WITH a background in fine arts, Mr Chai Yien Heing, 31, started his career at the National Heritage Board conserving artworks.
Ironically, his arty job opened his eyes to the sciences, and he is now pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) with honours in biomedical sciences at the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS).
"Science was the last thing on my mind when I was younger. I was more into bands, jams, loud music, skateboarding and graffiti then!" says Mr Chai, who had been one semester shy of a diploma in fine arts when he started his museum job after completing his national service.
"It was at the labs of the Heritage Conservation Centre that I discovered my curiosity and hence, interest and passion, for science. My conservation work at the museum involved scientific knowledge and practices. You need to have scientific knowledge to carry out physical work on both organic as well as inorganic artefacts, such as historical documents," he explains.
As his fascination with science grew, so did his yearning for formal qualifications. He did his research and found that the MDIS offers a foundation certificate in biomedical sciences.
"It is excellent for people like me, who have no science background, to make the transition into the sciences.
"Not only that, it also has a progression path, so I also knew that I could progress to a basic degree in this field at the next level," says Mr Chai, who completed the foundation course in 2002 and is on track to completing his bachelor's degree next year.
"There was some apprehension in the beginning as it was a totally new area for me. But I was determined to study science.
"With my wife's blessings, I quit my job to become a househusband, juggling schoolwork with looking after the home. I looked after my daughter in the day and attended classes in the evening. It was challenging, but I enjoyed the time I spent with my daughter.
"And in school, I was very proactive. I did my own learning and attended additional laboratory practice sessions," he says.
His studies are going well and even before graduating with his degree, Mr Chai has already found his way into the scientific industries.
Last year, he secured a job doing sales and marketing with German MNC Schulke & Mayr, with the help of one of his lecturers, Ms Priscilla Tan.
"She was a tremendous help as she really inspired and motivated me a lot. She even used her personal time to guide me through mock interviews," he says.
He has since left the company to become a product specialist at Agri-Aqua Biotechnologies (S), a subsidiary of a public-listed Singapore firm, PDC Corporation. Besides the company's Biotech unit, it also has other business units dealing with hybrid crops, specifically various species of corn and coffee.
"My job involves cultivation prevention, which is essentially the prevention of crop diseases, as well as business development and the marketing of biotechnological products that keep livestock and agriculture healthy and yet benefit the environment," says Mr Chai, who is certain that he would not have been able to start his new career without his new qualifications.
"My BSc course helped me land my job in the science industry," he says.
"The degree is offered by a very reputable institute, the University of Bradford, and the course is also recognised internationally. It covers not just the theoretical aspects, but also laboratory work. So, it is very practical.
"The curriculum covers a range of subjects in the biomedical field, so the depth and knowledge gained can provide me with more career choices," he adds.
The director of the MDIS School of Life Sciences, Dr Andrew Lucy, says: "Through our school, the doors to the 'Ivory Tower' have been opened - with networking and career opportunities, job-enhancing co-curricular activities, state-of-the-art facilities and global recognition. These are all features of our school that have been designed to enable our students to take ownership of their dreams and to realise them."
Mr Chai is now even motivated enough to consider postgraduate studies in life sciences, either at the MDIS or an overseas institution.
"I'm steering myself towards the entrepreneurial aspects of the sciences and, currently, my involvement in cultivation and ecology might probably see me undertaking postgraduate studies in agriculture after my BSc to further deepen my theoretical foundations.
"This is my love and I want to build a career that involves the sciences," he says.