A scientific career often provides exciting opportunities to work abroad, and here Dr Paul Macary from the National University of Singapore shares his experience of working in a new culture.
Does the work culture differ to that in the UK?
The work culture in biomedicine in Singapore is very similar to that of the UK and US. The good laboratories here strive to be world-class which means that they actively compete with their European and North American counterparts. This translates into an expectation that young scientists will work hard and take ownership of their respective research projects. The only area that is significantly different in Singapore versus the UK revolves around social events involving lab members. Whilst in the UK scientists often adjourn to the nearest pub after work, in Singapore social events revolve around food so the nearest hawker centre becomes the meeting place.
Are there any opportunities in Singapore which might not be available in the UK?
There are good opportunities for career development in Singapore. For scientists the National Research Foundation has some excellent intermediate Fellowship programmes aimed at transitioning post-docs into young principal investigators who run their own labs. For clinician scientists, the National Medical Research Council has the same. The funding available for research in Singapore is significantly higher per capita than the UK so the success rate for applicants for these fellowships is greater.
Are there any particularly exciting areas of science to study in Singapore?
The Asian phenotype for many diseases (cancer, neurological, infection, etc) is different than the Caucasian phenotype. Thus there are great opportunities to study new and interesting aspects of common diseases. For instance, the disease Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) presents much earlier and with more aggressive complications in Asian patient cohorts. This makes a study of the Asian phenotype of this disease important and clinically relevant-the study itself can be targeted at genetic, cellular, immunological or environmental factors that influence this effect. In my particular sphere (infectious diseases), Singapore in the only country with a first world medical system in a region dominated by tropical diseases. This allows an investigation into infectious diseases like Dengue (which afflicts hundreds of millions of people each year) to a level of detail not possible elsewhere because Singaporean patients are quickly diagnosed and efficiently managed-they can also be recruited to provide clinical specimens for lab-based studies. Whilst my own interests are biomedical, there are also strong programs in basic biology including a Mechanobiology Research Centre of Excellence plus Environmental Microbiology programs and water technology entities. A*Star has strong centres for basic and applied biology including the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, The Genome Institute of Singapore, Biotechnology Institutes, Immunology and Neurobiology centres.
What would you say to someone who is considering applying for a job in Singapore?
Do it. In my nine years here, I’ve yet to meet a single British scientist (young or old) who doesn’t love the place. Cast a wide net and apply to the National University (NUS), A*Star institutes, National Technical University, DUKE-NUS Medical school, etc. If you’re thinking about PhD scholarships look at the National Graduate School (NGS), SINGA and A*Star scholarship programs. Also, individual University faculties have their own scholarship programs and take in UK students.
Do you need to adapt your CV to apply for a job in Singapore?
No. The type of format you employ to apply for a position in the UK is suitable here-remember schools in Singapore follow the English curriculum so high school students here sit GCSEs and A-levels. All of the Universities teach and do business in English.
If you’re looking for jobs in Singapore, where are they advertised?
Positions in my laboratory are usually advertised in Science and Nature. Institutions and Departments across Singapore usually have links in their associated web-sites to available positions. Contact Singapore, an organisation that provides information to global talent looking to work and live in Singapore, is also one such website potential candidates can consult.
Do you have any tips for their first week at work?
Don’t overdo it. You’ll be on a very steep learning curve for your first 6-12 months so try to enjoy yourself.
How do you find Singapore as a place to live?
Singapore is an excellent place to live. The quality of life here is high and the infrastructure is excellent. Getting around the city is easy by public transport and the schools and hospitals are good. Singapore is also conveniently situated close to places with amazing cultures and history so weekend trips to Sumatra or surfing/scuba diving holidays in Pacific south-sea Islands can become commonplace.