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Switching Out and Stepping Up: Derek Lim '13

Derek Lim from the Class of 2013 made the bold switch from medicine to entrepreneurship. In our interview, he shares how that all happened and offers some insights on navigating uncharted territories in your career.

Tell us about yourself and your SJII journey.

I started my SJII journey in year 8, transferring from Hale school in Perth in the middle of the year. I remember going to class for 1 week before suddenly being thrown into our class trip to Tioman Island. I still remember us visiting the turtle sanctuary and waking up before the sun rose to release them as the eggs hatched!

I have 4 siblings, all of whom have been (and currently are) in SJII. I do apologise to Mr Greg Thorpe for having to go through so many of us. The youngest of us Kristine is now currently in her final year and I wish her and her classmates all the best for their final exams!

The best part of IB were the free periods, where it was just a chance to catch up and play some card games (as well as study on the occasion). The IB lounge had just debuted at that point which made it the de-facto place to get away from the heat.

Other fond moments include secretly ordering Ubereats and trying to get past security as well as our Challenge Week, where we got to sleep overnight on a train heading out to rural Thailand.

What are some of the biggest risks that career-switchers might need to overcome when switching from one field to the other?

To me, the biggest risk when switching from medicine to entrepreneurship was that I was doing something that I might regret. To overcome this, I made sure to speak to many entrepreneurs, and managed to find a network of doctor entrepreneurs for their advice and mentorship on my journey. I then slowly eased my way into it, doing small pitching competitions with other people and working at start-ups part-time while studying medicine, before deciding that this was what I truly wanted to do.

I would advise people considering a career switch to firstly look inwards as to what draws them to a specific career, before reaching out to other people in that industry to get a better understanding of what a day in the life of that person looks like. The last step is to just try it!

What or how should individuals prepare themselves as they move up the career ladder?

  1. Learn to network– I’ve seen so many of my friends get a job just because they knew the right people. We are taught in high school that grades matter, but in the real world grades are just the minimum requirement, knowing the right people is important for getting to where you want to be.
  2. Continue to upskill – New jobs are continuously being created (and destroyed) as tech continues to transform multiple industries. Having a college degree is no longer enough to secure a long-term job as it did a couple of decades ago. Take any opportunity your workplace gives you to learn new skills to capitalize on when new technologies become mainstream.
  3. Take time for yourself – I don’t think this is emphasised nearly enough in high school, but your own mental health is important. Never ever feel guilty for taking a day out of studying/ work to recuperate. You’ll probably still end up completing the same amount of work because you’re that much more productive. As assignments and projects get passed your way, it can be easy to prioritise those over your own mental health, which doesn’t end well for both you and the place you work in.

I understand that you also run your own business on the side. Should entrepreneurship be an 'add on skill' for university courses?

I do believe that there are certain skills that people need to learn to be an entrepreneur and I must say that there are some skills that I will continue to learn as I continue my journey. But apart from the key things like learning to listen to your customers, not being afraid to fail and continuing to iterate, I would say a big part of entrepreneurship is just the act of starting something, no matter how small.

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was a lot younger was believing that I wasn’t qualified and that I needed a degree or certificate to run my own business. Fast forward a few years later and I now realize that a lot of people don’t really know what they are doing and just learn on the go.

I would encourage all students interested in entrepreneurship, even those in high school to constantly be on the lookout for problems around them and not wait to feel like they have to be “qualified” before starting.

What will be your top three tips for SJII's graduating IB students when planning their career path to college?

  1. Talk to everyone
    1. I only met my Co-founder because I spoke to random people, even if it was outside of my comfort zone. A random conversation led me to enter a hackathon, which led me to enter a consulting society which then led me to a dinner, where I was introduced by a mutual friend to my co-founder. Along the way, I’ve also met so many mentors that have played a critical role in my success and development. It’s unreal what a cold email asking to meet up for a coffee chat can do. If you have an interest in a specific degree or field, reach out to somebody on LinkedIn and ask for a chat!
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail
    1. I wish I had learnt this earlier, but my fear of failure stopped me from pursuing or trying many things due to the fear of not succeeding. However, learning from those around me, I now realize that the people that succeed are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they tend to be the ones that have tried (and failed) the most.
  3. Learn to prioritise –
    1. College is such a huge shift from high school because, for the first time, you don’t really have anyone telling you what to do. Additionally, there isn’t really a set path to follow. All your peers will be going off doing different things, whether it be joining societies, playing sports competitively or starting their own company. Take some time to reflect and think about what your purpose is and what is important to you before deciding how you should approach your college (and work) life. The large number of societies you can join during college can be quite overwhelming and you might be tempted to join societies that your friends are in. Prioritising what is meaningful to you will ensure that you grow in the right areas, while also surrounding yourself with like-minded peers that are true to your values.
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