“Whatever setbacks you encounter, learn from them and keep moving. These are merely stepping stones to success.”
Sage words from mentor and former President of the Singapore Alumni Association Bryan Tan.
Bryan, a Director at PK Wong and Nair LLC in Singapore, is as energetic about supporting younger generations through mentoring, as he is ambitious in his own career. Quickly establishing himself in the competitive legal industry, Bryan has always made time to give back to the University of Melbourne. He has held the roles of Secretary and President of the Singapore Alumni Association and is an active mentor supporting students at Melbourne Law School navigate study, career and life.
Here, Bryan reflects on the relationships and experiences that have shaped his career and life since his days at the University of Melbourne.
Our own brain trust
Bryan describes the alumni community as a collective brain, which he has seized every opportunity to connect with, even when he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into.
“Joining the Singapore Alumni Association wasn’t by choice initially,” he says.
“I was just starting out in my career as a lawyer and I bumped into Rachel Teo (BCom 1991, PGDipEco 1992), who has become one of many unofficial mentors throughout my career. She suggested I try it out and the committee welcomed me into the fold.”
Bryan became the youngest committee member when he joined as Association Secretary.
“I think everyone was thinking – ‘Let’s see how long he lasts’,” he laughs. “No one imagined me as President.”
Rachel Teo saw something special in Bryan: “When I met Bryan, he was, and still is, a bright young man filled with ambition to help people. He enjoyed meeting people, and being trained as a lawyer, he had a gift for talking. These are really strong attributes to contribute to an alumni association.”
At 30, Bryan put himself forward for the leadership role of Association President.
He has been instrumental in shaping the vibrant and supportive alumni network in Singapore, driven by monthly social outings to share knowledge and contacts, and simply unwind.
“Going to work-related events isn’t usually fun but our Alumni monthly catch-ups are different and really became a calendar event to look forward to,” Bryan says.
We bring together alumni from across the University – not just lawyers – so there is this amazing potential to tap into that collective brain. This is especially important for young professional.
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Life-long learning through mentoring
Bryan’s inclusive approach and enigmatic personality have been central to the Association’s success. He has been able to maintain ties with older alumni, while connecting with younger graduates and fostering relationship with the Singapore Student Society at the University of Melbourne.
Mentoring is one important way volunteers like Bryan bridge the generational gap and support life-long learning for themselves and their mentees.
“It’s so important to have someone senior in your network to turn to for insights and guidance,” Bryan explains.
“We have this beautiful unwritten rule that the more senior alumni buy junior members a drink and take some time to chat at our events. This facilitates mentorship type relationships. It’s especially important for alumni who are new to Singapore. The Association helps them to establish their network almost immediately.”
Beyond the Association, Bryan is a long-standing mentor in the Melbourne Law School mentoring program, coaching and supporting seven students over the past five years.
“The students I’ve mentored all encounter the same struggles I did during my undergrad; always worrying if there is more I could be doing and share fears of missing out on job opportunities and their ability to cope. They soon realise they are resilient, and they are good enough. They are so motivated it rubs off on me.”
On a recent (pre-COVID) trip back to Melbourne, Bryan took all his previous mentees out to dinner and was encouraged to see what they have already achieved in their careers.
“It is so important to have broad interests in life and realise that it’s not all about grades. We’re not working in a vacuum so we shouldn’t study in one either. I’d like to think all my mentees took that on board.”
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Arielle Vlahiotis met Bryan shortly after commencing the Juris Doctor at Melbourne Law School (MLS).
Having completed a degree in fine arts, design and production at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Arielle wasn’t expecting to connect with a former actor through the MLS mentoring program. She found a kindred spirit in Bryan, who acted in several theatre productions in Singapore before embarking on his legal career.
“At school I studied arts, physics, maths, theatre, English – the idea of having a particular type of brain never really sat well with me,” Arielle explains.
“The skills I gained at the VCA are very transferrable to law, but some people still give me that odd look when I talk about my background. It was so refreshing to hear Bryan’s story and know that he understood and saw value in the path that lead me to law.”
In fact, it is some of these skills – such as the ability to work well within a team and build relationships, as well as her almost inexhaustible stamina – that Bryan reassured his mentee were vital in the practice of law.
“One of the things I loved when I first spoke to Bryan was his conviction that building relationships is not a means to an end. There is huge value in having conversations to get to know people.”
On a more practical level, Ariella is the first person to study law in her immediate circle so she joined the mentoring program to learn more about the industry and the day to day grind.
“Sometimes I’m uncertain about how my studies will translate into practical work. I’ve been able to use Bryan as a sounding board when considering which electives to take or how to approach assignments. Bryan’s frank and honest approach is really valuable and his insights have helped me set myself up for the next steps.”
Only a few months into their mentoring relationship, Bryan has inspired Arielle in many ways.
“When we first met Bryan asked me if there were any lawyers in my family. He was so helpful to me coming into law with no one else to draw on who truly understood the industry. I want to be able to give back and have that impact for someone else in the future.”
Another of Bryan’s mentees, Yuxian Liu has signed up as a mentor to support other budding lawyers in the way Bryan supported him.
“Bryan has influenced me a lot – from a lawyer’s prospective, from a friend’s perspective,” Yuxian says.
“I thought maybe it’s my turn to help someone (if I am able to) and I feel like I am always learning in these relationships too – we grow from our interactions with each other.
“I understand the uncertainty students can feel entering into a new environment. They may need information including how to establish an academic research or/and how to get relaxed after school. This program is kind of a helping and sharing circle. It should keep going. It is an amazing program I would say.”