A visit to Singapore and Malaysia

The President, Professor Jane Clarke, describes her recent visit to Southeast Asia

Jane at Sunway

Just before the end of term Sian Cook, our Development Director, and I jetted off to Singapore and Malaysia to visit supporters and friends for the second time. Nearly one-third of our students come from this region and on this trip we looked forward to reconnecting with alumni, meet friends in the region and even visit some of our current students on their home soil.

The first three days were focussed on science.

Two of our Fellows, Professor Alexei Lapkin and Professor Steve Evans are members of CARES (Cambridge Centre for Advanced Research and Education in Singapore) – a Cambridge research facility based in the CREATE building at the National University of Singapore (NUS) CARES has as its focus research into a sustainable future for the planet. We also met with Perman Jorayev, a current PhD student in Chemical Engineering, and recent alumnus Dr Nick Jose (PhD, 2015), both of whom are working in CARES with Alexei at present (the Wolfpack in Singapore!).

In a seminar entitled Where are all the women? I discussed some of the reasons women are lost from the scientific workforce. We also held an alumni event at CARES, preceded by a tour of Alexei's labs.  

On the second day we visited the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU to meet the Dean, Professor James Best, and to hold a workshop for young female academics. The medical school already has strong  links with Cambridge and with Wolfson, and with our donor Dr Lee Seng Tee. But it was not all work as we had a delightful dinner that evening with James and Professor Daniele Rhodes (of Nanyang Technical University) at the newly restored Raffles Hotel in their legendary Writers Bar (gimlets shaken and not stirred!).

We were lucky enough to attend a conference on climate change at the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) on the third day, and to be given a tour of the Biennale exhibition at the Singapore National Gallery hosted by one of our alumni Dee Chia (MPhil Education, 2008), Head of Education and Programmes.

On Saturday we flew to Kuala Lumpur. We were honoured to meet with architect Ken Yeang, alumnus and Honorary Fellow who has won many awards for his ecological architectural designs. On Sunday morning we held an alumni event for around 30 Wolfsonians in our hotel. There were such a range of people there, from senior members of the military and civil service who attended Wolfson in its earliest days to Press Fellows spanning 30 years (even one who has yet to arrive) to more recent students. Then we were off to Sunway University.

As last year, we were pleased to join with Sunway to support the second ASEAN Emerging Researchers’ Conference – the brainchild of, amongst others, three Wolfson alumni — Wen Yao Lee, Professor Abhi Veerakumarasivam and Dr Elizabeth Lee of Sunway University.  The conference attracted around 500 researchers from all ten ASEAN member states. Sunway generously paid for my airfare for this trip, and the conference kept me busy. I gave the opening keynote lecture, ran a workshop on academic career pathways, and was on a panel focussing on Fostering an Inclusive & Future-Focused ASEAN Ecosystem where I was joined by another Wolfson alumnus, Ibrahim Mohammed (IbzMo to his YouTube fans). I hear that Ibz’s workshop on Being an Influencer on Social Media was more popular than mine!

On Wednesday morning we went back to Singapore, where we had a number of meetings (all involving eating and drinking!) with alumni and current students who were generous with their time and interested in our visions for the future of Wolfson. Highlights included dinner overlooking the harbour with Anthony Teo and the Vice Consul Alexandra McKenzie the Deputy British High Commissioner, coffee with alumnus Dr Han Chong Toh (Medicine, 1987) Deputy Director of the National Cancer Centre in Singapore and breakfast with Michael Shearer, a current student on the MSt Sustainability Leadership course We also held a second Singapore alumni event, where current, recently departed and long-departed students reminisced about their lives at Wolfson.

While on our trip we promoted our newly launched alumni portal Wolfson Connect  which enables our global network of alumni to reach out to each other. Back home in Cambridge, the portal is being rolled out over the coming months to alumni groups, so keep an eye out for your invitation to join.

This was a great visit to Singapore and Malaysia. I was again struck by the warm and generous welcome we received and the enthusiasm and support for Wolfson’s emerging strategic vision. What we heard is that time spent at Wolfson really does change lives, open minds and create a network of like-minded skilled professionals around the world. I look forward to further alumni trips next year.