My interest in finding a postdoctoral position in Singapore began in early 2000, about 1 year after my husband was requested by his employer (a medium-sized Canadian manufacturing company) to open and manage a new Asian facility. The initiation of the new plant was scheduled for June 2000, and my husband was asked to stay in Singapore for at least 2 years.
I agreed to the relocation to Singapore for my husband's career advancement before seriously considering the possibility of continuing my training as a researcher in Singapore. However, I quickly realized that my scientific career would potentially benefit greatly from a postdoctoral research position in Singapore. Furthermore, the timing of the proposed relocation was ideal: I had completed my Ph.D. in January 1999 and had negotiated a short-term postdoctoral position with my Ph.D. advisor to perform a straightforward research project related to my Ph.D. thesis research.
In our initial negotiations, my husband's company agreed to pay for me to travel to Singapore in order to find employment and assess the suitability of Singapore from the perspective of our family's standard of life. We have two children who at the time of the proposed relocation would have been 4 years and 1 year old. Therefore, education, child care, and living accommodations were as equally important as employment.
After first investigating the opportunities for research in Singapore on the Internet and getting advice from researchers in Toronto with personal contacts and collaborations in Singapore, I concluded that the best institution for me to continue my training would be at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB). This was based on my own grounding in molecular/developmental biology and my interest in gaining greater expertise in cell biology and biochemistry. My application (cover letter and curriculum vitae) to the director of the IMCB was replied to immediately and positively, and the arrangements for a visit to IMCB to meet potential postdoctoral advisors and to give a seminar on my current work were made quickly.
During my visit to the IMCB in March 2000, I was extremely impressed with the high standard of research, the advanced facilities available, and the international faculty at the IMCB. Moreover, research at IMCB reflects diverse scientific interests and experimental systems, ranging from yeast genetics to Drosophila development to mouse genetics. I had the strong impression that my expertise in generating and characterizing targeted mutations in the mouse was in high demand for many of the potential advisors that I discussed projects with, and that my own goal to gain more experience in signaling and cell biology could readily be accommodated. Furthermore, because a number of funding options were open to me from granting agencies such as the Human Frontier Science Program and International collaborations through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (then the Medical Research Council), I felt that the opportunity to pursue peer-reviewed grants would not be missed by carrying out research in Singapore. Finally, the foreign postdoctoral fellows that I had the opportunity to meet with (all from Europe) were highly satisfied with the level of scientific training that they were receiving in Singapore, although they suggested that they did feel somewhat isolated, both personally and scientifically.
Aside from the positive and exciting prospects of doing high quality research in Singapore, both my husband and I felt that Singapore would be an interesting country to live in at least temporarily even for a young family. Singapore has a high standard of living and diverse cultural heritage. Housing, although smaller that what we are used to in Canada, is more than adequate in terms of conveniences and quality. Rents are generally very high for housing that is available to non-Singaporean nationals, but since we were being relocated at the request of my husband's company, the exact cost would not have been a deciding factor for us. Other practical issues such as buying a car and furniture were easily solved after consulting with a relative who had also been relocated to Singapore as well as a number of Web sites dedicated to the expatriate community in Singapore, such as Expat Singapore, American Association of Singapore, and People Going Global.
During my 10-day visit, I was able to assess that high-quality day care with convenient hours and locations was available, in addition to the possibility of live-in household help. This made the prospect of working fulltime away from the support of family (as we are accustomed to in Toronto) more realistic. In addition, one of our greatest concerns was the education of our eldest child, who had already entered the school system in Canada. Fortunately, due to the large expatriate population living in Singapore, a number of private schools can accommodate children from diverse school systems. We had in fact completed the registration for our daughter in the Canadian School, which suited her interests well and we feel that her education would not have been interrupted, and she would have been able to smoothly transition herself back into her school in Toronto upon our return to Canada.
Personally I was excited at the prospect of living in Southeast Asia, nearby so many countries that my husband and I have been planning to visit for a number of years. I feel that the experience of living abroad among new customs, living styles, and climate is the finest education both for children and adults. Since I have already experienced living in a foreign country (I spent nearly 4 years working in Japan before returning to Canada for graduate school), I viewed the possibility of settling in Singapore for a few years as an exciting challenge and opportunity both for personal and career development.
Unfortunately for us, my husband's company changed its business plan for the new facility in Singapore very close to our expected departure date, and the plan to relocate our family was abruptly cancelled after most of the arrangements were in place. Although my husband's job was not seriously affected, we were disappointed and disoriented for several months after the cancellation. (This was a harsh lesson for me about life in the business world compared to the freedom of academia to make and carry out plans according to personal goals!) Nevertheless, after exploring Singapore for scientific research opportunities, schools, housing, etc., I have recommended a number of adventure-oriented colleagues to explore the possibility of postdoctoral training in Singapore. For a number of reasons, my husband and I have not yet been able to fulfill our goal to live and work in Southeast Asia, but we are excited by the prospect that we may have this opportunity again some time in the future.