Left: Jamie Goh assesses the used
water network in Singapore
as an Engineer in the Water
Department, PUB. She is a NEW
Scholar and holds a Bachelor of
Engineering in Civil Engineering
from the University of Bath and
a Master of Science in Water and
Middle: Ong Xuan Feng ensures Singapore’s food security and resilience in his role as an Assistant Director at the Industry Development & Partnership Division, SFA. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Aquaculture from the University of Stirling.
Right: Carissa Lim conceptualises and implements ideas on waste management and reduction in Singapore in her role as a Senior Executive in the Environmental Protection Policy Department, NEA. She is a recipient of the National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship and holds a Bachelor of Science in Earth Sciences from University College London and a Master of Arts in Climate & Society from Columbia University.
A clean environment, as well as the supply of safe food and water, are part of the backbone of a developed civilisation – all of which fall under the purview of the National Environment Agency (NEA), PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency and Singapore Food Agency (SFA)*. The pivotal nature of these agencies’ work and the ability to make a difference are what empower their officers with a strong sense of mission and purpose. BrightSparks had a chat with Carissa Lim, Jamie Goh and Ong Xuan Feng, scholars from NEA, PUB and SFA respectively, who spoke about their motivations, as well as their roles and responsibilities.
Why did you choose to take on your respective scholarships?
Carissa: During my childhood, I loved watching nature documentaries. My interest evolved in secondary school and junior college when I was studying geography. There was one year where I went on a field trip to New Zealand. The landscape was beautiful and pristine and it inspired me to do something for the environment. Like many people who take up scholarships, I wanted to make a difference.
Xuan Feng: Like Carissa, I loved watching nature documentaries as well, even until now! I’ve also always had an interest in wildlife, especially in marine animals. This motivated me to take up a scholarship with SFA to pursue my interest in aquaculture.
Jamie: For me, I’ve always been intrigued by Singapore’s water story. I was particularly impressed by how PUB has converted canals into usable spaces under their ABC (Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters) Programme. I was already on the PUB Diploma Scholarship and I did my internship at Changi Water Reclamation Plant for six months. I got to interact with the people from PUB, and I got to know the organisation’s vision and the culture. I felt that PUB is something I want to be part of.
Tell us about your first postings in your respective agencies.
Xuan Feng: With my degree in Aquaculture, I was able to put my knowledge into practice as a Scientist conducting aquaculture R&D at SFA’s Marine Aquaculture Centre (MAC), located at St. John’s Island. During my time at MAC, we worked with the aquaculture industry to increase productivity by providing them with technical assistance and services. I really enjoyed the hands-on nature of work while carrying out R&D projects, which exposed me to different experiences. These experiences and academic knowledge gleaned during my time at MAC have also enabled me to provide and share various insights during R&D discussions.
Jamie: I’m just about a month into my career with PUB, and I’m looking forward to applying what I have learnt in my studies at PUB’s Water Reclamation (Network) Department. My team optimises the collection of used water. We have to assess the adequacy of the used water network by working with other agencies such as HDB and JTC. This role is very apt for me, as I am a trained civil engineer and I did my postgraduate studies in water and wastewater management.
Carissa: My first posting was entirely unrelated to what I have studied, which was geology. I was in the Environmental Public Health Operations Department (EPHOD) for two years, doing vector control operations. I managed a team of officers and we had to keep pests like mosquitoes, rats, flies and cockroaches in check. Operations work will inevitably shape you, as you need to think on your feet. I also gained more confidence overtime. The experience has helped me in my present policy role.
Speaking of which, what are your current roles and responsibilities, Carissa and Xuan Feng?
Carissa: I’m with the Environmental Protection Policy Department (EPPD) currently. In EPPD, we examine ways where we can drastically shift Singaporeans’ mindsets on safeguarding the environment. To encourage Singaporeans to adopt a more eco-conscious lifestyle, NEA, together with F&N and FairPrice, launched the “Recycle N Save” programme, as part of a trial to evaluate the public’s attitude to recycling in Singapore. Under this initiative, we launched a reverse vending machine where you will get an incentive for depositing empty drink cans and empty plastic drink bottles into the machine. This is one of the ways that we are test-bedding to encourage people to recycle more, and recycle right so as to do their part for the environment. As the initiative is now in the implementation phase, my operations experience comes into good use.
Xuan Feng: Following my stint at the MAC, I was posted to the Food Supply Resilience Division to work on formulating food supply policies and strategies. I was subsequently posted to my current role at the Industry Development & Partnership Division, where my work focuses on two key areas – account managing of food businesses throughout the farm-to-fork value chain; and representing Singapore’s food and agri-trade interests at various bilateral platforms with regional countries. Through these, we help to proactively drive SFA’s food diversification efforts in order to reduce reliance on any one single food source – one of the three key food security strategies undertaken by SFA.
What is the work culture at your respective agencies?
Jamie: PUB provides very structured programmes to equip engineers for their jobs. The collaboration between the various departments is very close. Whenever there are issues, the teams will come together to solve them.
Xuan Feng: At SFA, there is a strong emphasis on developing all-rounded officers, evident from the three job rotations in my six years here. These rotations have exposed me to a variety of work functions, and gave me the opportunity to work alongside colleagues who are committed in enhancing our food security.
Carissa: One of the reasons I took up a scholarship with NEA is the diversity of NEA’s work. I do not think I can fully experience the work of every department in NEA even if I spend my entire working life here. I’m looking forward to working and learning about other departments, as I’m naturally a curious and enthusiastic person.
And for Jamie and Xuan Feng, what are you hoping to achieve at PUB and SFA?
Jamie: At PUB, we always want to learn from the best. Learning from other water agencies would be at the top of my agenda. I hope to study best practices from around the world, assess their suitability and apply them at PUB with the aim of refining our operations.
Xuan Feng: With SFA being one of the key agencies driving the effort to position Singapore as a global hub for food and agri-tech innovations, I hope to be able to contribute towards achieving this goal.
What advice would you give to aspiring scholars looking to apply to your agencies?
Carissa: There is never a dull moment at NEA. You must be prepared to get your hands dirty. That is how you will get the best experience in the agency. Also, having a ground operations stint is actually a good opportunity, to build foundation and understand the public sentiments better, which is essential before one moves on to other key roles in the organisation Not many scholarships offer such experience. NEA is the ideal agency if you prefer hands-on, tangible work.
Jamie: They have to be very clear on what they want to do after graduation, and see if their vision aligns with the agency. Most ideally, get an internship to gain first-hand experience to see what life is like with the agency. Say, for JC students, they can apply for the NEW Internship that is offered by the PUB and NEA, and get some practical experience.
Xuan Feng: SFA offers a gateway to gain exposure to the food industry and allows you to glean insights from both the perspective of a regulator and driver of industry growth. If you have a passion for food, SFA offers the perfect career start-point.