24
January
2019
|
11:09
Europe/Amsterdam

SDE’s first female full prof shares her story

Prof Ling shared some lessons learned from her struggles

In her early years, Professor Florence Ling, NUS Vice Provost (Student Life), was an avid fan of pop stars Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson, their pictures pasted all over her desk. One day, her form teacher stopped by her desk and asked a single, innocuous question — “Do you have time to study?”

This question — arguably a familiar one to students all over the world — started her thinking about what her goals and focus in life should be, and became the catalyst for a journey from a little village in Sungai Mati (Dead River in Malay), Malaysia to Singapore, fuelled by dreams of becoming a lecturer. Prof Ling shared this journey in a candid and personal talk at the first Dean’s Dialogue of 2019, organised by NUS Student Affairs on 21 January.

Titled “Rising Bravely: Beyond Academic Performance”, Prof Ling, who is the first and only female full professor in NUS Design and Environment, shared various anecdotes from her life as she traced her struggles and the strategies she took to face and overcome them.

Living in a village far from the nearest city meant that in her early years of education Prof Ling had little access to the entertainment or curriculum activities that her peers regularly enjoyed. Feeling like a “frog in a well”, she decided right then to find a way out of Dead River. Thus, after her GCE ‘O’ Levels and armed with a scholarship, she took with her only one bag and boarded a public bus to Singapore.

A significant challenge was getting used to an English-educated system after years of being Malay-educated. Prof Ling recalled her General Paper scripts being “more red than blue” after marking. “Everything was corrected, every sentence had a problem,” she said. Her struggles eventually resulted in words of caution from her teacher and the scholarship organisation alerting her two guarantors that she was at risk of having her scholarship revoked.

“How could I go home like that? How do I tell the villagers that I had to come home because I couldn’t get into JC2?” she said, adding that she even held doubts about her decision to leave her hometown and come to Singapore.

A positive mindset helped her through this situation. “One of the things we have to do when we are faced with all these difficulties is to see them as challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. For me, I had this goal and commitment to become a lecturer so I continued to work hard,” she said.

Another important coping strategy for her was to recognise what she could and could not control. “Don’t waste time on things you can’t control. If I can’t control something, I just let it go. What I can control are things like studying hard, working hard, getting the right support...,” she explained.

“I don’t walk alone. I have a close-knit family, seek out friends who are supportive, non-toxic, positive and who will listen to me, seek out mentors for help in specific problems…and always have the courage to ask for help,” she said.

Even within your ‘no choice’, you have a choice. In the eight years, I could languish, show a ‘black face’, and be the nastiest employee in the company. Or I could decide to network with everyone, make friends with everyone, learn the most I can and gather all the experience so that in the future as a lecturer I can share my experience with my students. In a ‘no-choice situation’, I had many choices to make the best of it.

Once Prof Ling completed her undergraduate studies, she was faced with an eight-year bond from her scholarship. Having to turn down offers for jobs she liked at the request of her grantor, she eventually had to accept a job that she did not actually want. It was a “no-choice situation”, but even in this she found a way to be positive.

“Even within your ‘no choice’, you have a choice. In the eight years, I could languish, show a ‘black face’, and be the nastiest employee in the company. Or I could decide to network with everyone, make friends with everyone, learn the most I can and gather all the experience so that in the future as a lecturer I can share my experience with my students. In a ‘no-choice situation’, I had many choices to make the best of it,” she emphasised.

In that eight years, she also managed to successfully complete a part-time Master’s degree.

Her commitment and focus allowed her to successfully complete her PhD, even having a child along the way. Being conscious of self-care was also a factor in her success. Prof Ling shared her belief in the need to balance work, play and rest, adding that during her hectic and stressful PhD life, she made sure to take 24 hours away from her work each week to recharge and recuperate. She continues to abide by this philosophy in her busy life as a University administrator, taking time out to travel, spend time with friends, and even attend a Korean pop concert!

She also continues to stay positive. “Every day I try to have more positive emotions than negative emotions. I try to make sure my life has more laughter, humour, hope and love, and I practise gratitude; every day I try to find one specific thing to be thankful for,” Prof Ling explained. 

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The audience enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Prof Ling better