Empathy Before Ingenuity: A Civil Servant’s Guide to Better Decision-Making


23 November 2022 — Goh Xin Yi is a bubbly 28-year-old who is always thinking of others and their well-being.

Her thoughtful nature is reflected in many of her decisions—from her resolve to immediately enter the workforce upon her graduation from Singapore Polytechnic to relieve her family’s financial strain, to her decision to serve Singaporeans from all walks of life through her civil service career, and her choice of pursuing a Sociology degree.

“In the line of work that I am in, my colleagues and I meet many types of people, and we want to help them all,” she says. “We try to make the best decisions we can, with their best interests in mind. However, I believe we can do better, if we have the ability to understand and empathise with them on a deeper level. This is where an in-depth understanding of sociology will help.”

From Studies to a Career, and Back to School

While Xin Yi had always aspired to earn a university degree, she put her plans on hold after graduating with a diploma as she prioritised contributing financially to her parents while her elder brother served his national service and went to university.

During this time, Xin Yi worked at a local food company for a few years, before taking on a role as an Assistant Management Executive at Singapore’s Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA). At the organisation, a senior colleague told Xin Yi about the company’s scholarship programme and advised her to apply for it.

After considering her options, Xin Yi applied for the scholarship and made the decision to join the National University of Singapore (NUS) through the Advance@NUS pathway.


Choosing Advance@NUS

“I chose the Advance@NUS pathway as it is designed for adult learners,” Xin Yi shares. Continuing, she says: “It takes your working experience into account and offers you a specialised path towards gaining the skills and knowledge you need to excel in your workplace and progress in your career.

“As someone who was out of school for seven years, I felt very comfortable going back to school via this specially designed pathway.”

Acquiring Real-World Skills and Abilities

Since embarking on her NUS Bachelor of Social Sciences, Sociology (Honours) degree programme, Xin Yi has acquired quite an amount of knowledge that she would not have gained through her work. She has found the modules on gender studies and religion particularly interesting.

“These are topics we usually do not talk about or discuss,” she notes. “However, in my line of work, these issues genuinely matter to many people who approach me for assistance.”

Xin Yi continues: “The more I learn, the wider my perspectives become. This will help me make better decisions and policy recommendations when I return to my workplace after my studies.”

She also appreciates all the other skills she is picking up. These include information technology skills, social knowledge, and, at the top of her list, writing skills.

“I always felt that my writing skills were not very good, and the last time I wrote a report was seven years ago!” she laughs. “Luckily, the professors offer consultations after classes and are open to students emailing them with questions. Thanks to them, my writing has improved and I am more confident about writing for both school and work.”


On the Horizon

The future is bright for the civil servant and aspiring sociology degree holder. After she graduates, Xin Yi will return to ICA to complete her four-year bond and grow her career.

While graduation is still a while away, she is excited about applying directly to her work what she has been learning in her studies. She can already see in her mind the many practical applications, and is waiting for an opportunity to put her newfound knowledge to good use.

Xin Yi appreciates how her newfound understanding of sociology is already giving her new perspectives on everyday situations and helping her to empathise with Singaporeans from various walks of life. All this has given her the assurance that her decision to take on a sociology degree programme and walk the Advance@NUS path has been the right one.

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23 November 2022