STEM Communicator

STEM Communicator

Kenneth Chai posterKenneth Chai

MSc Petroleum Engineering, 2011
From Aberdeen to… STEM Communicator

Your Time at Aberdeen

Why did you choose to study at Aberdeen?
I was studying in a petroleum engineering school (Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS) when I applied to study for a postgraduate at Aberdeen. Being an energy centre of Europe and the UK, Aberdeen was my first choice to develop not only my academic skills, but get exposure to the industry and identify opportunities. Being just three hours away from Edinburgh was a bonus, as it is a city I fell in love with and plan to retire in.

Why did you choose your particular course?
Having completed my Bachelor's in offshore structural engineering, I wanted to specialise in the role of petroleum industries in the transition from fossil fuel towards a sustainable and renewable future. The course (initially named Energy Futures - Oil & Gas) offered courses and an opportunity to intern with my eventual employer, Schlumberger.

If while at Aberdeen you benefited from a scholarship, what was the scholarship and what difference did it make to your time at Aberdeen?
My postgraduate studiy at Aberdeen was sponsored by the Tunku Abdul Rahman Leadership Foundation. The scholarship allowed me to focus full-time on my studies, with enough resources to travel during the holiday breaks, and concentrate on my research without worrying about tuition fees and living expenses.

What did you most enjoy about your time at Aberdeen? Did you have any particularly memorable student experiences?
The most memorable experience was a roadtrip around Scotland. My friend and I rented a car and drove to Inverness, Edinburgh and Dundee and got to enjoy the countryside with impromptu stops at Huntly, Stirling, Keith and many other towns with hidden gems. I felt like a child on a treasure hunt.

If talking to a group of prospective students, what advice would you give them to help them make the most of their time at the University of Aberdeen?
Aberdeen is melting pot with students from all over the world. The biggest benefit I gained from my time in Aberdeen, although short, was the friendships. I noticed that many of my fellow international students tended to socialise among their own communities. I understand that, we were far from home and we seek comfort in familiarity. However, if you take your first step and reach out, you'll forge the best friendships and learn about cultures you never knew existed.

I met my business partner today from the computer engineering school; she was an Erasmus exchange student from Spain. I met my wife today when she was at the Business School - she is from Thailand and was studying her MBA. And I met my son's godmother from the Law School - she was from Cyprus doing her PhD. My business client four years later was my coursemate from China.

Your Time After Aberdeen

What was the title of your first job after graduating from Aberdeen?
Production Optimisation Engineer at Schlumberger.

What did your first role involve?
My first role as an engineer was to familiarise myself with operations from the ground up. I was assigned as a field engineer for 18 months, doing what other operators and technicians do in the oilfield. Only by getting my hands on and mastering the fundamentals could I gain the knowledge and experience to optimise and make things better - a daily reminder to myself.

What is your current job title?
STEM Communicator at The Learning Curve in Malaysia.

What is your current role?
Promoting and Developing Sustainable STEM Education.

Please briefly describe the journey from your first job after graduating to where you are now.
Right after my graduation I was recruited by my internship provider to work in the oil and gas capital of Malaysia. I spent six months offshore under a high intensity field exposure and training program before I was assigned to China. Leveraging my command in Chinese and English, I was being trained as a Microseismic Interpreter for oil and gas clients across China. During my five years of employment in China and Mongolia, I was able to see the world from many perspectives. It was during this time that I discovered my passion for education and social responsibility.

I left the petroleum industry in 2016, and started my education social enterprise in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, providing STEM infrastructure, training and organising Science Fairs for underprivileged communities.

In 2021 I started a political movement and registered Malaysia's Science Political Party to champion evidence-based policies and communicate the importance of a future with sustainable energy and equal access to affordable energy, education and opportunities in the country.

Was your degree at Aberdeen essential for getting to where you are now? If so, in what way?
Definitely. Without my time in Aberdeen I would have never started my career with Schlumberger, offering me the opportunity to gain the early financial freedom and eventually the resources to follow my calling.

Without my time in Aberdeen, I also wouldn't have met my two business partners and best friends, with whom I started a modern agricultural firm growing imported vegetables in Malaysia using 100% electricity.

And personally, without my time in Aberdeen, I wouldn't have met my wife, the mother of my two children today.

One Top Tip

Know that in whatever role you assume, you are a salesman for your employer. Always under-promise and over-deliver. Always think hard on how to optimise resources in whatever task you have at hand now, and document it.