Fascinated by natural phenomena and intellectual challenges since young — an encyclopaedic tome on science and maths was the first book she picked out — Dawn Tan grew to love engineering for its bridging of theory and application.
She was especially drawn to the field of light. As assistant professor in engineering product development at Singapore University of Technology and Design, Tan works on nonlinear optics, with the goal of creating efficient amplifiers and light sources applied to Internet data transmission and high-performance computers. For her research on photonics, Tan won the L’Oréal-UNESCO Singapore For Women in Science National Fellowship in Physical and Engineering Science in 2017. She now leads a research group studying photonic devices and systems at SUTD.
But Tan hasn’t been immune to self-doubt. She references MIT professor of humanities, sociology and anthropology Susan Silbey, who shared men and women are equally successful in engineering, but the latter are more likely to doubt their problem-solving abilities. “This insight is so powerful and it’s something I draw strength from,” Tan says. “Women need to fight their inclination to doubt their abilities.”
All this contributes to Tan’s passion for promoting engineering among women —she co-organised and chaired the 2018 SUTD Conference on Women in Technology and Design, and serves on the Singapore Computer Society’s Women in Technology interest group committee, as well as others others — like her two daughters.
“I want them to grow up in an environment where they see strong women from all fields or walks of life,” she says, “so they won’t be hindered in pursuing any field they desire.”