Alumni reinforce strong ties to Wolfson during President's trip to Southeast Asia

From scientific lectures to black tie dinners, stories, research and memories were shared and enjoyed during an action-packed two weeks in SE Asia.

Alumni dinner hosted by Dr Han Chong Toh

The President, Professor Jane Clarke has just returned from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, where she delivered a number of lectures and visited with alumni and other Wolfson members and benefactors. Accompanied by Development Director Sian Cook, Jane met with over 100 alumni, Honorary Fellows, members and 400 students and young researchers. What follows is a diary of her time in SE Asia.

Hong Kong, Wednesday 28 - Friday 30 November

This is the first trip to this fascinating city for both Sian and myself. Thanks to alumni Douglas Tsui and Lap Sun Lee we have a rapid transfer to our hotel to prepare for the following day, when we visit alumni and supporters around the city. It is heartening to hear so many fond memories of Wolfson, in some cases from many years ago. We finish the day with a splendid dinner hosted by alumni in our hotel.

Friday's highlight is an alumni reception where many former and current students turned out to greet us. It was a pleasure to reconnect with alumni who have been friends and supporters for decades. 

We were honoured to dine in the Royal Yacht Club, hosted by Gaston Chan, an Honorary Senior Member. Our first (and only) view of the harbour at night gave us flavour of the city, and what we were missing on our whistle-stop trip.

President Jane Clarke at dinner with Gaston Chan
Dinner at the Royal Yacht Club hosted by Honorary Senior Member Gaston Chan.

Malaysia, Saturday 1 - Tuesday 4 December

After a long and stormy journey to Kuala Lumpur, we transfer to Sunway City, home of Sunway University.  This is an amazing place “from wasteland to wonderland” conceived by Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, who is committed to a sustainable future for Malaysia.

On Sunday we host a brunch for our Malaysian alumni. It is remarkable the variety of alumni in the different cities. Here we meet an active cohort of Press Fellows and former Wolfson Course alumni, including a General and an Admiral. Wolfson has clearly left its mark here in Malaysia.

We spent the next few days at the ASEAN Emerging Researchers Conference. This was the brainchild of Southeast Asian Cambridge students and, importantly, organised by several Wolfson alumni – Dr Elizabeth Lee (Senior Executive Director, Sunway Education Group), Professor Abhi Veerakumarasivam (on the faculty of Sunway University) and Lee Wen Yeo (a current Wolfson PhD student) among others. One of our honorary Fellows Dato’ Dr Ken Yeang gave a short talk about his work pioneering ecology-based architecture and participated on a panel chaired by Singapore Wolfson alumnus Professor Anthony Teo.

JAne Calrke speaking at Asean conference
It was a pleasure to speak at the ASEAN Emerging Research Conference.

This was a truly remarkable conference with representatives from all the ASEAN countries. We were heartened to see the passion shared by the next generation of researchers and their determination to work together to build a community in the ASEAN region. I was certainly impressed by this wealth of talent.

Sunway generously supported our visit to Malaysia, but there is no such thing as a free lunch! I gave the opening plenary lecture, a public lecture in the Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Speaker Series and an after dinner speech in a 'formal hall', gowns and all (Wolfson in Sunway) attended by the Crown Price of Negeri Sembilan, a Cambridge but, sadly for him, not a Wolfson Graduate.

Tuesday includes another fascinating morning at the conference with discussions of the future of research in the ASEAN region and efforts being made to increase diversity in the research workforce. We were honoured to meet Tan Sri Jeffrey after he delivered a speech to the conference about sustainable development and the importance of education in improving the opportunities for the disadvantaged. We were able to introduce Tan Sri Jeffrey to Wolfson; it is clear that we share the same values and have similar interests and aspirations.

Jane meets Jeffrey Cheah
With Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, the founder of Sunway University.

Singapore, Wednesday 5 - Friday 7 December

If it’s Wednesday it must be Singapore!

It was a great privilege to finally meet Dr Lee Seng Tee. This remarkable man is in his 96th year and he is still head of the Lee Foundation and at work every day. We lunched with Dr Lee, Anthony Teo and Professor James Best, Dean of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nantang Technical University (NTU), which has also benefited from the generosity of the Lee Foundation.

Lee Seng Tee, Anthony Teo and Professor of Wolfson College Cambridge  Jane Clark
Dr Lee Seng Tee (centre) with James Best, Jane Clarke, Sian Cook, Anthony Teo and Kayloe Tjio.

Then we set off for The National University of Singapore (NUS) where I was delighted to be invited by young scientists to give two talks about my scientific work (the folding and misfolding of multidomain proteins) and about my work to support the careers of women in science. Nicola Willey, Regional Director for Science and Innovation at the British High Commission, Singapore, spoke about the importance of this outreach for the international science community.

And, yes, yet more food! We enjoy a lovely meal, overlooking Singapore harbour this time, hosted by Anthony Teo, with guests Professor Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS and Professor Daniella Rhodes FRS, Director of the NTU Institute of Structural Biology and an old Cambridge friend of mine.

Dinner with Daniella Rhodes, Anthony Teo and Professor Tan Eng Chye
Jane Clarke, Daniella Rhodes, Anthony Teo and Professor Tan Eng Chye.

The following morning, we meet with a couple of enthusiastic alumni who have great ideas for how our alumni community can support current and incoming students, and then we head back to NTU to visit the new Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine with its state-of-the art learning facilities. I deliver a scientific lecture, which was gratifyingly well attended and where we are graced by the presence of His Excellency Scott Wightman, The British High Commissioner to Singapore. We finish up with a welcome 'night off', enjoying casual drinks and supper with James Best and Daniella Rhodes.

Jane Clarke of Wolfson College Cambridge giving a lecture at the Lee Kong Chan school of medicine
Jane delivered a lecture at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

Our final day is a time to catch up and reflect on all those members of the extended Wolfson family we've met.  The finale was a wonderful dinner for around 40 local alumni hosted by alumnus Dr Han Chong Toh (Deputy Director, National Cancer Centre, Singapore) in his beautiful Australian-inspired home. Despite a thunderstorm, we had a relaxed, informal and convivial evening. There were current, future and past students, and Honorary Fellow Professor Wang Gungwu plus relatives and friends. What a lovely way to end our trip.

Han Chong Toh and Jane Clarke
Jane with alumnus Dr Han Chong Toh.

Until we meet again

In total we met over 100 alumni, a number of honorary fellows and members, 20 significant non-Wolfson supporters, and 400 students and young researchers in three universities. I gave three speeches, six lectures and talks, and ate more splendid dinners than I can remember.

As we travel home exhausted and happy, we reflect on how welcome we have been made to feel. We have seen the vibrant research culture and respect for education there is in Southeast Asia. Each city has a different alumni profile, reflecting the region’s diversity. We have learned how Wolfson changes lives, and that our network in the region is eminent and influential. We shared our vision for the future and feel confident that our alumni are keen to support us as we move forward.

Thank you, all of you who welcomed us. We look forward to seeing you home in Wolfson soon, and will be back with you next year.