Singapore Sustainability Scholar Jolyn Tan reveals sound advice to make the most out of a scholarship.
Why Did You Choose the Scholarship?
I participated in the National Environment and Water (NEW) Internship in Jan 2015, after completion of my A-Level Examinations. During that internship, I was attached to the Catchment and Waterways Department, in particular, the division that manages the Active, Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters Programme. This internship gave me the chance to learn more about the work PUB does and gain a deeper appreciation for Singapore’s water loop. The complexity of our water system, along with its dependency on climate change, made me realize how dynamic this sector was, and the many engineering challenges that would arise in the near future in the water scene. Ensuring Singapore’s water sustainability is a noble task, and I believed that this was the purpose and meaning I wanted in my career as an engineer. So I took a chance and applied for the NEW Scholarship upon completion of the NEW Internship, and have not looked back since.
Would You Advise Others To Take up a Scholarship?
A scholarship definitely provides many benefits, such as job security upon graduation as well as financial support. The internships I took part in during my undergrad days have also aided me in making a more informed decision when opting for which department to join after graduation. I would definitely encourage everyone who is passionate and keen to try applying and not be daunted by the application process. Ask questions as well during the selection interviews, as it can help affirm one’s decision to take up a scholarship with that particular company, or otherwise.
However, I would not advise everyone to take up a scholarship. As I have seen from my peers in university, there are some who are still exploring where their passions lie, and university is a great time to venture into many different things to find out more. Everyone has a unique path to take, there is no one path for all. At the same time, one should not take up a scholarship simply for the prestige or monetary value.
What Made You Decide To Choose Your Course in Your University?
I have always been interested in physics and mathematics, so the engineering path was quite clear. I chose Mechanical Engineering in particular due to its generality, because I felt other engineering courses had too specific a focus for my preference.
I chose to study at the National University of Singapore (NUS) as I was offered a place in the University Scholar’s Programme (USP), an undergraduate academic programme. I was drawn to the programme’s multidisciplinary curriculum, along with a focus on developing critical thinking and writing skills. Indeed, being in the USP made me explore beyond the math and science which I was very comfortable with. Instead, for instance, I learned math in the context of philosophy, as well as how linguistics and culture are related.
What Do You Think Set You Apart From the Rest of the Candidates Applying for a Scholarship?
I think that the NEW internship allowed the organisation to get to know me better (through the assessment of my supervisors), which would have given me an advantage over applicants who went through the usual selection rounds. In the same vein, the 6 weeks also gave me a deeper understanding of PUB’s operations, which would have aided in my responses during the selection interview.
Nonetheless, I think that it is not so much about “standing out”, but rather being a good fit for the company. Being genuine and sincere helps the organisation assess accurately the fit between the applicant and the organisation, which will benefit both parties in the long term. Be clear about what your strengths are, how you can contribute to the organisation, then let the organisation decide if that is what they require.
How Are You Enjoying Your Time at the Company?
My time at the Joint Operations Department so far has been very fulfilling and enjoyable. The past 6 months have been a steep learning curve, but I am glad that I get to work with what first piqued the interest of my 19-year-old self – the entire water system. As the Joint Operations Manager at the Joint Operations Centre (JOC), my role is to optimise and oversee cross-cutting operations at a system level. Along with my colleagues from the other operation cells in the JOC, I manage and oversee all water-related issues in Singapore – from pipe leaks and floods to sewer chokes, as well as planning for water supply. Dealing with operations also means that work is dynamic and fast-paced, so the work every day is different. The complexity of our water system also means that there is always more to learn, keeping me constantly engaged at work. I am very thankful that my colleagues have been very patient in answering my questions, sharing their wealth of experience with me.
What Are the Most Challenging Responsibilities You Have and How Do You Cope With Them?
Undoubtedly, the most challenging responsibility of my job is ensuring that Singapore will always have good water to drink and use 24/7, 365 days a year. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure used water is properly reclaimed and that stormwater does not cause any flooding. This translates into always thinking of how any operations or incidents can have an impact on the water system, both upstream and downstream. The reservoirs, waterworks, service reservoirs, sewers are all intricately linked to each other in our water loop. The work we do here at PUB ensures that our system resilience is constantly examined and improved by rethinking work processes. Of course, any sudden changes to operations or incidents can lead to high-stress situations, where information needs to be gathered from various parties while swiftly coordinating response plans. I have learned from my experience thus far that it is pertinent to remain calm and objective even during these stressful times, so as to best manage the situation. It also helps tremendously to have colleagues who are able to guide me during these situations. After everything has been resolved, there is a great sense of fulfilment for working things out.
What Kinds of Career and Personal Development Opportunities Does the Organization Provide Its Staff?
As earlier mentioned, the various internships I did during as an undergraduate at PUB helped me to learn more in-depth the work at different departments. At the same time, through PUB, I had the opportunity to attend Singapore International Water Week in 2018. It was an eye-opening experience, seeing global leaders come together to discuss water issues, as well as learning about advanced water technology used abroad. PUB also places emphasis on continual learning. The establishment of the Singapore Water Academy provides a platform for her employees to learn more and upgrade their skills. There are also chances for internal job rotations, such that employees can be exposed to different aspects of the water system.
Did You Always Intend To Have a Study Abroad Experience and What Was It Like?
Yes, while I wanted to study locally, I also knew that I wanted to have a taste of studying abroad. I had the opportunity to take part in a year-long exchange at Imperial College London. This exchange allowed me to “see the world” (literally and metaphorically) – to visit sites that I learned about from textbooks or documentaries, as well as to learn about other cultures. Living in a city as cosmopolitan as London helped me to better appreciate and accept diversity while strengthening my identity and pride as a Singaporean. It was also through living overseas that I got to better appreciate the efficiency and cleanliness in Singapore.
Singapore Sustainability Scholarship (Previously known as NEW Scholarship)
Attained: Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering), NUS
Now: Engineer, Joint Operations Department
From: Hwa Chong Institution