The Joint-Polytechnic engineering career guidance seminar was held at Bishan library last Saturday. I was invited to speak in the event by my polytechnic as an alumni and industrial representative to promote the engineering profession to all the five polytechnics in Singapore. The seminar is primarily targeted towards ‘O’ level leavers and their parents with aims to promote engineering interest through industrial awareness in both formal and informal sharing sessions. Notably we even had a couple of mature candidates looking to start an education in engineering too.

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In front of a nearly full-capacity crowd, I shared my engineering student experiences chronologically from polytechnic, university and beyond. The polytechnic campus life is rather unique; it offers the well-balanced campus life of a university without much of the cramped university curriculum and stress. If leading by good example was the theme, then I think I’ve satisfied the audience interest as a well-rounded role model of someone who is able to balance both work-play in poly and college, despite being committed to multiple co-circular activities and even still manage to work part-time for financial independence.

I communicated the idea effectively through a number of light and serious moments, without trying to “hard sell” the profession. The presentation saw a few engineering cartoon illustrations for laughs and occasional joke here and there, which was rather well received given how attentive and visually participative the audience were on me and my engineering experiences, despite being nearly the last speaker on the lineup.

I chose to do an engineering subject in Polytechnic despite being over-qualified for the course. The option to choose a more prestigious course was always an option, but I didn’t, knowing that I will suffer studying what I won’t enjoy. That was one of the important messages in my seminar presentation, hoping to dispel the Singaporean “kiasu” ideology of pegging your grades to the next best prestigious course in given market-orientation bias in place of engineering. That is definitely not the way to do.

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A Q&A panel followed after the presentations (which ran for both morning and afternoon sessions). All the speakers gathered to answer any questions from the parents and prospective students. Surprisingly the panel received a number of interesting and difficult questions all which are answered completely and professionally. I stepped in to answer student lifestyle as well as industry questions out of academics.

Catered food was served to all in attendance after the seminar where participants were allowed to mingle and ask questions directly to the speakers. There, I got to meet several engineering heads from the five polytechnic/NTU and provide advice to some of the students and parents who approached me personally on their engineering queries. It’s through some small chit-chat with the students where you can genuinely see their interest in science and technology and detail to technicalities- makings of a potentially good engineer.

Also, sadly, that’s where I come to learn from parents and academic staff that Singapore’s school system is still largely grade-driven, where parental influences and societal biases largely determines student career choices, often at expense of student’s own real interest. Of course, few jokingly remarked that those who remain undecided on their career choices can possibly prolong the decision by entering Junior college. Still, it is disturbing to know that engineering here is still perceived by most as a non-prestigious low paying blue collar job, contrary to a profession which is highly respected outside of Singapore (even surpassing that of medical and legal professions).

In all, I would say the seminar was indeed an eye-opener for me, students these days are far better equipped with resources to make a more informed decision in their course choices as compared to my time as a student. I am happy that my time was spent well in helping a good number of students and their parents in making these good well-informed decisions on their future career choices, and I am glad I had a part to help in that decision. Based on the post-seminar feedback survey forms, all attendees either “Strongly Agreed” or “Agreed” that my session has benefited them.

Maybe I could consider doing the seminar again next year.

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