Where there is a will, there is a way — that is what Mr Richard Lew Tongli firmly believes about his dream to further his studies.
So the deputy constituency director takes in his stride the two-hour commute from his office at Pek Kio Community Centre (CC) in the north-east of Singapore to attend night classes at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in the south-west.
Juggling work and studies is challenging, and it is not unusual for Mr Lew to be hitting the books till the wee hours of the morning.
He says: “Fortunately, I am blessed with understanding colleagues who are trustworthy and able to assist me at work.
“I also attempt to improve my time management and work smart, so that maximum output is delivered with minimum input.”
Mr Lew, 34, graduated from the University of London with a Bachelor of Science in Business in 2010. That same year, he joined the People’s Association, where he was tasked with managing the Pek Kio CC, which organises community activities to engage the residents of the Moulmein-Cairnhill constituency.
In January last year, he enrolled in a Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme at NTU to increase his knowledge and improve his chances of excelling in a career in the public sector.
The MPA programme is designed to prepare the next generation of public leaders for new challenges in policy-making and public governance. It is available as a full-time (one year) or part-time (two years) course.
Expert faculty including current and former politicians and senior Singapore government officials teach the students through lectures and seminars. These adjunct professors have a wealth of experience to share with aspiring civil servants.
When Mr Lew feels overwhelmed by his current commitments, he recalls his favourite analogy — a jug, although it is filled to the brim with pebbles of different sizes, is never really full until water is finally poured in to fill all the crevices within.
He adds: “I prioritise ... I do my best to complete what is most important first, and pray that I can also accomplish the rest.
“My faith has also given me strength and I am truly grateful.”
Although his studies have added to his workload, some topics have already helped him in his job.
For instance, modules such as Public Administration and Society, and Public Strategic Management have deepened his perspective of how the nation is governed.
He appreciates that his professors encourage students to use real-life work examples in their projects so that everyone can relate to what they have learnt.
He says: “Many people don’t have a good understanding of what public administration actually means.
“So it makes more sense when we can relate to government policies. This enables us to explain them more easily to the community.”
In touch with reality
The future holds many possibilities for Mr Lew when he graduates in 2019. He is engaged to be married, and he may further his studies again.
To aspiring postgraduate students, he cautions that they have to be very sure of their decision.
“Though one to two years of postgraduate studies is short, it’s time wasted if one chooses to drop out,” he says.