Dr Freda LIM Chiang Huay|
Material Science & Engineering (MSE)
Dr Freda Lim from the Computational Materials Science and Engineering programme is comfortable being labelled as a “treasure hunter”. But before you think of her as a modern-day female Indiana Jones who goes around looking for lost treasure with a whip and a fedora hat, rest assured that all the treasure hunting is done right here at IHPC. “Research is like a treasure hunt!! It’s about finding new things in the domain that you are working in. Would anyone find treasure hunting boring? ... If your research reveals some “universal truth”, be it trivial or otherwise, one would feel the joy of uncovering that treasure for the rest of the world to appreciate!!...”
Although she was only conferred her PhD in Computational Chemistry about a year ago, Freda’s love affair with Science began as early as when she was in primary school. “When I was in Primary 4, school introduced the general subject of science. Since then, being a Scientist or having a job related to Science was one of my many dreams… I wanted to be a teacher in this field. Later in life, I entered junior college and realised that there is a whole lot more to learn than what is in the text book. Many of the things written in the text book are not “universal-truths” but merely currently known facts. What’s worse, many of these currently know facts are not actually ‘correct’. There are yet many things that are unknown and on-going research are taking place as we are being taught the fundamentals. It was in my university days that I decided that I want to be part of the community which does work to contribute to the knowledge for the future generations to learn.”
It was also during her university days that she got to work with IHPC on her projects for her honours year and later on, during her time as a post-graduate student. “I had been attached to IHPC for a short time during my honours year and found that IHPC is a nice place to work in, but that did not make me decide to join the institute then. Later on, after my post-graduation, I again found that IHPC had the most related research group for the domain that I was interested in. I guess the rest is history.”
Even though her dreams of becoming a teacher and shaping the minds of future scientists were not fulfilled, Freda still takes on a pseudo role of becoming a mentor to her 2 younger siblings. “I am the eldest in my family and my 2 younger siblings are much younger than me! One is 10 and another is 12 years younger so naturally I’m always the BIG sister at home. I even used to attend “parents-teacher” meeting on behalf of my parents! Of course, I also have to help them with their homework etc. and be a personal confidante to them, which I guess is the closest I can get to being a teacher right now.”
Having to take care of 2 younger siblings is also great practise for Freda, as she is the proud mother of a 7 month-old baby girl, Enya. Being a parent is a wonderful experience and is something of a full-time responsibility as well. “Now that my baby has just arrived, my form of leisure is playing with my newborn and reading and learning how to care for her. If I have any time (and energy) left, I would probably bake and cook for my family. I also love to do handicrafts, creating that little something from a few raw materials… Eventually, when Enya is a bit older, I would also like to try scuba diving. It may sound strange, but I want to experience what it is like to move in a 3-dimensional space. Right now, in our daily lives, our movements are limited to a 2-dimensional space and my friend tells me that it is such a different experience when one has the freedom to move in a 3-dimensional space like the ocean, so hopefully, one day, I can find out what it’s like.”
Future plans aside, Freda’s family and career take precedence in her life at the moment and she shares on the three qualities – humility, patience and perseverance – that she hopes to have, to be a successful researcher. “One must be humble in order to be teachable. Humility brings about the hunger for knowledge. If one is not humble, one might be blinded by arrogance in-front of new findings.
Patience is the other key ingredient for a good researcher. Although often, a sense of urgency is also needed, patience brings about the clarity of mind to see beyond the obvious. Some data might require days or longer to decipher. If one is always in a rush, one might be hasty in extracting the essence of the results and crucial details might be missed out .
Perseverance is yet another quality that a good researcher must have. In the search for new knowledge, the process can be full of trials and tribulations. One must press on and not give up. The key piece of data can be just so near yet seemed so far. If one gives up too soon, one might not be able to fully appreciate the beauty of it all.”