His interest in biotechnology was piqued by shows such as The X-Files and Jurassic Park.
Although biotechnology was not trendy in 1999 when Dr Samuel Gan, then a teenager, enrolled into Temasek Polytechnic (TP), he decided to pursue a diploma in the field.
His advice to students wondering which study path to take?
Pursue your interest and keep from chasing after trends, said the 33-year-old, now a team leader at the Antibody & Product Development Laboratory at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).
He told The New Paper in an interview at his office and laboratory at A*Star: "Trends come and go. By the time you graduate, you might be chasing the tail of the boom.
"Instead, you should go into a field that you are interested in, because you will have the passion to continue, even if the field is dead." He will be speaking to students at the TP Beyond O Levels seminar on Jan 10.
He made history in 2001, when as a final-year student at TP, he became the first student in his course to co-author a research paper published in the International Journal of Biological Chemistry.
He was also the first polytechnic student from Singapore to enrol directly into the second year of a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology Honours course at University College London (UCL) in 2005.
He received his PhD from King's College London in 2009.
Dr Gan said that taking initiative was a key factor to his success.
He said: "Students need to know what they want and go for it. I knew what I wanted and (went out to) get it. I wasn't waiting for people to tell me what to do."
He cited a few examples:
Although he was not among the top in his course during his time at TP, he was determined to land a coveted internship at the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (now part of A*Star). He spoke to his lecturer about this, and managed to secure a place.
He enrolled into UCL because the school allowed him to complete his degree in three years, instead of the usual four.
The school granted his request after he wrote to them asking for advance standing. It refers to the granting of credit to a student for educational experiences or courses undertaken at other institutions.
Dr Gan acknowledged that many students and parents still have concerns about the career prospects for a diploma holder.
He recalled that in his younger days, he came across a scholarship he wanted to apply for but could not, as it did not consider polytechnic graduates. But he noted that times have changed, and polytechnic graduates have many more opportunities these days, especially with the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire).
Dr Gan said he is personally open to hiring people who have gone through the polytechnic route.
"You cannot measure people just based on grades. Polytechnic graduates have the technical and practical skills which are crucial."
This article was first published on Dec 26, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.