With Grit, Determination and Focus: A Journey from N-Levels to a Bachelor’s with Honours

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7 May 2021 — Suhana Bte Saad’s educational journey has surprised her with a few twists and turns. However, it is a path she would gladly walk again, because with every step, she has discovered more about herself, learned valuable lessons and built beautiful relationships.

Searching for her passion
Growing up, Suhana often wondered about where life would lead her. As a student, she enjoyed science subjects, but didn’t think about her future prospects. Like many young students, Suhana was happy “going with the flow” and didn’t have a particular career that she was driven to pursue. In secondary school, she found herself in the Normal (Academic) stream, and knew that she needed to work hard to get into a Junior College (JC).

Through grit and perseverance, Suhana scored well enough in her O-Levels to enter a JC of her choice. It was preferable to her other option, a Polytechnic, because she was still struggling to find a course that really excited her. Her JC career proceeded relatively uneventfully, and she sat for her A-Level examinations as expected.

While waiting for her results to be released, Suhana happened upon information about a Chemical Engineering degree programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS). As she perused the course details and learned more about the career opportunities open to Chemical Engineering graduates, her eyes lit up.

“This is what I am meant to do!”

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However, her initial excitement was soon dampened. Holding her A-Level results in her hands, Suhana learned that she had not done well enough to earn a spot in the coveted degree programme. Disappointed, but not discouraged, she treated this potential roadblock as no more than a detour.

Suhana would simply take a different route to reach her destination. She enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic to pursue a Diploma in Chemical Engineering, and was determined to use this as a stepping stone to get into NUS.

Making a deliberate choice to work and study
Now that she could see her dream more clearly, Suhana plotted her future with a firm focus. She decided to give a full-time Chemical Engineering degree programme a miss. Instead, she set her sights on gaining working experience while studying part-time in the Bachelor of Technology (BTech) Chemical Engineering degree programme.

Her reasoning was clear. “In today’s context, employers want you to have working experience. I knew that having a reputable degree and working experience would be a combination that would open a lot more doors for me.”

Suhana had gotten married in the meantime, and had the opportunity to observe her husband as he completed his own part-time studies. With insights into the challenges that lay ahead, she believed that her goal-oriented focus and “no pain, no gain” attitude would see her through.

Over the next four years, Suhana would also draw strength from the support she received from the University, her lecturers and classmates, as well as her husband.

Feeling joy and appreciation, every step of the way
“Studying while working full-time is not easy,” Suhana admits, “but there are many ways NUS makes the programme more manageable for working professionals.” The programme’s flexibility is a plus point, she notes, pointing out how recorded lectures allow students to catch up on any lessons missed.

“The lecturers are also very experienced and knowledgeable, and are really good at explaining the content of lectures in an easy-to-understand manner. I could always speak to them, ask them questions and request for resources. They are always obliging and have our best interests at heart. In fact, they even rescheduled some of our lessons and tests to fit our work schedules better.”

Theoretical concepts and practical applications were not the only highlights of Suhana’s stint in the degree programme. Bubbly and curious by nature, Suhana also thoroughly enjoyed the chance to meet a broad range of classmates from diverse industries.

“You get first-hand industry knowledge from people who are working in a wide variety of interesting industries. That is exciting because these are industries that we can explore in future. Also, the networking opportunities that this part-time degree has afforded me have been invaluable.”

Suhana’s husband has also been a pillar of support during her studies. He would try to brighten her busy days with sweet gestures, like picking her up from school (in the west of Singapore) and driving home to the northeast point of the island – allowing her to reach home and rest earlier, while also giving her companionship on the trip home.

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The future is an open book
Her academic journey may have been a little roundabout, but the former Normal (Academic) student is now an honours graduate from one of the world’s most renowned engineering faculties – and a professional chemist to boot. Suhana loves her job, and is well settled into the career path that she has dreamed about for almost a decade.

The catalyst to this was a dash of inspiration that helped her to gain clarity about her life’s goals. With a powerful combination of grit, a positive attitude and the support of various people in her life, Suhana is now walking a path true to her heart.

 
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17 June 2021