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October 2000, Vol. 3 No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Setting Up the Department of Biological Sciences’ Professional Placement Programme
 
Associate Professor Victor Wong and
Mrs Wong Wai Peng
Department of Biological Sciences
 

In the first semester of the 1998/1999 academic year, the Department of Biological Sciences set up its Professional Placement Programme (PPP). This article summarises our experiences in organising this nascent programme of industrial attachment for our students.

Logistics

To allow us to marshal and focus our limited resources, it was decided early on that industrial placement would be offered once a year and only in the first semester of the students’ third year. Student selection was done early and was entirely meritocratic, i.e. based on the Cumulative Average Points (CAPs) of essential modules over the first three semesters. This allowed us a grace period of six months to find the required number of placements. A reserve list was maintained to cater to students below a certain CAP but who would have had difficulty in switching majors without doing extra semesters. An initial figure of 46 students (and 3 reserves) was arrived at. Consequently, numerous forms and records of students (and organisations) had to be generated and kept.

Defining The Biotechology Industry

A true biotechnology industry currently doesn’t exist in Singapore. As most of the attachments had to be local, we defined the industry as one involving all organisations dealing with life science products. This created quite a substantial listing of potential placement organisations that we divided into two broad categories: Agrobiology and Biotechnology. (It was not feasible to over-categorise as we would be creating pedantic details that would not match with student expectations.) Agrobiology covered fieldwork and included fish breeding farms, greenhouses, research stations, etc. Biotechnology covered lab-based operations and included breweries, lab-based operations, hospitals, etc. The organisations were contacted via direct mailing, email, and telephone. We followed through on all contacts with personal visits to explain about the scope of the PPP, its objectives and their organisation’s potential involvement.

Matching Students To Industry

A simple curriculum vitae (CV) form was created for each student covering their background, research interests, and preference for attachment in Agrobiology or Biotechnology. The perception among the students was that an attachment to research institutes was a prime posting. Hence, only students with a CAP above 4 were pre-selected and their CVs were sent to the research institutes. The students were arranged in alphabetical order and usually several candidates for one placement were sent to each organisation listed under Agrobiology or Biotechnology. This manner of selection minimised any partiality on ourpart as the organisations themselves did the final selection of students. All returned student names were sent out to other organisations on our list.

Students were expected to accept the industrial placement offered. Any unreasonable reshuffling among the students would have created problems between the Department and respective organisations. However, there were exceptions. One student was emphatic about not working with insects. As this was a reasonable rejection, the student was placed elsewhere. Another case involved an Indonesian student who was accepted but was expected possibly to travel to Batam for fieldwork. As the Indonesian student would have to pay considerable exit/entry fees to Indonesia, a replacement candidate was found for the posting.

Expanding The PPP Beyond Singapore

During the first PPP exercise, one student, through her own initiative, obtained an overseas placement. We assisted her by checking that the position offered was with a bona fide organisation dealing with life sciences and then sending this organisation a copy of our PPP objectives. Once the link was verified, the student arranged for her own visa application.

However, for us to expand the PPP beyond Singapore, we need to improve our administrative capability and seek additional support. For instance, we have to ensure that this programme does not clash with the Student Exchange Programme over regional exchanges or the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme over research projects.

Although we have approached numerous regional organisations about becoming involved with the PPP, their awareness of industrial attachment is generally limited and patience is required to generate a change in mindset. So, we are now exploring exchange programmes with other overseas institutions with similar industrial attachment programmes and hope to formalise overseas postings in the PPP by next year.

In addition, we would like to propose that the University consider offering scholarship awards for short overseas industrial attachment, apart from the existing subsidies for travel and warm clothing expenses. Such a measure would definitely enhance the distinction of being selected for the PPP.


Acknowledgements:
We would like to thank our colleagues Assoc Prof Yeoh Hock Hin, Assoc Prof Lim Tit Meng, and Dr Kwa Siew Hwa for their advice and encouragement, and Ms Lee Chooi Lan, Ms Reena Samynadan, and Ms Yong Ann Nee for their assistance in this programme.

 
 
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Inside this issue
Organising Apprenticeship Programmes: Methods, Pitfalls and Optimisation
   
Setting Up the Department of Biological Sciences' Professional Placement Programme
   
Practical Training Scheme at the Departments of Building and Real Estate
   
The Applied Chemistry Professional Placement Programme
   
The Virtual Laboratory Platform as a Form of Internet-based Apprenticeship
   
Civil Service Internship Programme for Political Science Students
   
Internship for Arts Students in the Talent Development Programme ogramme
   
Apprenticeship in Postgraduate Orthodontic Training
   
Student Responses to the Pharmacy Practice Preceptorship Programme