Going through two years of National Service (NS) is the quintessential rite of passage for most Singaporean males. They go through many hours of intense physical training and numerous lessons on military craft. Inevitably, they come to learn what it means to serve as a soldier for the nation and its citizens.
For 25-year-old Chen Zixian, the thought of playing a vital role in shaping Singapore’s future excites him. “Having studied Political Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), I realised that the Public Service is an important factor to Singapore’s development. The very thought of serving the public interest and making a meaningful difference to people’s lives really appealed to me,” he explains.
An internship with MINDEF further convinced Zixian to apply for a Defence Merit Scholarship (DMS) and contribute to MINDEF as a DXO. Regardless of the outcome of his scholarship application, Zixian says that he would still have pursued a career in MINDEF. “I was attracted by the DXO scheme and what it represented, especially with its emphasis on empowering DXOs in their career choices,” he adds.
Zixian is one of the first who was awarded the Mid-Term Defence Merit Scholarship. This is a new scheme established in 2011 to award outstanding undergraduates before their final year of study who have a passion to serve in MINDEF as a DXO upon graduation.
From Policy into Practice
As a Policy Executive, Zixian now actively contributes toward the formulating, reviewing, implementing and interpreting of policies involving national servicemen. He makes recommendations on NS policy issues and also deals with individual cases of pre-enlistees and national servicemen that need careful evaluation and responses.
These tasks are by no means easy ones. But the Defence Merit Scholar has been well prepared during his time in NUS. He elaborates, “Back in school, I was always encouraged to think independently, to generate my own questions and answers and to develop my own conclusions. Such skills have proven to be relevant to my job. Much like academic arguments and essays, I think public policymaking is also about justifying why particular actions should take precedence over others within defined conditions.”
Zixian also reveals that there is room for putting this critical thinking skillset to good use in his daily work. He also shares that there are ample opportunities for staff officers to raise their ideas and engage in discourse with superiors. “I fully subscribe to a piece of advice I previously came across from a top civil servant whom I have the utmost respect for, that staff officers must have their own views and conviction in their ideas, since this is where many proposals originate. It can only be a good thing for an organisation when an issue has been explored from multiple angles, and when ideas are fine-tuned in discussions,” he advises.
Learning the Ropes
Zixian revealed that it was challenging at first to transit from student life to working life. He recalls having to adjust his academic style of writing to that suitable for producing policy papers and submissions. He shared that he also had to learn the many rules and norms of being a good staff officer, which were not taught in school.
Zixian is certainly grateful for his colleagues and superiors for being supportive and helping him find his feet. “I am thankful to my colleagues and superiors as they helped me with my questions patiently and gave me invaluable advice on how I could improve. I would not have overcome these challenges without them.”
The recent Committee to Strengthen NS (CSNS) event, in particular, was memorable as another learning opportunity for Zixian. He recalls, “We organised numerous consultation sessions where we engaged the public on their views on strengthening the NS system. It was tough work, but the work done for the entire duration was very meaningful and I would definitely choose to do it again if I had the chance to.”
Mid-Term Defence Merit Scholar
Designation: Policy Executive (NS Resource), National Service Policy Department, MINDEF
Studied: Bachelor of Social Sciences (Political Science), National University of Singapore
A Place for Growth
Zixian’s experiences certainly align with MINDEF’s strong emphasis on developing their scholars both personally and professionally. Zixian explains that he is also tasked with special projects in addition to his responsibilties as a Policy Executive. This has helped him to gain a better perspective of the organisation and he feels these opportunities have exposed him well to other areas of the organisation.
“The systematic and methodical approach makes me confident that DMS scholars are given every opportunity to improve both as a staff officer and a leader. I am thankful that MINDEF provided me with a course on leadership upon the receipt of my scholarship. To this day, I remind myself of the things I learnt in the course,” he quips.
For aspiring students and NSFs who are keen on applying for the DMS, Zixian advises that they should have a keen interest in defence-related issues and a passion for the Public Service. Mid-term scholars like himself should also be clear on their interests and chosen career path, Zixian adds.
“During the scholarship selection process, it is best to be yourself and let your personality shine through. I think there are no wrong answers, and even if there were, the interviewers would probably be more interested in assessing your fit for the organisation. It is important that you uphold values that are in line with MINDEF’s, and that you also demonstrate a strong passion for the career that you wish to pursue,” he finishes.