Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
Eugene Ong writes to Hiroyuki Osada, Group Leader at the Antibiotics Laboratory,
RIKEN Advanced Science Institute
I hope you are keeping well during the winter months in Japan. As I have just finished writing my doctoral thesis, I have looked back in retrospect and realized that my three-year stay at RIKEN starting from the spring of 2007 has been a life-changing experience.
The amazing journey began when I was fortunate enough to have been accepted as a RIKEN Asia Program Associate to conduct research for my doctoral thesis at your laboratory. I was initially worried whether I would be able learn anything new, as the word ‘antibiotics’ is usually associated with Fleming, penicillin and the beginning of the twentieth century, but my skepticism was laid to rest when I saw before my eyes how the lab grew from strength to strength with each passing season under your visionary leadership.
Apart from the day-to-day lab work under the supervision and kind mentoring of Prof. Nobumoto Watanabe, I count myself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to witness the establishment of the Chemical Biology Department, from the organization of staff and resources to the planning and opening of the Chemical Biology building itself.
Even from this bystander’s point of view, I had a first-hand experience of the famous Japanese work ethic and research approach that I had only heard of before coming to Japan. It is true that the antibiotics lab members work hard, but they also play hard. I recalled many fond memories of sharing time with everyone—playing softball and badminton, the seasonal and celebratory lab parties, and especially being involved in organizing lab gatherings during my last year.
I am personally grateful that you and the other lab members took the trouble to use more English in the lab meetings, as this exposed me to the various types of research being conducted by different teams in your lab. Because of this, I was able to deepen my understanding of the multidisciplinary field of chemical biology.
I will always be humbled by the kindness and respect you showed for each and every member of the lab, and the effort you made to be available to everyone, especially through the weekly students’ lunch that you attended.
I must also thank you and RIKEN for the opportunity to travel to different parts of Japan to participate in scientific meetings and to present my research findings. This greatly enriched my experience. One of the memorable meetings that I attended was the Noyori Summer School in 2009, where RIKEN’s president, Prof. Noyori, was present to share his wisdom and experience with the younger scientists at RIKEN.
Upon my return to Malaysia, I was frequently asked to describe my experience at RIKEN, and thinking back, besides RIKEN’s top-notch research facilities and support staff that allowed high-quality research to take place, I also learned so much more about life and how to be a better scientist from you, Watanabe-sensei, Sudo-san, Kobayashi-san and many other lab members too numerous to mention.
I can only imagine that your lab will grow further in strength and I wish you and everyone good health and success.
School of Biological Sciences
Universiti Sains Malaysia