Upon completing my university education, I embarked on a career in data analytics. However, I quickly realized that many of these companies were more focused on following a cookie-cutter approach to consulting projects, lacking the drive to create innovative solutions for their clients. I was confined to filling in predetermined templates, which stifled my creativity and prevented me from providing personalized solutions to the unique problems faced by each company. This experience left me feeling disillusioned, as I had always believed in the importance of finding fulfillment in one's work. As a result, I began to explore alternative paths to make a living that would align more closely with my passion and values.
During my time at University, I gained a reputation among my peers for my proficiency in statistics and research methods. This led some of my juniors from university to approach me for assistance. It dawned on me that there was a distinct market in Singapore comprising students pursuing humanities or business-related undergraduate courses who struggled with math or research methods modules required for graduation. Recognizing the lucrative educational landscape in Singapore, I saw a unique opportunity to combine my passion for research with teaching, all while being well compensated for my time.
Motivated by this realization, I made the bold decision to leave my job and establish my own business, specializing in teaching statistics and research methods to university students. What started as individual tutoring sessions quickly gained traction, prompting me to open a physical tuition center that I owned and managed for three years. While I derived immense satisfaction from running my own business and imparting knowledge to eager students, I soon realized that I lacked the specific skills necessary to scale and expand a company successfully. This realization prompted me to embark on further education in the fields of business or technology management, seeking to gain the expertise needed to effectively run and grow a business.
Eventually, I decided to pursue a Ph.D in Industrial Systems Engineering and Technology Management (Engineering Faculty) at the National University of Singapore. I was particularly drawn to this department because of a professor I greatly admired, who not only excelled in publishing but also had a strong focus on industry work—a field that has always fascinated me. The first hurdle I encountered was getting accepted into the Ph.D program. Unfortunately, my initial application was rejected due to perceived weaknesses in my qualifications.
Undeterred, I decided to apply for a master's degree in the same department under the same supervisor. I was so determined to pursue this path that I even took on the responsibility of self-funding my studies to increase my chances of being accepted. I worked tirelessly, balancing my tuition center while attending my master's classes part-time. To demonstrate my commitment and readiness for the Ph.D program, I began taking Ph.D level courses and applied to take the qualifying exams usually reserved for Ph.D students. My goal was to complete all the necessary requirements and seamlessly transition into the Ph.D program.
Fortunately, my dedication paid off when my supervisor offered me a full-time research assistant position. This opportunity allowed me to work alongside him while pursuing my master's coursework in the evenings. Being officially employed by the university also granted me a tuition concession, alleviating the financial burden.
During my time as a full-time research assistant, I gained invaluable hands-on experience managing various industry-related projects. One notable project involved spearheading a digitization initiative with one of the world's largest fruit packaging companies. As someone with a strong understanding of both business needs and technology, I effectively facilitated and managed the project. I bridged the gap between the company's executives, who lacked expertise in artificial intelligence and technology tools, and the AI technical experts, who needed guidance in translating their work into actionable insights for business leaders. The success of these projects is evident in the tangible results they achieved.
In addition to my industry projects, I also took on the responsibility of writing research grants to secure funding for the department. This experience sharpened my ability to identify societal and governmental challenges, devise feasible solutions, and present convincing proposals to funding bodies. By the end of my second year, I had personally secured over $500,000 worth of research grants and was overseeing an additional $4 million in grants for my team.
In an unexpected turn of events, my supervisor abruptly left the university in the second year of my Ph.D candidacy, which presented a significant challenge. All the research funding I had secured became temporarily frozen, and my contract with the university was terminated within the month, jeopardizing my tuition concession. Furthermore, I discovered that my research interests aligned more closely with the Business School faculty, who focused on technology management rather than technical engineering. This period was undoubtedly stressful as it felt like everything I had worked for over the past three years was slipping away.
Fortunately, my ability to network and collaborate had led me to forge connections with Professors from the Business School despite being a student in the Engineering Faculty. I managed to convince a research Professor to give me a chance and accept me as a Ph.D student. In this new arrangement, I transferred my existing research projects I had secured to the Business School. However, I had to undertake additional modules and retake all my qualifying exams. While not ideal, transferring to the Business School provided me with an opportunity for growth and improvement. Given the circumstances, it was the best decision available to me.
After ten long months of administrative procedures, during which I continued working on research projects and self-funding my Ph.D studies, I finally transitioned to the business school. As fate would have it, I would face my third significant hurdle, when my new supervisor also left the university.
Fortunately, my previous supervisor introduced me to a third supervisor who proved to be an excellent match in terms of both personality and research interests. The transition to the Business School meant that I joined a research-intensive department with a very different focus. I soon realized that many of the skills I had acquired in my previous department, such as securing research funding and engaging in industry projects, were less relevant. The currency in this new environment revolved around theoretical work and publishing top research papers.
Driven by financial and time constraints, I made the decision to aim for graduation within the next three years, a goal that typically takes others five years to achieve. With this in mind, I chose to prioritize my efforts solely on research, with the confidence that I had a solid foundation in teaching and industry-related work. Seeking guidance from esteemed professors, I understood that the first crucial step was to establish a distinct research identity for myself. This not only allowed me to swiftly focus and develop expertise in a specific area but also facilitated networking and collaborative opportunities, as professionals in my field could easily recognize my interests and aspirations.
Reflecting on my past experiences, I recognized a recurring challenge in my work, particularly when helping companies with digitization efforts, was in convincing employees to embrace the solutions we proposed posed a significant hurdle. For instance, in one project, we introduced AI-based solutions to forecast demand, availability, and commodity prices. However, this often meant overlapping with the responsibilities of existing team members. It proved challenging to persuade them that we were not rendering their roles redundant and that data-driven decisions could effectively enhance their intuition, which was cultivated through years of experience.
Naturally, it became evident to me that delving into the psychology of technology was a compelling research path. This encompassed studying how individuals respond to being replaced by technology at work (exploring ways to better integrate technology into their existing workforce), investigating algorithm aversion (the resistance people have toward algorithmic recommendations compared to human input), and understanding the long-term effects of AI usage on work values.
To conduct high-quality research in these areas, I recognized the need to quickly gain an intimate understanding of the field's history. This would allow me to join ongoing conversations and identify opportunities where I could contribute significantly. Taking this into account, I volunteered to help some senior Professors write a book chapter (where my role was to be synthesize the past 30 years of research)—a task that may not yield immediate benefits for PhD students, as it is time-consuming and does not directly result in journal publications, the primary currency in our field. However, I understood that this was a vital step to jump-start my research journey and immerse myself in the field's foundational knowledge. This opportunity not only enabled me to network and collaborate with leading scholars in the field but also equipped me with the fundamental knowledge necessary to propose new projects and collaborations with other esteemed researchers.
Over the past two and a half years in the business school, I have devoted myself tirelessly to achieve what typically takes four or five years for most students. I successfully completed my coursework and qualifying exams and led several research projects, some of which are currently under review at top-tier journals such as the “Journal of Applied Psychology.”
My journey exemplifies unwavering determination, adaptability, and resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges. Through my experiences, I have learnt to work under pressure, manage complex projects, and excel in both academia and industry. As I embark on this job search, I am constantly reminded to view job postings not merely as isolated positions, but as opportunities to join organizations or institutions where I can cultivate personal and professional growth for years to come. Simultaneously, I have come to realize that when organizations hire a new employee, they are really hiring the candidate five years from now, rather than the candidate today. Given the rough seas I have had to sail, I may not have accomplished as much as I initially hoped before commencing this job search. However, it is precisely these experiences that have instilled in me the confidence to embrace future opportunities and make meaningful contributions wherever I may be.