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Studying dung beetles to data science: How they are exploring diverse interests
By Marianne Tan
Pearlyn_Zann_Syed_NTU_SPH Scholars Choice
Ms Perlyn Chew, Ms Zann Teo and Mr Syed Zaheen are on their way to realising their career dreams with the opportunities offered by NTU’s Premier Scholars Programmes. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

NTU’s Premier Scholars Programmes have led these undergraduates to build on their varied passions through research and valuable internships

From extensive research opportunities and overseas trips to internships at leading global organisations, Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s Premier Scholars Programmes (PSP) offer a multidisciplinary approach to learning while equipping students to thrive in an evolving workplace. 

For these three students, the PSP programmes are enabling them to chase their dreams and find their purpose in life. 

More on this topic: These NTU students are empowered to create change through education

Using technology to empower businesses

Ms Pearlyn Chew credits the REP programme with fuelling her passion for empowering businesses through technology. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

While interning at Amazon and Shopee, Ms Perlyn Chew often had to straddle the seemingly opposing worlds of engineering and business management. 

When she was part of Amazon’s technology consulting team, she had to come up with technical solutions using cloud technologies and data analytics to meet the business needs of clients. 

At Shopee, she worked as a technical product manager, acting as a bridge between the different teams – business, software engineers and quality assurance testers – to ensure that a product met market demands.

“These roles required me to have a strong understanding of both the technical and business aspects, and the communication skills to be able to explain complex technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders,” she explains.

The computer science undergraduate credits her ability to do so to the Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP), NTU’s flagship engineering programme that covers a broad spectrum of multidisciplinary subjects bridging engineering, business and humanities.

As part of her REP curriculum, Ms Chew took modules in business and technology management which she says has complemented her engineering studies. 

“The REP programme has helped me understand the importance and benefits of using technology in business while fuelling my passion for empowering businesses through technology,” she says.

Creating a species checklist for dung beetles

Ms Zann Teo appreciates the early exposure to research opportunities, something quite unique to the CN Yang Scholars Programme she is enrolled in. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

Dung beetles collect dung, bury it, feed on it and lay their eggs in it. In the process, they help to disperse seeds, recycle nutrients and even reduce methane emissions. If these insects vanish, forest biodiversity will decline and healthy ecosystems will be thrown off balance.

Ms Zann Teo, a scholar with NTU’s research-focused CN Yang Scholars Programme (CNYSP), discovered her fascination with the insect during her first CNYSP research attachment at the Tropical Ecology and Entomology Lab at NTU. 

As part of her third-year research project, she compiled a species checklist that will help scientists and biologists make conservation plans for both the identified dung beetle species and their closely affiliated mammal communities in the ecosystem.

“I wanted to create this checklist to better understand the present biodiversity of the insect and add value to taxonomic records,” she explains. 

Ms Teo’s research was recognised as the Regional Winner of Asia for the category of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the UA Global Summit 2022 in Dublin.

“I hope my research can deepen our understanding of the impacts of climate and land use change, and guide future biodiversity conservation policy,” she says.

Through CNYSP, she also had the opportunity to complete her final year project – on the impacts of environmental and land use change on wasp populations – at the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London, where she interacted with leading ecologists from around the world, an experience that left a deep impression on her.

“The CNYSP had exposed me to research since I was a freshman, an opportunity that is quite unique to the programme,” she says. 

“The funding support has also allowed me to broaden my horizons and attend science conferences overseas to enrich my knowledge and deepen my interest in the field.”

Communicating well as a data scientist

Mr Syed Zaheen feels the ability to work as a team and present findings is crucial, but so is communicating well as a data scientist. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

If curiosity is a skill highly sought after at the workplace, Mr Syed Zaheen will probably outshine many of his peers. 

During his National Service years, he tried his hand at building apps. In his free time, he watched YouTube videos on topics ranging from psychology and maths to philosophy.

At university, Mr Syed’s priority was to take time to explore his interests, however diverse they may be. It was why he applied for the NTU-University Scholars Programme (NTU-USP) which offers interdisciplinary courses across the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences, with opportunities for various overseas programmes. 

While the quantitative nature of his major in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence might seem at odds with the interdisciplinary NTU-USP curriculum, Mr Syed believes they complement each other.

For example, as part of his modules, he got to dabble in ethnographic fieldwork on heritage conservation and sustainability. One of his overseas trips brought him to Ipoh where he presented findings about preserving the town’s heritage as a former mining settlement that was dependent on Chinese immigrant labour. 

“The ability to work as a team and present findings is always crucial but communicating well as a data scientist is just as important,” he explains.

Mr Syed recently completed an internship as a software developer and will be exploring his options in data science and research.

His advice to new undergraduates is this: “Take your time to explore your interests, then just choose a starting point in terms of what your goals are. It’s not possible to know until you try it out.”

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