NParks Undergraduate scholar Rebecca took her love for the environment to the next level with land planning of Singapore.
What sparked your interest in your course of study?
My decision to pursue geography stemmed from a love of being outdoors and fascination with the natural environment. I was always curious about landscapes – how they were formed, evolved naturally over millions of years, influence the biodiversity they host, and how they are now changing drastically because of humans. Most of my free time as a teenager went into weekend forays into places like Chek Jawa Wetlands and Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which opened my eyes to the wildlife our tiny urban island hosts. I wanted to play a part to protect these places and knew that a career in NParks could give me that opportunity.
What were some of the memorable/interesting encounters during your course of study and why?
I studied geography at the University College London, which gave me the chance to learn from leading researchers in the field. One memorable experience was an internship with one of my lecturers. We aimed to reconstruct climate variations during the Pleistocene, which began around 2.5 million years ago and ended 11,700 years ago. We did this through studying microscopic fossilised algae known as diatoms, which are biological indicators of surrounding conditions like temperature and moisture. It was incredible to observe the 40,000-year-old diatoms, which hold so much history and information about the past. These ornate organisms are like beautiful time machines!
My degree also gave me plenty of opportunities to work in the field, which is my favourite way to learn. Particularly memorable was a trip to Mallorca in my second year. We spent most of the days rowing in an open lake to collect data on lake depth and turbidity, which we would digitise in GIS to map out the lake bathymetry. This exposure to GIS has since been helpful in my job in Park Planning, which we use in our daily work.
Studying in London also offered many opportunities to volunteer with institutions such as the London Natural History Museum, which hosts one of the most extensive natural history collections in the world. It was great to work with the collections, and I really enjoyed repairing damaged dragonfly specimens in a room that held some pretty iconic specimens.
Academics aside, I liked the experience of meeting people from varied backgrounds and living in a completely different place. The UK has such awesome landscapes just a few hours’ train ride away, which provide beautiful backdrops to go walking, climbing and camping. These gave me a great chance to apply what I was learning, and truly appreciate these landscapes in their entirety which are not just pretty to look at, but also beautiful for their complexity and dynamism.
What do you do at the Park Planning Branch, and what are some of the projects you are currently working on or have worked on in the past?
In Park Planning, our role is mainly to ensure green spaces for recreation and biodiversity, which can be challenging given our land scarcity, growing population and need for the country to remain economically competitive. We work with other agencies and developers on projects concerning land use. I really enjoy the collaborative environment, which allows me to learn the intricacies behind Singapore’s planning. I also get to learn about matters concerning other agencies such as transport and housing. Understanding their concerns is crucial to being a good park planner because while we want lush green spaces for native wildlife and people, there are plenty of non-greenery related assets that are also essential for Singapore to function. It is both challenging and exciting to find innovative solutions to resolve these differences to create a high-quality liveable environment for people while conserving our natural environment.
I have learnt a lot from projects such as the Rail Corridor, which comprises a sizeable amount of land and goes through multiple planning areas with vastly different profiles and planning concerns, such as Sungei Kadut and Bukit Merah. I really appreciate how there is always something new to learn in Park Planning.
What advice would you have for those who are exploring their scholarship options?
In choosing which organisation you would like to work for, it is important to really understand its core values and what it stands for. If the organisation offers an opportunity to volunteer or intern, take that chance to better understand the organisation and its people, and see if your values are aligned with the organisation. Work becomes enjoyable and most meaningful when you believe you can contribute to a larger picture, and if you love nature and want to ensure green spaces for people to enjoy, then NParks might be the place for you.
LEE MEI HUI, REBECCA
NParks Undergraduate Scholarship
Attained: Bachelor of Science in Geography (1st Class Hons), University College London
Now: Manager / Park Planning (Policy & Planning)
From: School of the Arts (SOTA)