|The First Sparks of Motivation to pursue research in Singapore ..|
For my industrial attachment in the third undergraduate year, I spent it with Data Storage Institute, a Research Institute of Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Besides gaining substantial knowledge, I saw first hand Singapore’s dedication to research and manpower development from the good equipment and researchers that we have.
The interdisciplinary nature of modern science requires collaboration among researchers from many different fields. With Biopolis operational and Fusionopolis in the works, it’s easy to do research that crosses the traditional boundaries of science. These are truly exciting times for scientific research in Singapore, and I want to be part of it! These are also why I chose to stay in Singapore, despite how useful having some overseas experience is. Besides, the problems that a PhD researcher encounters in Singapore will be the same anywhere.
My final year project on a facet of nanotechnology was also a collaborative project between NUS and A*STAR, and that won me the 2nd prize in 2005’s Young Inventors Awards. Besides financial reward, I received an all-expenses paid trip to HP Labs in California. The credit should really go to my supervisors for guiding me along, and I think that’s another testament to the quality of research done here – that a small undergraduate project like mine can compete with outstanding projects from all over Asia. That further strengthened my motivation to pursue research for my career upon graduation.
About A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (AGS)
A big pull factor for me for the AGS was the opportunity to do 2 years of post-doctoral studies overseas. This would give me the much needed exposure and additional research experience. Post-doc positions in the U.S. are very competitive, and it would be easier to get into a good research lab with A* funding. I also decided at that time that an overseas post-doc would be more useful than doing my PhD overseas.
A*STAR maintains a very strong interest in our education and growth. Recently, we were even sent to an inter-disciplinary meeting of Nobel Laureates in Germany. This is an annual conference where hundreds of graduate students from all over the world interact and discuss issues with Nobel Laureates in an informal setting. This year, there were 45 Laureates and over 700 students at the meeting. It was very inspiring because the Laureates are very human, and very passionate about their work. I learnt that we all have potential to do good research, as long as we’re not afraid to ask questions. The difficult part is finding the right questions to ask!
Some Personal Notes ..
I’m an engineer, so I like to make things. Not just anything, but new technology that changes the world for the better, something people have never seen or thought of. I’m not going to tell you that a researcher’s life is easy. We have to constantly struggle against nature to reveal its secrets to us, and to make it conform to our control. But the reward of knowing that you can make a difference in the world and in the lives of other human beings makes it all worthwhile. Of course, science and research are not all work and no play! We get to present our work at overseas conferences, and it’s sort of like a short holiday as a reward for the hard work in the lab.
On some level, I also see it as my national responsibility. There are really too few Singaporean graduate students and PhD holders! I believe that if there’re enough of us, we can really make a difference, and show the world that our PhD programmes are on par with those from universities like Cambridge or MIT.
Of course, the heart warming familial environment that A*STAR and NGS provide is a big plus. We even receive Christmas presents and birthday cards from the NGS staff, something that was unexpected and very heart-warming. I really can’t thank Prof. Halliwell and the NGS staff enough.
As a Sign-off ..
If you’re a final year student, I have been in the same position as you are in now, asking questions like what to do with your life and abilities, where your true passions and interests etc. I feel that taking up internships in research labs, being proactive and getting involved in challenging projects that interest you can help you to decide if a career in research is really for you. Last, but least, this is a caveat that a PhD life is far from a piece of cake. However, dedication and perseverance driven by passion, hunger and motivation for new realms of scientific discoveries can potentially carry you through.