Engineered for success
Associate Professor Ho Ghim Wei from NUS Electrical and Computer Engineering knows she chose a career in a male-dominated field but it has never held her back. “I was once told not to waste my time in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry. That just spurred me to work harder than my male colleagues to prove my competence,” she said.
Her foray into the field began with her father, a Structural Engineer. “My dad would bring me to construction sites and talk to me about his projects. His enthusiasm for science and engineering made me love it too!” said Assoc Prof Ho.
After some encouragement from her supervisor Professor Andrew Wee, NUS Vice President (University and Global Relations), the gutsy scientist went on to graduate from Cambridge University in 2006 with a PhD in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, before returning to her alma mater as one of the pioneer faculty associates of the Engineering Science Programme at NUS. “Besides being a renowned institution with a good reputation for conducting groundbreaking research, NUS has always been where I belonged,” she said. Beginning her academic career fresh out of completing her PhD, she had to learn how to write research proposals to secure grants, set up and manage her own research lab and team, supervise students, publish scientific papers, and give lectures and tutorials, by no means an easy feat.
Somehow she managed, and today Assoc Prof Ho leads The Ho Research Group at NUS, which aims to create novel nanostructured solar conversion devices for energy and environmental sustainability with two main research thrusts — photocatalysis for pollutant degradation and hydrogen generation — which tap on concepts from electrical engineering, chemical engineering, materials science and physics. It is important work as the world begins to see greater legislation demanding the resolution of energy and water issues without greenhouse gas emissions.
Ultimately, she hopes her research will bring about affordable and viable solutions to remote regions and satisfy the increasing demand for integrated sustainable technologies that meet human needs without disrupting the integrity of the natural ecosystem.
Assoc Prof Ho’s numerous accolades are testament to her ability and desire to break barriers and pave the way for other women in science. Among others, she was a Great Women of Our Time Science & Technology winner in 2016, Honoree Winner in JCI’s Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award (Scientific and/or Technological Development category) in 2015, and received the L’OREAL UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship in 2014.
In spite of her successful career, she says without hesitation that her proudest achievement is giving birth to her two sons, whom she loves spending time with during her down time, in addition to a spot of gardening.
While she stills feels the pressure to work doubly hard to achieve recognition in a male-dominated profession, Assoc Prof Ho also believes that women have made great strides in science today. “People have started to realise that when it comes to a job in science, it is talent that matters, not gender. Furthermore, a diversity of views in science is necessary to solve complex and multidisciplinary problems,” she said.
She hopes to bring about greater recognition of women in engineering through her work. “To women in STEM I say, don’t set limits for yourself and you can reach heights greater than you could ever imagine.”
This is the final installment of a five-part series by NUS News profiling some of the University’s prominent females making waves in STEM.