Horse racing and jockey clubs aren’t typically what come to mind when you first think of chemistry. But that's not the case for George Chan, who is an operations chemist at The Hong Kong Jockey Club.
“Actually, in Hong Kong, if you are talking about well-known, famous laboratories, the racing laboratory at The Hong Kong Jockey Club must be one of the first that comes to mind,” says George. “After obtaining my PhD in chemistry from the Hong Kong Baptist University in 2011, I found a vacancy opening there. I was very lucky to have successfully applied for the role, as in my PhD I was working on biomolecules more than this type of forensics – and it is very hard to get into forensics related occupations in Hong Kong!”
George has been working at The Hong Kong Jockey Club since 2012, where his day-to-day work involves monitoring and overseeing testing activities of the laboratory, vetting analytical data and investigating and identifying if there are any samples potentially positive to drugs that should not be present in a horse’s mammalian body system.
“It’s very different from what I was working on in my PhD, because doping control is about the detection of small molecules and if there are any illegitimate administrations of drugs or medications to a horse that could affect its performance in a race. We also use a lot of mass spectrometry, chromatography and various analytical chemistry skills and techniques to handle and analyse our samples, which include urine, blood and hair.”
A world-class racing club, The Hong Kong Jockey Club owns an international top tier doping control laboratory in the industry. On top of its extremely high racing turnover and tax contribution of over 20 billion Hong Kong dollars to the city, the racing club is unique in that it performs a lot of charity work in addition to its horse races. It has in fact been recognised as a top 10 global charity donor, and in 2019 donated more than 4.5 billion Hong Kong dollars to different charity groups and projects.
The only authorised racing authority in Hong Kong, George says, “It is a very special company to work at because not every racing authority has its own testing laboratory. Worldwide, there’s not more than 200 professional racing chemists. It really is a very special industry to work in.”
A non-profit, non-government institution that’s not operating a scientific business, the laboratory management team at the jockey club highly recommend their scientists to join a professional body such as the Royal Society of Chemistry as a way to reflect their professionalism.
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“When I started working at the jockey club in 2012, my supervisors also encouraged me to join the RSC. They see it as a way for us to prove our professionalism and get recognition, as well as later becoming chartered chemists or scientists, both of which I was awarded in 2016.
“To achieve my chartership, I joined a personal development programme (PDP), which was two years of mentoring led by my supervisor. The PDP programme looks at which attributes for chartership you already have, and which you need to work on developing. It helps you to identify areas you need to improve, such as occupational health and safety issues or enhancing your laboratory’s efficiency. I found it really helped in my personal development, and of course, helping me to complete the portfolio.”
George’s first contact with the RSC was at university, where he used to attend events organised by the Hong Kong local section aimed at undergraduate students. “When I was in my second year at university, I attended the RSC’s Chemistry Olympiad as a speaker, representing my university. We were given our presentation topic the day before the competition, so you had to use all your research, understanding of chemistry and figure out new information very quickly.
“In year three, I went again as a support to my successors. It was a very useful and special experience, and it actually helped a lot in my decision to do a postgraduate degree.”
Though George now finds that there aren’t as many RSC events tailored for his industry as much as common chemistry fields, he still acknowledges the RSC as very supportive.
“The Hong Kong Jockey Club is going to host the 23rd International Conference of Racing Analysts and Veterinarians in 2021. Held biennially, the conference provides an important platform for racing analysts and veterinarians to gather and share knowledge.
“Knowing that the RSC has had a lot of experience in holding chemistry conferences in the past, our team approached the RSC for advice. They have been very helpful in giving us suggestions and ideas, and have been very generous in offering to financially sponsor our conference too.”
George has one final message for those thinking about joining the RSC’s community. “Attaining a membership is a great way to prove your ability as a chemist, especially for those who want to acquire a certain level of qualification in addition to a degree, or for those working in industry. The chartership can help to showcase your professionalism to an employer and it helps how the international community see your profile.
“In addition, the Royal Society of Chemistry provides you with a network so you can meet others in the chemistry community, no matter if you’re working in industry or academia. This can help you to explore yourself or other opportunities in chemistry, helping you realise the possibilities of what you can do.”