For the average National Serviceman, school and textbooks are the last things on his mind as he battles field camps and dirty boots. For Joel Tan however, school and textbooks are a weekly concern as he juggles his NS duties as well as his studies.
Three times a week, the 19-year-old makes his way to the UniCampus of the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), after his NS duties end at 5pm. Currently pursuing a full-time degree in Pharmaceutical Management, he attends classes from 7pm in the evening to 10pm at night before his long day comes to an end. Tiring as it may seem, Joel feels that it is a productive way of spending his time.
“I basically have a nine-to-five job, Monday to Friday. That leaves me with quite a bit of free time after I finish my duties, so I figured I might as well spend it constructively by studying,” he says.
After attending a talk held by the MDIS School of Life Sciences, Joel decided that joining MDIS would be a good decision as it was linked to Bradford University of the UK — a university Joel plans to enrol in after finishing his National Service.
A determined young man, Joel even has plans to change his course of direction slightly should his academic results permit him to. “I wasn’t able to get into the Biomedical Science course straightaway, so I took up Pharmaceutical Management,” says Joel. He believes that the management programme at MDIS will equip him with business knowledge that will still come in useful in the future.
Joel was at first concerned about whether he could cope with the course syllabus, as he is still bound by his army duties and understood the necessity of balancing his work and studies. “Since I’m in the army for half the day, I don’t really have much time to study. But the schedule fits in nicely so that helped me make up my mind,” says Joel.
When asked if he feels stretched for time balancing so many things on his plate, Joel acknowledges that “it does eat up a large part of your social life. But sometimes some sacrifice is necessary in order to progress. And it’s really not that bad, you just have to learn how to manage your time well,” he says.
The hard work is worth it in the long run, as it would give him an edge over his peers. “When I look at it, two years after I finish army, I will be a graduate, and my friends will only be in their first or second year, so I will have that head start. And since I intend to go over to Bradford after my army to finish the degree, and then further my studies, maybe get my Masters and even my PhD, any head start is good for me,” says Joel.
The learning experience
With his parents supporting his choice, Joel began his education at MDIS, and found the learning experience to be no different from what students go through at any local university. The structure of the course consists of lectures and tutorials, and he feels that his course-mates come from a good mix of academic backgrounds and working experience. “Many of them are actually already working in the pharmaceutical industry so they do have that experience and industry knowledge,” says Joel.
All-in-all, it’s very much like going back to school again. “I get to see my friends for three hours each time at a go, three times a week, that’s not very different from other university students right?” says Joel with a smile.
Perhaps the only thing Joel really notices the difference in is the absence of being actively involved in Co-Curricular Activities. However, Joel still feels that joining MDIS is a good decision, especially for people who want to pursue other interests outside of school. “Look at it this way. You only have lessons nine hours a week. You can still do a lot of things outside, you can have a job, you can do a lot of things you can’t do in a normal university,” he says.
“All it takes is some balancing on your part to manage the various aspects of your life. What you gain is far more enriching and fulfilling, and that’s very satisfying.”