Things They Don’t Tell You is a weekly online column that dives deep into the lives of Prestige 40 Under 40 class of 2020 laureates, where they share little-known stories and offer insights on things that go under-the-radar. This week, we get candid with Dr Clara Cheong, Head of Administration and Scientific Affairs at Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences at Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
I have strong recollections of my Primary 6 science teacher calling up my parents, to say I was being a bit insistent that I was going to be a writer anyway, so science homework was inconsequential.
Eventually I came to enjoy the investigative part of science through research experiences, and also see something of the divine in there: how much we don’t fathom in the everyday things that live and die, how much we assume is taken as knowledge, and also, that science can be an avenue to bridge and advocate for change.
My favourite book as a young person included Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time – the whole class read this – and it was a geek’s dream to read science fiction that included fancy words like ‘mitochondria’, and linking these to these existential quotes from Pascal and others. It just begged to be examined in more detail, to be made sense of.
Sometimes, my good friends and I joke about how we peaked at Primary 6, and everything since has been slightly less. I guess it’s partly true – youthful idealism goes a long way. Realistically, I subscribe to the motto ‘the best is yet to be’ (despite not having attended that particular institution).
I’m all about using opportunities to help others who may be more vulnerable, for multiple reasons. It makes sense to do that through a career or job, since that’s the majority of time we spend as adults.
Having my three kids (almost four) and to be able to enjoy the simple things in life with us as a family are, I think, my greatest achievements.
Strong women types inspire me – because they show how much is possible, when there’s tenacity, drive and the ability to do that in combination with their genuine selves, with humility, without aggression.
Creativity and perseverance are my strengths, though I could deal with more courage and less self-critical views.
One of the best things someone has said to me is, “You have guts.”
I think we are better off understanding the fundamentals and principles of things, not just following a rule book and responding with “by right…”
Fear is disempowering. (This also reminds me of the Peanuts comics where Snoopy and Lucy muse the day on.)
Value the strengths we carry, learn to see and affirm these in others, and to be responsible to others, sometimes by speaking for them, sometimes for finding potential solutions that they don’t even yet realise they need.
I’d tell my younger self to not be so concerned about what others think, or to fit to a preconceived notion of what success is like. Learn to celebrate the upsides, not focus on the downsides.
I once coloured my hair orange, one CNY a long time back. It did have a nicer name than orange, though.
I like going to the art supply store and looking at just the possibilities and ideas waiting to be created…
Failures are inevitable, but it’s all about the framing, picking up and moving on. Sometimes some retail therapy helps too!
Life moves by quickly, and most of our lives are focused on the future instead of the present. For myself, learning to enjoy the present as a ‘present’ is still an ongoing but important process.
It is so important to be able to be appreciative.
Singapore has got its quirks, warts and sparks, but it’s home.
(Main and featured image: Prestige Singapore; all other images: Dr Clara Cheong)