The world is his classroom: He's turning curiosity into impactful climate research

Mr Chester Ling hopes to join a climate start-up or find a policy-making job to make good use of his research knowledge in climate science. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

This NTU-CNYSP scholar gets to explore his topics of interest without being tied to a particular speciality and select global institutions to work with

One morning in June 2012, 12-year-old Chester Ling witnessed one of the rarest celestial sights visible from Earth – Venus crossing in front of the sun for the last time in the 21st century.

Through a telescope that was set up in an open field at the National University of Singapore, he saw a small, black dot moving across the fiery face of our nearest star.

That once-in-a-lifetime experience sparked his interest in astronomy, earth science and environmental research.

Between 16 to 19 years old, he volunteered at the Science Centre Singapore every Friday.

“I just wanted to use a telescope, and the Science Centre probably has the biggest one in Singapore,” he says with a laugh.

Today, the 24-year-old is a scholar under the CN Yang Scholars Programme (CNYSP) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Earth Systems Science.

During his coursework, he has conducted research across various topics – from earthquake vulnerability of various urban neighbourhoods in Metro Manila to data interoperability and transparency across databases and platforms that track climate action.

Most recently, the final-year student started another research project to uncover the relationships between land use, land cover change and green spaces in Singapore.


Gaining new skills

One hallmark of the CNYSP is the many opportunities to conduct research – through undergraduate research experiences and an overseas final year project (OFYP). Scholars also get priority for overseas exchange programmes.

The programme has taken Mr Ling on several short trips to research institutions abroad, including a five-month exchange programme at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in Canada. There, he took different modules such as corporate sustainability, urban geography and ecological economics.

“These modules broadened my exposure towards alternative ways of how sustainability manifests in other fields,” says Mr Ling.

The OFYP is either partially or fully funded by the CNYSP, inclusive of airfares and living allowance. Scholars can also choose their research topics and which institution they want to work with.

Unlike other research scholarships, CNYSP gives Mr Ling the flexibility to explore research interests without a bond or being tied to a particular speciality. He has also observed that not all CNYSP scholars choose to pursue a career in academic research. To Mr Ling, researchers gain useful and transferable skills.

“That is the beauty of research; you gain many technical skills like report writing, data cleaning and collection which can be applied to other jobs as well,” he says. “You learn how to be more self-directed and figure things out on your own.”

Although it is a research-based scholarship, the selection committee recognises that not all applicants will have research experience.

“You just need to demonstrate some interest, some activities or skill sets related to scientific research,” assures Mr Ling.


“That is the beauty of research; you gain many technical skills… which can be applied to other jobs as well.”

– Mr Chester Ling, scholar in the NTU-CN Yang Scholars Programme


Through common first-year modules, scholars pick up skills in research methodology, scientific writing and critical thinking. There are also research attachment modules where students conduct part-time research under a professor’s tutelage.

“There is natural progression over time, so you will be equipped to tackle your final-year project overseas,” notes Mr Ling, whose own project focused on the climate change mitigation targets set by cities. His project was done in collaboration with the Data-Driven EnviroLab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As the world tries to achieve net-zero targets by 2050, the main goal of his project was to show policymakers that global efforts on decarbonisation are not moving fast enough. His research found that global cities are lagging behind on their target ambitions. He hopes his findings will encourage them to set higher goals and take more action.

For Mr Ling, his overseas experiences have been formative. “Research practice nowadays is collaborative since scientific knowledge is applicable across borders and findings benefit everyone,” he explains. “Learning to interact with mentors and collaborators who may be from a different culture is an important skill.”

Technology is also making science more international. “Satellite data allows research across territorial lines. Climate science is increasingly global since findings have widespread implications,” he says.


Bridging the gap

With the insights and experiences he has gained abroad, Mr Ling hopes to contribute to efforts that can strengthen Singapore’s resilience against climate change.

“After almost four years of studying and researching about the environment and the sciences, I realised that every piece of knowledge being created at the forefront of research will be useful in protecting our environment and mitigating the effects of climate change,” he says.

To gain a better understanding of the tropical environments in Singapore and across South-east Asia, Mr Ling has been on field trips to places like Pulau Ubin, Sentosa and St John’s Island. Along with the other students, he collected rock samples, observed the ecosystem and even counted trees.

In 2023, he interned at GoImpact Capital Partners (Singapore) Pte Ltd, a local sustainability education firm which provides corporate courses for business executives and board management. He helped the firm develop course content on topics like environment, sustainability and governance (ESG), sustainability reporting and disclosure.

“We needed to translate scientific language into something accessible for people with a business, legal or finance background,” says Mr Ling.

While the science is clear on the causes and effects of climate change, there remains a gap between knowledge and action.

“It is very difficult to bridge the gap because after the companies obtain the knowledge and know what to do, you do not know how much they will implement,” he adds.

After graduation, Mr Ling hopes to join either the public or private sector to implement climate solutions and catalyse impact. He is considering roles in climate start-ups or in policymaking, where he can best apply his research knowledge and passion for strategic communications. In the long run, Mr Ling envisions himself being the bridge between the public, private and philanthropic sectors.

“Research is very interesting and there is a lot of knowledge for stakeholders to use. I want to get myself into a space where I can face the practical challenges on the ground and bridge the gap between knowledge and solutions,” he says.

Source: The Straits Times | Scholars' Choice © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.