Three rejections didn’t stop this engineer’s NUS dream

Muhammad Khairul Anwar Jamil
Field Engineer, Schlumberger

Alumnus, NUS Engineering

If you were rejected admission three times by the National University of Singapore (NUS), you could be forgiven for giving up and feeling disheartened. However, for Khairul Anwar Jamil, it only made him more determined.

The rejections were due to his poor A-level results, but Khairul wasn’t going to let that stop him from trying again. He decided to take the unconventional route by enrolling in Singapore Polytechnic to study mechanical engineering where his steely determination saw him attaining outstanding academic results and graduating as the valedictorian of his cohort.

That led to him gaining admission to NUS Faculty of Engineering where he graduated with First Class Honours (Highest Distinction) in 2017. Today, Khairul works for Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company.

The 28-year-old would tell you that he gets his bullish drive from his father, who worked long hours as a taxi driver to support his family. Seven days a week, his father would start driving at sunrise, break for lunch and a short rest before continuing late into the night.

Khairul’s family sending him off at the airport

The eldest of six siblings, Khairul felt he had to start working to help with the family finances after failing to get into the university and completing national service. He landed several ad-hoc jobs, but none of these had any long-term prospects.

In 2011, he decided to pursue a diploma in mechanical engineering to acquire a specialised skill and managed to ease his family’s financial burdens with a scholarship. He did academically well for his diploma and gained direct admission into NUS as a second-year Mechanical Engineering undergraduate in August 2014. “I was overjoyed,” he said of his fourth attempt.

While that seemed like a fairy tale ending, undergraduate life did not turn out to be a bed of roses. He once again struggled with his studies. Yet again, he had to call upon his will to succeed.

And succeed he did, much to his own surprise.

“I did not do well in my second year but excelled in my third year. It was only at the end of my third year that I realised that Honours (Highest Distinction) was within reach,” said Khairul.

Khairul (far left) was part of the organising committee for Rihlah 1437H, a night cycling event

Despite being quite a few years older than his course mates, he did not find it hard to get along with them, even though he missed the bonding of freshmen orientation camps, having joined his course mates only in the second year.

“At times I would get teased for my age by those who knew I was older than them, but I just roll with it and joked about it. I am not ashamed at the unconventional route I took as every bit of experience along the way has shaped me to be who I am today.”

His bond with his course mates further improved during his fourth semester when he joined the NUS Muslim Society sub-committee, which organised the Rihlah 1437H Night Cycling event in March 2016.

The overnight affair took six months of planning, advertising, marketing and fundraising. Khairul cherished the fun he experienced with 24 other committee members, which included going through the planned route, tweaking the station games, changing their locations and finding alternative routes for the 150 event participants.

For his Year Three design project, Khairul had the opportunity to collaborate with Cameron, a worldwide provider of specialised equipment and services for the oil and gas industry. Nearing the end of his project, Cameron was bought over by Schlumberger and this got him interested in the company. Schlumberger also came to NUS several times to give talks and Khairul was especially keen on their Tech and Field programme because it would give him first-hand field exposure overseas for 18 months.

Khairul (2nd from right) with his team and their final product for the Year Three Design project

However, getting onto the programme was going to be tough, especially since he was up against other candidates who had oil and gas specialisation, which he did not have.

To him, however, it was simply yet another mountain to climb. He submitted his resume during a career fair when he learned that Schlumberger will be there to meet potential hires. He highlighted his project with Cameron in the resume and was called up for an interview.

He said: “I prepared rigorously for the interview. I had no knowledge of the oil and gas industry before that, but by the time of the interview, I was confident in my knowledge of what the company does, and the way it operates.”

It worked like a charm. He was chosen for the programme.

“My recruiting manager said that, during the recruitment period, my sincere enthusiasm in being part of the company, and the program, really showed and they were confident that I will be able to handle the harsh working environment in the field.”

He is now in Ecuador working as a field engineer trainee. His job is to optimise oil production with artificial lift methods and he will share his experience with his team when he returns to Singapore in May 2019.

Khairul (2nd row, extreme right) and his Schlumberger coursemates at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

While Khairul lives his dream as an engineer, his thoughts are constantly with those at home. Now that he is contributing to the family income, his father can work shorter hours and is able to take more days off to spend time at home. Moreover, he hopes that he can inspire his five younger siblings to pursue their dreams as well.

Said Khairul: “It is probably difficult for my younger siblings to imagine me under the sun working in a rig, as I am not a sporty person. In fact, it came as a shock to them that I chose this line of work. They have always imagined me working behind a desk in an office. However, they do realise now that this job was probably like a dream come true. I love my work – with pumps and motors etc. It may be dirty and strenuous but it does not bother me."

While one might be tempted to end Khairul’s story with a happily ever after, you can’t help but get the feeling that his adventure is just beginning.