Meet the L’Oréal Singapore Women in Science 2015 fellows (Part I) – Dr Neo Mei Lin

Dr Neo Mei Lin, recipient of L’Oréal Singapore Women in Science National Fellowships 2015 for Life science, is a Research Fellow in Tropical Marine Science Institute, National University of Singapore (NUS).

Dr Mei Lin obtained her PhD in Biology from Department of Biological Sciences, NUS. Her research interests include Marine Ecology, Invertebrate Larval Biology, Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and she has been studying the fascinating Giant clams – the world’s largest bivalves, since late 2006.

I had the pleasure of getting to know how Dr Mei Lin felt winning this award and more about her passion for marine biology and her future plans. Here’s the email conversation I had with Dr Mei Lin.

How do you feel winning this prestigious award?

Ecstatic and unbelievable, actually! I’m very proud of myself, and for having taken a road less travelled by many to become a marine biologist. This annual award recognises talented and dedicated young women scientists in Singapore, and it feels kind of awesome now that I’m part of this prestigious lineup. At the same time, I feel more compelled (with some pressure) to continue to do well in my research field, meet the higher expectations, and be a role model!

What motivated you to apply for this fellowship?

Very truthfully – like any other fellowship and research grant, the L’Oreal FWIS National Fellowship comes with generous funding that can be used to support my research! As a young scientist, I spend a huge chunk of my time writing proposals for research grants. You just have to keep trying and submitting, until something comes along (or at least an interview opportunity!). I have gained a lot of new learning points with each grant submission, and always strive to improve the content each time. Many may not know that this is in fact my second attempt at applying for the L’Oreal FWIS National Fellowship (I first applied in 2013).

VIN21210

Dr Neo Mei Lin, 29, receiving her 2015 Life Science National Fellowship from Mr Vincent, General Manager, Corporate Affairs, L’Oréal Singapore.

Can you tell us about your research?

I study a group of critically endangered marine species, the giant clams. These are the world’s largest living bivalves, which can grow up to 1m long and weigh over 300kg! My research so far has examined the species’ population dynamics and larval ecology in Singapore, and the application of these information to support conservation strategies. Giant clams, unfortunately, continue to be overharvested for food and their shells, plus they face numerous other challenges such as pollution and global warming. I hope to expand this research to a worldwide scale, and use phylogenetics to make assessments on prioritising species conservation efforts.

What do you see as the most significant impact of your research?

It would be that many more people now know what are giant clams and why they are very cool animals! Being a conservationist, I find it equally important to communicate science so that people can appreciate why species protection is important to the environment and for our wellbeing. I can see that the public is becoming more receptive to, and appreciative of, local marine conservation endeavors. Above all, it has been very heartening to get emails from people expressing their interest in marine biology and conservation, and how they can get involved.

How did you become passionate about marine biology, in particular getting fascinated about Giant clams? 

I have always found the natural world fascinating, and curious about how it works. But it was my undergraduate research project on giant clams that cemented my passion for marine biology. I even took up diving lessons so that I could be closer to marine biodiversity. The more I explored this amazing marine environment, the more committed I became to protecting our seas. With giant clams, it’s very hard to not like them! Their biology and behaviour absolutely (and continues to) fascinate me – from how some of them can bear large pearls, to how they can ‘see’ us, and the adorable baby clams that we culture at our marine facility!

What do you plan to do next with regards to your career plan?

I’m still exploring my research interests at this early stage of my career. However, I’m certain that it will definitely involve marine conservation, particularly giant clams. Conservation research is an arduous task and resources are generally limited, but I hope to make use of efficient conservation tools to help make precise management decisions and allocate resources to urgently safeguard endangered marine species. I have a dream, and that is to be able to set up a regional network that looks into protecting the giant clam species. That’ll be something for me to work towards!

How do you think winning this award will impact your career?

Winning this awards reminds me of why I do biodiversity research in the first place. It will serve as my motivation to remain focused on my goals, and to continue delivering good work. Beyond my own career, I hope to inspire others to continue and recognise their own good work in biodiversity research! Every scientific contribution counts towards making our natural world a better place.

You said you would like to travel across the world to meet fellow researchers in marine biology using the money. Do you have any particular place to visit in your mind?

Yes! I’m very excited at the prospect of meeting up with fellow researchers with an interest to do research on giant clams, as well as to explore different coral reefs. There are several places that I want to visit, but if I have to pick one now, it’ll be the Palau archipelago. It is one of the few places in the world where you can still find large native populations of the true giant clams, Tridacna gigas, and I have yet to see one myself!

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