15 October 2020

ACV32: [Masterclass] Building Your Research Portfolio (Prof Francis Seow Choen, Colorectal Surgeon and Entomologist, Part 2)

Dr Francis Seow Choen graduated with his MBBS in 1981, despite listing medicine as the fourth choice for admission. He obtained his FRCS in 1987 as an orthopaedic trainee, and thereafter immediately switched to general surgery, thinking that general surgery was a wider field than bones alone.  He was one of the first two in the new Department of Colorectal Surgery, SGH when it started in 1989. He thought it easier to become someone big in a “small, new” specialty, rather than be a minion in a “huge, old” specialty.  He became head of department in 1994.  When he left for private practice in 2003, he had led the department to international recognition; with trainees from all over the world, and with a large numbers of research papers and regular international invitations to teach surgery; earning him the Excellence for Singapore Award 2000.  Throughout this time, he continued his intense interest in entomology, having to date written nine books on stick insects and describing more than 200 new species. He was also chairmen of the boards of two charities, a school for displaced students and the founding chairman of Guide Dogs of the Blind, Singapore.  He has been a member of the board of his church since the 1980’s.

I talk to Prof Francis about why we should do research, how to build a world class body of research work and how to go to attain the highest levels and become an internationally recognised expert.


  1. Building a body of work: A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Take the time to start writing your research papers and be keen to keep improving.If you get to a point where you feel stuck, never shy away from consulting your mentor.
  2. You can never become an expert by just sitting down and doing nothing regardless of how educated you are. You need to go out there and exercise your knowledge. You also need to get yourself into writing research papers that will earn your name recognition out there. You need to be an authority in your field. Get published as many times as you possibly can. Also, you have to be on a mission to show yourself to the right people.
  3. Mentors play a significant role in our lives. They hold our hands and take us to incredible places that we never thought we could reach. Finding a mentor should not be a difficult task as long as you have the right attitude, a spirit of humility and a hungry spirit that is ready to learn. Most mentors are kind-hearted, and they are always open to giving people a learning opportunity. How you request for mentorship determines if you’ll get the chance.


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