“Public Service As A Tiring, Thankless Job?”

Fresh graduate Shaun Seah, a Naval Officer at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), writes about what he is looking forward to in a Public Service career.
Shaun shares his experience as an intern and his motivations to pursue a career in public service

Internships At:

  • International Cyber Policy Office, Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA)
  • Defence Policy Office, Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)
  • Rehabilitation and Protection Group, Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)

Dear Fellow Young Officer,

To the layperson, a “public officer” would probably conjure images of bureaucracy, complaints and endless paper-pushing. Public Service is often seen as a tiring and thankless job.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, others have expressed gratitude for their jobs in the Public Service, but mostly for its reputation for stability in uncertain times. After all, a public service career often does not sound as prestigious as a spot in the swanky skyscrapers of London, Shanghai or Marina Bay, nor as exciting as a Silicon Valley start-up. Many ambitious fresh graduates I know remark quietly that starting their careers in Public Service seems somewhat less exciting compared to these enticing alternatives.

To those who may share this sentiment, I write this Letter to explain why I am still looking forward to starting my Public Service career.


The nature of our work can bring with it an infectious spirit of service, as I witnessed first-hand in various corners of the Ministry of Education (MOE) and MSF.

For two years while I was in junior college, I volunteered at the National Cadet Corps Headquarters, staffed by both MOE officers and Singapore Armed Forces soldiers. The soldiers’ collected yet gung-ho personas lent motivation on all our cross-island hikes, canoeing expeditions and mountaineering trips. But what really surprised me was seeing equally hardy MOE teachers braving the unrelenting heat and choppy seas to push students to go beyond their limits.

Later, I applied for a three-month internship with MSF Fostering Service. There, I met colleagues whose gentle demeanour belied steely resolve; after all, their jobs included rising to serve vulnerable children and their families in complex, emotional situations. For those teachers and social service officers alike, the purpose they saw in their public service sustained them through an at-times emotionally taxing grind.


Apart from on-the-ground work, I also had the chance to glimpse at how policymaking is done. Framing policies is exciting in that they are never “just for discussion” – there are real-world ramifications that impact our nation.


A fresh graduate brings little to any first job apart from energy, idealism and zest. Yet, I remain earnestly hopeful for meaningful work.

During my two months with MINDEF’s Defence Policy Office, we were tasked with thinking big and far into the future to anticipate the challenges MINDEF/SAF would face over the next decade and beyond. We conceptualised challenges that required research far beyond the traditional realm of military operations, from emerging technologies and international law to geopolitics and climate change.

After that, I spent five months in CSA’s International Cyber Policy Office. My work helped my superiors to connect the dots between the work of desk officers responsible for Singapore’s cyber ties across the world, from ASEAN to the UN. Initially focusing on cyber diplomacy, my team grew aware that the digital domain would rapidly encompass nearly all aspects of Singapore’s future national interests.

I also grew to realise that policy work demands a measure of gumption – how else would a young officer dare to (tactfully) disagree with senior management when bouncing off ideas? I also found that good strategic thinking and policy work are key to ensuring our Public Service is always sharp and ready to take on challenges of the future. Young officers with drive and a healthy discontent for the status quo, channelled positively, bring a unique value to this effort.


Many friends seem to think that my work as a Naval Officer – with its stressful training and challenging responsibilities – seems especially unenviable. Midshipman and Naval Diver training was tough as we are required to lead and think on our feet while overcoming seasickness, long days and an entirely new way of life at sea.

Looking ahead, a Naval Officer’s life on the job will be even more challenging. My colleagues and I take charge of our men and mission, as well as ensure safe navigation onboard warships that patrol the busy waters both within Singapore Straits and far beyond.

Naval diving requires our teammates to stay cool-headed amidst complex, specialised missions in pitch-black conditions underwater. Yet this pressure is what makes the job exciting because of the high stakes of our work. A recent Navy recruitment campaign summed these sentiments up more candidly as “It’s Not Crazy, It’s the Navy”.

A fresh graduate brings little to any first job apart from energy, idealism and zest. Yet, I remain earnestly hopeful for meaningful work.While I am sure many of our peers may well likely find fulfilment in other first jobs, starting out across the Singapore Public Service merely means that this youthful energy will directly build towards defining Singapore’s future – our future.

I’m looking forward to it. What about you?

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    Apr 28, 2021
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