When Tan Joo Gian was in junior college (JC), she joined the Ecological Literacy group to encourage students to learn more about the environment, and that was when her desire for a career with the National Environment Agency (NEA) was developed. As for Darren Tan Zhi Wei, he was a mere 11 years old when he first received a NEWater bottle distributed by PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, at a National Day Parade. That sparked his interest in the water sector, and as the saying goes, the rest was history.
Today, both are recipients of the National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship, designed to groom talented individuals for a sustainable Singapore. They share their journeys and how they have benefitted from the opportunities, such as overseas exchange programmes and postgraduate studies, to fulfil their aspirations.
Why did you choose to apply for the NEW scholarship?
Joo Gian: I took the internship route to explore my interest in the environment and NEA further. I enjoyed the process of learning how NEA does regulatory and policy work that impacts the environment. I found it interesting to see how policies are being executed in Singapore and I wanted to be a part of that.
Darren Tan Zhi Wei
National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship
Engineer, Catchment & Waterways (Reservior Management - Eastern)
PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency
Darren: The turning point was when I visited Marina Barrage in JC during a trip organised by PUB. They showed us how the pumps and gates work, and how Marina Barrage was formed. That was when I learned more about the NEW Scholarship as well. This provided me with a fresh perspective on how I could build my career with PUB after graduating. Since I have a passion for the water sector, applying for the NEW Scholarship with PUB was a natural choice.
What were the opportunities the NEW Scholarship has afforded you with?
Joo Gian: I did my master’s in Environmental Technology with a specialisation in Environmental Economics at Imperial College London. It was a programme that was highly established there and hence, I had very valuable takeaways from my education. The extensive and all-rounded modules taught me how different types of processes can apply to Environmental Management. Going overseas also gave me extended breadth of perspective and depth of understanding that has value-added to my work here in Singapore.
Darren: I went on to pursue a direct Masters in Civil Engineering at Imperial College London. The modules I took were challenging but highly applicable to my work at PUB. I also learned more about the water industry in the UK and drew parallels with PUB. For my summer programme, I went to Harvard University and took two non-engineering courses in Finance and Psychology. All these were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that I would not have been able to have if it was not for the scholarship.
Tan Joo Gian
National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship
Senior Executive, Environmental Public Health Division
National Environment Agency
How did your academics help you in your role today?
Joo Gian: As a Senior Executive in the Environmental Public Health Division, my work includes operations planning, statistical support, conducting inspections and enforcement. In Operations Planning or Data Analytics, the work is rigorous and this forces me to think hard about the steps of execution, its implications and how to structure the data and findings. What I am doing right now is akin to weight-lifting exercises for the mind. To excel in these roles, I draw upon from what I have learned in environmental economics to apply them in these real life scenarios.
Darren: PUB is an engineering-based organisation. In many aspects of my work, I am able to relate and apply what I have learned in Civil Engineering. As an Engineer in the Reservoir Management division of the Catchment & Waterways department, my job includes planning and fulfilling day-to-day reservoir operations, optimising reservoir water stocks, and managing contracts to ensure works are executed within the allocated budgets. I also have to provide my inputs for the various engineering projects at the reservoirs. One interesting project is the implementation of floating solar panels which provide enough power to run water treatment plants at our reservoirs.
What do you find rewarding about your work?
Joo Gian: I find great fulfilment with what I am doing, especially when I see the immediate impact of our actions. It is motivating to observe reduction in littering cases and dengue clusters in my current role in Sanitation and past role in Vector Control. This brings about immense job satisfaction.
Darren: I find the interaction with the public challenging yet enjoyable. Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where reservoirs are open to the public to fish leisurely or try out various water sports. Engaging and educating them about reservoirs may be technical at times, but it gives me a sense of fulfilment whenever they show their appreciation for the hard work done.
What are your career aspirations with NEA and PUB?
Joo Gian: My career aspirations with NEA is to be a part of environmental policy-making in Singapore. I am also very excited about how Singapore is taking concrete measures to manage carbon emissions and climate change via the upcoming Carbon Tax and would love to be a part of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources’ policy drafting.
Darren: I am looking forward to being given the opportunity to manage Civil Engineering related projects and work in all five core operational departments in PUB. This will provide me with a holistic perspective of what PUB does as an organisation, and at the same time, the opportunity to apply and deepen my understanding of the various Civil Engineering concepts taught to me during my undergraduate studies.
What advice do you have for those exploring their scholarship options?
Joo Gian: I urge future scholars to look into the public sector as a career option as it has a lot to offer. There are many opportunities for rotation in the public service. Even if you start your career in a public agency, it is not mandatory for you to spend your entire career there. You have the option to move across boards, across statutory boards and return to your posting with fresher perspectives.
Darren: Although it sounds cliché, I would advise you not to apply for the scholarship solely for the financial sponsorship. You have to be passionate about the career you are choosing and understand the organisation that you want to join. I feel very strongly about water and PUB is a forward-looking and innovative water company.