Geohazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes can impact Singapore, but few pursue the path of a geophysicist to learn about and understand these hazards. With the help of the NEA’s NEW Scholarship, Madeline Ang rises to the challenge.
What sparked your interest in studying Natural and Geological Sciences?
The Natural Sciences course gives students a foundation in various scientific disciplines before specialisation in one field. While I had intended to specialise in Biology, I soon found myself developing a greater interest in Geological Sciences due to its multidisciplinary and hands-on nature.
A geologist’s toolkit is a scientifically diverse one. Biology and Mechanics are applied to the study of how Pterosaurs (extinct flying reptiles) took to the air, and Chemistry and Oceanography are applied to the study of Earth’s past climate. In order to explain how the world worked, I had to draw from all facets of Science. I took a module on History and Philosophy of Science, which contextualised past scientific discoveries and allowed me to understand the principles underpinning scientific enquiry.
The study of Geological Sciences is extremely hands-on and I had the opportunity to attend field trips and fossil-hunting trips during my term breaks. During these trips, I sat on top of remote hills to sketch geological formations, hypothesising how they had been formed, and cracked rocks with a hammer to expose fossils that had not seen daylight for tens of millions of years. These experiences gave me a more nuanced understanding of our planet’s history through the application of scientific theories and observation skills I had learned in class.
Studying Geological Sciences had also given me a new perspective on the disproportionate impact humans have had on the Earth. This drives the need to better steward our natural resources in a responsible and sustainable manner.
What led you to consider a scholarship/career with NEA?
Many people are familiar with NEA’s work in the area of enforcement and licensing without realising that NEA is also involved in a plethora of activities which affect the lives of Singaporeans. Besides pollution control, waste management, formulation of environmental protection policy and planning for the future impacts of climate change on Singapore, meteorological services – an area of work I’m currently involved in – are also under NEA’s purview.
I considered the NEW Scholarship as I was keen to be exposed to this diverse range of specialist environmental work in NEA.
What development opportunities does NEA provide its scholars?
During their second or third year of studies, scholars attend an 8-week internship programme to gain an appreciation of the work in NEA. Scholars are also given the opportunity to meet working scholars and members of NEA management who are also mentors to the scholars. These initiatives guide scholars through their studies and facilitate the transition between studying and working at NEA.
NEA supports its scholars in building job expertise through sponsorship of attendance at professional development courses, local and overseas conferences, and other specialist training programmes. I recently completed an 8-month Graduate Diploma in Meteorology in Melbourne, Australia with the support and sponsorship from NEA. The programme trained me in Meteorological Science and operational weather forecasting, which complemented my academic degree in Geological Sciences and my role
as a geophysicist.
Describe your role as a Geophysicist and how have you been able to apply what you’ve learnt academically to your job?
Given its position on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, Southeast Asia is prone to geohazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Such hazards may affect Singapore directly or indirectly, for example, flight delays and cancellations caused by volcanic eruptions.
A Geophysicist’s job sits between the realms of Meteorology and Geology. This role requires an application of specialist geological knowledge within the context of meteorology to monitor, assess and make preparations to mitigate the impacts of geological hazards on Singapore and the surrounding region.
For example, NEA contributed to a study on the investigation of the impacts of volcanic ash on regional airspace. This study required collaboration between the geologists and meteorologists, and increased our readiness to respond to volcanic eruptions in Southeast Asia.
What do you find most fulfilling about your role?
A geophysicist’s role encompasses a wide scope. In the short term, responding to an event involving geological hazards requires me to provide timely technical information in a manner that is accessible and relevant to stakeholders. In the longer term, a Geophysicist manages projects and develops tools that aid in the assessment of geohazard risk in Singapore. My work challenges me to develop a broad skillset, whilst drawing upon knowledge in many disciplines. This constantly stretches my abilities and thinking and allows me to develop my area of expertise. Beyond this, I am excited to contribute to the growth of Geology as a scientific discipline within Singapore, increasing our resilience to geohazards.
What advice can you give to aspiring scholars who are considering taking the NEW scholarship?
Be open to change and challenge yourself. Beyond gaining specialist academic knowledge, the NEW Scholarship is an opportunity to seek out new experiences and, through these experiences, discover new strengths and interests.
Under the NEW Scholarship, the interests that I discovered led me to Geological Sciences, taking my career in NEA down an exciting path I never would have imagined.
National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship
Attained: Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK
Masters in Geological Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK
Now: Geophysicist, Meteorological Service Singapore, Weather Services Department
From: Raffles Institution