Singapore, millennials, and STEM

Photo by Ousa Chea

3M, a multinational conglomerate, and Science Centre Singapore, an institution focused on promoting scientific education for the general public, recently held a virtual panel discussion to unveil and discuss results from the 3M State of Science Index 2021, a survey that tracks attitudes about science throughout the world. Organised by 3M, the survey was conducted across 17 countries, with 1,000 respondents from Singapore.

Some of the key findings include the following:

  • Medical professionals and scientists are inspiring the next generation. 65% of Singaporeans agree that during the pandemic, scientists and medical professionals are inspiring young people to pursue a science-based career. 71% of parents and 73% of younger generations (18-34-year-olds) are more likely to believe this.

  • The pandemic has inspired more Singaporeans to consider STEM careers. 64% of Singaporeans are more likely to be inspired to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career because of the pandemic (vs. 60% globally). This increases to 72% among millennials (25-40-year-olds).

  • 92% of Singaporeans agree it is important to improve diversity in STEM fields. 88% also agreed that more needs to be done to encourage and keep women and girls engaged in STEM. 93% believe corporations should play a key role in improving diversity within STEM fields (vs. 89% globally).

Science perceptions across other areas were also explored in the virtual panel discussion, including business, sustainability, STEM education, and equity. The panel comprised the following speakers:

  • Dr Lim Tit Meng, Associate Professor and Chief Executive of Science Centre Board
  • Kevin McGuigan, Vice President and Managing Director, 3M South-East Asia Region and Country Leader, Singapore
  • Dr Mark Chong, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Department of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore and Faculty Fellowship Head, Singapore Biodesign
  • Dr Suhina Singh, COO/Investor at Macan Pte. Ltd.

The discussion was moderated by Dr Lee Song Choon, Director, KidsSTOP and Events and Engagement at Science Centre Singapore.

The members of the panel remarked that most Singaporeans trust science today. They count on science to restore and rejuvenate their lives, and enable the road to recovery. “A large majority agreed that science gives them hope for the future (92% vs. 87% globally). The number of people who trust science has grown significantly since we began in 2018,” the panel said in a press statement.

Amplifying STEM

The session began with Dr Lee, the moderator, saying that the defining statement for science is hope, especially now that the country is a year into the pandemic. He added that science enables the road to recovery.

The panel also stated that 92% of Singapore respondents agree that the world needs more people pursuing STEM-related careers. They believe that increasing diversity in STEM is a top priority.

Delving deeper, Dr Lee said 82% of Singapore respondents believe that young people are more engaged in science and science-related issues now more than ever. Meanwhile, the global number is 69%.

When asked why the youth in Singapore are getting more engaged in science and science-related issues than their global peers, and whether this is due to the pandemic, Dr Suhina Singh said, “I think the pandemic has played a huge role in bringing science to the forefront. One of the key things that struck me about Singapore when I moved here about 8-9 years ago, was really how science sits at the core of the DNA of Singapore.”

“Given that science is really a part of the Singapore DNA, it’s not surprising that Singapore has established itself as a globally competitive science and technology R&D hub. There’s a lot of focus from the government to drive innovation, especially within science and deep tech. The results that you see are all part of the hard work that Singapore has been putting in,” Singh added.

Dr Mark Chong said Singapore has always had a historical link to science. “I guess most of the younger generation taking interest in science is perhaps because they’ve drawn inspiration from our Nobel laureates.”

“Of course, the pandemic has and will continue to increase the focus on science worldwide. I’d also like to point out that in terms of education, we are beginning to become more interdisciplinary. These days almost all fields like business, economics, and commerce use science” noted Chong.

Dr Lim Tit Meng felt that the pandemic was a “booster” to young people. “We learnt so much about tackling COVID, its dos and don’ts, and the like,” he said.

Millennials speak up for science

The survey results indicate that trust in science has grown from 85% in 2018 to 92% in 2021. It also found that 74% of millennials are willing to speak up more about science, as compared to 69% of all Singapore respondents.

When asked why they think millennials are more likely to speak up for science, and why they think some people do not want to defend science,” Dr Lim answered: “I am inclined to believe that science plays an important role in our society and our lives. We saw that our millennial generation has experienced the impact of science in their lives, especially due to the pandemic.”

“They are quite tech-savvy and therefore they are exposed to scientific equations quite freely, and know how to get the facts right. The youth are arguably the most active on social media, they are empowered to speak up, start, and continue conversations on the importance of science.”

Dr Singh added, “With millennials, there is quite a change in behaviour, I’d say, compared to other generations. They are more outspoken, which is why you’d see a lot of them speaking up for science.”

They need to be cognisant of how they speak up. I feel the millennial generation must use their voice in a constructive, respectful manner.”

Representation of women in STEM

As stated earlier, 88% of Singapore respondents acknowledged that more needs to be done to encourage and keep women and girls engaged in STEM. 66% agree that negative consequences to society are because the science community fails to attract more women to STEM careers.

When asked why women are facing barriers to entering STEM, Dr Singh believes that there are many underlying social biases. “There are biases like boys are better than girls when it comes to science and mathematics. This is primarily because a lot of societal pressures are built on women and girls to start a family.”

Dr Chong observed that in the field of engineering, it’s traditionally males that dominate. Even though there has been some equity, a lot still needs to be done.

The panel agrees that corporations have a key role to play in improving the diversity in STEM fields. 93% of Singapore respondents believe that corporations should support STEM education. They must provide grants and scholarships to underrepresented students. Moreover, they must host programs like internships, summer camps, and workshops to help students pursue STEM.

The panelists believe that more innovative ideas, greater global collaboration, and more research could help underserved populations.

Reducing the carbon footprint

The results of the survey revealed that the pandemic has made Singaporeans more environmentally conscious, with 93% of respondents believing they should follow science to help make the world more sustainable. The Singapore respondents also agree that better solutions to mitigate climate change need to be put in place immediately.

The survey also found that Singaporeans have become more concerned about environmental issues over the past year as compared to the rest of the world. The parameters include:

  • Climate change (79% vs. 69% globally)
  • Air pollution (76% vs. 68% globally)
  • Intensifying natural disasters (75% vs. 69% globally)
  • Ocean plastic pollution (74% vs. 70% globally)
  • Clean water supply (72% vs. 64% globally)
Image courtesy of Science Centre Singapore