I am a complacent sort of person, one who takes things as they come. Before I graduated in the early '90s with a master's degree in biological sciences, I had wanted to proceed to do a Ph.D., which was regarded as the noblest thing to do. But the job market outside academia was offering so much more in terms of financial rewards that I couldn't resist the urge to give it a try. Most of my peers opted either to remain in academia as research assistants or fellows or to proceed to industry and take up positions such as clinical research associates, regulatory scientists, product specialists, and chemists in pharmaceutical, chemical, and health care companies. There were definitely many more opportunities outside academia. After much deliberation, though, I decided to quit the bench altogether and venture out into the much broader field of business. With that, my career took a major turn towards consultancy in science and technology.
I joined Pan-Asia Business Consultants in 1993 as a marketing executive, bringing ideas and concepts to prospective investors interested in the science and technology sectors in the Asia-Pacific region. Over a period of 5 years, I travelled extensively in the region and met people with diverse interests, many of whom wanted to build up business capabilities and expertise in technology-related areas. In the process, I helped numerous companies set up or expand existing businesses in the region. Those were the days when information technology was booming in Asia, and dot-com companies were sprouting everywhere. I was enjoying the best of times, socially and economically. However, the euphoria was short-lived. Soon, with the onset of the Asian economic crisis and the burst of the Internet bubble, business declined rapidly. I realised for the first time the risk of being in business, and I wondered whether staying in academia would have been better. Circumstances were forcing me to explore new avenues.
With less work and more time on my hands, I took the opportunity to upgrade my qualifications with a part-time course in human resource management. With a stroke of luck, I met a Malaysian businessman interested in setting up a regional recruitment consultancy to cater to the increasing demand for talents in the region. We became business partners in 1999. Pooling our resources, joint experiences, and networks of contacts, we started helping recruitment agencies bring in specific talents to feed the growing life-science industries. Perhaps because I was a scientist before, I have an easier time relating to the specifications of the science-based jobs, and I fit quite well into the role of a human resource consultant, focussing exclusively on the needs of the newer knowledge-based industries. With our business partners in China, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, New Zealand, and Australia, we have been able to reach out to an enormous group of international talents. It is reassuring to note that interest in the region, and in particular in Singapore, has been tremendous over the past year. Not surprisingly, most of the interest lies in the heavily knowledge-based life-science industries.
Once again, I find myself working for science, but from a very different perspective. My job includes identifying specific areas of demand for my agents and matching talents with job requirements. In the course of my new responsibilities, I have noticed that science has transformed tremendously over the years that I have been away, and I feel an urgent need to catch up with the newer definitions of scientific roles. I have since returned many times to the field to study and understand various current job portfolios. I have to know exactly what is required of every new position in the industrial or academic R&D hierarchy. It was quite a challenge for me to find out, for example, what a combinatorial chemist's job entails and what a bioinformaticist or a bioengineer does--some of these newer disciplines are astoundingly complex for a traditionally trained scientist like me!
An added complication is that scientists today often need skills in more than one area. Although the pool of talents with these attributes seems extremely small at the moment, it is heartening to know that we do have a growing new generation of multifaceted talents--such as engineers and computer scientists with biology backgrounds and vice versa. In the face of this new trend toward multidisciplinarity, as a human resource consultant I really hope to see more undergraduates think double and go multidisciplinary in their choices of subjects for education and training. For those of you aiming to go into the consultancy business like me, I can say that nothing you learn will be wasted. Whatever knowledge you gain in your education will be an asset in many different ways for you as a professional.