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A Day in the Life of: Kaixi Zhang, Senior Postdoctoral Associate at SMART AMR

Meet Kaixi Zhang, a Senior Postdoctoral Associate at the Antimicrobial Resistance Interdisciplinary Research Group (AMR IRG) in SMART. With an unwavering passion for advancing the management and treatment of infectious diseases caused by microbial pathogens, Kaixi dedicates herself to research and her work. She finds fulfilment in her commitment to making a meaningful difference in the lives of those who are affected and making an impact on improving public health.


Read on to learn more about what goes on in a day in the life of Kaixi, her advice for young scientists in similar fields, and other passions that keep her up outside of work.


How do you typically start your day before work?


In the morning, I begin my day with a refreshing shower to wake myself up. I enjoy a simple breakfast with my family over some casual chit-chats and finish up with a cup of coffee!


What’s the first order of business when you get to SMART? A coffee or quick snack perhaps, or straight to the office/lab?


The first thing I do when I arrive at SMART is grab a cup of water to keep myself hydrated in the morning. It helps me stay focused and energised as I start my day.


Take us through your workday at SMART. How much of your day is spent in your office vs. the lab?


A typical day for me is 60% of the time in the lab, and 40% in the office. When I need to focus on writing tasks, I dedicate over 90% of my time in the office, so that my thoughts flow seamlessly without distractions.


On any given day, what does your work in the office and lab involve?


In the office, my work primarily involves conducting literature searches to stay updated on the latest advances in my field and understanding the current trends in the scientific community. I also spend my time compiling and analysing the data generated from my experiments. If any unexpected issues arise in my experiments, I troubleshoot by referring to relevant published protocols and papers. Last but not least, I also enjoy engaging in casual conversations with my friendly colleagues!


In the lab, most of my time is dedicated to conducting experiments. My project focuses on formulating new antibiotics into nanoparticles and testing their efficacy against bacteria. This work involves both chemistry and biology, so I can be working in the fume hood one day, and the biosafety cabinet the other day!


As a layperson, we often see scientists depicted in popular media having their ‘aha’ moments where they work on incredible technologies that change the world. Have you ever had an “aha” moment? If so, can you briefly describe where you were and what did you discover?


Yes, definitely. The “aha” moments are undoubtedly the most exciting moments in my research life. The first “aha” moment was during the 3rd year of my PhD studies at NTU, when I was developing a new therapy for biofilm-related bacterial infection. Biofilm infections are difficult to treat, as most of the antibiotics do not work well, and patients urgently need a better solution. For the first time, I managed to prove that my compound not only killed the bacteria but also dispersed the biofilm matrix (home of the bacteria). This breakthrough not only eliminated the current infection, but also prevented the bacteria from returning and re-establishing the infection. That 'aha' moment has certainly made all the hard work worthwhile, and continues to inspire me in my current role at SMART AMR.


Research can be unpredictable, with setbacks and challenges along the way. How do you handle obstacles or unexpected issues that arise during your workday?


Research is not an easy task; it’s like a rollercoaster ride with ups and (lots of) downs. The lesson that I learned over the years is to handle the “downs” and accept inevitable setbacks as part of the process. It is okay if things don’t work out as I expected; what matters most is understanding why it happened, finding ways to solve or improve it, and moving forward. “I never lose. I either win or learn” — this mindset keeps me resilient and motivated, especially when facing obstacles.


What advice do you have for young scientists beginning their careers to navigate their own "day in the life" of a researcher?


Have a positive mindset and never lose sight of the initial spark that inspired you to pursue research. Remember why you chose this path in the first place.


Where/what is your go-to lunch option during the workdays?


My most frequent go-to option is usually the mixed rice from the canteen downstairs. I like to opt for brown rice.


What are your weekends usually like? How do you spend your time outside of work?


On weekends, one day is dedicated to hiking with my family as my husband and I love exploring nature. Sungei Buloh is one of our favourite spots, where we enjoy watching the funny faces of mudskippers through our binoculars!


How do you strike a balance between work, family/friends/close ones, and me-time?


Almost every day after dinner, my husband and I will take a 1-hour walk, where we talk about many random topics about our day: interesting encounters, work challenges, and global news, etc. I cherish the quality time, where we purely focus on each other without the distraction of our smartphones. I also get together with my friends every one to two weeks to catch up with life.


Every Sunday morning is the me-time when my husband is away for his trumpet class and I’m alone at home. These quiet moments recharge me, allowing me to reflect and relax. The quality time allows me to feel fully energised and focused during workdays. So, in terms of work-life balance, so far so good!


If you had an extra hour in your day, what would you spend it doing?


I find psychology very interesting and I read about it for 5 to 10 minutes every day, just for fun. If I had an extra hour, I would schedule that to learn psychology in a more systematic way.


What excites you the most about your work?


The opportunity to provide better solutions for patients suffering from bacterial infectious diseases excites me, from the beginning of my research till today. As my understanding in this field grows, the deeper my empathy grows for those affected, which intensifies my desire to make a meaningful contribution. Developing new antibiotic therapy is a hard business, but I find it worthwhile due to its significance and impact.


What's a personal mantra or guiding principle that you hold dear when navigating the complex world of antimicrobial resistance research and leadership?


“To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.” This mantra serves as a constant reminder that all my efforts in combating AMR are ultimately aimed at helping people in need. When I work on developing new therapeutics, I always ask myself: do you really think this therapy would improve the lives of the patients? Is this what the patients so desperately need?


If you’re not working as a researcher or in this field, what would you be doing?


I would probably be a teacher. I enjoy sharing knowledge and feel fulfilled by being able to educate, inspire and empower students.


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