New friendships were forged, knowledge gained and doors of opportunity opened as some 300 Singaporean researchers, postdoctoral fellows and PhD students, including those based overseas, converged at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House on 6 and 7 August for the Singaporean Researchers Global Summit. The inaugural event provided a platform for particpants with expertise across a wide range of disciplines to share experiences and perspectives as well as discuss the research landscape and opportunities in Singapore.
In his welcome address, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye urged overseas Singaporean academics to keep an open mind about returning to Singapore to further their research. “I would like to encourage all Singaporean researchers... who are keen to explore how you can augment your ideas and research impact, to connect with the Autonomous Universities, and with the research, innovation and enterprise ecosystem in Singapore. There have been many developments in recent years — NUS for example, has made inroads in establishing research collaborations and BLOCK71 incubators in our region Southeast Asia; they allow for our researchers and start-ups to access markets, talents and opportunities, and to bring your research innovations to the region,” he said.
Prof Tan also announced the launch of a new grant for Singaporeans pursuing PhDs or postdoctoral fellowships. The Development Grant will award up to $20,000 to support aspiring academics to augment their research work and build up their publication record and portfolio. The grant is tenable for a year and does not come with service obligations. The Inauguration Grant was also announced at the event, offering $200,000 to overseas Singaporean academics looking to commit to tenure track Assistant Professorships at NUS.
The theme of collaboration dominated the conversation at the Summit. Kicking off the two-day event, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Mr Heng Swee Keat set the tone during his dialogue with Prof Tan. “The one thing which I do hope we can do is that our Singapore researchers form part of a bigger global network that we can tap into. The way that we can add value is to be a significant node which is linked to all the other nodes in the world. Research ought to be, in my view, a very collaborative international effort. You bring in the best people to work on the hardest problems for humanity,” he said.
The event featured panel discussions and keynote talks that revealed the breadth of topics Singapore researchers are engaged in across the world. Professor Eugene Yeo of the University of California San Diego shared his research on RNA proteins and its applications in finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Attendees got a glimpse into University of California Los Angeles Professor Wong Chee Wei’s work on quantum science and engineering during his talk about measurements at the precision frontiers. Singapore Management University President Professor Lily Kong gave a talk on social science, social relevance and social responsibility that included views she acknowledged to be controversial, prompting the audience to ask interesting questions and share alternative perspectives. Computer Science Professor Luke Ong from the University of Oxford shared his expert knowledge on probabilistic programming for Bayesian machine learning.
A series of research talks gave local academics and researchers the opportunity to share the groundbreaking and innovative research that they are conducting in Singapore. Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee from NUS Materials Science and Engineering presented his latest innovation — the Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin, an effective electronic skin system with ultra-high responsiveness and robustness to damage. Biological membranes in cells was the topic Associate Professor Chng Shu Sin from NUS Chemistry spoke about, while NUS Communications and New Media Head Professor Audrey Yue shared her research into communicative cities.
The lively panel discussions comprising local academics, researchers and industry insiders apprised attendees of the research landscape and opportunities available both in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and in the humanities and social sciences. Topical discussions on drug development, Smart Nation and social inequality tapped on the knowledge of Singaporean experts in these fields. These sessions allowed for interesting exchanges between the panellists and the postdoctoral fellows and PhD students in the audience.
The Summit closed with site visits to AI Singapore and NUS iHealthtech, the WIL@NUS Corporate Lab and NUS Centre for Advanced 2D Materials, the Experimental Drug Development Centre and Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre at A*STAR, and a campus tour at the Nanyang Technological University.