{Interview #9}: Dr. Phillip A. Towndrow – Research Scientist

Dr. Phillip A. Towndrow, 59, is a Senior Research Scientist at the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is married to an administrative assistant in a foreign embassy in Singapore and they have two children aged 23 and 12.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Your qualifications

BA (Hons.) Philosophy, University of Essex (UK)
MA Applied Linguistics, University of Surrey (UK)
Ed. D., Durham University (UK)

Dr. Phillip A. Towndrow

Describe your job
I work in an educational research centre. I plan, organise and manage studies in how teachers teach and how students use new media in their learning. A large part of my job involves working with teachers and other educators to design lesson tasks and activities around particular topic and thematic curriculum areas. I’m also expected to publish my work in academic journals and tell others about my research findings through classes, seminars and conference presentations.
Tell us about your career path
I started teaching English as a foreign language. I then moved into the planning and supervision of a large computer assisted language learning project at a university in the Arabian Gulf. It was at that time that I did my Masters and I realised I had an interest in learning and academic writing. In the effort to progress in my work and studies, I moved to Singapore to do a Doctorate in Education. By the time I finished my coursework, I already had a number of publications under my belt. I continued writing and researching on various projects and used (as much as I could) all opportunities to meet people and collaborate.
How did you find your passion / area of interest?
It was unplanned and, in part, opportunistic. I’ve always liked learning new things and explaining concepts to others. My first degree was in Philosophy and that is where I learnt through my excellent professors and teachers at the University of Essex to craft arguments and write concisely, logically and convincingly. I remember writing a 500-word essay on Plato and getting an A+. That came as a bit of a surprise (I’d always been an average learner in school) but I decided to continue with Philosophy because I was good at it. My professors encouraged me and that’s how my ‘love of learning’ began. I have been passionate about trying to understand things all of my life.
Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
I derive great pleasure in making things and helping others express their ideas. Ultimtely, I want to make sense of life and the world around. My greatest joy comes from shining light in parts where darkness, ignorance and injustice prevent people from doing all that they can to make the world a better place to live and work.
What does success mean to you?
I guess that for many, success in what they do is linked to their material achievements and performances. Of course, it’s important for me to have citations, sell books and give many talks etc.. But, for me, I feel I’ve been succesful when my students, colleagues and the people I meet go out of their way to say, “Thank you. You made me think differently. I now understand (X) better.”
How do you balance your time between work and family?
Well, my starting point is to draw a line between paid work and the rest of my life. I strive to put God first in everything and then family comes next. That said, I can’t stop thinking about my work. There’s always an idea that pops into my head. I’m constantly writing and rewriting sentences in my mind, in notebooks and on my computers. Anything and everything I look at, eat or hear can spark an idea in my mind. So, I have to be very careful. At least I know I can’t be at or in work all of the time!
You must be incredibly busy. How do you avoid being burnt out?
Prioritisation is key and I must set limits. I have multiple ‘to do’ lists on all of my gadgets and devices. I set myself a number of things to do each day. I try not to leave things to the last moment and to give myself a lot of lead time when it’s possible. If I have a large job, for example, read a 250-page thesis, write a book or plan lessons, I break the task down into small parts. Read a chapter a day or write a page a day, and so on. I know there will be unplanned events, contingencies to deal with and other urgent things to complete but I try to keep focussed on what’s important and not on what other people say is necessary.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed or burdened, I know that work–life balance issues are looming. For me, the solution or remedy is to back off and go to a quiet place to pray and reprioritise. Ultimately, it’s always important for me to slow down and reflect on what I’m doing and why.
Are you involved in any charity work?
No. But I do some unpaid service work to the community through talks, meetings, tutorials and writing.
One piece of advice to parents
Your children are a precious gift from God. Find all ways possible to learn from them who you are and what it means to live a full and meaningful life.
One piece of advice to teens
Listen to and obey your parents. When you feel like running to your room to hide from or avoid a situation, turn around and instead give your Mum or Dad a big hug and kiss. It will change your perceptions.
To be a good research scientist, it takes someone… who has a clear and precise vision of a transformed world through education and carespassionately about the quality of the work they do for themselves and others.

{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 – Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

#2 – Jeremiah Choy Creative Director Sing50 Mega concert at the National Stadium
#3 – Elaine Yeo Musician Singapore Symphony Orchestra
#4 – Chong Ee Jay Cyber Wellness Educator TOUCH Cyber Wellness
#5 – Professor Tan Huay Cheem Cardiologist Director of National University Heart Centre
#6 – Ruth Wan Children’s Book Author Timmy and Tammy series
#7 – Andrea Decruz Media Personality Owner of CINQ Salon & Belmont Flora
#8 – Ebelle Chong Dance Practitioner / Choreographer SSLD:7 in R.e.P 2015

~ www.mummweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~