SPEECH BY DR JONATHAN LOH YUIN HAN
RESEARCH FELLOW, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL
AT THE SINGAPORE POLYTECHNIC CONVENTION CENTRE
THURSDAY, 26 MAY 2011 (Session 9)
Mr Liew Choon Boon
Member of the Board of Governors, Singapore Polytechnic
Mr Tan Hang Cheong
Principal, Singapore Polytechnic
Parents and Graduands
Staff of Singapore Polytechnic
ood morning. It gives me great pleasure to join you today on this special occasion to celebrate the 51st Graduation Ceremony of Singapore Polytechnic. My warmest congratulations to the 444 graduands from the School of Chemical and Life Sciences and the School of Digital Media and Infocomm Technology for the successful completion of your diploma education. I would also like to congratulate your parents and family members who are here this morning to share your pride and achievements.
I recall fondly my own graduation 14 years ago. Like you, I was sitting in the audience, waiting patiently to receive my diploma scroll. While poised for the beginning of my next phase of life, it was also a time for reflection. I was thinking about the education that I had just completed and the challenges ahead. What do I do with the knowledge that I have learnt? How would my SP training prepare me for my further study or to establish a career in science? What are the opportunities for diploma holders? This morning I would like to share with you some of my experiences as you embark on your new journey.
- First off, how has the SP education prepared you for the real world? Established in 1954, SP is the first polytechnic in Singapore. Its main objectives back then were to offer technical and practice-oriented courses to meet the manpower needs of the industrialized economy. Not one to rest on its laurel, SP has over the years continuously revised its curriculum to stay relevant and adaptable. While producing graduands with broad based technical and intellectual foundations, it also develops students with leadership ability, community responsibility, emotional quality, resilience and students having positive attitude towards continuous life-long learning.
- Community projects such as free eye checks for old and needy residents provided by the Diploma in Optometry students, the Foundation Leadership Camp jointly organized by the CLS staff and students and the D’Music Camp organised by the students from Diploma in Music and Audio Technology have provided the platforms for students to acquire a rich set of soft skills and the sense for the community. Indeed SP graduates are sought after not just because of their academic rigor but also for their “can do spirit”, social skills and integrity.
- Alex Chua, a Diploma in Biomedical Science graduate made history by being the first SP graduand to be admitted to the NUS faculty of Dentistry. Academics apart, it was his steely determination to overcome his family financial difficulties and his involvement in community services that have deeply impressed upon NUS that he can contribute to the dental profession in a great way. Desmond Thiam, another Biomedical Science graduate, became the first SP graduate to be admitted to the NUS Medical School last year. He had participated in the Singapore Heart Foundation’s Health Mapping Exercise, providing free health screening for senior citizens. For his academic excellence and dedications to community works, he was also awarded the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Outstanding All-Round Achievement. And I have just been told that this year’s Biomedical Science graduand, Joey Seah, who is in our midst, has also been accepted to do medicine in NUS. What an encouraging news indeed. Congratulations to them.
- There are numerous overseas internship opportunities at top prestigious universities for SP students. Diploma in Biomedical science students Daniel and Jaslyn did their internship at the Children’s Hospital Boston and Wyss research Institute at Harvard University last summer. Rabia and Tiffany were at Yale medical school over the last winter, Glenn and Ronald survived the winter in Boston at Dana Faber Cancer Institute. Lee Jin and Sok Ting from the Diploma in Biotechnology spent their time under the California sun this spring at the Stanford University. In addition, there are plans to have 6 Diploma in Biotechnology students to intern in Boston this July, include two at the MIT for the first time. These internship experiences have exposed the students to the most intensive intellectual environment. It also helps to open their minds to new ideas and to the latest technologies.
- Together, the holistic education provided by SP has developed you with the intellectual traits and social qualities that can help to poise you for the working world that is interdisciplinary and continuously evolving. In SP’s own words, its graduands are trained to be work ready, life ready and world ready.
- But, you may ask the question, is the world ready for you? What prospects does the world that you live in offer you? Singapore economy is recovering from the financial crisis. Its GDP growth is forecasted to be a healthy 4 - 6% in 2011. The unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2011 was 1.9 percent. What better time to graduate in such a promising employment landscape.
- Singapore is now one of the world’s leading manufacturing sites for pharmaceuticals, medical research tools and diagnostics instruments. Leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have set up manufacturing, R&D and headquarters function in Singapore. For example, Genentech and Lonza have both set up biologics manufacturing plants here. Last year, the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) announced that it would commit S$16.1 billion to support research and innovation. In fact R&D expenditure is set to increase to 3.5% of the GDP by 2015.
- Phase 4 of Biopolis which offers more facilities for pre-clinical trial research is also being built. In the healthcare arena, Singapore has achieved world-class standards, translating into great career opportunities for those with the right skills. Singapore now offers the world's 4th best healthcare infrastructure and drew many foreign patients in recent years. In fact, Singapore’s target is to grow the number of foreign patients to 1 million by the year 2012.
- For the Digital Media and Infocomm sector, the global video game and interactive entertainment industry is expected to increase to 44 billion U.S. dollars this year. The Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF) has announced on 7 Mar 2011 a new $100 million programme to boost the development of real-time applications that can help improve lives. Our Media Development Authority of Singapore (or MDA) has also allocated a $10 million fund for stereoscopic 3D productions, with $2 million set aside for feature films. Industrial players including Tecmo Koei Games Co. Ltd, Ubisoft Entertainment and LucasFilm Ltd, have all established their operations in Singapore.
- Fusionopolis is an info-communications and digital media hub. It has just started commencing on the development of Phase 2A. Together, Biopolis and Fusionopolis offer multidisciplinary capabilities and an integrated network for basic, translational research, engineering and innovations.
- For students wanting to pursue a degree, besides NUS, NTU and SMU, The new Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore's fourth autonomous university in collaboration with MIT and Zhejiang University, is expected to open its doors in April 2012. One of its aims is to design information and communication-intensive devices for better living. Singapore’s third medical school managed by NTU and Imperial College London will admit its first intake of students in 2013.
- Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) also offers degree programmes from renowned overseas universities in partnership with the 5 local polytechnics. I was told that NUS and NTU are now providing more placements for polytechnic graduates. Singapore polytechnic graduands are also frequent winners of the A*STAR scholarship, National Infocomm Scholarship and Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) Scholarship which fund studies in top local or overseas universities. Indeed, you are all very fortunate these days, with numerous choices.
- The world out there is going to be exciting, dynamic, and tough. How can you survive and do well? For that, I would like to share with you a set of core competencies that I have personally embraced for my research career. I have abbreviated them under the “F.O.R.C.E.”. It stands for Foresight, Originality, Reliability, Connectivity and Energy.
- You need to have great foresight to be on top of an ever changing environment. You need to develop great awareness and anticipation of what would be the next key developments in your field. For me, I saw the promise of using stem cells to treat diseases and was deeply involved in stem cell research after my undergraduate study. The first human embryonic stem cell clinical trial is currently undergoing in US for spinal cord injury. If successful, it will revolutionize the way we practice medicine and treat patients.
- Originality. Playing by the book and doing the routine are no longer enough. You need to be inventive, creative and have the entrepreneurial spirit to think out of the box. You need to constantly re-define your ideas and approach so that it can become a game-changer. At the Children’s Hospital Boston, our team developed an innovative way to convert human blood cells to stem cells that are capable of can differentiating into different cell types. These cells can potentially be used for tissue replacement therapy. We were the first team in the world to achieve that.
- Reliability. In research, it is important to be careful with your experiments, performing the right control experiments, getting reproducible data, and keeping good experimental log. In a deeper sense, reliability also encompasses research ethics, integrity and honesty. This will help you to earn the respect of your co-workers in the field.
- Connectivity. Networking and collaboration are important in almost every aspect of your life. ‘No man is an island’. In scientific research, integration helps us to compete against stronger competitors. Multi-disciplinary collaborations that leverage on each other’s strengths and expertise create tremendous synergy that will allow you to thrive in research and produce the greatest scientific breakthroughs.
- Energy. To pursue a research career, one needs to have discipline, perseverance and high energy level. Mentally and physically, you should be prepared to be severely stretched. Often one has to bunk out and live on rolled up bed next to the lab bench to get experimental data. You also need to develop a high threshold for accepting failures. If experiments do not work, you need pickup the debris and try again the following day and not to easily give up.
- Henry Adams, a novelist and historian once said “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Here is Ms Cecilia Huang, one of our favourite lecturers. We were celebrating my birthday. We remember her fondly as a dedicated mentor. Likewise, your lecturers and mentors have supported and guided you in your journey; can we have a round of applause to thank them all.
- Let me also share something personal with you. This picture was taken during my graduation at NUS. Well, it was a happy occasion like the one today. But, I must have come across as looking overly serious and without expression in the photo. In case you think that I can be a good candidate for the next election returning officer because of my impartial look, I was in fact struck by a rare neuron disorder which incapacitated my ability of facial expression, including putting on a simple smile. It was a very depressing period of my life because I had no idea whether I would ever recover from it. But I was fortunate to have my parents and loved ones as my pillar of support that helped me to overcome the challenge. Likewise, your parents and loved ones stood beside you in times of good and bad, in health and in pain. So, let's put our hands together for your parents and loved ones who are here today. By the way if you find my mum look too familiar, she actually runs the vegetarian stall in SP Food Court 1; it’s SP Food Court 1. I managed to smuggle in an advertisement…
- In closing, let me congratulate all SP graduands once again on your hard work and achievements. I wish you great success for your future. Go out and do us proud. Thank you.