Poh Tan, PhD’08

Entrepreneur. Scientist. Researcher. Polynesian dancer. Educator. PhD candidate, again! Dr. Poh Tan, PhD’08, is all these and more.

Describe what you do, in a few sentences.

I am an entrepreneur, scientist, researcher, and educator. I am the founder and owner of two businesses and I am currently pursuing my second PhD in Education at Simon Fraser University (SFU) where my research focuses on scientific literacy.

What do you consider some of your greatest achievements to date?

I have quite a few, but the higlights I would like to tell people about are:

Name the last book you couldn’t put down.

I read a variety of books:

  • Fiction: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
  • Non-Fiction: Ho’oulu: Our time of becoming by Manulani Aluli Meyer
  • Non-Fiction: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Classics:  All books written by Enid Blyton

What is the best professional advice you’ve received?

Always have big dreams and big goals and never let nay-sayers affect or dictate how and why you have big goals.

Always treat other with respect.

What is your favourite UBC memory?

I finished my PhD in the Department of Experimental Medicine from the UBC Faculty of Medicine and my work involved late nights in the laboratory. My friends and would often go to Blue Chip Cookies to get two cookies to keep us going through the night.

Biggest risk you’ve taken to date?

I’ve always wanted to be entrepreneur to start my own business and venture on my own. With support from my family, I decided to leave a great job as a Product Manager at Vancouver’s largest biotech company to start my own consulting company. It was difficult to leave my colleagues who I had built great relationships with but I wanted to venture into entrepreneurship. I had many positive support from my peers and network, but I also had a few acquantainces who felt I was taking a huge risk and making the biggest mistake in my life. Never let nay-sayers prevent you from taking action on your goal. Your supporters will always be honest with you and support you throughout.

What is your next challenge/goal?

I love starting new projects and new ventures. Currently, I am working with a colleague who is also a researcher at SFU on building a business for digital learning. We will be presenting our work at Science World and UBC’s largest STEM conference.

What led you to choose your area of study for your degree?

My PhD topic is in stem cell research. In particular I studied blood stem cells called hematopoietic stem cells. I didn’t seek out to work with the stem cell field, but my ultimate goal was to work on a project that would translate to actionable and real solutions for patients who suffered from cancer. I guess you can say, the field chose me, rather than the other way around. I loved my project and to this, day I still use my expertise and background to help the public understand and navigate the science behind stem cell research.

Did you almost study something else – or pursue a different path?

This is a very interesting question, because as of now, I am completing a second PhD in Education, a field that is quite different from the one I obtained from UBC. In my current PhD, there is no lab work and instead focused on concepts, and theories. In a way, I AM studying something else, but both of my PhDs are necessary for the work that I want to do, bring a different approach to teaching and learning about science. One that considers the rigors and wonders of scientific experimentation and discoveries through other lenses that come from disciplines outside of the Sciences.

What advice would you give to current Faculty of Medicine students?

I can give advice to student who want to pursue a PhD in the Faculty of Medicine and to them I want to say the following:

  • Obtaining a PhD means, perseverance, resilience and hard work, if you are not willing to commit time, energy and interest, it will be a tough journey.
  • Have the courage to ask questions no matter the question and always be open to learning from your colleagues from different backgrounds.
  • Stay authentic and remain kind and respectful regardless of how tough the PhD journey may be.

Please name a few of your favourite hobbies and activities.

My most favourite hobbies are: Polynesian dancing (I’ve been dancing for over 16 years and still going), playing my ukulele (I’ve only been playing for 1.5 years, but it’s been really good for the soul), and sea fishing (no salmon fishing for me, cod is best)

My most favourite activities: spending time with my two kids, especially building projects with them and co-authoring books together and having family board game nights.

Name something that is on your bucket list. Have you completed it?

I have many things on my bucket list that I have yet to complete:

  • Traveled to Egypt, ride a camel and visit the Pyramids (Completed with my husband)
  • Traveled to the Serengeti and experience the annual migration of the wildebeest (Completed)
  • Traveled to South East Asia’s golden triangle (Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar) – only went to Laos and Thailand so far
  • Place in the top three for Polynesian dancing (Placed 1st place in solo and duo competion)
  • Travel to Antartica (Have not done this yet)
  • Travel the Silk route (Have not done this yet)

What are the best aspects of your career?

I am continually learning in all that I do and what I most enjoy is that I still get to help those who want to reach their big goals.

What are the most challenging aspects of your career?

Having the time to do everything that I want to do while juggling my time as a mother to two boys, as a wife to my supportive and caring husband, an entrepreneur maintaining two business and starting a new one, and self-care. In other words, time.

What is one question you’re often asked about your career?

How does your research help the public?

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