The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has a big mission. It seeks to safeguard the health of our animals and plants in our nation, secure a safe and reliable food supply for the people, and facilitate agri-trade. Horticulture, the art and science of cultivating plants, is a significant part of this goal.
This focus resonated with Shuan Hao, who took up the AVA Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship to pursue both a Bachelor and a Master of Science in Horticultural Sciences from the University of Florida. Now a senior executive manager at AVA, he shares how his time with the agency has helped his childhood dreams bear fruit.
What inspired you to start this journey with AVA?
Teo Shuan Hao: Since young, I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the mechanisms of how plants grow. I also enjoyed the sense of satisfaction when the plants that I have so carefully and patiently nurtured eventually flourish and blossom. These factors led to my desire to pursue horticulture.
When I saw the advertisement for the AVA scholarship in the BrightSparks magazine, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to further my passion and interest. Adding on to that, horticulture is a very niche area and it is rather difficult to find a scholarship provider who would sponsor studies in this field.
Could you share with us your biggest takeaways from studying abroad?
Shuan Hao: It was a totally different experience studying overseas, and one that has broadened my perspectives. Keeping an open mind helped me in adapting to a different culture and education system. I also had to learn to live independently away from my loved ones.
During my studies, I had to conduct a series of experiments for my thesis, which involved grafting small tomato seedlings with the application of plant growth regulators. My experiments required quite a fair bit of effort, time and dedication. To add to that, growth of plants could be affected by weather uncertainties. To overcome these challenges, I learnt the importance of proper and early planning, and to always include back-ups for contingency. Moreover, the possibilities of experimentation are limitless. To ensure timely completion, I had to stay focused and tried to narrow the scope of my experiments.
I was also fortunate to be able to attend the American Society for Horticultural Science Annual Conference in Hawaii during my studies. Besides having an excellent platform to showcase findings from my experiments, I got a chance to interact with leading researchers, and to gather newest developments in the horticulture scene.
How does your role at AVA today reflect your passion?
Shuan Hao: I previously worked at the Plant Health Laboratory Department and diagnosed a wide range of plant and plant product samples submitted to the laboratory. Through our diagnoses, we identified the type of insect pest and if they are present, in order to allow for prompt application of pest control measures when necessary. This is especially important if the pest identified is one of those that we regulate in order to safeguard plant health in Singapore.
I now work at the Horticulture Technology Department, and help to facilitate the transfer of technology to local vegetable producers. I also conduct research and some testing of new technologies. With the help of technology, we can now enhance the productivity of our local farms, despite land constraints in Singapore and increasing climate uncertainties due to global warming.
Teo Shuan Hao
AVA Overseas Undergraduate Scholar
Senior Executive Manager, Horticulture Technology Department, Technology & Industry Development Group
Could you share a particularly memorable experience you have had at AVA?
Shuan Hao: A memorable and challenging situation that I faced was when I was in the Plant Health Laboratory Department. We detected a plant pest that was not known to be established in Singapore, but has potential to cause significant economic damage and threaten the existence of our urban greenery. My team was involved in multiple field surveys at various areas in Singapore to determine the spread of the pest, and to administer timely pest-management measures when needed. It was heartening to see how team members from different sections of the laboratory come together for a common cause, to grow and learn as a team through this experience.
What excites you most about your future with the organisation?
Shuan Hao: The work in AVA is varied, and can be challenging at the same time. Being able to effectively and convincingly engage stakeholders is one of the challenges I have faced at work. To overcome this, I have learnt to be persistent, and to empathise and understand the concerns of our stakeholders. I look forward to such challenges, and to experience the different areas of work.
What advice do you have for potential AVA scholars?
Shuan Hao: I feel that most importantly, one should have a passion for the area of study, and a good understanding of AVA’s mission and work.
It is pertinent to consider carefully and to do sufficient research when exploring potential scholarship options. If you have a burning passion and innate interest in a particular field or area of study, go all out for it, and do not be daunted by challenges that may arise along the way.