Things have been on the up and up for Dr Sherry Aw since we last featured her in The Weekly. Dr Aw, the winner in the Science & Technology category in the Great Women of Our Time Awards 2018, was recognised for her work as an Independent Fellow at The Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR, where she does research, using genetics, molecular and imaging techniques to find the causes and potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The 36-year-old recalls, “It felt really good to have received the recognition at the Great Women Of Our Time Awards last year, and I was also happy that my mother was there with me when the awards were presented. She is my biggest cheerleader!”
Following her win, Dr Aw was awarded the L’OréalUnesco For Women in Science International Rising Talents Fellowship. And earlier this year, we had the honour of joining Dr Aw in Paris for the 21st L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science International Awards ceremony at the Unesco Headquarters. Inaugurated by Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of Unesco, and Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of L’Oréal and Chairman of the Fondation L’Oréal, the Ceremony recognised five outstanding women scientists, as well as 15 talented young women scientists — Dr Aw being one of them — from across the world.
Dr Aw shares, “It was a great honour to have received the Fellowship. While awards are not why we do what we do, it feels good to know that other people find the work that we do meaningful, as this encourages me that I am on the right path, and to work even harder on our projects.”
ATTAINING NEW MILESTONES
And hard at work, she has been. The research Dr Aw is driving focuses on neurodegeneration and with Singapore’s ageing population, any findings in this area could potentially help our quality of life. She’s recently reached yet another milestone, having published the first paper from her lab and also her first as senior author in the journal, PLOS Biology.
On her work, Dr Aw explains, “Our research focuses on uncovering genetic mechanisms that contribute to neurodegeneration. In particular, we are interested in understanding the mechanisms that underlie tremor. While our work is in the early stages, we hope that, in the future, our findings will help us to design rational treatments for such movement disorders.”
The complexities and uncertainties are what get Dr Aw excited. “I really find that I have the best job in the world. I go to work, and I can discover and learn new things. It’s really exciting to have an idea and then to think of how to test the idea… and then design the experiment. And when you see the results, you might see something that no one has ever seen. That is really why I am a scientist.”
But while growing up, a scientist was never something Dr Aw imagined she would become. “Growing up, I was amidst people who wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. Being a scientist was never imagined. I had not met a scientist — male or female. But as I gained confidence along the way, I realised that it is actually a very creative, very exciting field.”
The mother of two boys hopes to be a role model for future female scientists. She says, “When I was starting off in this field, I saw more women and realised that if they could do it, so could I. That helped me a lot and also built up my self-confidence. So I hope that the next generation of women scientists will have many more role models and that there will be parity in leadership positions in STEM.
“I would advise these young women to think big and think ambitiously. Women tend to have imposter syndrome, so read up on that and figure out ways to overcome a mindset that can restrict your potential. Find good mentors and a good support group.”
Dr Aw says she has a great support system. She shares, “I have a super husband, wonderful parents and a great helper, who do a lot of the heavy lifting. I plan my time at work very carefully, to be maximally efficient and effective. Weekends are reserved for family time and I really believe in work-life balance.”
Besides returning home from Paris with her special fellowship award, Dr Aw also returned with a new mindset. During the trip, the scientists’ program included courses and sharing sessions. These have given her an impetus to push even harder in her career. She shares, “We went to the Academy of Sciences, and you see this really old place and all these famous French discoverers and scientists… and all were men. It spurs you to want to leave your mark, and I want to establish myself as a leader in the field of movement disorder.”
The 21st L’Oréal Unesco For Women in Science International Awards ceremony was held at the Unesco Headquarters in Paris.
Women Making Waves In Science
Established in 1998 and managed by the Fondation L’Oréal in partnership with UNESCO, the For Women in Science programme seeks to improve the representation of women in scientific careers, strong in the conviction that the world needs science, and science needs women. Over the past 20 years, the programme has supported and raised the profile of more than 3,100 researchers from 117 countries. This year, the 21st L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science International Awards ceremony celebrated another group of amazing scientists, including Dr Sherry Aw, and other Asian scientists Dr Jacquiline Romero and Dr Mika Nomoto. They are proof that there are no limits when you set your heart and mind on a target you’re passionate about — and their ultimate aim is to make this world we live in a healthier, safer place.
"Physicist Professor Maki Kawai receives the 2019 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science For Asia- Pacific Award from Audrey Azoulay and Jean-Paul Agon."
"(From left) Dr Sherry Aw with Dr Mika Nomoto and Dr Jacquiline Romero."