Do more to attract, nurture aspiring scientists

These are certainly exciting times for research and development in Singapore ("R&D funds spurring world-class research here", Jan 10; and "Singapore commits record $19b to R&D", Jan 9).

The success of our R&D push hinges on attracting and nurturing people with the necessary attributes for research. We can do more to make research a sought-after career for our young people.

Scientists should be more accessible. For example, they could give talks in schools so that students are aware of the trials as well as the triumphs of research.

Perhaps the research institutes can come up with a newsletter for students that highlights new developments and the work of their scientists.

The newspapers can also feature regular interviews with scientists and highlight their areas of research. Such articles will expose students to the varied domains of research.

Those whose interest is piqued in particular areas of research may be able to contact the researchers for advice or internships.

Parents and teachers can encourage a child's interest in research by highlighting its importance and its contributions to our lives.

My daughter was in various science and research programmes in school, and was given opportunities to do mini research projects under the mentorship of scientists from our universities and research institutes.

However, only a handful of her peers in the research programmes eventually committed to a research path in university. Many of them instead chose to major in unrelated fields, such as business and law.

We should determine what discouraged such students, who were initially keen on research,from embarking on a research career.

One important factor that may make or break a student's interest could be the kind of mentors he has.

My daughter has had mentors who ran the gamut from the inspiring to the indifferent. Fortunately, she had a very good mentor early on, and that sustained her interest.

If she had had an indifferent mentor from the start, she might have given up on research.

I hope that scientists who mentor young people realise the power they have in inspiring them to go into research, or turning them off entirely.

Just as we need a whole village to raise a child, we also need a whole ecosystem to groom a scientist.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'Do more to attract, nurture aspiring scientists'. Print Edition | Subscribe