At the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), officers harness their skills in their field of specialty – whether it is to do with food, pets, animals, plants, farms or fisheries – to ensure Singapore has a resilient supply of safe food, facilitate agri-trade, and ensure that her plants and animals are well and healthy.
For Ong Xuan Feng, AVA Scholar and Scientist at the Aquaculture Technology Department, he conducts R&D studies and provides technical support to the industry. Being able to marry his technical research skills with his passion for aquatic environments and animals has been fulfilling for the committed individual. Highlighting the diversity of AVA’s function, Xuan Feng also shares how his role is not limited to aquaculture research. He is also involved in addressing broader national issues pertaining to issues such as food security and climate change.
Today, he takes some time to let us in on some little-known facts about the AVA Marine Aquaculture Centre (MAC), where he spends most of his time discovering new insights and addressing wide-ranging issues. He also tells us about some of the challenges he faces at work, and the kind of qualities one needs in order to perform a scientist’s duties well.
What sparked your interest in AVA?
Ong Xuan Feng: From a young age, I have always had a strong interest for aquatic environments and animals. The ever-changing underwater world and multitude of unimaginable species never ceased to amaze me. As such, a career related to my interest was what I had wished for.
Coincidentally, the chance to pursue a career at AVA surfaced at the most opportune moment, right before I was slated to commence my studies at a local university. That was the year AVA expanded its scholarship programme to encompass new disciplines such as Food Science, Food Chemistry, Economics, and Aquaculture. I pounced on the opportunity and have never looked back.
Ong Xuan Feng
AVA Aquaculture Undergraduate Scholar
Scientist, Aquaculture Technology Department, Technology and Industry Development Group
What are some interesting little-known facts about AVA?
Xuan Feng: Many people do not know that we have MAC, an aquaculture research facility on St John’s Island. Within the MAC, we have fish breeding and R&D facilities that help us innovate and test out new technologies or solutions suitable for our local aquaculture industry. I’d like to add that the MAC would be a suitable working environment for you if you want one that is distinctively different from the typical office-setting, and where you can enjoy the sun, sea breeze, and occasional wrestle with fish!
What are some challenges you face at work?
Xuan Feng: The technical nature of my role as a scientist requires me to have strong subject matter knowledge, beyond that learnt from university. I strive to build up my knowledge by learning from the experiences of my team and others from the industry.
How does AVA support your development?
Xuan Feng: AVA has exposed me to a wide range of work that cuts across the different segments of the food industry. I have gained considerable exposure to the industry through my involvement in aquaculture R&D studies, fisheries conferences, R&D exhibitions, inter-ministerial working groups for food security R&D and climate change mitigation, as well as overseas study trips and workshops. These experiences have given me a good overview of the food industry landscape and deepened my understanding of the critical role AVA plays in safeguarding our nation’s food security.
What kind of culture is nurtured among your team?
Xuan Feng: At MAC, where ties and suits are forbidden, the conformities of a typical office environment do not exist. Our environment promotes exchange of ideas and constructive criticisms, which is crucial for R&D. The ‘kampong spirit’ which goes hand-in-hand with helpfulness permeates throughout the MAC – for not once have I been rejected when I needed assistance.
What qualities should AVA officers possess?
Xuan Feng: AVA officers need to handle wide-ranging issues brought about by different internal and external customers, which at times cannot be solved on our own. This is why resourcefulness is important, because you would be better able to tap on the right channels and resources to promptly resolve outstanding issues.
What advice would you have for those considering to apply for the AVA Scholarship?
Xuan Feng: One should see beyond the perks of a ‘free’ education. Consider whether a career in AVA resonates strongly with your long-term goals, because it requires a hefty decade-long commitment from both parties. Do also note that your job scope might not be confined to your field of study, as AVA scholars are rotated to other departments or can be seconded to other agencies to broaden their horizons!