Joel Aik (MSc Epidemiology, 2011) works as an Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Director for the Environmental Health Institute National Environment Agency, Singapore. In this blog, he explains his journey since leaving LSHTM and advice for current students.
“I was offered an agency fellowship to train as an Epidemiologist, and I wanted to learn from the best, so LSHTM was a natural choice. After I completed my degree at LSHTM in 2011, I returned to my agency to resume my career. LSHTM left a deep burning desire in me to apply the skills and knowledge that I had acquired. Though I actively sought opportunities to apply my newfound expertise, I was somewhat disappointed that the subsequent back-to-back job roles in policy formulation and implementation I took on required little of what I had learnt. So I contemplated my future.
“In July 2015, when my son turned two and my daughter had just experienced her first month of life, I started on a research-based public health doctorate at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) with my agency’s blessing. I was thrilled to apply the LSHTM epidemiological training to my research on food-borne diseases in Singapore. I have always connected with my LSHTM course mates through Facebook and enjoy reminiscing about our past days. I am also a beneficiary of their epidemiological expertise which I tap on now and then (without shame).
“I took up a full-time research position at the Environmental Health Institute in April 2018, overseeing their focus areas on epidemiology, ecology and diagnostics. I was conferred with my doctorate in December that year, an achievement attributable to my wonderful experience at LSHTM, as well as a great team of inspiring academic supervisors at UNSW.
“COVID-19 has affected my work by compelling working from home as an important safe distancing measure for the foreseeable future. However, this has also reduced opportunities for social interactions at the workplace. I am concerned that new hires now have a more challenging time building relationships and establishing their professional network. So I have begun exploring new approaches with my colleagues to strengthen bonds within the institute.
“My professional experience over the last two decades in public health with the agency has enriched my perspective about the intersections of life, family, work and society. I dreamt about pursuing research as a career after LSHTM and had to wait almost a decade before I was given the opportunity to do so. Along the way, my children and my wife survived my fatherhood, I survived my own growing eccentricity, and I gained peace in understanding that there is only so much that one person can achieve alone. Without the support of my family and friends, my life would be nowhere near meaningful today. I have been blessed.
“One memorable quote comes to mind when I look back at my life: “… you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward” – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address 2005. My advice to current students is not to wait for the dots to come to your doorstep. Go out, find what you love and give meaning to each of those dots that come your way. Some dots will be easier than others but remember that the tougher ones always have character-moulding elements to them. How you respond to them will determine the manner in which you go on to inspire and motivate others. I hope to inspire other individuals to give their best in whatever they do and also get more research published, lots more!”