Keeping Singapore safe in the digital age requires leading-edge technological solutions that can stand up to emerging threats and challenges. DSTA scholars, William Peh, Ong Xin Cai, and Joelle Lim share what drives their passion and how their scholarship journey has enabled them to turn their dreams into reality, where what they do every day goes towards strengthening Singapore’s defence capabilities.
Why did you decide to pursue a DSTA Scholarship?
William: My interest in defence and engineering started from a young age. I was intrigued by military platforms, enjoyed building Lego models, and had a passion for Mathematics and Science. During National Service, I experienced defence engineering up close while training to operate the Singapore Light Weight Howitzer Pegasus. Interacting with the DSTA engineers who developed the world’s first heli-transportable and self-propelled lightweight howitzer inspired me to follow in their footsteps to find innovative solutions for our nation’s defence. I took up the DSTA Scholarship as it provided the best match for my interest and career aspirations.
Programme Director (Land Systems), DSTA
Masters in Electrical & Electronics Engineering – Imperial College London
Xin Cai: My uncle is an IT engineer and he got me interested in science and technology when I was young. He used to hand me electronic gadgets, and I recall having fun with them. This sparked my interest in the field of IT and engineering. In Junior College, I gained exposure to defence engineering through school fairs and participation in the Young Defence Scientists Programme (YDSP). While researching on scholarships, the DSTA Scholarship stood out as it offered opportunities to work on large-scale engineering projects and cutting-edge technologies.
Joelle: I have always enjoyed working on Mathematical problems and wanted to conduct research in Mathematics. The DSTA Scholarship allowed me to pursue my interests, with impactful applications to our country’s security. Moreover, the scholarship gave me an opportunity to study abroad at UC Berkeley, which has a very vibrant community. Another key factor was the environment here in DSO, which I found very collaborative during my internship.
How did your scholarship prepare you to excel at your job?
William: Under the DSTA Scholarship, I had the opportunity to pursue engineering studies in the UK. The experience allowed me to learn from leading professors to build technical skills and knowledge in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. For example, it provided me with a background in programming, which I was able to apply and expand on during my internship at DSTA where I had to code using a simulation software to calculate the time and trajectory required to intercept aerial threats. The internship also allowed me to experience the work and culture in DSTA, and even build a prototype with potential uses for defence. I still draw from these experiences in my work today – the tenacity and mental resilience to handle difficult challenges and programming for the quick prototyping of concepts to seek buy-in from our various partners.
Xin Cai: The DSTA Scholarship gave me the opportunity to complete my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in the US. I learned from renowned professors, building up my skills in areas like coding. My studies also provided exposure to other facets of engineering such as Management Science and Engineering Operations. During my internship at DSTA, I got a better understanding of the diverse work available in the organisation – from software development to acquisition management, and worked on the Island Air Defence project which allowed me to apply programming and scripting skills.
I also experienced the collaborative work culture in DSTA, working with teammates and mentors who were incredibly helpful and friendly.
Joelle: Apart from being able to study abroad and participate in exchange, the scholarship gave me the opportunity to network and gain exposure to different job scopes in defence research. The internship programme also gave me a better understanding of my job, helping me relate the technical content from my university modules to my work.
Ong Xin Cai
Development Programme Manager (Digital Hub), DSTA
Masters in Management Science and Engineering – Columbia University
How does your organisation keep ahead of the curve amidst this rapid digital evolution?
William: DSTA is constantly reinventing itself to be at the forefront by exploiting fast-moving technologies to transform the operations and capabilities of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). In doing this, DSTA places strong emphasis on staff development, ensuring that we develop deep and relevant engineering competencies. In addition to in-house milestone courses conducted by DSTA Academy, I have also attended cybersecurity courses conducted by DSTA and industry experts. To stay relevant, we are also encouraged to build strong networks with the SAF and industry partners to crowdsource ideas on applications of new technologies.
Xin Cai: DSTA is very cognisant of current technology trends and actively engages the industry to establish partnerships and introduce new capabilities to our defence systems. DSTA’s Digital Hub, which I am part of right now, was set up to scout and discover opportunities in emerging fields like artificial intelligence and data analytics, and their applications to defence and security domains.
There are also focused efforts to train staff in rapidly developing technology areas. For example, I have attended in-house courses on R&D management, as well as technology seminars and conferences where I gained valuable insights into emerging technologies like virtual reality and quantum computing while connecting and collaborating with fellow professionals in these fields.
Joelle: We explore emerging technologies here at DSO. We partner with research institutes and universities, such as Temasek Laboratories, to ensure that we keep ourselves at the forefront of technology. Apart from going for courses to constantly upgrade our skills, we also attend conferences globally with other experts in the field.
DSO National Laboratories
Bachelor of Arts (Mathematics)
– University of California, Berkeley
What should aspiring scholars who want to apply for the DSTA Scholarship keep in mind?
William: Passion is what keeps me going in my work, so I would say that it is important to pursue a career that matches your aspirations and interests. A career in DSTA is exciting as it offers multiple career pathways to experience different facets of engineering, while pursuing new engineering solutions for defence and security, and even beyond. It also requires one to have an inquisitive and innovative mind, with strong technical knowledge and skills. To adapt to the fast-evolving technology landscape, my mantra has been to “stay humble, stay hungry”. We must have the humility to re-learn to relentlessly pursue innovative engineering solutions.
If a career in defence engineering interests you, then my advice would be to attend our scholarship tea sessions and career talks at the various institutions or DSTA programmes such as the YDSP to interact with our engineers.
Xin Cai: Having passion in science and technology is key. If you are interested in engineering, infocomm technology or cybersecurity, there are plenty of career opportunities in DSTA to work on cutting-edge technologies with tangible outcomes for the defence and security of our nation. The best way to find out more about defence engineering would be to do an internship with us, to experience our work culture and learn directly from our engineers as well!
Joelle: Do try for an internship in the defence research sector to understand more about the broad range of job scopes available, as well as how their fields of interest can be applied. I think it is important to find an environment where you can be challenged and continue to learn.