NTU Career Tracks 2024

A Career in Public Service: Boon Kok Ann

Tell us about your role and main responsibilities.

I am a Statistician at the Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS). DOS is Singapore’s National Statistical Office with a mission to deliver insightful statistics and trusted statistical services that empowers decision making. I am in the Household Surveys and Expenditure division and my role involves the collection, compilation, and dissemination of the Household Expenditure Survey (HES) data. My division is currently working on the HES 2022/23, and I work closely with my team to ensure that household expenditure data is collected and processed accurately and timely. As part of my work, I also explore the use of machine learning to streamline and reduce workload.

What made you pursue a career in this sector?

I have always been interested in data and how data empower us to gain insights into key issues. Over the course of my university life taking statistical and economics courses, I also gained an understanding of how we could make use of statistical software to aid data work. This further piqued my interest to study and work on data. Through previous internships, I also had a better idea of the intricacies behind this field (as it is not simply just calculating and presenting mean, mode, median data!), and they further reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career working with data.

What do you enjoy most about this role?

I enjoy compiling statistics from data collected from various sources for dissemination. It is very fulfilling, knowing that the statistical data I compiled are used for policy studies to improve the life of citizens.

I also enjoy that my role is dynamic and provides me with opportunities to be involved in a wide range of work, from survey planning, consultation, and engagement with key stakeholders, working with IT vendors on system development, field operations management, respondent management, data processing, data dissemination and data analytics. Being exposed to the many different workstreams equips me with different skillsets and opens out further work opportunities.

What were some work challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

As a young supervisor in a frontline role handling public respondents, one of the challenges I encountered is managing people’s relations. We need survey respondents’ cooperation to provide the required information in order to secure good response and quality data. Unlike other parts of data management and analysis which are more process focused, it takes time and efforts to garner support and results may not show immediately. We require a lot of patience and thorough understanding of the purpose of the work we do so that the public understand how the data can in turn benefit them in terms of better policies in time to come. Tips and support from other team members who have been through it help too.

What is needed to be successful in this role?

In terms of skillsets, strong analytical and quantitative skills with the ability to learn and apply relevant tools and techniques for data compilation and analysis are important. Strong communications skills are also crucial in our work as we are expected to communicate with our many stakeholders involved in the data work.

In terms of mindset, it is always good to keep an open mind and be adaptable, as we can never expect the challenges of tomorrow to always be the same as in the past. Whilst we can use past solutions to guide us in our approach, we should also prepare for our solutions to be totally different from how we solve our problems previously

Share your advice with students who are keen to pursue a career in your field.

To pursue a career related to data, I would recommend starting off by understanding more about the industry. Read up on data-related works you are interested in, attend events like career fairs and speak to professionals in the industry. Get a sense of what skillsets or experience you are lacking and take steps to bridge those gaps by taking up internships in the relevant data field or working on a personal data project. For internship opportunities, you may wish to consider looking through Careers@Gov or SingStat website. As for data projects, you may make use of the many online data sources, such as data.gov.sg or singstat.gov.sg, which are both very rich in the data you may use for your analysis.