Swopped uni for poly, but she"ll get a degree

By Amelia Tan

AFTER a year studying engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Miss Sharon Ong got bored with mathematics formulas and physics theories, took a break from her studies and went to work at Nanyang Polytechnic"s admissions office.

There, she stumbled across a diploma course in diagnostic radiography and was instantly intrigued.

Her eyes lit up when she found out that she could work with advanced technologies in the diploma course and quickly enrolled in it.

Three years after that big decision, the 24-year-old will graduate as the top student from the School of Health Sciences next week, along with 5,000 other students from Nanyang Polytechnic.

With a perfect Grade Point Average of 4.0, Miss Ong also won the Tay Eng Soon Award, given to the most outstanding student from the School of Health Sciences.

It is rare for those studying in local universities to switch to polytechnics. A check with all five polytechnics found that, on average, each school admits only one such student a year.

Miss Ong, who attended Raffles Girls" School and Raffles Junior College, said she entered NUS because she did not know where else to go to further her education.

"I went on to university because that was the path that everyone else I knew took. But I was not happy at NUS, as I could not see how the theories I was learning could be applied in real life."

While many would think that giving up a university education for one at the polytechnics is risky, Miss Ong saw it as a chance to pursue her interests of working with people and advanced technologies.

"Knowing that I am helping patients, by providing information to doctors to make early and accurate prognosis of their conditions, also makes the job rewarding," said the older of two daughters.

It helped that her father, Mr Ong Sui Chiong, a retired project manager, and her mother, Madam Chia Gek Hoon, a primary school teacher, were supportive of her decision to enter the polytechnic.

"I like talking to and meeting people. (My parents) knew engineering was too "cold" a subject for me and told me to pursue my interests," she said.

Her friends at NUS also welcomed her switch to the polytechnic. "They supported me as they knew that I was not happy at NUS and I had finally found a course that I liked."

Despite taking the polytechnic route, she will still end up with a degree.

Her three-year diploma course leads to a year-long degree programme in diagnostic radiography from the University of Sydney, where she will start classes in July.

A SingHealth Allied Health Science scholarship holder, Miss Ong will be bonded to a SingHealth hospital for four years when she returns from Australia.

Her radiography lecturer, Ms Tan Sai Geok, said: "Sharon took a risk but it has paid off. This goes to show that when you are interested in something and if you work hard at it, you will do well."

This article was first published in The Straits Times.