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Dr Sean Wen: Oxford, Onward and Upward

04 Apr 2023

Dr Sean Wen (in the photo above) is a man of impressive credentials and yet remains ever so warm and humble, which made us even more inclined to catch up with him.


Sean kicked started his tertiary education with IMU as a Biomedical Science student where he had illustrated his penchant for methodical and systematic decision making. This was especially true when he shared with us how his journey as a cancer research specialist began. Sean credits the industry placement module during the final year of his studies in IMU as the doorway to his professional career. He was determined to make the most of his industry placement experience, and so he opted to complete his compulsory placement in a hospital laboratory setting and his optional placement in a research-based setting being Cancer Research Malaysia. It was here that his interest in cancer research was sparked.


Following his graduation from IMU, Sean went on to complete his Master of Medical Science (MMedSc) in University Malaya. During his Master’s journey, Sean focused on cancer genetics whereby he labored to understand how inherited genetic mutations increase the risk of developing cancer, specifically breast cancer.

It was this burgeoning interest that initially motivated him to consider research programmes available in Singapore and Australia. However, a nudge by Prof Peter Pook, then Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) of IMU saw Sean applying to the distinguished institution that is the University of Oxford. Sean was accepted by the University of Oxford and obtained a scholarship, and the rest is history.

Despite the distraction that was the global pandemic Covid-19, Sean successfully defended his PhD thesis in 2022 and graduated with his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Medical Science. During his PhD, Sean developed experimental and analytical pipelines to identify novel therapeutic biomarkers for blood cancers.

As illustrious as his PhD journey was, his professional career journey echoes it. Sean is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow with AstraZeneca. Here, his continues his narrative of blood cancer research where he leverages on population genetics to identify genetic mutations that increase a person’s risk of developing blood cancer.

Looking back on the road he has travelled, Sean shares that he hardly could imagine where he ended up. During his younger days as a student, he was almost certain that his career pathways would have either been a medical laboratory technologist or a forensic scientist. He never would have imagined his industrial placement would have put him on the trajectory that led him to where his is today.

He urges current students to be mindful of the time they have in IMU and to constantly keep the big picture in mind. He points out that the Biomedical Science programme offers a variety of modules in the life sciences, and it would be most beneficial to identify which module speaks the most to you be it laboratory, entrepreneur or research based. As shared earlier, industry placement should be given serious thought as it could turn out to be a platform that launches your career. Sean also encourages the idea of having conversations to refine the idea of which pathway will be the best fit for the student.


With regards to his experience of studying overseas, Sean confides that as far as scientific equipment and infrastructure goes, Malaysia is not too far behind. The edge lies in expanding one’s horizons and cultivating new experience and most importantly developing talent outside of our comfort zone. Above all, Sean insists that when deciding to further studies overseas it must first be done for the right reasons and for him it would be wanting to develop as a scientist and the desire to return to Malaysia and share the knowledge gained to bring Malaysia’s research game to the next level.


Sean fondly remembers that IMU encourages continuous learning, and this is especially true in the field of life sciences and medical sciences. In an arena where change is constant, to remain relevant one must endeavor to constantly develop professionally and improve.


Sean concludes our session by stressing on enjoying the journey rather than the destination. The lessons learnt throughout the journey may just be even far more illuminating.


As a true research specialist, he leaves us with a quote inspired by Thomas Edison regarding failed experiments that are the parts and parcels of a scientist’s life, “I have not failed. I have just found 100 ways that don’t work”. As Sean puts it simply “every day is a good day to begin again”.

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