Burnaby Now article
Dr. Poh Tan is a proud mother of two boys whose drive for success developed in spite of a challenging childhood. She is determined to make a positive impact in the world through commercializing medical research and advancing science education. She is the founder and CEO of Innoguidance Consulting, a management consulting firm that helps bring innovative ideas in biotechnology to market, and is also the founder of Newton’s Geniuses, a science enrichment center for young children.
Dr. Tan graduated from SFU with a Bachelor of Science, and subsequently earned a PhD from UBC faculty of medicine with a focus on stem cell biology. Her research has been shared with international audiences and is published in top-tiered journals. Recently, she spoke about the myths and misconceptions of stem cells as a speaker at TEDx Stanley Park. For the past 10 years, Dr. Tan has been mentoring SFU science graduates and MBA students by helping them to seek success and pursue meaningful careers.
As an advocate for science education, Dr. Tan is pursuing a second PhD in the Faculty of Education at SFU. She hopes to develop programs that will nurture curiosity in young children and help them develop skills, like perseverance, that are critical for success later in life.
Dr. Tan will be the keynote speaker at Fresh Start Vancouver in October, an event that inspires women with challenging lives to regain control of their careers and life goals. She will also be an industry career expert at the upcoming Till and McCulloch stem cell meeting where she hopes to inspire young scientists to make a positive impact on the world.
Why did you choose to go to SFU?
I felt the most “at home” at SFU. There was, and there still is a great sense of community and closeness among the students and teachers. SFU also has a well-recognized Co-operative program, which was tremendously helpful in determining what careers were suitable for my interests. Co-op helped me make valuable connections with industry and ultimately led me to pursue a PhD in stem cell science.
Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?
I’ve always loved being on campus, despite the fact that some think it quite grey and gloomy in bad weather. I had many favourite places to study and spend time with friends; however, I spent most of my time at the library. In addition to being a great resource for research, it was also one of the few places that was quiet and bright enough to study. When you have four or five final exams scheduled within a few days of each other, it was the place to be. And not to mention, it was one of the warmest places on campus!
What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?
My fondest memories at SFU were during my time as an undergraduate. It was during my first semester at SFU that I met the love of my life. I remember how he would wait for me after each biology class in the AQ to walk me to my next class. We would have study dates at the SFU library and lunch dates at the Maggie Benston Building. He proposed to me on the hill and we made our wedding memories at the SFU pond and the C.L.A.W. And now our children play amongst others at the SFU Childcare center.
Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?
My favourite SFU professor was Dr. Jay Burr from the Department of Biology. Dr. Burr was a great teacher and always inspired me to explore the field of science. He helped me develop my curiosity for biology and most importantly, encouraged me to pursue a PhD in stem cell biology. He had the ability to connect with and motivate students to excel in and out of the classroom. In addition to Dr. Burr, I also must recognize Mr. Doug Wilson who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Biology. Doug is a great teacher. He cares about his student’s learning. He’s a teacher that wants you to learn beyond what is found in the textbook. He believes in experiential learning and puts effort into designing his classes to ensure that students get the most out of each session. Doug showed me that science can be interesting and useful.
How has your SFU degree impacted your career?
My journey towards my SFU degree has given me confidence in my abilities as a scientist and diversified my outlook on my career path. It opened many doors for me both in the academic field and in industry. It led me to pursue a PhD in the field of stem cell biology and to contribute to the advancement of regenerative medicine.
What is your favourite SFU snow story?
I remember there was a heavy winter storm one year when the buses were unable to make it up the hill, but exams were still on. I didn’t have a car at that time and I didn’t want to walk up the hill either. It was my first time hitching a ride from the bottom of the hill from other fellow students who were able to make it up the hill in their cars. I remember being really nervous and fearful about hitch hiking, but the fear of missing an exam was even greater!
If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?
My advice would be to make the most of your time as a student. It was only after I graduated that I realized how many opportunities and support services that SFU offers. Whether you dream of being an entrepreneur or you're just trying to figure out what to do after graduation, there are always resources on campus that can and will help you - for free! Take advantage of these because once you leave school, it gets a lot harder.
Another piece of advice that I’d like to pass on is for students to participate in SFU’s wonderful Co-op program. I attribute many of my current successes to my time as a Co-op student where I made many industry connections, my PhD supervisor and ultimately my business associates. Co-op jobs open up many doors and opportunities and, best of all, it gives you a glimpse of a career that you think you might like while letting you experience first-hand what the job entails.
What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?
The one thing that SFU must not change is the sense of community and closeness on the campus. I remember feeling overwhelmed about class sizes, workload and expectations during my first year as an undergraduate. However, the teachers, professors, lecturers and friends were very supportive and helpful in making the experience less intimidating. I also remember orientation week being helpful, it was wonderful to have senior undergraduate students welcome me to SFU and introduce me to campus life.