Drew Keys interviews Dr Vandana Ramachandaran, Director for Research & Academic Affairs, Singapore Eye Research Institute.
Van, we know you as a valued member of the IAPB community, but tell us a little bit more about your role at SERI and the team you lead?
I joined SERI about 2 years ago as the Director for Research & Academic Affairs. It is a very dynamic and exciting role. I am a member of the executive team working closely with the Executive Director of SERI to ensure the overall stewardship of research, including setting a strategic vision, ensuring fiscal viability and forming strategic partnerships with various organizations for research as well as joint PhD programmes. Being passionate about career development for our postdocs, I have also started the career development webinar series at SERI in collaboration with DUKE-NUS.
My team is responsible for the life cycle of research: grants management, research collaborations, legal contracts along with the regulatory aspects of research and operations of the institute.
Recently, I have also become part of the core committee of the newly formed SNEC- Global Ophthalmology whose mission is to address current challenges in eye care in the region, develop future leaders in Global Ophthalmology and build sustainable eyecare systems globally, through innovative solutions, advocacy, programmes, and partnerships.
When you joined SERI, you came from outside the eye health sector. What was it like transitioning into eye health?
When I joined A*STAR after a postdoc in Malaria, it was a transition to Stem Cells, Genetic Diseases & Skin Biology. As a former scientist, I think we can adopt well in various fields of science. It’s always a learning curve and that keeps things exciting. Transitioning into the eye health space has been an ‘eye-opener’ to say the least. I work amongst the global leaders in eye research and have to say it’s been fantastic. There is certainly a lot more to learn but this has been a fantastic opportunity.
How has your role changed during the pandemic period?
It was a very challenging period for all of us as it was unprecedented. We had to streamline our work processes but also discovered that my team along with a number of others were able to work very effectively from home. Remote working was the norm and it was a whole new concept for a majority of us which has now become the cornerstone for most teams within SERI as the ability to do so makes us nimble and agile in the face of adversity. Staff was also deployed to the frontlines for checking temperatures and helping with social distancing aspects. Our space and facilities at SERI had to be adopted to the safety distancing norms before staff could get back at work.
You’ve championed Gender Equity in Singapore. Please share a little about the work that you do in this space?
I am the co-founder of the Singapore Women in Science (SgWIS) and have been actively promoting women participation in Science through networking events with women leaders in the STEM field and hosting talks by these professional womenWe act as a support group, facilitating collaborations, mentorship & promoting women in STEM.
SgWIS hosted the first Gender Summit in Singapore in 2019 in partnership with the rest of the women in science organisations and it was truly a wonderful opportunity to get all groups together and address the issues of gender in research & innovation.
The gender summit took place only after 5 months in my current role but my leadership, Prof. Aung Tin and Prof Wong Tien Yin, both supported this and made me feel that I was in an organization that supported the career & leadership advancement of our women. It is always good to have male champions in leadership positions to support such causes.
It has also been great to be a member of IAPB who has gender equity as one of its core pillars.
If you had one take-out for readers on women and leadership, what would it be?
In the words of Sheryl Sandberg- ‘In the future there will be no Female Leaders. There will just be Leaders.’