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Discovering hidden opportunities in data science

08 Dec 2021

When options diverged after completing the A-level, undergraduate Alice Chua took the path less trodden. That has made all the difference and uncovered surprising career opportunities. Rachel Chew catches up with her.

“There’s a bit of serendipity behind how I got into this course….” begins Alice Chua, a member of the inaugural class of NTU’s Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) programme. Alice was one week into her orientation for a Science degree at another university when her appeal to enrol in the NTU programme turned out successful – and she made the snap decision to switch her course.  

Three years on, Alice is now in her final year, and a recipient of the Singapore-Industry Scholarship (SgIS), a multi-industry scholarship offered by over 70 sponsoring organisations from a wide range of industries. 

The scholarship gave her the opportunity to spend six months with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) as an intern. She will join them after graduation, using her data science skills to optimise semi-conductor chip manufacturing. 

Embracing the twists and turns in her journey

Alice chuckles when asked if she had expected to join the semi-conductor industry when she started studying data science and AI. She says, “When you’re doing data science, few would link it to semi-conductors. I wanted to see how it was applied to the manufacturing sector and took it as a chance to try something different.”

Many of Alice’s cohort mates are looking to start their careers with finance or information and communications technology firms. But Alice has been learning how data science and AI can be relevant to manufacturing and has helped AMD to optimise their production yield for semiconductor chips. The value of this work is evident as semiconductor chips are powering a range of devices and platforms, from smartphones, computers and cars to medical equipment. 

Alice uses data science to troubleshoot and optimise production processes. “You can use existing data that looks uninteresting, transform it to identify inefficiencies in the system, and use those insights to improve,” says Alice.

In the past six months, Alice has had a taste of what it is like to be part of a team that uses data to tell a story of what might have gone wrong along the production line. At AMD, she helped to construct a digital pipeline that consolidates data from various points of the production chain, to enable efficient analysis. Her team then developed a simulation software to model optimal production and compared the results to actual production data in order to identify inefficiencies or anomalies.

Managing supply chain disruptions is increasingly critical for sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, and wholesale trade. While Alice seems like one of the few from her class pursuing this unconventional route, she expects that more of such graduates will do so in coming years. 

Finding freedom and direction in higher education 

Undertaking the SgIS scholarship with AMD in her second year has given Alice a renewed sense of direction in her studies. This semester, she elected to take a Database Systems module, in view of the data pipeline she had been working on. 

“The module is niche,” she admits. “They teach us how specific databases work. But I found the material useful and applicable. The stint with AMD helped me realise that this is the journey and path I want to take. I want to pick what’s interesting and useful for me, rather than follow what my friends are trending towards.”

In addition to her newfound confidence in charting her educational journey, Alice has also found greater freedom in her non-academic endeavours. While many of her peers are occupied with the job search, Alice can pursue other extra-curricular activities. Over her years in NTU, Alice has tried out a wide variety of such activities, including competing in NTU’s Archery team and serving as the Vice-President of events management for NTU’s Cultural Activities Club, where she plans talent competitions and charity performances.

Alice with a bullseye that she had shot. (Photo courtesy of interviewee.)

“I think this is the last time I could try something new in a student setting, so I want to take the opportunity before graduation to try the things I want to do,” she says.

Through all aspects of her life, Alice demonstrates a clear trait: an eagerness and willingness to try out the unknown. Ever the explorer, she is excited to keep learning while at AMD and beyond.