He recently won the country’s most prestigious accolade for young talent, the Singapore Youth Award, and his curriculum vitae reads like a dream. Yet, in 2003, Teo Yik Ying, now Associate Professor at the NUS Departments of Statistics & Applied Probability and Epidemiology & Public Health, was broke and worriedly looking for funding to support his PhD studies at Oxford University. The National University of Singapore (NUS), where Prof Teo was teaching some courses, stepped in to help as they felt that his experience at Oxford would benefit NUS and society at large in years to come. And they were right.
Prof Teo says, “I had just finished my National Service. I didn’t have much savings. I had been accepted at Oxford University but had no funds. NUS believed in me and very kindly supported me for my PhD with the Overseas-Graduate Scholarship.”
Assoc Prof Teo also won the Lee Kuan Yew Post-Graduate Scholarship. He says, “Without support from NUS and the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship, I would never have been able to do my PhD. It felt very good to see how people were happy to actively help out someone in need, as I was in those days. And it made me work really hard at Oxford.”
Today, Prof Teo, who has been called “a numeric forensic scientist” for his study of genetic patterns to decipher why certain diseases are caused, is a much-lauded and awarded member of the scientific community.
Talking about the crucial need for gifts to further research, he says, “It is of paramount importance in my research as it is critical, firstly, in developing human research capacity. You need to develop human talent in order to achieve excellent research performance and grants are crucial to this.
“For example, the Research Fellowship by the National Research Foundation has been instrumental in allowing me to develop the capacity for statistical genetics in Singapore. Now, the statistical genomics group in Singapore is pretty well-known, both nationally and internationally, for developing sophisticated solutions to problems in genetics and in leading genomics research in Asia.”
Having benefited from others’ generosity, Prof Teo is no stranger to giving back. During his days at Oxford University, he and his wife started Team Challenge, which provided opportunities for intra-varsity interaction, leadership training and community involvement, with the funds raised supporting a charity. Back in Singapore, he mentored Junior College (JC) students under the Science Research Programme. Hosted by the Faculty of Science and the Ministry of Education, it offers interested JC students the opportunity to participate in research projects. He says, “I gave talks on the future of medicine to get them thinking about the world out there. I share with them the latest developments, which, one day, will impact their lives.”
Prof Teo is, first and foremost, a passionate teacher. He won the Teaching Excellence Award twice at Oxford (2006 and 2008) and once at NUS. He says, “As an educator, I believe that we are shaping dreams. We provide students with the inspiration, motivation and knowledge to pursue something. More than just course matter, students learn from our attitude to life. They learn about current thinking in their subject and its future implications. That brings things back to the actual world in terms of the application of their subject. Most importantly, as a teacher, I believe in the value of the human touch.”
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