Relocating to Singapore has benefits for scientists and their families.
Contributor Lisa Restelli
Scientists are expected to lead rather mobile lives. However, relocating to a new country, especially post PhD, can be quite demanding as by that point you might have a family to consider. Trailing, non-scientist spouses can have a hard time settling into a new life abroad, often not knowing the language of their host country, sometimes not permitted to work, and with the nagging worry that their children will have a hard time adapting to the new school system.
At the Naturejobs London Expo, on Friday 19 September 2014, I attended the “Contact Singapore” workshop about science opportunities in the Southeast Asia city-state, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it may not be so tough. With its stable political climate, its growing economy and its diverse population, the Republic of Singapore appears to be a great environment in which to foster discovery (more information at Contact Singapore), while at the same time offering attractive work and life opportunities to non-scientist immigrants.
Once they had us interested in Singapore, delegates presented some of the potential scientific opportunities in the College of Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, which recently placed first in an international ranking of young universities.
Prof. Thambipillai Srikanthan (“Prof. Sri”) was visibly proud as he told attendees about his School of Computer Engineering, which ranks in the top 3 globally on artificial intelligence, simulation and multimedia. Current research interests include sustainable informatics, secure cyber space and medical information systems. The School also boasts partnerships with renowned academic institutions worldwide, and is also attractive for government agencies and industry, who “know there is talent, so they don’t hesitate to come forward and pump the money in”.
Prof. Wang Xin, a more quiet and reserved gentleman, then took over to present the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. Biotechnology, low-carbon technologies, biomedical engineering and food science are highly active research areas within the School, which offers both the equipment and the facilities to pursue them to an advanced degree. With average yearly funding amounting to S$ 10 million (approx. 5 million GBP) and 4 PhD students and 2 postdocs per faculty, he said, the school possesses “quite an efficient critical mass to do high-quality research”.
Finally, Prof. Lam Yee Cheong cheerfully told attendees about the stimulating opportunities at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which ranks 12th in the world in its field. The school is active in a number of highly interdisciplinary research areas. For instance, the indoor aerial manoeuvres of NTU-designed drones were much praised at the 2014 Singapore Airshow. The school also has an eye on the latest trends, and has at its disposal its own clean room for research in micro-electro-mechanical systems. “Clean rooms are expensive – we can afford it,” confided Prof. Lam.
All schools offer tenure and tenure-track positions and encourage applications from outstanding candidates. Some biological positions are available in the School of Biomedical Engineering but readers interested in the broader opportunities for life scientists should refer to the article from the Boston Career Expo. It is also worth noting that, despite engineering being predominantly a male domain, applications from female scientists are highly prized. Prof. Lam said that many of the top engineers in his school are female – despite women being only 20% of the student population. This is an issue that Singapore is taking seriously: the country has instituted programmes to increase women’s interest in engineering from the earlier stages of education.
As I found the scientific possibilities outstanding, I did some research into what an eventual trailing spouse can expect from Singapore life. English being one of the official languages of Singapore makes it much easier for a foreigner to be qualified for a job, at any skill level. As for children, Singapore houses 73 international schools, to cater to the needs of 52’000 expat students and keep their education in line with the curriculum of their home country. It should be noted, however, that restrictive legislation is in place to discourage homosexuality in Singapore, in particular male same-sex couples.
Still, Singapore’s stance on this issue doesn’t affect the quality of the research or the wide range of opportunities that are offered. In the words of Prof. Sri, “the money is there for the right ideas”.