Celebrating Associate Professor Chung Ching Ming, Maxey - NUS Medical Sciences Cluster

A/Prof Chung Ching Ming, Maxey receives his 35 Years of Service Award at the NUHS Award Presentation Ceremony on 16 May 2019.

In 1983, Associate Professor Chung Ching Ming, Maxey joined National University of Singapore (NUS) as a lecturer with the Department of Biochemistry. When he first joined, the department was still in the midst of shifting from the former location at Sepoy Lines to the current campus in NUS now. Fast forward 35 years, A/Prof Chung is now Deputy Head of Biochemistry, Deputy Chair of Medical Sciences Cluster, NUS, and President of the Asia Oceania Human Proteome Organisation (AOHUPO). We met and listened to his inspiring journey with NUS Medicine.

Having spent 35 years with the University, what motivates you to go to work every day?

That is a hard one! I would not say I am excited about coming to work every day but I can definitely say I have never felt that it is a pain to come to work. 35 years is a long time to work in one place, and most people think that it must be boring, but I feel that every day is different.

When I started work in NUS as a young staff, I was doing research and teaching and had only a small laboratory with 1 technician and a few honours students. As time passed, my laboratory became larger and at one time, I had half a dozen graduate students, 3 – 4 honours students, 2 postdoctoral fellows, and 3 research assistants. At the same time, my administrative responsibility had also increased substantially. Apart from the heavy teaching load, I was actively involved in the development and management of Life Sciences curriculum with colleagues from the Department of Biological Sciences (DBS). As you can see by now, my job scope has changed regularly over the years and there are always new things to learn and handle. Moreover, we meet new students every year and invariably they are all different so…life is never a dull moment.

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What are some of your proudest achievements?

One of them is definitely the establishment of the Bioprocessing Technology Unit (BTU) in NUS with the late Professor Miranda Yap in 1991. I set up the DNA, peptide synthesis and sequencing laboratory that supported researchers in Singapore who needed these technologies in their work. We also partnered with a commercial company in DNA synthesis to supply oligonucleotides to local scientists at a much reduced price. Eventually, BTU expanded to become Bioprocessing Technology Centre (BTC) in 1998, and was located in MD11. That was when I set up the first Proteomics Laboratory in Singapore and perhaps, Southeast Asia.

Subsequently, BTC became Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) and moved to Biopolis while I stayed on in NUS to continue my academic work full time. As Proteome Science was relatively new back then, I focused my work using Proteomics as the cancer biomarker discovery platform for the last 20 years. I had trained many students in this research area and many of them have now become successful scientists in their own right.

Due to my involvement in Proteomics, I was well connected regionally and internationally with my appointment as Secretary General of Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) from 2013 – 2014, Secretary General of Asia Oceania Human Proteome Organisation (AOHUPO) from 2008 – 2012, and President of AOUHUPO from 2017 – present. In addition, I was involved in scientific editorial work as a Senior Editor of Proteomics from 2004 – 2015.

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What are some of your fondest memories?

For me, it would certainly be the setting up of the 2 laboratories with brand new equipment in BTU and BTC that I have mentioned above. As these 2 laboratories were the first in Singapore and the region, it was a really significant milestone for my research efforts and output.

The other fond memory was the time I spent during my sabbatical in San Francisco for 10 months in 1989. It was a new experience working in a different environment that allowed me to pick up new skills that later on gave me confidence in setting up the laboratories in BTU and BTC. On a personal level, my “young” family then thoroughly enjoyed living in a foreign but vibrant city. That was also when we experienced the San Francisco Earthquake of 1989 that caused considerable damage to the city. When we departed San Francisco, the staff there even gave us a book titled, “The Quake of ’89 ”. I guess we could proudly declare that we survived the quake!

What advice would you give to the younger peers?

Work hard and give your best. Be confident of yourself even when you encounter setbacks! Try to collaborate with colleagues whenever you can because the pace of research is moving very rapidly, and you may not always be able to keep pace with advances in all the other fields.

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