The Joy of Science

The joy of science

Prof Nancy Ip, Dean of Science and Chair Professor of the Division of Life Science, discusses what drives her on in her stellar international research career in neuroscience at HKUST.

Editor: You were born and educated in Hong Kong and then went to the US for higher education. What brought you back to Hong Kong?

Prof Ip: I joined HKUST in 1993 when the University was still in its very early stages. I had received my PhD in pharmacology from Harvard University, and worked in the biotechnology industry in New York. I was attracted by HKUST’s vision and wanted to contribute what I had learned to train the next generation of scientists in Hong Kong.

Editor: As Hong Kong’s first specifically research-oriented university, what do think HKUST has achieved?

Prof Ip: I feel the university has had an impact on the Hong Kong academic community as a whole. It instilled enthusiasm about research and reminded society that science and technology are important, even if they don’t bring tangible benefits right away. It really raised the bar on research in Hong Kong.

Editor: What made you interested in neuroscience?

Prof Ip: I took a double major in chemistry and biology at Simmons College in Boston. I was then drawn to neuroscience in my first year of graduate school at Harvard because of the professor. After that, I never looked back. There are devastating neurological disorders that really impact on humankind, chronic diseases for which there are no cure, and I felt if I could contribute in some small way, I’d be very happy. It’s going to take a long time to find drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and other diseases but we are making good progress.

Editor: When you joined HKUST, you also had two young children. How did you manage career and home life?

Prof Ip: It was a tough choice. But I was extremely passionate about my research and felt I had to keep going. I had to miss some school activities as I had duties here but the kids understood and that helped. I would bring work home and they would sit next to me and say “let’s do it together”.

Editor: What fires you up about your work?

Prof Ip: As a scientist, you pick a subject you are interested in and dedicate yourself to it. The drive, the intellectual curiosity, comes from within. You enjoy every minute of doing it, and no one can take that away from you. I often tell my students, don’t take on a research project because it is your job. Do it because you are inspired by it.