Inspiring Tim(e)

By Jeremy Ee
Photo: Lester Kok
It is hard to zone out during Assoc Prof Timothy Tan’s class.

The Associate Chair at the School of Chemical & Biomedical Engineering is known for his interactive teaching style that sees him move around the lecture theatre and even walking up to students seated at the back to tell them what’s on his mind. Tutorials with him are like chat sessions.

“There's never a dull moment during his tutorials,” says Chinmayi Bhatt, a first-year undergraduate who faithfully attends his materials science classes. “He’s extremely friendly and welcomes all sorts of questions in a way that makes us feel involved and motivated to keep learning and clarifying our doubts. In fact, he keeps us on our toes because of the barrage of thought-provoking questions he fires our way.”

Adds Chinmayi: “He's never judgmental, which gives even the shyer students the courage to ask questions. Our lessons with him are almost like conversations.”

Assoc Prof Tan’s personable disposition also enables him to empathise with his charges, especially the top students who may be under a lot of pressure.

“For the class of Renaissance Engineering Programme students I teach, I decided not to give them a mid-term test because they already have a lot of tests and exams. Instead, I planned lab sessions for them and asked them to give a presentation on a topic which was then graded by everyone else in class. I believe this will improve their creativity, team work and project management skills, and also enhance dynamic learning.”
“He's never judgmental, which gives even the shyer students the courage to ask questions.”
Research is a big love of his, and he tries to get his students hooked by helping them connect the dots and to see the relevance of their studies beyond the classroom, including the “downstream applications”.

Dr Gladys Teo was one such undergraduate on the receiving end of this. Assoc Prof Tan, 38, supervised her final-year project and after getting her undergraduate degree, she went on to pursue a PhD at Imperial College London under a scholarship. She graduated with a doctorate in Materials this year and has already filed a patent in her short research career.

Says Dr Teo about Assoc Prof Tan’s teaching style: “He enjoys what he does – you can see this through his sincere engagement with his students during lessons. He reminds me to follow my heart and to pursue my interests, saying it is important to excel and to do things with passion and excitement.”

Success stories like Dr Teo are the “intangibles” that motivate the youthful professor with trendy threads. In fact, his own students often inspire him. “I have come across many students who speak with passion and maturity about their lives and what they like to do, and I applaud that.”

Outside of class, he finds time to lend a listening ear to troubled students, as he believes it is his job as an educator to make sure his students have a fulfilling four years in university. “I spend a little bit more time talking to those who may have family issues that spill over to their studies, and hopefully help take away some of their stress,” he says.

He also answers questions promptly by email. “I’ve realised that if I can answer my students’ questions quickly, they learn faster as they can move on to the next concept.”

As a scientist passionate about nanomedicine and biomedical processes, Assoc Prof Tan continues to push the boundaries of science every day, and to inspire his students to take the same path.

“In biomedical engineering, light of a certain wavelength can have almost no toxicity to living tissues and cells, so it is my belief that it should be used to drive certain medical processes such as bioimaging and light-triggered drug release. We can even use light to kill cancer cells,” he says.

Stay tuned for his next big breakthrough and success story.
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