Tan Chor Kiang, Assistant Head (Strategy / CREATE)
1. Tell us about your role in NRF.
I am part of two teams in NRF - my main portfolio is in the Strategy directorate, and I concurrently hold an appointment in the CREATE (Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise) directorate. The key role of the Strategy directorate is to design policies and interventions that help to strengthen our research, innovation and enterprise (RIE) ecosystem, by investing in research capabilities in areas of strategic interest in Singapore, and facilitating the translation of research into impactful outcomes that support our future economy or address our national challenges. However, we cannot achieve this alone - our role in rallying and bringing together the community towards these goals is as important as designing the policies to achieve them. Hence, we have to build strong relationships with our partner agencies, industries and research performers to get a better understanding of the key gaps in our RIE landscape and jointly develop policies that plug these gaps.
My other portfolio is a programme manager in the CREATE directorate. In this role, I look after our partnership with UC Berkeley, which currently runs two research programmes in the areas of building energy efficiency and solar materials. As a programme manager, I look after the administrative aspects of running the two research programmes, while facilitating connections between these programmes and the agencies that might have strong use cases for them, to facilitate the translation of research outcomes. This role reinforces my understanding of the RIE ecosystem and how the policies I design under my Strategy hat can facilitate research.
2. What is your most exciting experience in NRF?
One of my most memorable experience in NRF was the development of the five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020) Plan. The planning took place over a year, where we had to first undergo a major shift of our RIE planning from being agency-centric to being oriented along four technological domains. This is in recognition that the challenges we face today are getting increasingly complex, and require greater collaboration to be able to collectively address them. Next, after reviewing our achievements in the previous five-year plan, we recognised that we had developed a strong base of scientific capabilities, and the time was ripe for us to bring these research outcomes into impact for the society and economy. This required us to think more deeply about the pathways to value creation and capture for our various research investments. These shifts were critical but not easy to make, and we had to work closely with our partner agencies to implement these changes. I was very excited when our one year of hard work finally culminated in the announcement of the $19 billion RIE2020 plan by our Prime Minister in Jan 2016.
3. Share with us one thing you enjoy while working in NRF.
I’ve always been fascinated by science and tech. One thing my “inner geek” enjoys about NRF is the opportunity to meet and interact with eminent scientists and technologists regularly, some of whom were involved in inventing technologies we now use in our everyday lives, such as the internet, graphics accelerator chips in our computers and Siri in our iPhones.
4. How does your time in NRF aid in your career goals?
I’ve always wished to pursue a career that was aligned to my interest in science and tech, which was why I was delighted when Singapore announced its vision to transform itself into a Smart Nation. To realise this vision, we will need the support of a Smart Government, and I am keen to explore how we can leverage new technologies to transform the way agencies work and public services are delivered. To be able to do so effectively, I will need to be conversant in technology, and my time in NRF has exposed me to a wide spectrum of emerging technologies and the possibilities they offer. For instance, our CREATE programmes with MIT, TUM and ETH Zurich have developed simulation tools and mobility vehicles and services which can enhance our transport planning and improve our urban mobility.
5. If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in NRF, what would it be?
Just like the Moore’s Law for computing power, the rate of disruption from new technologies is getting faster, and the impact will be felt across all aspects of our lives. Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Grab have shown that disruption, when it happens, can happen fast and can have a transformative impact on an entire industry sector. Hence, regardless of whether we work in the sector of science and technology, we should always keep a close touch with the latest technology trends in this new digital age, so that we can capitalise on the opportunities which these new technologies can offer, rather than be caught off guard by them.