Claire Lesieur is a postdoctoral protein biologist. Originally from France, she did her Ph.D. in Switzerland before moving to the UK 3 years ago. Now she is on the move again. Her geologist husband has accepted a job in Singapore, and Claire is job hunting. She shares her top tips for life scientists interested in moving to Singapore.
There are plenty of opportunities for scientists in Singapore. Salaries and benefits are good, and, in contrast to the situation in Europe, there are much better prospects for career development. There is an emphasis on continuity of employment. Contracts are for longer durations (for example, at the National University of Singapore, assistant professor posts are for two periods of 3 years), and employers are keen to renew people?s contracts, provided that both you and they are happy with your work and situation. I have met people who have been in Singapore for 15 years, starting as postdocs and who are now group leaders. Of course, to really advance in this way you need to do good work and bring in grants for your research, but at least you have the security of a position that pays your salary. This is in stark contrast with the experience of my colleagues in the UK. Here, even if you are good, people do not have the power to offer you the type of rolling contract position that they can in Singapore, which means that postdocs have to keep moving from institution to institution to follow the jobs.
Applicants for postdoc and more senior positions definitely require a good CV, because the selection criteria are as tough as in Europe or the U.S. But there is high demand for postdocs, so while you need to prove your worth, it is easier to get postdoc positions because there is less competition.
Right now the Singapore government is actually emphasising the development of the life sciences, so this is the time to go. I have found that looking for a job as a foreigner in Singapore is not a problem, and my desire to move there is welcomed. One strategy I have adopted is to browse Web sites and select places of interest before contacting people to arrange interviews or to give seminars.
A site that I have found useful is BioMed-Singapore.com *. It provides all the information required to find a job in science, including listings of employers. These include National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, which focuses on the development of new technology. If you prefer to work in a purely research environment, with no teaching load associated with your post, Singapore has a number of publicly funded research institutes. These include the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, a 12-year-old institute which has a very good reputation for research, and where cell biology and signalling are the main focus. The National Cancer Centre of Singapore is a very new, high-tech institute, just 3 years old, which covers the full range of research, from very fundamental to very appled. At the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology they are working on biotechnology and basic research. Meanwhile the Genome Institute of Singapore is just starting and so offers lots of opportunities, in particular for those with a background in bioinformatics, proteomics, and other high-tech fields such as microarrays.
There are several Singaporean organisations to which you can apply for grants to set up your own research. However, you need to be sponsored by somebody in Singapore, which makes sense, because you need a place to do your research.
Beside academia, there are also lots of big companies, such as Avantis, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Pharmacia, that are listed on BioMed-Singapore.com. However, not many do research in Singapore. Their focus is mostly business and sales. But for those who have a Ph.D. and are interested in the business side of science, it is probably worth contacting them. Many of them have Web sites where you can apply online or post your CV.
As for life in Singapore, it is hot and humid, the food is extraordinary, and there are people from many different origins. The majority are Singaporeans of Chinese origin, but there are also people from Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Japan as well as Westerners. However, it seems that there is surprisingly little mixing between the different communities. The people are very friendly and it is certainly a place to have a nice time. Moreover, if you are interested in discovering Southeast Asia then you are in the right place, with Malaysia only 5 km away, Indonesia a few hours away by boat, and Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos all reachable in a few hours by plane.