Cultivating Singapore’s Novel Foods Future

Meet Francesca Ong, a Singapore Sustainability Scholar at the forefront of cultivated meat research—an emerging novel food with the potential to revolutionise Singapore’s food sources and enhance food security. As she navigates the final year of her biomedical engineering master’s programme, Francesca is focused on shaping Singapore’s regulatory approach to novel foods, particularly in the lab-grown meat field. Explore Francesca’s scholarship journey, where commitment meets sustainability, with the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the nation’s lead agency for food-related matters.

Alignment with Purpose

My research on cultivated meat perfectly aligns with SFA’s mission of ensuring a sustainable and safe food supply. Eager to contribute towards building a sustainable food system in Singapore, applying for the SFA scholarship was a natural and enthusiastic step in furthering my commitment to this cause.

Receiving this scholarship has boosted my confidence and instilled a sense of pride. It has also deepened my sense of accountability and fuelled my motivation to strive for consistent excellence. Additionally, the financial support from the scholarship allows me to focus on my studies and research without the burden of financial stress.

Sustainability Immersion

One of my most memorable experiences with the Singapore Sustainability Scholarship programme was the team-building day with fellow scholars, where we visited Sustainability @ Tampines Park, Singapore’s largest community-based circular ecosystem for sustainable food waste management and production.

The visit not only highlighted the significance of our future work in contributing to sustainability in Singapore but also provided me with the opportunity to bond with other scholars. Engaging in unique hands-on activities such as feeding food waste to black soldier fly larvae and wading knee-deep in the pond to plant aquatic vegetation offered a truly enriching experience.

Challenges of Research in an Emerging Field

Writing my master’s thesis has since been one of my biggest challenges on this journey. As I am working on cultivated meat, the relative infancy of the field itself means that there is limited existing research to serve as the foundation of my project. Navigating uncertainties became a recurring theme in my research journey.

Despite the obstacles, this process served as a catalyst for significant personal and intellectual growth. I honed adaptability and critical thinking skills as I refined my approach and methodologies when faced with unexpected challenges. This whole experience of tackling the complexities of research in an emerging field has strengthened my overall academic abilities, problem-solving skills, and resilience.

A Pleasant Surprise

When I received the scholarship, we were emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. I had not expected an in-person scholarship award ceremony. Hence, when it did happen, I was delightfully surprised. This unexpected event also provided the opportunity to network with scholars from other statutory boards under the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) family.

Inroads to a Career in Regulating Novel Foods

I aspire to shape the regulatory approval infrastructure for novel foods, particularly in the dynamic field of cultivated meat, contributing to the establishment of ethical, sustainable, and efficient regulatory frameworks in Singapore. The scholarship is instrumental in achieving these goals since it provides a future work opportunity in SFA, the regulatory body overseeing novel foods in Singapore.

Advice for Future SFA Scholars

I would advise aspiring SFA scholars to reflect on how their goals align with SFA’s mission and consider how they can contribute to the organisation. Given the dynamic nature of SFA’s work, scholars must possess crucial traits such as adaptability, interdisciplinary skills, and problem-solving abilities. So, start honing them now!

Closing with an Inspirational Quote

The “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” quote has been my constant source of inspiration. It serves as a reminder to maintain optimism while mentally preparing for unforeseen circumstances—so that when challenges arise, I can focus on quick, strategic solutions instead of succumbing to panic. May this forward-thinking quote also stand as your mantra and empower you in every endeavour.

Singapore Sustainability Scholarship (SFA)
Master of Engineering, Dept of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore
From: Jurong Junior College