Helping others help better: How this Social Work graduate found his calling

While serving his National Service in the Singapore Police Force, Sim Jian Wen saw a side of the country that he had only ever seen in the movies – one involving loan sharks, violence and the occasional substance abuse. 

“I had never seen that side of Singapore before, but I found a lot of meaning in helping them,” he said.

At the time, Jian Wen had already secured a university’s offer to major in Business. But his experience made him re-evaluate his goals, opening his eyes to the work that needed to be done to uplift disadvantaged families.

“I often empathised with both the victims and the perpetrators of crimes, and naturally found myself thinking about how to help families beyond law enforcement,” he noted.

And so he took the leap to pursue Social Work at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“People were shocked that I gave up a mainstream course for something more niche. But a life lived in the service of others is most meaningful,” he explained.

Power of peer support

He has no regrets. At NUS’ Department of Social Work – the first of its kind in Singapore when it opened in 1952 – he relished the insight he gained into what it means to serve the needs of the community. He had the chance to research real-world issues, as well as enrol in “comprehensive and hands-on” courses.

The shift to online lessons in 2020 meant that he had difficulty forming friendships in his first year. Thankfully, the 25-year-old found camaraderie in Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) where he planned events and welfare initiatives as part of the House Committee and Peer Mentorship Programme.

Inspired by stories of social workers helping others, he also led his college’s new Peer Student Supporters (PSS) group to promote mental wellness. As chairperson, he wanted to “help others help better” by equipping peers with the tools to support the community – for example through mock peer support sessions and by empowering them to run their own mental health events, such as “Mindfulness, Motivation and Matcha”.

Finding strengths, gaining skills

Besides taking on leadership positions, Jian Wen participated in the RVRC Programme, a General Education programme at his college. Through the “Workplace Readiness” module, he learnt that his strengths lay in adaptability and strategic thinking.

Meanwhile, the social work module “Values and Skills in Helping Relationships” taught him how to communicate empathetically and sensitively.

These skills helped him thrive during his social work internships at Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre Community Services and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). During his placements, he provided casework support and conducted research for a range of cases and clients, and learnt first-hand how to contribute to the wellbeing of society.

“It was a great way to use the social work skills and knowledge that I gained from my degree in a community setting,” he said.

While Jian Wen has taken on two social work internships, he also has a second major in psychology and a minor in economics. He quipped: “Having the flexibility was a blessing because I could choose what I was interested in. But it was also a curse because I didn’t know what to commit to!”

Paying it forward

He credits financial aid from NUS with allowing him to make the most of his time at university. Thanks to the Higher Education Bursary and NUS Donated Bursary, he could lead a vibrant campus life without burdening his family.

Bolstered by the support, he ventured out of his comfort zone to seek new experiences. 

“I wasn’t someone who enjoyed telling others what to do, but somehow I found myself in multiple positions where I had to lead,” said Jian Wen, who graduated with Honours (Highest Distinction) on 15 July 2023. “These experiences have been important in helping me to grow.”

The role played by social workers has evolved through the decades. Today, Singapore’s population is larger and generally older, and to meet the needs of this changing demographic, people who pursue social work must be nimble and resilient.

Jian Wen, who saw first-hand the importance of social work at the height of the COVID pandemic, is up for the challenge. He will get to put his research, leadership and social work experiences to good use when he starts a full-time job in policy and research at MSF.

Underpinning all of this is his desire to pay forward the help he received. “I wanted to learn more about policy and research in the government, because it’s such a big force that impacts social workers and clients,” he said.

“Most of all, I hope to make an impact on the lives of low-income families, and empower them in their efforts to uplift themselves.”


This story is part of NUS News’ coverage of Commencement 2023, which celebrates the achievements of our graduates from the Class of 2023. For more on Commencement, read our stories and graduate profiles, check out the official Commencement website, or look up and tag #NUS2023 on our social media channels!