Conversations with Firdaus Kordi

By Sherry Tan

Firdaus Kordi is working as a Research Assistant in the field of materials science at Republic Polytechnic (RP) and concurrently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Building and Project Management at Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). In this article, he shares with us reasons on what piqued his interest in plastic manufacturing and project management. 

Typically, I would start off my day by clearing my emails and check for pending work or have a quick discussion with my Principal Investigator (PI) on potential experiments for the day or week. Then, I would plan my weekly schedule according to the experimental plans.

After which, I would be at the workshop to formulate polymer composites and fabricate their test specimens. My responsibilities also include testing the formulation for their mechanical, thermal, acoustic or electrical properties. 

Apart from research, I support the academic curriculum for RP’s Diploma in Materials Science through conducting laboratory (lab) sessions and mentoring students for their Final Year Project (FYP). Essentially, my role entails equipping graduating students with valuable hands-on skills to prepare them for the real working world.

The most fulfilling part of this role would be seeing the students graduate; knowing they will be able to use the knowledge and skills learnt in RP for their future career.

As cliché as it sounds, I developed a strong interest in the polymer industry because of the subjects I took during secondary school, particularly Chemistry and Design & Technology. During that time, I always envisioned myself to be a lab geek who wore goggles and a lab coat; looking like a mad scientist. I grew up watching the show ‘Crime Scene Investigation’ (CSI) on television, which further triggered my interest.

While it can be quite challenging to master Chemistry or Science subjects, I find these subjects intriguing. I eventually realised how the world revolves around science, and how these subjects are useful especially so for me, as an aspiring inventor or researcher.

I developed an interest to pursue building and project management recently because of my curiosity about the construction industry. I have always been intrigued by how new Mass Rapid Transit stations are constructed via deep tunnelling works and the use of cranes lifting prefabricated components at Build-To-Order (BTO) housing construction sites. My other field of interest is engineering. This eventually led to my decision to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Building and Project Management offered by SUSS when I was deciding a course in 2017

There are surely similarities in my expectations and what I do in reality. When I was a student in RP, I learnt the relevant skills and knowledge which included material fabrication and analytical techniques. Today, I am able to use them at my workplace. I have gained valuable skills in RP and this has led me to be an efficient and effective team player.

In the past, I could not see the importance of teamwork. But now, it helps me move forward and know that I am not alone in solving a problem. Forming a network and good connection with my fellow peers and colleagues are important. These relationships help when I face any obstacles. In research, you cannot work alone and you need guidance from your colleagues or experts. My teammates and Principal Investigator are my sources for such guidance.

My initial motivation was to be part of a workplace where I could develop my research skills and improve on my hands-on capabilities. I was also keen on working in a school environment. The timing was opportune and being recommended to my current position at RP, I took the leap to attend the interview and here I am, working in RP. I am glad to be able to work at my alma mater.

While practising fabrication techniques and applying analytical knowledge help me improve in my course of work, one of the challenges that I faced while working in a dynamic team was keeping up with developments in science and technology. I was struggling to keep up with my team initially because I had limited knowledge of what the project was about. I took steps to bridge the gap in research knowledge through reading up various sources such as going through research papers, watching videos and checking up information via the websites to deepen my knowledge.

Once, we needed ideas and solutions and I could not provide anything useful. So, I took the initiative to research for useful information and during the process, I was able to widen my knowledge, discover new or improved technologies in the market, and contribute better to the team.

These days, I am glad to be able to offer better suggestions when my colleagues need them.

When I first started working, I realised that I had to frequently refer to my past lecture notes and lab protocols to refresh my memory on topics and lab skills. Back in my school days, I was rowdy and was always joking around. That could have given the impression that I was a playful person and that was not ideal. I wished I had taken my lessons more seriously when I was a student at RP.

These industries are dynamic and they are constantly changing. They revolve around innovation and creativity which is what I love about them. At RP, I get to work on a variety of projects. Every project is different and have varying objectives or scope which makes it more interesting.

As an inquisitive person, I like questioning what, why and how things work. In a way, it fuels my desire to learn more. Besides that, I love working with machines and using my hands-on skills to create products. In addition, I will not get bored easily too as the job keeps me on my feet.

We are incorporating use of automation in the building industry as Singapore moves towards Industry 4.0. Through integrating and streamlining our processes from the design and execution stage, we will be able to achieve increased productivity, improved quality of work and enhanced capability in the manufacturing field.

I think one prominent idea in the construction industry is use of ‘Concrete 3D Printing’. In Singapore, we have already started exploring the idea by printing small items like benches or pavilions. In the future, 3D-concrete printing could potentially be used for BTO housing. 

At the moment, my team and I are focusing on consultancy projects with industry partners. We work with them by providing testing solutions to evaluate their materials or products. Through this collaboration, we hope to improve their existing products or even create new products and technologies with them.

Upon graduation, I would like to venture deeper into prefabricated components used for BTO housing in Singapore. I would like to be involved in researching how new materials can be used to speed up construction without compromising safety.

Being able to exercise creativity in our area of work is important as one needs to think out of the box. Sometimes, to achieve a goal, a non-linear solution found beyond textbooks will have to be adopted. 

An additional trait would be good problem-solving skills. When faced with challenges, it would be good if you can analyse the problems and propose viable solutions. We will surely value-add to any teams if you possess such skills.

Being adaptable, and having the self-motivated are important too. This is especially so in challenging situations such as the current COVID-19 situation, where we can no longer afford to be contented with whatever knowledge we have.  Opportunities are available for us to upgrade ourselves through various courses. This is the best time for us to tap on the SkillsFuture funds to continue to enhance and deepen our skills to remain relevant.

I hope in the near future, I can manage and mentor a group of young and aspiring scientists or engineers to solve environmental issues. I look forward to play a significant role in pushing for change in the environmental and sustainability scene in Singapore. Some practical ways which I am looking to be involved in are to create materials or develop new technologies to tackle problems such as climate change, depleting natural resources or reducing the use of plastics.

They have to read beyond the textbooks. It would be good to self-research on their own through accessing the websites and social media channels. For instance, they can look to Elon Musk venturing into space projects so they know what technology is currently being employed. 

Youths also have to be prepared to face a changing world, beyond coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to think deeper to address environmental issues such as climate change and how we are using plastic unnecessarily. Youths must be more hands-on and be prepared to propose solutions for the different environmental problems which we are currently facing. Lastly, invest time in skills that interest you and would be potentially useful for your career. 

I would say, be nice to people, face-to-face or even on social media, especially since the youths love to engage in heated debates online. We should be mindful of what is shared or posted on social media now because, in the future, your past could be dug up and used against you.

While it is acceptable to provide opinions on a certain topic, we should always remember to support it with evidence and facts. With technology and social media, everyone is entitled to speak their mind but it is also important not to engage in mindless arguments.