By: Dr Sumita Anant, Office of Clinical Sciences

The first time I visited Singapore was in 2002. I had a 12 hour layover en route to Mumbai from LA.  I  was a postdoc at the Salk Institute in California then. A good friend had made the move to Singapore about 6 months earlier to join Lilly and I decided to meet her instead of joining the SIA Singapore tour.  I had been reading articles on Singapore’s plans to invest in biomedical sciences and thought I would ask her how she liked it here. The cab driver was typically chatty, the city seemed familiar with flowering jacaranda and lorries ferrying construction workers- my first impression then was Singapore was like a green, more relaxed, less crowded Mumbai.  My husband and I really liked it plus it was closer to India than the US. Therefore, after we completed our postdoctoral stints, my husband and I moved to Singapore.

I had taken a couple of years off to spend time with my young kids.  When I decided to get a job, I wanted to take on roles that would utilize my research training but not necessarily do research. So when a position in the Safety department at the Office of Life Sciences at NUS opened that asked for a PhD with experience in radiation, transgenic work and viral vectors, I was thrilled to find my experience would be useful and I gladly took on the role. The role provided me with a crash course in management, compliance, auditing and a bunch of stuff I had not done before. The learning curve was steep but it helped that I strongly believed in working safely.  One has the rest of one’s life to look back in regret should an accident happen due to one’s negligence. 

(L): Sumita and her radiant smile (R): Dinner with ex-colleagues (Sumita -1st row, 2nd from the left)

Subsequently my role extended to managing research operations, facilities, and research administration.  Administrative work is interesting and challenging.  There is variety in the work and opportunities to meet people from different areas of work. It is extremely satisfying to see ideas take shape and be implemented.  In my earlier job at the NUS Environmental Research Institute, and now at the Academic Medicine Research Institute, this is what motivates me. 

I have now lived in Singapore for seven years and many people think I am a ‘born in Singapore’ Singaporean.  I have learnt from cab drivers what phrases like “he lose face mah”, “of course can”, mean.  Cab drivers are very friendly and an extremely curious lot. They ask me my age, what I do, my employment status, if I am a PR or not, if I bought or rent the place I live in, if I have kids, their age, their gender etc.  I used to be more reserved about sharing such information but now find myself asking them similar questions back. 

In Singapore, I feel people are too caught up in their careers to the exclusion of anything else.  It feels justifiable to devote too much time to one’s career as domestic help and affordable meals out are so conveniently available.  But I think therein lies the catch since practical things get attended to and the intangibles that make life interesting and worthwhile may be overlooked.  I strive hard to find this balance. But as I look around, I see people have more options, each one different and tailored to their lives.  These flexible options were not so common when I first started working in Singapore. 

I can summarize my years in Singapore as a great all-round learning experience, workwise and otherwise. What I didn’t learn through work I learned through parenting and by keeping pace with all that’s changing in the city. That is what I find exciting and amazing about Singapore. It changes so fast and to those who grumble that it does not change fast enough, I say that Singapore is just being normal.   

Department gathering with colleagues from the Office of Clinical Sciences at Duke-NUS