Faces of A*STAR

From EM3 to PhD: A*Star researcher scored 124 for PSLE

Published on 19 Nov 2018 | By Jolene Ang | Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

From EM3 to PhD: A*Star researcher scored 124 for PSLE

While he may be a research fellow now, Dr Vincent Lim's journey to obtaining his PhD was anything but predictable.

He started as an EM3 pupil in primary school, a stream for academically weaker pupils that was scrapped in 2008. With a Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) score of 124, he made it only to the Normal (Academic) stream in secondary school.

But Dr Lim, now 33, started to shine as a polytechnic student and later graduated with first class honours from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where he read biology. Unsurprisingly, he is an advocate for not giving up on weaker students.

"Aside from the practical intentions of grades and certificates being a way to enter or build a workforce... one more primary function of the education system is to give our children a sense of hope," he said. "Education should leave them feeling hopeful, and not hopeless."

He knows the feeling of being overwhelmed - as a first-year polytechnic student, he could not help but compare himself with his peers.

"After my first semester results, I realised the limits of my abilities as I started to encounter peers that were more capable than me," said Dr Lim, who studied biotechnology at Singapore Polytechnic.

"I remember lying sleepless for a few nights thinking as though I had lost my identity. It took me a while to accept that fact (limits of his abilities) and to use hard work to overcome my limitations."

Now a research fellow at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) Institute of Medical Biology, Dr Lim has come a long way since his days as a quiet pupil.

He spent the first three years at Jin Tai Primary School, which has since closed down, and three years at Chua Chu Kang Primary School.

"I am very introverted by nature, and big noisy classes were the last place I wanted to be," said Dr Lim.

But even in primary school, he knew he had a penchant for the sciences. "There were people around me who helped me discover that it is interesting and that I don't have to be afraid to be curious," he said.

"As a child, I think I saw reading about science as a way to make sense of what seemed like a scary world around me."

As the PSLE approached, he studied hard - not because he wanted to score well, but because he had discovered a new interest.

Said Dr Lim: "Once the momentum was there, it was a matter of maintaining my interest."

At Kranji Secondary School, he started to improve academically. And a classmate declared that he would beat him at mathematics. "I didn't think about it and just went on with my life, but a year later he came back to me and said sheepishly that I had 'won'. I felt surprised back then by his behaviour.

"But thinking back, I think the lesson here is that his objective then was to overcome me, which was a stationary target to him. I was aiming to overcome myself, which is a perpetually moving target."

After NTU, he obtained his PhD in Medicine (Research) from Dundee University in Scotland.

Dr Lim believes weaker students tend to have lower self-esteem, which means they care a lot about what others think of them. "Everyone is fighting a battle you cannot see. So always be kind," he said.

To the students struggling academically, he said: "Despite the situation you are in, there are always ways to go on. Don't give up on yourself, and you will find a way."


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