AFTER a six-month long internship at DSO National Laboratories (DSO), Ms Lim Kai Qi knew she wanted to be a part of Singapore’s national defence research and development (R&D) organisation.

Investing over $250 million in research and development each year, DSO is the first and largest dedicated R&D organisation in Singapore with more than 1000 scientists and engineers.

DSO plays a key role in Singapore’s defence ecosystem. It aims to develop technological innovations that enhance Singapore’s defence capabilities and also collaborates with leading defence institutions in more than seven countries.

They also provide R&D services to other ministries and statutory boards, particularly on homeland security matters.

“I want to translate scientific theories and make them into viable applications,” says the 24-year-old who joined DSO over a year ago.

Today, as part of the aerodynamics team in DSO’s Guided Systems division, she is responsible for coming up with airframe designs for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

 Aerodynamics is a relatively new discipline and UAVs are one of the up-and-coming technologies in the world of defence.

“It is an exciting time to enter this field and to be able to create finer platforms than what is currently available,” she says.

On some days, she is behind the computer running simulations on the aircraft or UAV to determine the impact of a design change.

On other days, her team performs outfield trials or conducts tests in the wind tunnel.

“I love the fact that I can apply my aerodynamic knowledge to designing and developing these unique flying machines,” says the aerospace engineering graduate.

DSO is one of the few local organisations that provide employees with a combination of engineering and research.

“It is great to be able to fuse our multi-disciplinary expertise into technologies and systems that cannot be commercially procured,” she says.

The management believes in continuous learning and has set aside a professional development fund for each employee.

This fund is provided so that each individual can improve their technical knowledge and soft skills through relevant courses and seminars.

“Such courses also provide opportunities for us to meet like-minded individuals and to be updated on the latest industry findings and best practices,” she says.

As a people-passionate organisation, DSO has an infrastructure that provides comprehensive in-house learning programmes and career development opportunities.

Ms Lim has attended a training course at Boeing in the United States twice, where she was able to appreciate how an established aerospace and defence corporation worked.

The management also wants to create an environment where people continually innovate, achieve, grow and enjoy what they do.

“To promote this, there are channels where we can request for funding and time off to explore and conceptualise ideas,” she explains.

When asked what happens when an idea or experiment fails, she says: “Failure is inevitable in R&D but DSO’s spirit of ‘learning by doing’ and the ‘can do’ ethos makes it conducive for learning through experience and mistakes.

In DSO, they are taught that “perseverance is key when one is attempting different and unconventional methods to find a solution”.

The biggest challenge she has so far is to build an advanced UAV with superior enhancements.

“We need to come up with original solutions that cannot be found in textbooks and that is challenging,” she says.

DSO recognises they need passionate people with capabilities to “think outside the box”.

To nurture outstanding individuals, DSO has implemented a programme called Rise (Research Collaboration, Internship, Sponsorship, Experience).

Undergraduates under this programme have opportunities to work alongside some of Singapore’s top experts in defence science and technology.