HAILING from a humble background, Mr Tony Quek Quee Seng, 35, knew that his father, a former taxi-driver, and housewife mother could not fund his university education.

In 1993, the former River Valley High and National Junior College student received a Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship to study electrical engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

In 2000, he returned with a master's degree in electrical engineering to serve out the remaining years of his bond and complete his national service.

Mr Quek, who had a passion for research, got an opportunity to transfer the remaining years of his bond to the Centre for Wireless Communications (CWC), a research centre affiliated to the National University of Singapore (NUS).

It is now the Institute for Infocomm Research or IR, and is part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) family.

Few scholarships to pursue PhD studies were offered by local universities then. In 2001, A*Star announced plans to support PhD studies and policies focusing on R&D (research and development) to support Singapore's knowledge-based economy.

Fuelled by his desire for a career in R&D, Mr Quek promptly applied and was awarded the A*Star National Science Scholarship (PhD) in 2002 to study Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It has a four-year bond which he is currently serving at the IR.

Says Mr Quek: "I was impressed by the wide spectrum of research and career opportunities that A*Star offered returning scholars."

He believes that A*Star provides students with the best environment to achieve their goals to be world-class research scientists while gaining exposure and experience with a diverse research community.

As a returning scholar, A*Star offered him an opportunity to embark on a research career along with opportunities to upgrade his technical and management skills. In particular, he enjoys the flexibility which allows researchers to work across disciplines in various projects.

Officially his day begins at 8.30am, but some days he starts as early as 7am. He does research till 10am and attends project meetings followed by presentations and updates and technical discussions with fellow researchers and his peers. He also supervises students on research attachments.

He leaves work at 6pm but his work doesn't end there. At 9pm, when his kids are in bed, he logs on to read his e-mails.

Mr Quek works hard but believes in having a balanced life. He makes the time to pursue his interest in sports, jogging regularly to keep mentally and physically fit.

He also values his family life. He met his wife Sandy, a Taiwanese business administration graduate, in Japan, and they have two children, Joseph, four, and Esther, two.

To those who want to follow in his footsteps, he says: "Have a passion for science, the ability to endure and stay focused. More importantly, you should be socially responsible by mentoring the younger generation."

His desire to pass on his knowledge and experience fits in with his belief that "one continues to learn throughout one's life and the best way to learn is through interaction with others".

Asked if he feels pressured to excel because he is a scholar, Mr Quek replies: "As a scholar, there is always pressure. The right thing to do is to evaluate yourself periodically. The trick is to work with your peers and collaborate rather than compete."

He wants to establish himself as a world-class research scientist in his field and to serve as a role model and mentor to the younger generation.

He hopes to share his knowledge with his fellow research scientists and to learn from them as well. He says: "Regardless of how small or large my contributions are, I want to share them with the next generation of research scientists, and help to bring Singapore's R&D expertise to the next level."