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Every case is a puzzle waiting to be solved

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Though his internship at HSA's Illicit Drugs Laboratory (IDL) was not Justin’s first choice during his university days, working for a short stint here changed the way he viewed laboratory work. Describing the experience as eye-opening, he found his colleagues to be warm and passionate about the work they did, quite unlike the ‘cold’ environment he had associated with laboratories.

The work and purpose of IDL strongly resonated with Justin, and upon graduation, he joined Singapore’s war against drugs. As they say, the rest is history and Justin has been with HSA for almost seven years now.

1. Tell us about your work at IDL.

The Illicit Drugs Laboratory analyses drug seizures to support the Central Narcotics Bureau in the administration of justice. My work never gets routine as there is always something new and something we have never seen before. Every time we get a novel or unusual exhibit, we need to think of ways to identify the new drugs and establish a procedure. Every day is different. 

2. What was your first impression of this job? 

When I started to work on my first case, I realised how heavy the responsibility each one of us has and how important our work is. The results of the tests we do have an impact on law enforcement. What struck me was also how strict the quality assurance procedures are due to the serious nature of our work, to ensure that the results can stand up to scrutiny in court. At the beginning, it was definitely a steep learning curve. But it was evident from the start, that everyone here loves the work that they do, and it is not just the daily grind for them. 

3. I can tell that you really enjoy your work here. What keeps you motivated?

I am the only child in my family so I have always had to find ways to keep myself entertained. Since young, I love to read, especially puzzle books and mysteries. Working here has helped fuel and satisfy my love for puzzles and mysteries. Every time we receive an unusual exhibit, it is a puzzle waiting to be solved. We have to investigate what it is and not many jobs allow you to do that. It has been really stimulating for me since I started work in the laboratory.

For some time, I also had the role of being in charge of IT matters in the lab. Every time there was an issue related to IT, it didn’t strike me as a pain, but another puzzle and challenge, and it set me thinking ‘how would I solve this?’

4. Can you tell me about one of the memorable cases you’ve worked on? 

I was part of the team involved in a high profile urgent case some years ago. I remembered that the entire month had gone by smoothly and suddenly on the last Sunday of the month, I received a phone call asking me to return to the laboratory as soon as possible. A team of officers was called back to the lab and together we completed the analysis of the exhibits efficiently in the shortest amount of time. I was extremely proud to have been part of the team which persevered in the face of challenges to complete the analysis in a short frame of time.

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Another day, another mystery to solve - Justin preparing to test a batch of samples on the GC-IRD.

Being part of the team figuring out the workflow for such substances and setting the standards for future testing always brings me great job satisfaction. 
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5. What are some of your proudest achievements on this job?

One of the advanced instruments we have at the lab is the GC-IRD (Gas Chromatography – Infrared Detection). As one of the officers in charge of the GC-IRD, we had to go through an intensive training programme on operating and troubleshooting the instrument. I was very proud to be part of the pioneer team as we were the first in Asia to use this instrument for identification of rapidly evolving novel illicit substances. Seeing how it made a difference in improving the analysis workflow and enhancing our lab’s capabilities has been very fulfilling.

Every time we encounter a novel drug or unusual exhibit is an achievement when we are able to use the GC-IRD as one of the instruments for the identification of these novel and unusual exhibits. Given that it was the first time we encountered such substances, we had to figure out how to analyse them and the confirmatory tests that needed to be done. Being part of the team figuring out the workflow for such substances and setting the standards for future testing always brings me great job satisfaction.

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