Of Science and Success

Engage yourself in the innovative field of science and engineering, where each day promises a fresh experience and new opportunities.

By Yvette Tan

Walk through the glass doors at the research labs of Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and you find yourself transported into another world dominated by the latest in cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art equipment. However, glitzy machines are not all that A*STAR has to offer; rather, it is their people who are at the heart of what the organisation does.

Meet Dr Karthik Kumar and Ng Hui Jin, two recipients of the National Science Scholarship under A*STAR. Though from different backgrounds and research areas, they share the same unbridled passion for scientific research as a lifelong career.

Sparks of Passion
Even the greatest of men have humble beginnings. This is especially true of Dr Karthik, 33, now a scientist at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, whose interest in science was developed as a young child playing with scrap metal and machines at his father’s engineering company.

Dr Karthik: “I was fascinated by the gigantic machines and equipment that my father would show me each time I visited his office. From the age of six, I started dabbling in my own home projects from any scrap material I could find. That was how I got hooked onto engineering – and the rest is history!”

A Natural Progression
Despite his strong background in engineering, Dr Karthik chose instead to venture into the depths of material science and pursue a career in scientific research.

Dr Karthik: “I stumbled upon scientific research during my studies in Munich. At that time, I was offered the chance to work in a chemistry lab and I found that what I was doing there was not only interesting but also highly fulfilling. That experience spurred me on to pursue my PhD in material science. Contrary to what people assume, it was an easy and natural career transition because engineering comprises a large part of material science.”

I think that’s really one of the best things about A*STAR – it allows you the freedom to diversify into the fields you’re passionate about and offers a wide range of career paths. Here, you’re not restricted to studying pure chemistry, physics or biology, but instead given the opportunity to pursue what you’re interested in, then translate that knowledge and apply it into the field of science.”

The Road Ahead
It was this flexibility of A*STAR that allowed Dr Karthik to further his education in Zurich, where he graduated with a PhD in Biointerfaces from the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Since his return to Singapore, he has been working on his latest project: creating nano-sized particles that possess the ability to project certain colours of light. He credits the success of his project to A*STAR and the innovative, dynamic team of people who have worked with him thus far.

Dr Karthik: “The satisfaction gained when you see your hard work come into fruition is truly unparalleled. Research is a difficult and tedious process, but A*STAR provides extensive support and resources to guide you every step of the way. It gives you the opportunity to extend your research into the field, backed by an education of your choice and ample guidance along the way.”

New Experiences
23-year-old Ng Hui Jin is another prime example of an aspiring scholar who has benefitted from the abundant opportunities that A*STAR has to offer.

Having graduated from Imperial College London with a degree in biology, Hui Jin is currently serving her one-year research attachment at the Singapore Immunology Network before she leaves for Oxford University to pursue her PhD in diabetes research.

Hui Jin: “In secondary school, I felt inspired by my science teacher to take up biology. Since then, I’ve embarked on a life-long learning experience to find out all there is to know and learn about biology. I chose A*STAR because it was the best scholarship which gave me the most flexibility to pursue degrees in science, not to mention the chance to experience studying and living overseas!”

A Social Activity
Though many seem to think of science as a ‘dry’ and tedious field of work, Hui Jin begs to differ and relates how science is as much a social activity as anything else.

Hui Jin: “The common assumption is that when you do science research, you’ll be stuck in a laboratory all day long conducting your own experiments. However, once you’ve experienced a research attachment you’ll soon realise it isn’t quite as straightforward as that. You are constantly sharing information and engaging in discussions with your fellow colleagues, professors, supervisors, and researchers in various research institutes, so the entire process is challenging and a lot more interactive than most people think.”

Creating your Future
The various A*STAR scholarships provide opportunities for aspiring scholars to receive world-class education at some of the finest local and overseas universities and to learn in a stimulating and nurturing environment from some of the best scientific minds.

With the numerous benefits and opportunities that A*STAR has to offer, scholars can rest assured that their future is in good hands.

Hui Jin: “I would without hesitation recommend the A*STAR Scholarships to anyone with a passion for and dedication to science. The scholarships are relevant not only for research; there are also opportunities available in industry, academia, and even fellowships with globally-renowned universities!

Although it can be difficult at a young age to foresee what you wish to do in future, as long as you possess a keen enthusiasm for science and a desire to contribute to the growing R&D community, an A*STAR Scholarship is the right choice for you.”

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