Forging a New Career Path

Dr Cao Yuan Yuan (PhD. ‘18) came to WKWSCI as a graduate student in 2011. Today, she is a research fellow at CHESS, a research unit at the school.


An opportunity to be a research assistant at CHESS came even before Chinese national Dr Cao Yuan Yuan (PhD. ‘18) graduated with her PhD. Last year, her contributions earned her the position of a research fellow.  PHOTO: NIGEL CHAN

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In 2016, even before completing her PhD studies at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, a fortuitous opportunity came knocking at the door of Dr Cao Yuan Yuan (PhD. ‘18).

Dr Cao was offered a full-time research assistant role in a million-dollar research project, called HOmecare and CAregiving Model for Optimising Services for the Elderly. Funded by the Ministry of Health, the project was worked on by a 14-member team at WKWSCI’s research unit, Centre for Healthy and Sustainable Cities.

The 36-year-old was then assigned to perform qualitative data analysis by Deputy Associate Provost Professor Theng Yin Leng, the supervisor for HOCAMOSE. As part of the job, Dr Cao had to analyse focus group discussions and written survey responses.


New Beginnings

“Gaining experiences at CHESS is a good start to my career,” said Dr Cao, who was promoted to a full-time research fellow at CHESS after obtaining her PhD last year. She added that the school has opened many career pathways for graduate students like her.

As a research fellow at CHESS today, Dr Cao has facilitated recruitment drives for research participants, liaised with stakeholders and studied research designs.

Prior to her time in WKWSCI, the Xinjiang-born Chinese national worked for less than a year in an asset management company in Guangzhou, China. Dr Cao knew that based on her limited resume then, it would have been “really difficult” to realise her ambition of working in a Singapore government agency as a policy-maker.

The research fellow now has more to show on her resume after working on HOCAMOSE for three years. As part of the research, she had a hand in the development of digital prototypes, including mobile applications and websites. These prototypes were aimed at improving healthcare structures for the elderly.

Dr Cao is currently working with Professor Theng on a health coaching research project. The project team is in the midst of submitting grant applications and further details are kept confidential.


“Gaining experiences at CHESS is a good start to my career.”


Overcoming challenges

When Dr Cao first arrived in Singapore in 2011, she could hardly speak in English. She had then relocated to Singapore with her husband, who was enrolled as a graduate student at another local university. Dr Cao then enrolled in the PhD. programme at WKWSCI. 

She spent hours outside of class to overcome her language barrier and eventually produced a 255-page dissertation on “Media Policy in Small Emerging Democracies”. Under her supervisor, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, Dr Cao, a law graduate from Sun Yat-Sen University, wrote about the media’s role in defending a nation’s sovereignty.

Dr Cao said she is grateful for the opportunity to be a research assistant at CHESS while she was still a graduate student. She added that global opportunities pale in comparison when she considers the friends and family she has found in Singapore.