While most children aspire to be astronauts or policemen, Ms Cheryl Lee had her heart set on cancer research.
“Ever since I was young, I always had a great interest in science — particularly human biology and how our bodies work,” says the 29-year-old.
Fascinated by cancer, she knew from the outset she wanted to be involved with oncology in some way — with the University of Queensland (UQ) being the obvious choice.
One of the top overseas universities recognised in Singapore, UQ is known for its cutting-edge research with state-of-the-art facilities. Its world-class faculty was the reason Ms Lee decided to enrol for its Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology programme.
During her honours year, she was granted her long-time wish to conduct cancer research in the UQ Diamantina Institute, in partnership with the nearby Princess Alexandra Hospital.
Her laboratory was located in the same building as that of Professor Ian Frazer, one of the scientists who co-created the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, now used all over the world.
The way the university’s curriculum was structured also played a major role in her decision to study there.
Every student at UQ, regardless of major, is allowed to customise the curriculum extensively.
For instance, aside from their core modules such as immunology and genomics, Ms Lee and her classmates were able to choose from a wide variety of elective modules.
Ms Lee personally chose psychology, education and Japanese for her electives.
As a result, she gradually found herself more drawn towards a career in pharmaceutics instead of cancer research. She is now a qualification specialist at Novartis Singapore Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, which she joined in 2016.
In her role, she makes sure that all facilities and equipment used on site for production meet regulatory standards. This ensures that the resulting products are safe for patients’ use.
“I used to think research and development labs were the only route to helping people using science background,” she says.
“But through the diversity of UQ’s courses, I learnt more about the pharmaceutical industry, which allows me to play a part in producing life-saving therapies for patients in need.”
Working in Novartis not only allows her to grow in a challenging and fast-paced environment, but fulfils her desire to use her science background to help people in need.
“The teamwork required for research projects and interacting with different personalities during my time in UQ gave me the training to prepare me for my current role in this global company,” she says.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 23, 2019.