Exploring scholarship options after leaving junior college, the then-18-year-old Jonathan Lee Choon Yang was attracted to the challenging and dynamic work at the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

He recalls: “At the time, I decided on LTA as I realised transport issues are critical to a densely populated city like Singapore, and we are constantly working to improve our already efficient transport system.

“LTA has everything from massive engineering projects to policy planning. Furthermore, it is also one of the few governmental organisations that allow for an engineer to practise engineering. This was another positive factor that attracted me to the organisation.”

He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom on an LTA Overseas Scholarship. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he was awarded another LTA scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in engineering at Cambridge.

Overseas experience

The LTA Overseas Scholarship has given Mr Lee the invaluable experience of studying in a renowned institution. It also enabled him to meet top students from the UK and around the world.

He says: “I also managed to learn a lot about the foreign culture that I was immersed in and gained the independence that comes from living away from home for a few years.”

The scholarship covered tuition and compulsory fees, maintenance allowance, sponsorship of one approved student exchange programme/summer school and return economy/student airfare.

Putting knowledge into action

Currently, Mr Lee, 25, works as a project engineer in Rolling Stock under the Rail Department.

The department provides new trains to the current fleet of MRT trains operated by SMRT or SBST.

He is attached to the project team that provides 24 new trains for the Circle Line and 18 new trains for the North East Line (NEL).

His roles have many facets. These include testing and commissioning of new trains, coordinating meetings with contractors and the rail operators (SMRT and SBST), and addressing the faults of new trains operating on the main line.

Mr Lee says: “I have the chance to put my engineering knowledge to practical use when we encounter problems with the trains.

“Understanding these problems helps me to learn about the train subsystems, such as the brakes, traction, bogies, air-conditioning, and the complexities of each individual subsystem.”

He was posted to Shanghai for train testing and manufacturing from February to April last year.

“It was eye-opening to observe how a train is manufactured and assembled, and the experience of living overseas and dealing with the foreign contractors was very educational,” he says.

Mr Lee adds that one of the most rewarding experiences in LTA was the handover of the last train in the project to SBST on the NEL in October last year. It was poignant given the effort put in by the whole project team over four years.

He says LTA engages scholars through facilitating engagements among them and organising regular dialogue sessions with senior management so that they can voice their concerns and learn more about the organisation quickly.

He adds: “We are also given senior mentors in the organisation who will help to guide us in our professional career choices, and are given occasional insights into the way the senior management operates in LTA.”

Career aspiration

Mr Lee advises prospective scholarship applicants to take time exploring the various scholarship options.

He says: “The scholarship is much more than just an opportunity for free education, it is also a job opportunity after your studies are completed.

“It is wise to choose an organisation that offers very diverse job opportunities, as you might want to try out different portfolios within the organisation before you decide on the right fit for you.”

In the future, he hopes to be posted to a different department within the rail systems sector in LTA so that he can get a broader picture of how the different engineering subgroups interface in Singapore’s rail system.