Boost for social science and humanities research

Social science and humanities research by the NUS community were awarded funding by the SSRC

Assistant Professor Lin Weiqiang from NUS Geography and Assistant Professor Reuben Ng from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS (LKY School) have been awarded the inaugural Social Science and Humanities Research (SSHR) Fellowship by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). This is a talent development scheme aimed at supporting promising young researchers to conduct high-quality research in the early stages of their academic career. Asst Prof Lin and Asst Prof Ng are among three Fellowship awardees selected from a pool of 14 nominees and will receive up to $1 million each over five years to fund their research.

Asst Prof Lin is a leading mobilities geographer who is currently researching the inner workings of the aviation industry at airports in Beijing, Dubai, Jakarta and Singapore to advance global theoretical knowledge on airport infrastructures, labour and technology and inform policies to minimise problems that could arise from poor management of labour.

Using his expertise in data analytics, artificial intelligence and behavioural science, Asst Prof Ng is harnessing innovative Big Data methods to create data-driven models to “nowcast” or sense the current conditions of the skills gap in Singapore. His insights will support policy-makers and training institutes to plan for the future so that the skills gap is kept to a minimum.

Asst Prof Ng said he felt happy but daunted at receiving this Fellowship. “The skills gap grips many societies and cuts across several disciplines. At the LKY School and NUS, I’ve learnt not to shy away from tackling bold challenges. The SSHR Fellowship provides important affirmation that my team’s work is both rigorous and relevant. We hope to test innovative, data-driven policy responses, and Singapore provides a great canvas to do this work,” he added.

The SSRC also awarded the 2018 Social Science Research Thematic Grant of about $5 million in total funding to four projects, three of them from NUS. The projects were selected from among 46 proposals across four universities for their intellectual merit, and potential impact on and contribution to society and the economy. The three NUS projects are:

  • “Social Isolation, Loneliness and Health among Older Adults in Singapore” led by Assistant Professor Huso Yi from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS;
  • “Digital Historical Maps of Singapore and Southeast Asia” led by Professor Jane Margaret Jacobs of Yale-NUS College; and
  • “In-Work Poverty and the Challenges of Getting By among the Young” led by Associate Professor Irene Ng of the Social Service Research Centre at NUS.

Asst Prof Yi’s research project seeks to understand the impact of social isolation and loneliness on the health of older adults in order to propose improvements to existing interventions in Singapore. Prof Jacobs aims to add value to the local research landscape and build Singapore’s digital humanities capacity through the development of an interactive online platform of digitised, pre-1900 maps of Singapore and Southeast Asia in her project. Finally, Assoc Prof Ng and her team are studying young low-wage workers to understand the relationship between their work and earnings, their mental health and cognitive ability, as well as how they use their social networks to navigate jobs, family and advancement.

“I am excited about getting this grant for two reasons. First, I am excited to be working with a team of like-minded colleagues who have come together because we care about poverty. Second, our research topic on the young working poor is something close to my heart. Worldwide, there is a growing problem of people working yet not earning enough, of precarious job conditions. However, programs in Singapore have targeted older workers. Thus, we hope our findings will inform policies and programs in terms of effectiveness for younger workers,” said Assoc Prof Ng.