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Harnessing the power of data to enhance our safety and security

With a degree in English Literature and a Masters in Quantitative Methods in Social Sciences, Ms Rachel Tan is now a data scientist at HTX

As a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholar, Ms Rachel Tan, 25, studied English Literature at the University of Durham in England. While pursuing her three-year undergraduate degree, she also picked up Spanish and French languages.

However, during her second year at university, she became curious about data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) as both were hot topics at the time. After taking a few free coding courses online, Ms Tan realised that she had a natural affinity for programming.

She then started learning computer programming on the side and was keen to find out how data could help organisations in a digitalised world. Under the PSC scholarship, she had the opportunity to experience internships at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) as well as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), where she gained an understanding of the growing importance of digitalisation and technology in policy-making.

“Data is all around us these days and having experienced non-technical internships with other ministries, I saw how it has the potential to drastically change the way we work,” she says.

“It is important to have first-hand experience working in tech in order to effectively understand the full implications of tech policy”.

As such, after completing her first degree in England, she went on to complete a one-year Master of Art in the Quantitative Methods in Social Sciences at Columbia University in the US. The programme prepares students to solve problems, shape policies and explain a complex world by combining data science with social science.

As a PSC scholar, she then requested to switch her Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) track to an engineering track and indicated an interest to join HTX.

After an interview, she accepted HTX as her first PSLP posting because its strong tech-focused mandate aligned with her own interest in data science. There were also better opportunities to grow, as it was a new agency with a younger workforce.

Today, armed with both degrees, she is a data scientist at the Data Science & AI (DSAI) Centre of Expertise (CoE) at HTX.

Ms Tan now works mainly on Natural Language Processing (NLP), where she researches various text analytics techniques before building and training machine learning and deep learning models. The models are then tested before being trialed and deployed to Home Team departments that need them.

For example, the team has assisted the ICA Safe Travel Office (STO) in leveraging NLP and visual analytics to help analyse the huge volume of queries that it receives daily and accurately identify trending queries. This helps ICA STO to improve their public communications to provide clearer information to travelers.

In this age of big data, Ms Tan’s work in HTX’s DSAI CoE in finding data-driven solutions to problems is crucial in equipping the Home Team with capabilities to make more informed decisions and respond more efficiently.

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