If you are looking for tips on launching a career as a scientist in Singapore, find out from two A*STAR scholars who have made the plunge without regrets and are brimming with great ideas for the future.
By Hazwan Aziz
Mr Liu Yun is an alumnus of Johns Hopkins University, attaining a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a second major in Computer Science, and a minor in Applied Mathematics and Statistics.
His counterpart, Ms Lee Yin Jin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) with a degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering.
Both Liu Yun and Yin Jin are recipients of one of the most prestigious and highly sought-after science undergraduate scholarships in Singapore, the National Science Scholarship (NSS) under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
Having gone through multiple rounds of assessment including a
psychometric test and a final interview with the chairman of A*STAR, they emerged as the cream of the crop and deservedly received the scholarship.
However, the NSS (BS) scholarship is not the only thing they have in common. They also share a great love for science and this passion is what really spurs them on.
“I've always wanted to be a scientist,” Liu Yun says.
“Imagine that you are an explorer, trekking through the Amazon rainforest. The area is not well studied and you don't know what kind of wonders lie beneath the moist humus. Some might only feel the oppressive humidity pouring down their throats, but I see endless possibilities,” he adds.
“Every step might bring you face-to-face with a flower which will have a cure for cancer or a creature which holds the key to delay ageing. In science, not every input of effort will pay off, but the benefits can improve life beyond imagination.”
The NSS has helped him take one step closer to taking that figurative trek through the Amazon rainforest in the name of science.
This much sought-after scholarship provides full funding for up to eight years of undergraduate and postgraduate studies with only a six-year bond.
Working with the best
The NSS offers much more in addition to financial support. There is also the prospect of working with other scientists and researchers in the vast A*STAR network.
With access to over 20 research institutes and consortia laboratories in Singapore, scholars have the pick of the crop to choose from.
A*STAR’s mission orientation and close linkages with companies and research hospitals presents a unique environment where young talents gain exposure to impactful and meaningful research. The spirit of collaboration fostered amongst research institutes also makes it a conducive environment for exploring cross-disciplinary research.
Liu Yun adds, “In addition, many leading scientists from around the world are working in, collaborating with or visiting A*STAR research institutes regularly. This provides numerous networking opportunities for researchers here.”
Driven by Passion
Yin Jin is also grateful to the NSS (BS) for giving her the opportunity to go through the Chemical and Biological Engineering programme in University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the top universities in this field.
It was a dream come true for the budding environmentalist who has liked nature from a young age.
“I knew I wanted to do something that would alleviate mankind’s effects on the planet. Given the pressing climate change and energy security issues globally and locally, I am now more motivated than ever to devote my research to environmental engineering,” the scholar reveals.
“This gives meaning to my life, knowing that I am contributing to a greater endeavour.”
With Singapore moving towards greater sustainability in terms of energy and waste management, A*STAR has already begun forming energy-focused research groups.
The Experimental Power Grid Centre is one of the main projects that the organisation has initiated, which focuses on energy efficiency through a Smart Grid system.
“I really wish to be a part of this movement and to maintain Singapore’s position as a pioneer in sustainable development,” Yin Jin says.
Thriving on pressure
However, life as an A*STAR scholar is not always easy. There is always that added pressure of expectation that all scholarship holders have.
“In the first year of my undergraduate studies, I was trying very hard to do as well as my fellow scholars in Wisconsin. They were a bunch of overachievers and made me push myself very hard to achieve perfect grades to be their equal. It was rewarding to find out that I could reach my aim as long as I worked hard,” Yin Jin recounts.
When the going gets really tough, A*STAR scholars can be rest assured that they have people that they can turn to and count on for support.
One of these avenues is the A*STAR Scholars Network and a strong community of scholars who can share experiences and provide advice and support as peers and seniors.
The A*STAR senior leadership and scholarship officers also meet and connect with scholars overseas and in Singapore to update scholars and provide advice, counsel and assistance where needed.
The vast majority of scholars navigate the bumps and find the journey through their undergraduate and postgraduate studies enriching to their academic, scientific and personal development.
The road ahead for both Yin Jin and Liu Yun is laden with potential as A*Star scholars progress to top postgraduate programmes and have many opportunities and choices in pursuing a career track where they can best realise their potential and contribute to Singapore.
After gaining a solid research experience at A*STAR, scholars can develop their careers along multiple paths, such as corporate research in a multinational company or local enterprise, research and commercialisation in start-ups and technology ventures, adjunct professorship in a local university, research in an A*STAR institute, or R&D policy and administration in A*Star.
A decision for life
For those who are interested in an A*STAR scholarship, Liu Yun has some advice.
“Understand that you are choosing a career, not a mere source of funding. Think about whether you want to do research. If you are passionate about contributing to science, the bond doesn't matter and any benefits just make the package even better.”
Yin Jin agrees with Liu Yun, pressing the point that the A*STAR scholarship offers the most flexibility and career mobility with scholars always on the cutting edge of development.
“Moreover, with the government’s commitment to research, you can be quite assured that a vibrant and well-supported research environment will be in place when you return,” she ends with a smile.