Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Study Science?

This is a standard question parents and students ask me throughout my life. There are many books written on the importance of Science to our lives. There are many inspiring stories of the lives of great scientists and inventors and the joy and fame they enjoyed brought about by their knowledge and practice of science. This reward is good enough for many to study and get involved with Science. For many others they enjoy the technology that science created without having to learn science. Nevertheless it would be advantageous for them to have some understanding of how science affects their lives and what they do. For example, why are we paying so much for our vitamins and other food supplements? What do they really do for our health?

There are many other great professions like medicine, law, engineering, architecture, accountancy and even politics that are available for students to study. My advice is to choose something that suits the temperament and interests of the children and not just the parents alone. Your children’s life and future depend very much on your choice and theirs. A wrong choice can ruin their future, your dreams and your hard work.

Our local universities, NUS and NTU, and our polytechnics have produced many brochures which tell you what their science courses are all about, what they are doing and how well their researchers and graduates have done. This information is what many are looking for. Some of these teaching institutions have websites of their own with information that you need. This information may be general but useful.

It is interesting to know that just after the war (1947) Raffles College had only 80 students in the entire Department of Science consisting of 1st year to 3rd year diploma students. There were no post graduate or research students. After independence in 1965 Singapore decided to emphasis on manpower development, especially in Science & Technology. Political freedom would not bring us freedom from poverty and disease. It was realized that the difference between the developed and the developing countries were in their levels of Science & Technology. The developed countries took a couple of centuries and more to arrive at where they are now. We want to achieve this and more in a few decades. That was our challenge when the Singapore Science Council was first formed in 1967. It was decided we should emphasis on producing more scientific manpower with knowledge of science and ability to apply this knowledge for Singapore’s development.

In 2008 (next year) Raffles College, which produced our first science graduates, will be celebrating its 80th birthday. The NUS science faculty which is the successor of Raffles College has a student population of 31, 346 in 2004 – 2005 session , consisting of:

Undergraduates 22, 751
Graduate students by research 4,483
Graduate students by course work 4,112.

The NTU and the polytechnics have their own set of figures which when added to the above will far exceed 40,000 students. This number of parents and students can not be wrong in their choice of science. Our science graduates now work in every sector of Singapore’s life; in Commerce and Industries, Government Ministries and Statutory Boards, Professional Practices, Private entrepreneurs, Overseas, community services and politics. The scope is very wide. Parents and students should be interested not only in the type of jobs and pay they can get now. They should also be interested in what the future holds for them. Many organizations run career exhibitions every now and then. The Singapore Professional Centre runs the biggest career exhibition in S.E.Asia in March every year for the last 20 years. Thousands of students can learn directly from the Institutions of higher learning (both local and overseas) and potential employers what they are looking for. These sources provide general information in what Science has to offer. If you want greater details of what a science career has to offer, you have to talk to the practicing scientists who hopefully will share with you their experiences if not to guide you along. A successful profession and career is important and this depends a lot on your own self.

My colleagues and I are proud to have helped built our Science & Technology infrastructure to give us what we have today. It is for the future generation to build on this and make it grow even bigger, faster and better.

Lee Kum Tatt
12 June 2007

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