Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Decision making by young professionals- Mrs Lee's views

When Kum Tatt was a young chemist in the early 1950’s he, like many others, liked to give of his best. He was quite idealistic. He could not understand why he was not allowed to do many of the things he liked to do which he considered as good for his work and for Science itself. “Research” then was supposed to be an activity which was to be encouraged but for some reasons or other never had the official support it deserves when it comes to funding and doing the projects. Kum Tatt had to devise his own ways and means to overcome these difficulties. He had the stamina and passion to pursue what he thought was right. He managed to publish many papers in international scientific journals without having to apply for special research funds for his work. How did he do that? It was tough going in the beginning but Kum Tatt managed to establish his credentials and had his approach accepted. He received a few thousand requests for reprints of his work even in the 1950’s. With time this helped him established himself as an authority in certain areas.

Even today some young professionals still find difficulties to get funding and support for their research. It is not uncommon to blame others for this. Perhaps the initial approaches are not correct. The researchers’ credentials are not yet established to command the trust and support they deserve. Who’s fault can this be? How can this be corrected ?

Being the first hospital physicist in Singapore and the only local lady University don in physics for many years, I experienced the same difficulties in getting funding for the research or work I wanted to do. I had to find my own way in helping myself and others in doing what I wanted to do. I spent several years helping SISIR in building the Non Destruction Testing facilities and the industrial application of radio isotopes in Singapore to meet the needs of our important metal, aerospace, refineries, shipbuilding, construction industries and even our PSA (Port of Singapore Authority). Today Singapore has the strongest Non Destructive Testing facilities in the region and many of our graduates are employed in these activities.

Kum Tatt ensured that I was not paid a single cent for my work. I benefited by the practical experiences which improved my teaching and had a few publications on my work in this area. This was done through the cooperation between SISIR and the University. If only more university staff could step forward, more could be done.

Perhaps we should study one of Kum Tatt’s quotes which guided him throughout his life. His quote is:

The world does not care for what you lack
It is interested only in what you have to offer.

People will pay only for what we have to offer to meet what they need. Do not expect too much before you deliver. The element of trust has to be developed. Kum Tatt’s article which follows is useful in this respect.

For me the experience of having to work with SISIR and others stretched me intellectually, professionally, emotionally and even physically for a lady but it gave me a career which is well worth the effort it takes to succeed.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio
(Mrs. Lee Kum Tatt)

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