Helicopters image copyright © Boeing; Singapore mall image courtesy of papaija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The new editor-in-chief for the Journal of Laboratory Automation (JALA) talks about jet fighters, space-age shopping centers, what makes a great scientific paper, and his vision for advancing translational laboratory science and technology as JALA begins its 20th year of publication. Learn more about Ed Chow, including when you can meet him at SLAS2015 in Washington, D.C.
Like many SLAS members, Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D., was mesmerized by technology when he was a kid. In Chow's case, his technology of choice was attached to jet fighters and robots. Going to the annual air show at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California was a dazzling highlight of every summer for the young Chow. "My distinctly favorite thing was seeing all the planes, especially the engines, close up."
Chow's father and uncle worked as engineers in the U.S. aerospace industry hub of El Segundo, CA. As role models, they served Chow well, providing him with a behind-the-scenes view of many groundbreaking science and technology projects. "They always had computers and really cool stuff around. I especially remember when my uncle was working on the Apache helicopter and he would give me leftover marketing materials like posters and brochures featuring what the helicopter engines and radar systems looked like."
Although Chow's passion for science and technology was firmly ingrained at a young age, his parents encouraged him to explore a career in medicine, which led him to embrace the field of biomedical science; "the best of both worlds," says Chow.
After completing a B.A. in molecular and cell biology-immunology from the University of California, Berkeley, Chow earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, Los Angeles. From there, Chow continued his research on the biology of cancer stem cells and nanomedicine. Specifically, he focuses on identification of markers for hepatic tumor initiating cells; molecular mechanisms behind how specific oncogenes form these cells; and evaluation of nano-based drug delivery platforms to target cancer stem cells.
Chow's interest in cancer research began after his father was diagnosed with the disease. His interest was honed and furthered when it dovetailed with the power of nanomedicine, a path that his lifelong friend and fellow researcher SLAS vice-president and former JALA editor-in-chief Dean Ho had been actively exploring.
As a postdoctoral fellow, Chow joined the laboratory and research team of Nobel Laureate J. Michael Bishop, M.D., at the University of California, San Francisco. "Dr. Bishop was a mentor in many ways," says Chow, but it was his talent as a science writer that helped shape the skills, discipline and constructively critical eye that Chow now shares with SLAS in his role as editor-in-chief for the Journal of Laboratory Automation (JALA).
"I've had the good fortune of being able to work with really great people," says Chow. "Mike [Bishop] allowed the people in his lab to do whatever we wanted as long as it was related to cancer or stem cell biology." Throughout the process, Bishop was there to discuss ideas and share his thoughts and perspective. "I learned a lot from Mike about how to think about approaches and how to present ideas and information through written manuscripts. He emphasized the difference between documentation and writing. Before Mike, I didn't think much about the writing process. He made me think hard about style and how to be careful when choosing words; to be concise and make sure every sentence really says what it should." This critical thought process and focus "helped shape my research as well as my writing. It helped me grow and transition from student to professor and independent researcher."
Chow says "the starting point for a good scientific manuscript is a good question, a novel question, a question that others have not yet answered or even thought of – or a question that has been asked, but nobody has been able to answer well.
"Ask that question and answer it. Maintain a clear and concise focus throughout the paper and answer that question," Chow continues. "The question defines your paper. The question defines your resources. The question defines every section of the paper.
"The introduction [of a scientific manuscript] is where you ask the question and explain why it is a good question and what answers have been offered to date," says Chow. "The results section is where you outline what you did to answer the question; what you learned through experimentation to answer other related, smaller questions. The discussion section is where you use the answers to those other smaller questions to craft an answer to the big question asked in the introduction. At every step, you should work to ensure what you're saying is focused and clear.
"This same focus can guide your work in the lab," says Chow. "I see a lot of my grad school self in my students and postdocs, and like Mike asked me, I ask them what questions they're trying to answer through their work, and I encourage them to ask those questions as clearly, concisely and unambiguously as possible; only then will they be able to pursue answers."
In 2012, Chow accepted a position as assistant professor and junior principal investigator with the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS). CSI is one of five Research Centres of Excellence (RCE) that were established in 2007 by the government of Singapore as part of a major economic initiative. RCEs were created within NUS and Nanyang Technological University to attract top international researchers to Singapore for the express purpose of developing academic research programs that will produce commercially relevant work that will have a positive impact on Singapore's economy.
"NUS has a strong infrastructure – people, equipment, expertise, lots of shared resources. Because the infrastructure is so new, it's built in a very intelligent way," says Chow. "There were no legacy systems to struggle with, so they were able to employ best practices for world-class research institutes."
When deciding whether or not to move so far away from home, Chow relied once again on mentorship advice from his postdoctoral advisor who told him to choose the institute that would best allow him to do the work he wanted to do. Chow took that advice to heart and the decision became easy when NUS offered full support and free reign to pursue his interests in cancer biology and applied nanomedical research.
"After living in California my whole life, the idea of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something really different appealed to me," says Chow. "Singapore is one of the most exciting cities in the world – sort of futuristic and Jetsons-ish, sleek and shiny like those jet fighters I grew up with. Going to a shopping mall here can give you the same feeling of techno-exhilaration that you get when you open your Macbook Air for the first time."
The day-to-day quality of life in Singapore also appeals to Chow and his growing family, which includes wife Lisa, three-year old son Declan and newborn son Eric. "There are no guns, no school shootings, no drugs, no gangs," says Chow. "It's extremely safe, a great place to raise kids. Unlike downtown San Francisco, which can become pretty dicey after 9:00 p.m., you can stay out late and walk the streets without fear in Singapore. All the stereotypes are true – it's clean, comfortable and modern, plus the national language is English which makes things easy."
When he's not in his lab at NUS, Chow and his family like to spend time in Singapore's shopping malls. "They're more like amusement parks," says Chow. "Each one is different with its own unique identity, but they're all big – HUGE, actually – space age and modern, and they all have great indoor playgrounds, which are popular because it can get very hot [in Singapore]." Another favorite destination for the Chow family is the Sentosa family resort island, which Chow describes as "Singapore's version of Disneyland."
"Singapore's a great home base for exploring the rest of Asia," says Chow whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from China before he was born. "Asia is an adventure. Being Asian-American, I was always interested, but never really had much exposure to Asia. I've seen my relatives in Hong Kong more in the last two years than in the previous decade. Now, places like Thailand and Bali become great long-weekend destinations instead of extravagant dream vacations that require months of advance planning."
Chow first learned about the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening through his friend and collaborator Dean Ho, SLAS vice-president and former JALA editor-in-chief. Chow first presented his work at an SLAS conference when he won an SLAS Tony B. Academic Travel Award. It was then that he learned first-hand "how friendly and collaborative everyone is." Says Chow, "SLAS is one of few places where there is a strong mix and interaction between industry and academia – a truly collaborative and interactive spirit."
This spirit became more profound after he joined the JALA Editorial Board where he advanced to associate editor, deputy editor-in-chief and now editor-in-chief. His increased involvement led to ongoing friendships that he enjoys personally and benefits from professionally. "I keep in touch and get together with other JALA Editorial Board members and other SLAS members at other conferences or when they come through Singapore. SLAS really opened up my network and allowed me to get to know some really interesting and great people."
As JALA editor-in-chief, Chow is the principal architect and arbiter of JALA's scientific content. He leads the strategic advancement of JALA's scientific content in line with the SLAS mission and goals; and actively solicits the best science from the best scientists to be published in JALA. "We will continue the positive work of Dean Ho and those before him to build on JALA's position as a premier journal for translational technology that advances medical and biological research," says Chow. "JALA paves a unique path that facilitates the translation of new technologies into commercial successes. JALA has proven itself as a productive nexus for academia and industry, and we are building on that strength."
Chow brings his own experience in this area to the editorial table. Through his work in Bishop's laboratory at UCSF, Chow became a co-founder and board member of the start-up company Biotic Laboratories, whose assets were later acquired by O-Ray Pharma. At NUS, Chow's lab enjoys significant interaction and active collaborations with A*STAR labs at nearby Biopolis, the biomedical R&D facility that co-locates public sector research institutes with corporate labs.
"No other peer-reviewed scientific journal targets this area of achievement and opportunity the way JALA does," says Chow. "Those who read JALA regularly know that JALA's showcases the multidisciplinary research occurring at the interface of fundamental science, engineering and technology translation. We publish papers from all over the world. It's an exciting and interesting resource for new ideas and inspiration as well as scientific reference."
JALA publishes six issues annually. Its scientific content becomes open access one year after final publication. In the meantime, SLAS Laboratory Automation Section members have full access to all content at JALA Online, including scientific manuscripts published ahead-of-print.
Chow will be at the SLAS Journals Information Station in the SLAS Member Center in the SLAS2015 Exhibition on Sun., Feb. 8, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. along with JBS Editor-in-Chief Bob Campbell. Please stop by to say hello, ask questions or share suggestions.
In addition, for the third year in a row, Chow will present the popular JALA & JBS Author Workshop on Wed., Feb. 11, from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. in Room 150B. This workshop shares important tips that every prospective author should know before submitting a scientific manuscript for consideration by a peer-reviewed journal. His presentation includes step-by-step advice on how to design and write scientific research papers more clearly and effectively to improve their chances for publication. Attendees learn what editors want, what they don't want, and how reviewers evaluate manuscripts.
January 12, 2015