Remembering Dr Ong Bee Lian with the “Dr Ong Bee Lian – Department of Biological Sciences (DBS) Bursary Award” (raising funds by 15th Mar 2019)

OBL memorial photoWhen we shared the passing of Dr Ong Bee Lian, former students from over three decades at NUS shared their memories of her inspiring figure, her days in lectures and practicals, and strikingly, her nurturing mentorship and kindness in her various roles as lecturer, administrator, mentor and friend [link].

Now, I am happy to share that Friends of Dr Ong Bee Lian at the Department of Biological Sciences (DBS) & Food Science and Technology Programme (FST), NUS have announced the initiation of a bursary in her name, and invite contributions very fittingly to help needy students in DBS & FST.

Their deadline is 15 Mar 2019.

“The Department of Biological Sciences together with Food Science and Technology Programme are initiating a bursary award for the late Dr Ong Bee Lian. Dr Ong was an exemplary and dedicated educator who was passionate about teaching. She was well liked by all her students, friends and colleagues at DBS as well as FST. She was always caring and constantly instilled enthusiasm for life in others. Her demise was sorely felt by many, though her strength of character and dynamic personality continues to be an inspiration to us all. In remembrance of her, whom we have missed dearly, we hope to name an award after her.

The bursary award will be named “Dr Ong Bee Lian – Department of Biological Sciences (DBS) Bursary Award”.

Please refer to the Appeal Letter for further details: [link]

If you wish to make a donation, please fill up the Gift Form: [link].

You can send the gift form by mail or email to Ms Lee Chooi Lan, Mrs Ang or Ms Sally Soh (email addresses are listed in the Appeal Letter). We hope to receive the funds by 15 March 2019 to qualify for the matching fund claim.

The sum we are trying to raise is only $25K. All donations are eligible for 2.5 times tax exemption.

Every amount makes a difference and it would be greatly appreciated. We look forward to your kind support and generosity to make this possible.

Please help to disseminate this message to friends who may be interested to know more about this worthy cause.

Feel free to contact Chooi Lan, Mrs Ang or Sally if you need clarification.”


Undergrad part-time lab volunteers wanted for DNA analysis of marine microbial communities (Mar-Jul 2016)

Project description:

Analysis of microbial communities from Singapore’s marinas.

Two or more part-time volunteers are required for DNA analysis from March 2016 to July 2016.

What you will learn:

  • Collection of samples from marina
  • DNA extraction of samples collected from previous experiments
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and gel analysis

Candidates should be:

  • Be able help out over term time and semester break
  • Willing to learn new techniques

Please contact Zarina Zainul, Graduate student, Experimental Marine Ecology Lab, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore at zarina (at)

Field sampling

Field sampling at a marina (Photo by Zarina Zainul)


Neo Mei Lin, marine biologist, featured on Women’s Weekly

Neo Mei Lin says,

“I am honoured to be nominated by The Singapore Women’s Weekly for this award, and had a chance to see what’s like behind the scenes of fashion, makeup and glam. I couldn’t ask for more as I already feel like a winner!

I hope my interview reaches out to a different audience, and for them to see what’s like to be a marine biologist and environmentalist.”

201508 NeoMeiLin WomensWeekly01

201508 NeoMeiLin WomensWeekly02

Courtesy of The Singapore Women’s Weekly, August 2015.

In a similar vein, see:

  • “Marcus Chua (Systematics and Ecology Lab) in Her World magazine.” Aug 2012 link
  • “Women who make microscopes look sexy.” March 2008 link

Remembering Dr Ong Bee Lian, lecturer, mentor and friend

20 Feb 2019 update – friends of Bee Lian have fund-raising until 15 Mar to mount a bursary for needy students in her name: “Dr Ong Bee Lian – Department of Biological Sciences (DBS) Bursary Award” [link]

OBL memorial photoWhen we shared the passing of Dr Ong Bee Lian, I was very touched by the comments many former students made in response to the news. They spoke of her lecturing, nurturing mentorship and kindness. I made a general call and thanks to former students from over two decades (1991 – 2011), this aspect of her life is shared and remembered.

Over the years, I had witnessed her dedication to module matching and placement of students on the exchange programme. More recently, I was able to appreciate very much her strong support for fairness, respect and trust for students when we worked on an ethics committee. I am glad we remember this aspect of her life, for us to appreciate and emulate.

Her family, the many department staff she was close to, and her former students are greatly saddened by her passing and will be glad to hear these thoughts. Those who wish to contribute can still do so here:

Thank you Bee Lian, for the kindness you expressed to those around you.

With respect and gratitude,
N. Sivasothi
Department of Biological Sciences,
National University of Singapore

Justin Lee, student (BSc Hons Botany 1991):

“As one of the few woman lecturers around, I will always remember her — not least for the colourful floral dresses — she literally added some colour to the Botany department. Thank you for all that you taught us. You fought hard.

R.I.P. now, Bee Lian.”

Amy Choong, student (BSc Hons Botany 1991) and colleague (2013 – 2015):

“I still remembered what she wore when she came for some of the lectures when I was an undergrad. She used to wear a cheongsum.

I remembered sitting with her on the chartered bus after one department retreat and we had a conversation about our parents and about life.

The last time I spoke to her was during one of the department lunch. I think it was a farewell for Prof Benito.

She was one of the few colleagues whom I can converse in Cantonese with. It is special.”

Maureen Chan, student (BSc Hons Botany 1991):

“Student Dr Ong was fondly called Dr Blong (B.L.Ong) and she was elegant, earnest in what she set out to do and warm. She must have inspired many a female student as she did me.

I was touched when she remembered my name when I returned to the department for the 80th Anniversary of Science Fac and I had brought my kids for the experiments in the lab. I consulted her about doing my post grad and she very kindly advised me the costs it would incur now as a mature student – she was still the warm approachable and kind Dr BLong whom I thought looked the same as I had remembered her way back when.

God bless you Dr Ong and thank you for your guidance and inspiration.”

Chang Chia Yi, student (BSc Honours Zoology, 1995):

“Honestly, I can’t remember what she taught but because of her, I learnt what a strong and intelligent woman looks like. She exudes confidence that tells you that she knows what she is talking about, and yet compassion and connection so that I can easily approach and learn from her, not just about botany but also about life in general.

Thank you so much, Dr Ong for being a testament of a life lived that is connected and meaningful and full of laughter! May you rest in peace and my condolences to Dr. Ong’s family and friends in this time of bereavement.”

Adrian Loo, student (BSc Hons Botany 1997) and colleague (2002-2004):

“As a botany undergraduate, I always found Dr Ong to be approachable and very well versed in her teaching topic, Plant Physiology. She would come in with blank OHP sheets, then the mode of instruction, and then start to develop ideas that were in her head onto the OHP sheets. This development of concepts from scratch made us appreciate the topic very much. She also made a point to print out for us papers in Plant Physiology for us to read.

As an Honours student and later a Postgraduate and postdoc, she was perhaps one of the most supportive of the local students who went into academia. A most happy memory of her was when I had tea with her and Prof Loh Chiang Shiong in the department and I can remember we had a jovial chat and she would speak of her nieces. RIP Bee Lian, thanks for being a wonderful teacher and plant physiologist. We will miss you.”

Lim Cheng Puay, student (BSc Hons, 2000):

“I knew Dr Ong since I became a student in the Botany Department. First impression of Dr Ong as she entered the lecture theatre was that she is a very stern lecturer. It’s not easy explaining the intricacies of plant metabolism to a group of restless undergraduates but she did it with her calm collected composure.

Dr Ong took me in as her research student readily when I asked her if she mind being my mentor. This was when I saw the nurturing side of her. She made sure that I had enough background information about the project, it was on the photosynthetic fluorescence of Pyrrosia pilloselloides. It was 3 sets of 24 hours measurement.

Dr Ong was very patient with this bumbling student of hers, trusting me with a brand new Hansatech machine and teaching me how to interpret the stacks of graphs generated. These skills still serve me very well as a teacher as I now mentor students on research projects.

Years later, I met Dr Ong in a shopping mall. She spotted me instantly and waved at me. It was like meeting an old friend. Dr Ong immediately passed me her email and number when she learnt that I am a biology teacher and invited me to send students over to her lab. I was very touched by her generosity and through this very spontaneous gesture, I realised how deeply passionate she is in education and in nurturing future scientists.

Thank you Dr Ong, you have shaped a very important part of my undergraduate life. Thank you.”

Eileen Oh, honours student (BSc Hons Life Sciences, 2002):

“Dr Ong was my supervisor for my honours thesis on the acridity of plants. She was patient and kind, and spent long hours with us on our experiments, guiding us in our findings and thesis. I have learnt much from her and I enjoyed our academic discussions as well as our personal chit-chat. I will always remember her smile and willingness to share. Rest in peace, Dr Ong. Thank you for the wonderful memories.”

Reuben Clements, student (BSc Life Sciences, 2004; MSc Life Sciences, 2007) and scientific collaborator:

“If I were to sum up Dr. Ong in one word – I would use the word ‘strong’. She was my first lecturer in NUS and she was in charge of the bridging module of my Biology degree. I never took biology for A-levels and that was why I had to take this bridging module. I spoke to her about my fear of not being able to make it past the module, which would then prevent me from progressing further in the degree. But she was very encouraging. Throughout my time at NUS, I found her to be a very caring person who always had time for her students and colleagues. She didn’t seem to smile a lot when she was hurriedly walking around the corridors, but when you spoke to her to long enough, she would sometimes give a unique laugh that would make your day.

I was fortunate enough to be a collaborator with her in a project after my MSc, and her professionalism always shone through. I am grateful to have known you Dr. Ong – you have been one of the strongest people I’ve met in my life and an example to follow.”

Seah Yan Ling, student (BSc Life Sciences, concentration in Biology, 2006):

“My memory of Dr Ong Bee Lian has always been a wonderful one. She never fails to inject interesting concepts about plant biology and sharing her personal experiences during our lessons. Her genuine concern displayed for her students beyond academic breadths were also evident.

I recalled this particular incident during one of my lab project on the respiration of bananas. I’ve carelessly cut myself on my thumb with a slightly rusty penknife while preparing the specimens, though the TAs were alerted to send me for the necessary stitching & tetanus injection.

Dr Ong personally came to my bench to check on my wounds the weeks after, until the bandages were removed and my wounds were healed. What struck me at that moment was that even though I may not be her honours year student, and while we only spend less than 4hrs/wk in a class of many students, Dr Ong still went the extra mile to take notice on each and everyone of her students in that module, and ensuring our well-being were looked after as long as we’re under her wings. I was truly touched….

Now that Dr Ong is relieved of her battles, her smiles and motherly demeanor will always stay in my thoughts.

Gwynne Lim, student (BSc Life Sciences, 2007):

“Dr. Ong Bee Lian is an inspiration to me, as a successful and rigorous scientist who is female when so few are.”

Lynn, student (BSc Life Sciences, 2008):

“Dr Ong was my mentor for an undergrad research project. I remembered how she was more than a mentor, sharing anecdotes of her life and advising on career matters. I am deeply saddened by her passing. Thank you Dr Ong. You will be missed.”

Geraldine Tab (BSc Life Sciences, 2009); a student in her module and UROPS examinee:

“Dear Dr Ong,

I just learnt of your passing today from a friend of mine (28 May 2015). The last I heard about you was in 2011. My lecturers informed me about your poor health when I was doing my masters in Applied Plant Sciences at NIE then. Your teaching and passion inspired me to further my studies in plants and I will never forget all those interesting and candid moments with you.

I still remember how several of my batch mates were afraid of meeting you at your office because you will vet their exchange programme’s modules very stringently. But I appreciate how you shared with me about why you chose to be firm on these matters and that you wished they understood your well intentions.

I will never forget how you have encouraged me when I presented my UROPS project to you, that it was equivalent to an FYP. Indeed, your kind words assured me of my ability in research.

In the eyes of all the students you have interacted with, you were more than a lecturer or even a mentor. You definitely had the heart for all your students and this is something we will treasure for the rest of our lives. Not many teaching staff in NUS can match your commitment and dedication.

Thank you Dr Ong for all that you have done.”

Wee Yew Ming, student, (BSc Hons Life Sciences, 2009):

“Dr Ong had been a great educator and mentor, and I still look back at my FYP year with fond memories of her and my labmates. It saddens me to learn of her passing. My sincere condolences to her family and loved ones.”

Loh Kok Sheng, student (BSc Hons Life Sciences, 2009):

“I remember Dr Ong as a lecture who taught concepts and details very clearly and methodically. So much so that now as a teacher, I do remember glimpses of her excellent teaching as I reflect on my teaching pedagogy. Dr Ong is someone who takes pride in the delivery of her lessons.”

Xu Weiting, student (BSc Life Sciences, 2010):

“I first met Dr Ong in my third year plant physiology module as a Life Sciences undergraduate in 2008. Dr Ong was a role model for women in academia with her passion for the subject and concern for her students. Even though Dr Ong had a reputation as a strict and stern lecturer, but when you knew her personally, she was always all smiles and approachable.

RIP and thank you Dr Ong, the lessons that you taught me as an undergraduate will forever be kept in my memory.”

Karen Wong, colleague (UPIP Administrator in Dean’s Office):

“She was Life Sciences coordinator for the Science Internship programme and I was the administrator in the Dean’s Office.

I was very shocked when I read about her passing on FB. At this time, I remember our last email correspondence. Always a caring educator. Rest in peace, my friend.”

Mindy Tuan, student (BSc Hons Life Sciences, 2011):

“Dr Ong, while strict, was also humorous and patient with her students. She would tell us her life lessons and personal stories during lecture breaks, one of which I remember and laugh about to this day (about where to go if you were bitten by a snake).

Her stern objection to my overseas programme application stemmed from her concern for my family’s financials, and in making her stand, made me appreciate and work even harder for it. She was sometimes fierce and scary, but more often than not, kind and soft-hearted.

I have never forgotten her all these years – may she rest in peace.”

Dr Ong Bee Lian’s Memorial was held at the Department of Biological Sciences – Mon 20 April 2015: 4.00pm @ LT 32

Talk: Weevils with weapons: alternative mating tactics & exaggerated trait evolution in brentine weevils

With the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum now located halfway across the Kent Ridge campus and the advent of common labs at S3 and S14, catching up with the rest of the NUS Biodiversity Crew isn’t as convenient as the corridor talk that used to happen at S2.

However, I learnt about Spider Lab’s new postdoctoral research fellow – Chrissie Painting – and her work in Singapore through twitter, where she frequently posts images of her field sightings, specimens, and quips about Science. Chrissie will be working on jumping spider sexual selection, and will be giving a talk as part of an existing series organised by Seshadri. Would try to catch this! Talk details below:



Many animal species have evolved weaponry as a means to resolve conflict between conspecifics in the acquisition of mates. In those species with high size variation, it is common for there to be alternative mating tactics, where dominant individuals behave differently to subordinate males during mate searching and copulation. Despite these alternative mating tactics, subordinate males are usually thought to have a lower mating success than dominant males, and are simply making the best of a bad situation. Males of the New Zealand giraffe weevil (Lasiorhynchus barbicornis) possess greatly elongated rostrums used as weapons during contests with other males for access to females. However, adult males are also highly size variable such that there is a 6-fold difference between the smallest and largest equivalent-aged individuals. I will discuss findings from my PhD research on the mating system of this species, in particular focusing on the evolution of flexible alternative mating tactics and our current evidence for sexual selection on male rostrum size. I will also highlight diversity in weaponry among other brentine weevils around the globe and our current research on these fascinating beetles.

Date: Wednesday 25th March 2015
Venue: Block S16 #04-31
Time: 4 pm to 5 pm
All are welcomed

Prof Chou Loke Ming officially retires today!

20141031 CLMProf Chou Loke Ming officially retires today – the end of an era which his Reef Ecology Study Team and many students in the department will continue to reminisce about for decades.

I thought I’d share his commencement speech delivered to the graduating class on 10th July 2014. I loved his “coconut speech” delivered with his quintessential humour, dignity and an understated deep feeling.

Thanks for the memories Prof!

Prof Chou Loke Ming heads to TMSI next (See “Marine conservation veteran continuing passion after retirement,” by Audrey Tan. The Straits Time, 15 Oct 2014 [link])

“Member, NUS Board of Trustees, Mr Philip Tan,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

This is certainly a cheerful occasion for the graduates. It marks a significant achievement on your part and I congratulate you on reaching this stage in the journey of your life.

You have heard time and again the saying that “to be successful, you should dream”. If you believe that you will succeed by dreaming, then I’m afraid you will be deeply disappointed. Dreaming is good, and you should dream, but the dream will never be realised without committed effort on your part. And I’m sure that you recognise this by now.

Today, you are receiving your degree and this did not come about just by you dreaming that you will one. You had to put in tremendous energy – for some of you, it was more a nightmare in realising this dream. It was blood, sweat and tears trying to meet with assignment deadlines and constant examinations that keep your adrenaline level high, which is beneficial as that keeps you looking young. Tonight, not one of you has a wrinkle on your face. Just wait a few months without examinations and those lines will start appearing. Adrenaline also strengthens your heart muscles – so now you know the full worth of your tuition fees.

There are two quotations that I want to share with you. They are by two highly successful persons and both are featured in the connecting link between the two wings of University Hall. These quotations are extremely relevant as you journey on.

The first is by Tan Sri Dr. Lee Kong Chian. He said, “Education is the basic element in the survival and prosperity of the state. And the promotion of education should be the responsibility of every citizen. It is man’s best inheritance”.

You are now blessed with an education that fortifies you well for the next stage of your life journey, where you continue to learn and make a positive contribution to society. Always remember that you are not just receiving a degree that gives you a solid head-start but that you are graduating from the National University of Singapore, which is reputed to be among the world’s best. No, this is not a paid commercial in case you are wondering – it is established fact. This means that you stand equal to many of your best peers on the global stage.

Commencing on the next stage of your journey, you need to stay focused but remain relevant. We live in a world that is governed by rapid change. This means that as you aspire, you need to accept change and adapt to it.

Aspiration is good as it keeps you focused. Let’s say your ultimate dream is to be so successful that you can eventually sit under a coconut tree and relax.

As you maintain that focus and work towards it, do be patient. Some of you will get to sit under a coconut tree soon, but others will take a longer time. A few of you will make your first million dollars in a couple of years, but for most, that will take a few decades. However, do be patient. Whatever you do, do it with dignity. This is where the second quotation has relevance. It is by Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan and he said “I prefer having a good reputation to having all the wealth in the world”. And indeed, your success will be measured most by your integrity and humility.

You also have to adapt to change – we live in a world that is, in the words of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman, ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’. The rate of change keeps accelerating. Technology advances swiftly, the environment is no longer the same, information is at your fingertips and you need to discern the reliability of the information source and interact with more people everywhere, all the time. If you don’t prepare for these changes, you will have difficulty in attaining your dream.

Looking for the coconut tree, it may no longer be in Changi or Sentosa where you expect it to be – you now have to be prepared to settle down in Sapporo or Jeju as coconut trees have shifted there because of global warming. If you don’t prepare for change, you lose.

Then when you finally get to sit under that coconut tree wherever it is in the world, you quickly realise that coconuts do obey Newton’s Law of Gravity. You have to be adequately prepared. Even when you have a crash helmet with google glass incorporated, and by that time google mouth (which lets you sing much better than anyone else) and google ear (which translates what the insects are saying about you), the helmet may just split if that coconut tree turns out to be genetically modified with coconuts that are extra-large and heavy.

If you are not totally prepared, you won’t be enjoying your dream for long.

But do not be discouraged by the elusive coconut tree. As Biological Sciences graduates of the National University of Singapore, you have an education that will help to prime you fully as you navigate through all the uncertainties towards your aspiration.

Best wishes to you and once again, congratulations!”

Photo by Lee Bee Yan.

Seshadri’s research featured on

We are playing catch-up on news about Seshadri, one of the PhD students in the Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation Lab who is back in Singapore after spending the summer in India doing field work.


Seshadri’s master’s research on the effects of selective logging on frogs in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve was recently published in Biotropica and featured on the conservation website The reserve is part of the Western Ghats, which along with Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot that is home to many threatened endemic amphibians. Seshadri found that negative impacts on  densities and community composition of anurans persisted in logged forest even 40 years after moderate logging was ceased.

The degradation from logging has led to the loss of ecological niches – particularly affecting stream- and litter-dwelling species. It appears that anuran assemblages in the region do not recover quickly from habitat degradation due to logging.


Seshadri will continue to work on threatened amphibians in the Western Ghats for his PhD dissertation, focusing on the ecology and behaviour of bamboo nesting frogs. His research will be supported by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Chicago Zoological Fund, which are competitive grants awarded to conservation efforts to save species worldwide.

Congratulations Seshadri!

CITATION LINK: K.S. Seshadri (2014). Effects of Historical Selective Logging on Anuran Communities in a Wet Evergreen Forest, South India. Biotropica 46:615-623.

NUS Biodiversity Crew & alumnus at the Society for Conservation Biology (Asia) conference


Marcus Chua reports the list of NUS Biodiversity Crew and alumnus who presented or was present at the 3rd Asia Regional Conference of the Society for Conservation Biology – Asia Section – what a party!

  1. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz
  2. Adeline Seah
  3. Alison Wee
  4. Becky Shu Chen
  5. Catharina Gallacher
  6. Cedric Tan
  7. Dan Friess
  8. Dan Richards
  9. David Bickford
  10. Edward Webb
  11. Enoka Priyadarshani Kudavidanage
  12. Fatma Gözde Çilingir (Gogo)
  13. Felix Lim
  14. Jacob Phelps
  15. Kelvin Peh
  16. Liang Song Horng
  17. Luke Gibson
  18. Madhu Rao
  19. Marcus Chua
  20. Mary Rose “Mingko” Posa
  21. Mary Ruth Low
  22. Nega Tassie Abate
  23. Rachel Oh
  24. Reuben Clements
  25. Richard Corlett
  26. Roman Carrasco
  27. Sarah Papworth
  28. Sheila Poo
  29. Tak Fung
  30. Valerie Phang
  31. Wei Kit Lee
  32. William Symes

Let me know if we missed anyone. Marcus also made a great effort to tweet updates to those of us stuck in campus and has compiled his posts, as well as those of others in this Storify compilation.


Photos by Marcus Chua. Thanks Mary Ruth and Mingko for a bunch of updates!