been to Biopolis before and I knew it to be a hub for government agencies and other government-supported research companies. From what Robson had shared during the tutorial, I had the impression that NovogeneAIT was a very big company (given that they had multiple sequencing centres around the world. I’m not sure if I was mistaken but I think he was referring to the sequencing centres of Novogene, right? NovogeneAIT being the joint venture only here in Singapore. In any case, this made me expect a much larger space, so I was very surprised when they gave us a tour of a much smaller area. Nevertheless, I think that this still impresses me because they are able to process a large number of genome samples even with this small space and equipment. It really speaks for how advanced the processing of the HiSeq and NextSeq they are using is, that these few machines alone can produce so many libraries.
On that note, it really interested me when they were talking about the eventual goal to be able to sequence a full human genome for just $100. In a matter of a few years, the price has gone down to just around a thousand dollars compared to how expensive it was before. That means that one day, sequencing will become so readily accessible at an affordable price, we might be able to advance research at an exponentially fast rate as well since genome sequencing is being applied in many scientific areas. On the other hand, it also implies the business race of manufacturing companies to design faster and more advanced processors to be able to handle even more data at a cheaper cost. Seeing the sequencing machines reminded me of the development of computers from really huge machines that take up an entire room to the laptops and iPads that we see today. I look forward to the day we will be able to have a table-top sequencer that can process as many samples as the latest model of NovaSeq today.
One of the confusing things for me was the fact that they still relied on physical servers, although they are looking at exploring cloud servers and cloud processing. One of the biggest limitations is that they have to clear the servers of old data after 45 days, and only the processed data is being backed up into their cloud server. What if a client wanted to retrieve old data that was past 45 days? Or what if they wanted the raw data for some reason? Data storage is a big issue for a company like NovogeneAIT that has to handle terabytes of data every day. I think that data management is really important not just for big companies but even on an individual level. Keeping things organised and backed up properly makes it easier if you need to pass on the data to someone else.
This week we had a more in-depth look at the CRISPR-Cas system for the lecture. I think that it is very exciting when you realise that we are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the role and functions of Cas proteins in bacteria. And yet we have already discovered Cas proteins that are able to not just produce a double-stranded break but produce a single-stranded nick and even sticky ends. Repeatedly, however, seems to be that the real bottleneck of this technology is managing the offsite targeting effects. This still leaves room for error and with regards to clinical therapeutics, this is definitely something that you would want to eliminate as much as possible. We are however in a time when CRISPR-Cas system gene therapy is likely to see way more applications, as scientists continue to understand the functions and possibly uncover more immunological defence systems in bacteria that may help us too. The assigned readings (and their diagrams) really helped me to understand the mechanism of the different Cas proteins because initially, it was difficult to conceptualise. And the lecture helped to consolidate my understanding by reiterating what I had read beforehand.
I must add that the guest tutorial by Novogene AIT was a good addition to the week as it fed my interest in the business aspect of biotechnology. It must be quite hard to “stay ahead of the competition” all the time and is probably not as simple as the speaker had made it be. Understandably there are probably some marketing strategies he is unable to reveal, even though I wanted to know how exactly do they have intel about the latest software, technology etc. Trend analysis is also something that interests me, so I was glad to hear about how they work towards trying to predict the needs of their clients beyond what they request from them, showing them that the company is able to provide more services (and at the same time making more profit!). The idea of master contracts is also pretty strategic, instead of just targeting individual labs. With Singapore being very small, however, I can see why geographic segregation is also necessary. This idea of a concerted effort really pays off, not just in business but in everyday life. It is not efficient to divide your energy in too many places. As a service provider company, working closely with government agencies/authorities is probably a good move too. In Singapore where the government nowadays concentrates its resources on a lot of data-driven projects, such contracts provide a lot of stability and reputability. Lastly, the speaker’s comment on being a service provider in today’s economy really struck out to me. Being someone who is currently thinking about having my own business one day, it was really relevant advice. With today’s sharing economy, being a service provider is very advantageous and this business model has a lot of potential given the right service in demand!
I really enjoyed the field trip to SCIEX this week. I think that it is interesting to see how companies optimise their operations and also as a biotech company, how they continue to innovate and improve in an iterative fashion. They take into account not only customer feedback but even things like walking distance to optimise associate work efficiency.
As for the science technology, I think that its great that they are looking at forecasting the trends for mass spec analysis instead of just waiting on their customer demands. Having the best of both worlds in the QTRAP system is great for the future when we might be looking to analysing greater amounts in a shorter period of time, we will need to rely more on qualitative screening.
For lecture and reading, I enjoyed the review papers assigned to us. Gave me a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of CRISPR/Cas9 system as well as the future modifications that can be done to it. Prof Liou did a good job in reiterating the reading material again, as well as the difference and advantages between RNAi and CRISPR. I think that RNAi has a lot of potential but it’s right to say that there is a lot of difficulty in getting it approved due to the off-target effects. Patisiran is the first RNAi approved as a therapeutic, so I think that there is way more that can be worked on this area.