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Lifelong learner at 70: Freelance writer picks up data science at 72

30 Oct 2023

Lifelong learner at 70 Freelance writer picks up data science at 72_hero

When work dried up during the pandemic, Mr Francis Chin decided to try his hand at something new. But this pivot to a new career called for him to put aside his old fears about maths and numbers. 

By Lim Jun Kang

For 72-year-old writer Francis Chin, the pandemic triggered the search for a new skillset in a more resilient industry. 

After decades of experience in the media and communications industry, including years as a journalist, he found his freelance jobs drying up after the pandemic struck. 

Much like fellow silver-generation learner Felicity, Francis refused to entertain the idea of retirement, firmly believing in the importance of staying active and relevant.   

Recalling a former colleague who had told him about the high demand for data scientists, Mr Chin decided to give data science a go. He enrolled in the online Associate Data Analyst Course with NTUC LearningHub through the SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme.

So, what was it like being the oldest student in class? Exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, he confesses. 

He is not unused to learning across the ages – he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in English and Literature at age 44 and a master’s degree in mass communications at 51 – but learning via Zoom was something new.

He also used to struggle with mathematics in school, but with data science, there was no escaping topics such as statistics and calculus. 

But whenever he had difficulty understanding the lectures, he didn’t hesitate to ask questions – an audacity that comes with age, he supposes. And once he got the hang of it, it felt a lot like “learning to ride a bicycle”. 

“If you break down data science, it’s just numbers and understanding the patterns and logic behind them,” he says. “The fear of a subject often stems from misconceptions about it. Don’t worry so much, and mastery of the subject will come naturally.”

As he delved deeper into the subject, Mr Chin saw the impact of what it could do and why it was important. Data science could, for example, be of significance in solving real-world issues. For instance, he successfully researched on how to harness machine learning to reduce rates of erroneous results of breast cancer screening for a course project. Even if he doesn’t find work in data science, he is satisfied to have updated himself with fresh knowledge in an emerging field.

Now that he has his data science certification tucked under his belt, Mr Chin is starting work on a new project that combines his expertise in writing and what he has learnt about data science; he wants to write a book on how to harness the power of technology tools such as ChatGPT and other AI chatbots, and release it for free. 

Lifelong learner at 70 Freelance writer picks up data science at 72_1As an extension of his skills, Mr Chin opened himself to translation and training work. In 2015, he (left) was invited by Professor Bian Juanhua, Dean of Qingdao University's School of Foreign Languages to give a lecture at the school's Foreign Language Institute, on “Unpacking Three Western Iconic Poems” to the Master’s in Translation cohort.

To fellow silver-generation learners, Mr Chin exhorts them to embrace lifelong learning to keep up with the times, whether for the income or just to stay current.

“Put your handphone down and pick up a newspaper. In this climate where false information is abundant, it’s especially important to keep abreast of the latest happenings and develop that thirst for knowledge,” he says.

As for him, learning for life has always come naturally. “It was never about challenging others or myself but more so to satisfy my curiosity.” 


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