NTU vs NUS Psychology: The Lowdown

Q1. Did you choose NTU/NUS Psych, and why?

Gwyn (NTU): I picked NTU Psychology. At that point, I had already fixated on psychology as the career field that I intended to stay in for the rest of my life, for better or for worse, through the good and the bad (very dramatic, I’ll probably eat my words later), so I wanted to get into it straight away like 现在马上立刻 HAHAHAHA.

I picked NTU Psych because: 

  1. I could jump into Psychology directly without studying the foundational subjects in NUS FASS, which I saw as unnecessary diversions +
  2. Guaranteed direct honours (4 years) +
  3. NTU offered me the Nanyang Scholarship LOL. I missed the deadline for NUS’s scholarship, so watch out for that, and never assume deadlines. 

For purposes of full disclosure, my exact degree when I entered was Psychology with a 2nd Major in Biological Sciences. Yes I have kinks for extra majors and no one can stop me. But I realised I wasn’t interested in the BS aspect of it after the first few weeks. So I wrote in to my course and school admin and had it promptly dropped (sorry Ngee Ann). It didn’t affect my scholarship – as long as I maintained a 3.5/5.0 GPA they didn’t care HAHAHAHA. And since you can apply for a 2nd Major in your second year (subject to good performance >4.0 GPA), I pivoted my focus towards Sociology as that was what I really wanted to do. For more details on 2nd Majors / minors in NTU see this post.

Tar (NTU): The most important reason for me would be that NTU was the first one to offer me a full scholarship. Being young, eager, and having under-researched the options available, I grabbed the opportunity without giving it much thought. In hindsight, perhaps I should have waited for the offer from the other universities, and also considered the availability of other scholarship opportunities. With that said, I’m still grateful to NTU for the scholarship and it’s a great privilege. Another reason would be the direct honours program that was provided by NTU – I was not very keen on the idea of having to compete for the Psychology major in NUS. In terms of the characteristics of NTU that nudged me towards my decision was the vibes that I felt when I visited NTU during my NS days as I felt that the people were generally more laid-back and casual.

YR (NUS): I chose NUS Psychology mainly because I was initially unsure of whether I even wanted to major in Psychology. Despite my avid interest in Psychology and having devoted three years to studying it in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I didn’t want to feel like I had to follow through with this path just because. I wanted to explore other possible options before solidifying my university – and eventually life – trajectory. NUS’s academic route allowed me to do just that. 

Unlike NTU’s direct track, NUS students are able to take exposure (“introductory”) modules of their interest to aid in their decision of eventual major. Students are able to declare their major in Semester 2 (Y1S2) at the earliest, and may not change their major after the end of the 5th semester (Y3S1). Hence, year 1 students are simply FASS students with no major, and have a flexible/intermediary period of time that they can use to contemplate what they want to pursue eventually. See the other majors and minors available in FASS here. 

Students can indicate their preferred majors before the start of the school term to have the corresponding modules pre-allocated to them in their first semester. This system allowed me to take the Psychology exposure modules, as well as the exposure modules of other majors I found interesting like Linguistics. In turn, I was able to explore other possibilities (but eventually I still stuck with Psychology LOL). Because of the room to explore other majors, I was also able to evaluate taking a minor in management and sociology alongside a Psychology major. 

Eric (NUS): To add on, there are prerequisites before you can opt to major in NUS Psychology: you must score at least B- for both PL1101E (Introduction to Psychology) and PL2131 (Research and Statistical Methods I). Competition for the Psych major in NUS is cutthroat because many students want to major in it but there are limited slots, as with all things in Singapore. The assessments are stressful. For example, when I was taking Intro to Psych, midterms was 50%, and finals was the other 50%. The design, I feel, was really to sieve out the better ones right away. For Stats I, the assessment weightage was more spread out. But the pressure for the mandatory B- is intense. It’s not impossible to take Psychology if you don’t get a B-, though you will have to waste a term to retake the module. FASS is good for people who don’t really know what to do and don’t want to commit to anything yet, because in the first year you can just try out modules and treat it as clearing UEs (Unrestricted Electives).

YR (NUS): Personally, I don’t believe that it is extremely difficult to attain at least a B- for both Intro mods. However, I do have friends that have gotten the minimum of B- for the mods, which prompted them into reconsidering whether they still wanted to major in Psychology. Their line of reasoning was “if I can’t even score well on these two ‘entry-level’ modules, how well can I do in the future with the advanced modules?”. So that’s something to think about. Finally, note that a direct honours in NUS Psychology is not guaranteed. Students must have had read a certain number of modules, as well as have a minimum CAP of 3.20. Otherwise, you end your studies in Year 3. 

Q2. What were your expectations for the Psych course when you first entered? How has the actual experience been similar and different?

Eric (NUS): I expected Intro to Psych to be manageable – and it was, to me, because the content was easy to understand. But Intro to Stats was tough, maybe because the Prof had a thick accent or what, and it was challenging content-wise too. Oh, and I remember we needed SPSS to do an assignment for the statistics module, but NUS’s computer labs with SPSS close early. When you have other lessons for the day, where got time to go computer lab and use SPSS? So I had to contact my NTU(!) friends to use their computer lab with SPSS which were 24/7. 

Rant aside, overall the Psychology course in NUS is well-structured and the learning curve is optimal. Even though there are a lot of 3000-level modules (where 1K = basic, 2K = intermediate, and 3K supposedly advanced/applied), and students are usually required to start taking them in Year 2 or even Year 1, they are not as daunting as they sound. 

Tar (NTU): Prior to admission, I expected that university would play a greater role equipping me for a role in the mental health profession or a career in general. However, I came to realise that mods at the 1-2k levels are rather similar to what I’ve learnt in polytechnic, but maybe at a 25% upgrade in difficulty and intensity. (Gwyn: Honestly, I think he’s just an overachiever. It should be more than 25%.) Anyway, if you’re gunning for prospects in the mental health profession, or any field for that matter, practical experience – e.g. via internships – is more important in distinguishing yourself. (See Q9 for career opportunities.)

YR (NUS): The experience was more or less what I expected. I expected an upgrade in difficulty, but not much fundamental difference, from what polytechnic students already do: group projects (sigh bane of my existence), presentations, exams, and research essays. One key difference is the class participation component in university. Class participation in Polytechnic (or JC) was not so intense and did not carry much weightage in our grades. University is a different matter: tutorial group discussions are used quite heavily, where we either break up into smaller groups to discuss or just share with the whole class. Participating actively will help consolidate your learning. I think the main thing to get used to is the relatively hands-off approach with professors. You have to take control of your own learning, and the onus is on you to reach out and email the profs or schedule consultations if you need help. 

Ooh and I guess another thing that i did not expect was that in PL1101E and PL2132 (the intro modules), we were required to help our seniors in their research by being participants in their experiments. It’s quite a mind-numbing and grindy process – you look for available experiments on the portal, sign up, then go down to the labs where you sit in front of computers and do surveys. For each experiment you complete, you get RPs (Research Points), and you have to accumulate a certain number. I think with COVID, most of the surveys have been moved online such that you can do them from the comfort of your own home. I got to see how the seniors conducted their experiments, and I could assess their hypotheses too. Sooner or later, you might have to collect data yourself if you are doing your Honours thesis – and any exposure is always good. 

Gwyn (NTU): Non-final-year students have no idea how every survey response is like a lifeline of HOPE, especially for academics. My heart breaks when people ignore my pleas for them to participate in my surveys, or worse, they participate under an incentive and give slipshod answers. Do you guys know I can SEE every detail of your responses (other than your identity, of course; responses are anonymous) including your response time on each page, number of clicks, and you FAILING the manipulation/attention checks?? What I am trying to say is: when someone asks for help with their survey and it’s not too much trouble, just take a few minutes of your time to help them. Consider it an act of kindness and accumulating karma. It will come back to you when you eventually need it. 

Anyway I agree with YR about the module components. In NTU there are two main types of modules (and professors): theoretical and applied. The first focuses on essays and exams, and the second type will abuse you with group work and class participation. That means: get working on your human relations skills! You should be aware of how you’re presenting yourself to others in terms of your ability to work in teams. People keep records, implicitly or explicitly, and you won’t be given many chances before people will start blacklisting you. Nobody likes social loafers, and you should work hard not to be seen as one. If you don’t care, don’t drag other innocents down with you. This is not to scare you – more like an appeal for people to have some basic common decency and not slack off to unacceptable degrees in group projects. 

Of note was the effect of Covid-19 on pedagogy in NTU. Everything suddenly moved online after I returned to school in Year 4 following my exchange in Canada. Two out of four modules I’m taking this semester are held online on Zoom (live, but also recorded). The third module is a MOOC (massively online multiplayer game Massive Open Online Courses) on Coursera. NTU pays for quite a few, so you can take them for free and upon completion, “redeem” the certificate in AUs (Academic Units). Absolutely revolutionary in my opinion. Frankly, I LOVE ONLINE CLASSES, because I can now attend classes at a location of my convenience without worrying about travel time. And, I can rewatch lectures for revision if I missed something in class – though you shouldn’t be relying on that to do well. It’s still a basic requirement to attend classes as if held physically. It’s a different experience compared to before with physical classes, but it’s not all that bad.

Q3. What is the process for getting modules in NTU/NUS Psych like, and how has the experience been for you?

Eric (NUS): NUS’s balloting system is based on certain criteria, e.g. student seniority, program requirement, rank of preference, and student’s home faculty. Generally, you can get your desired mods easily if you plan ahead. One strategy is to do popular mods in the third or final year because you can outbid others then. The appeal system is also reasonable. I remember I needed to take Cognitive Psychology but I wasn’t allocated it after the ballot. I wrote in and explained why I needed it and I got it in the end. 

YR (NUS): To add on, you bid for the lectures first (some of which have timings you can choose, while others have fixed time slots), followed by the tutorial timeslots. You have to rank your modules, where higher ranks = higher chances of obtaining. There will be a few days for you to do this, during which you will be able to see the vacancies of the module you want as well as the number of students that have selected it. Based on this knowledge, you should rank the high demand / low supply modules higher (or the ones you really want). I haven’t faced any difficulty with getting the modules that I wanted. My only gripe with the module selection process is the tutorials. There have been so many times when I didn’t get the ideal tutorial timeslot that I wanted, and it ended up messing up my timetable and taking away my ideal 3-4 day workweek (like this sem for me, damn sian). Tutorials can be hard to secure especially if it’s a small class with limited vacancies, so you just have to try your best to rank those high demand / low supply tutorials higher. However, even if u don’t get it, you can have a last-ditch attempt at the end of the tutorial selection process where you can swap tutorial timeslots if there is someone that also wants your time slot. Basically, there must be a match for a successful swap.

Eric (NUS): I think choosing modules in NUS might be fairer because they have criteria to prioritise who gets what (e.g., Year 4 prioritised over Year 1 by seniority) as compared to NTU which I believe is still the fastest finger/Internet.

Gwyn (NTU): To clarify – seniors in NTU Psych are allocated earlier timeslots to compete for modules (they go in batches by year, not the entire course at once), and a fixed number of spots are set aside for them by default. So seniors also get priority in module selection relative to juniors, FYI. The real battle royale, if there is one, comes during add/drop week (first 2 weeks of school) – it’s a free-for-all across all years then. But most students will have settled their core mods by the beginning of school, and it’s really not as chaotic as it’s made out to be.

Tar (NTU): NTU operates on a fastest fingers first system, where you compete with other students in your year. I haven’t faced any significant challenges in getting the modules that I want largely due to luck and a reliable internet connection. To get yourself acquainted with the system, get in touch with your seniors upon matriculation as it is an evolving system and whatever knowledge being shared now may not be the most useful in the years to come. For those who are aiming to secure tutorial slots with your friends, a protip would be to join sessions with less popular timings (less demand, more stonks!)

Gwyn (NTU): NTU does not have a perfect system, although it is one that I like. There are bound to be losers (they tend to be the juniors since seniors are given priority, but that’s the cycle of life, LMAO). The first two days of every STAR WARS (our nickname for the bidding period), the undergraduate office will start responding with automated messages because they are flooded with aggressive emails/pleas from desperate students. They are helpful if you know how to ask, but there’s nothing they can do if 100 people want to apply for X module that only has 30 vacancies. That’s why it’s important to have a Plan B – if you don’t get it this round, you should have a backup module to aim for. You can simply apply for the other module in the next sem/year and you’ll be more likely to get it. In the meantime, why not consider exploring new things? Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s the best for you. 

Students have many creative strategies to try to get the modules they want. I am a traditionalist so I camp at the planner page checking vacancies repeatedly until someone drops the module eventually over the add/drop period (the first two weeks of school). It’s always worked for me. Having that 2nd Major tacked on to my degree also helped, because I have to accommodate more modules and thus have some bargaining power. Finally, you can use the NTU official module appeal channel that’s open for the first 3 days after school, but that only applies to GER-PEs (General Education, Prescribed Electives) and UEs (Unrestricted Electives) – i.e. those not related to your major. 

Q4. What are your favourite modules so far, and what modules have you not taken but want to?

Eric (NUS): PL3236 Abnormal Psychology was one of the best mods for me. You will learn about many mental illnesses, their symptoms, their etiology, and the best treatments for them. I like how we are assessed in this mod also, because we get to analyse a case study and determine the best treatment for the person based on the facts of the case, while the midterms and finals were manageable. I want to take PL3254 Trauma Psychology because it seems relevant and interesting, but it is one of the most popular mods in NUS so the slots usually are filled with year 3/4 students who are prioritised in the bidding system. 

YR (NUS): One interesting module that I am taking now is PL3248 Learning and Conditioning. The module name sounds mundane and ordinary and I initially did not want to take it. I thought that there was nothing left to learn about conditioning, I mean, it’s just classical and operant conditioning right? Boy I could NOT be more wrong. This module exposed me to so many different intricate facets and types of conditioning. I got to understand the mechanisms of certain human and animal behaviours at a depth that really surprised me. You get to conduct little experiments during tutorials also like shaping your friends to execute a behaviour through a secondary reinforcer (admittedly, this would have been so much more fun if we had physical classes). I also want to take PL4228 Criminal Forensic Psychology because forensic psychology was something I always found interesting. See other NUS Psych mods here.

Gwyn (NTU): Why is everyone so interested in forensics and trauma? But anyway, we have a HP4102 Trauma Psychology & Crisis Management too, taught by Fred Long, who is LEGIT. Of course not to mention HP4103 The Forensic Psychology of Crime, Terrorism, and Disasters, taught by Dr Majeed Khader, Ph.D. (Forensic Psych), Chief Psychologist, Singapore Police Force; Chief Psychologist, Ministry of Home Affairs; Director, Behavioural Sciences Unit (HTA); Deputy Director, Police Psychological Services Division (SPF). Yes they are ALL positions of the same man and all I did was literally copy it from his course outline. Of course both courses above are chronically oversubscribed; I have never taken them; the other students love them. 

My favourite elective is HP3402 Social Cognition (it is ONLY a coincidence that my FYP supervisor teaches this). It covers content like dual-process theory and implicit/explicit biases. As for the cores… I would say I like HP2400 Social Psychology best. Both form the backbone of my current research work. I published a comprehensive review of all the modules I took in NTU here along with recommendations on how to score, so check that out for a glimpse into what to expect. You should keep your mind open to other Psych modules available in NTU e.g. environmental psychology, consumer psychology – so many fun ones out there!

Tar (NTU): HP2100 Research Design & Data Analysis and HP3101 Applied Statistical Methods were modules that I felt were useful in terms of preparing me for a career in psychology – in both an applied and academic sense. The rest of the modules (the usual 1Ks, 2Ks and 3Ks) are more theoretical in nature and might require greater effort on students’ part in applying the knowledge to practical situations. 

Gwyn (NTU): LOL the greatest challenge that every psychology student will face – aside from group projects – is probably statistics. (The third challenge is succinct writing, as you will learn.) Yeah I totally forgot to consider statistics as an essential module when coming into Psychology too, and I was punished for that (see my reviews of HP2100 and HP3101). I will briefly note here that the traditional method of overnight cramming DOES NOT work for statistics, which requires actual practice, constant revision, and a lot of self-effacing behaviour before the professor. Thanks, Prof Ringo

Q5. (Because NUS allows seeing grades before S/U) How has the S/U function helped you? For NTU students, what are your opinions on this? 

Context: S/U refers to the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory option. When used on a module, the grade’s impact is nullified and the module is graded pass/fail instead, such that one’s cumulative GPA or CAP will not be influenced by that module. So students typically use it on modules they’re not confident on scoring, or to eliminate potentially bad grades. NUS students are able to see their grades before they opt for the S/U option. NTU students cannot, and can only make educated guesses; if they S/U, they will not know their final grade. This issue has been a hot button in NTU for a long time.  

Eric (NUS): Being able to see my grades before I S/U is very helpful because I don’t need to excessively mull over whether I want to S/U something – I can just calculate its impact and all. JC kids have a total of 8 S/U options while poly kids get 5 S/Us, and only 3 of them can be carried over to Year 2 for both groups. So generally people take S/Uable mods in Year 1. The reason why poly kids have less S/Us is because we are exempted from clearing 20MCs’ (credits) worth of electives, which the JC kids need to. If you plan your mods well, poly kids can even graduate a sem earlier. 

YR (NUS): Goodness me I really don’t know how my NTU friends do it. Hell, I cannot fathom how it would be like to have to decide your S/U before you even see your grade, that’s crazy. Mad props to all the NTU Psych homies, my heart could never take the stress. This S/U function has helped me so much, allowing me time to decide what I should S/U, and holding out hope for some modules that I might be able to get away without S/Uing. There have been several modules on which I became doubtful towards the end on whether I would do well (for example, at the start I didn’t do so well with the group projects and essays, but later I felt like I aced the final exam). In such ambiguous situations, being able to first see my grade before deciding to S/U has helped my CAP. Also, you can S/U the Intro to Psych / Stats I modules and still major in NUS Psych, as long as you fulfil the B- requirement. All other Psych core modules cannot be S/Ued.

Tar (NTU): NTU students get about 4 modules’ worth of S/U credits. In NTU you can only use S/Us on non-core mods i.e. things not related to your major like cores and electives. This means you can’t S/U any core Psych mods in NTU. I only used one S/U myself. If you are doing a minor, or have cleared MOOCs, or come from a Polytechnic, more likely than not you are going to end up with unused SUs. So be more liberal at the beginning with your SUs. Planning ahead is also very important to ensure that you maximise your pass/fail opportunities. If you are considering S/Uing certain modules, the lecturers may be open to giving you hints of your overall performance for the mod. Tactfully ask them to ensure that you do not waste your S/U on a potential A. 

Gwyn (NTU): Totally agreed on the liberal use of S/Us. I would even go as far to say use ALL of them in your first 2 semesters, if not first 4 (before Y3), for both polytechnic and JC students. After I took my 2nd Major I couldn’t S/U anything anymore because it replaced all my UEs and because you cannot S/U modules from minors or 2nd Majors, so I wasted 2 potential uses. But I should say I’ve never been particularly bothered by the fact that I can’t see my grades before I S/U them. I just went for a Big Brain moment and decided to S/U a mod from the beginning of the semester so I could channel more of my energy studying for my other registered mods. 

Still, the issue remains a huge thorn in the side for quite a significant proportion of students in NTU. And it is easy to see why when you realise that NUS students seem to have a lot more ability to, uh, pull their GPA so to speak. I remember the last time the Students’ Union had a survey on this issue, it garnered over 2,000 responses from students who we can assume were more than invested in the matter. But the administration is immovable on their stance, so there’s that I guess. Don’t expect much – though you are always welcome to join the Students’ Union and advocate for change like me! UwU

Q6. Share one favourite memory you made in university.

Eric (NUS): The freshman orientation camp. I made many new friends there and they are now my closest uni friends. I highly recommend that you join camps, hall, and CCAs, because Uni’s not all about the grind. Sometimes you need to chill and make fond memories with the people around you. On your deathbed you are not going to remember you got A+ for PL1101E, but you will remember getting wasted at the sideroad choking on your vomit. Don’t expect to make friends in tutorial because usually people attend one tutorial together and never see each other again, so it’s hard to forge lasting bonds. 

YR (NUS): ^^^ WAH I couldn’t agree more. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is to join camps. Personally, it is because of the camp I joined that I have this tight-knit group of friends now (they really are my only solid group of uni friends lmao). One fun memory was having a vending machine dinner in the library lounge after a day of studying (mashed potatoes, porridge, and chips etc.). We were having a FEAST. People were so confused looking at us. 

I remember learning so much about the module bidding system from my seniors through camp, and they also continued to provide help and tips through our Whatsapp and Tele groups even after. There is also an academic briefing at the end of the camp on the last day detailing all the useful things you need to know about modules and preparing for your university life. But the main thing is friends!!! It is so easy to become a “phantom” in university, with no constant classes and hardly any continued interaction among group members after group discussions. Through the camp, you can make friends that are planning on taking the same major as you are, and you can take modules with them and help each other!

Tar (NTU): Contrary to Ye Rui and Eric’s experience of seeking out the “happening” lifestyle through university, my goal in university was to seek more calmness and stability within myself. As such I dedicated the majority of my time engaging in personally meaningful activities (volunteering with Volunteer Management – a portfolio under NTU Welfare Service Club; engaging actively within NTU Psych Society; attending ad-hoc talks by the NTU Muslim Society). These activities were less hyped in nature, a better fit for my aged soul! With that said, I do look fondly upon my times in Hall 1 in Year 1, going for impromptu supper and karaoke sessions. I guess, ultimately, it is a lot about balance and there is no one size fits all solution to maximising your university experience. It is important to figure out what works for you. 

Gwyn (NTU): This didn’t happen in NTU to be exact but I signed up for a Japanese language immersion programme under the blessings of NTU in a collaboration with Waseda University (read about it here!). And thus I spent six weeks overseas in Tokyo learning the language with a handful of NTU students from other courses. It was the adventure of a lifetime – we ascended mountains, dunked in onsens, visited cat cafes / maid cafes / cat-maid cafes, attended fireworks festivals, I brought home a luggage filled to the brim with manga, we were realising things. It’s one of the defining memories of university life for me, and one I will probably keep with me for a long time to come. So, camps or not, I think there is always potential to make friends wherever you go. Preferably you find them somewhere where you guys have a common interest, such as a CCA or programme like mine (we connected over manga, weeabooism, and obscenities). The real challenge is finding people that you can click with, and who can tolerate you. 

Q7. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice before entering university, what would it be?

Eric (NUS): JOIN CAMPS. JOIN HALL CAMP. BUT STUDY HARD ALSO. Because starting off your uni life with a good CAP (GPA) is important, because pulling your CAP up is hard. Life is all about finding the balance. Cliché as it sounds, must work hard and play hard!!!

Tar (NTU): 1) Consider the path less travelled! With the influx of innovations such as massive open online courses, the landscape of the formal education scene is a rapidly evolving one. A degree from an autonomous local University may not be the only way of bringing yourself closer to the career of your choice. 2) Trust the process! There are bound to be ups and downs, As and Bs. Don’t let these get to you, do your best and that’s enough.

YR (NUS): Oi pui, Ye Rui, you better join some CCAs leh you lazy CLOWN, poly already don’t have CCA now you come uni also like that meh? CCAs can help you make friends and learn new skills also, and at the very least help you have some fun. And please read your emails and see if there are any interesting opportunities, even if it’s like volunteer stuff. It doesn’t hurt to start early even in year 1 and build connections and gain exposure. Oh and please take more Psychology modules early on so that the back half of your uni life won’t just be all psychology modules. Try and evenly space out the electives and psychology modules so you don’t burn out from them (at least electives can S/U mah).

Gwyn (NTU): PLAN AHEAD, AND START NOW. EVEN IF YOU’RE JUST A JUNIOR ENTERING YEAR 1, PLAN FOR ALL 4 YEARS AND 8 SEMESTERS IN ADVANCE. Plan every module that you’re interested in. Plan the minors/majors, research opportunities, internships, and leadership opportunities that you aim to take, and set a systematic plan to GET THEM. Ask yourself: what prerequisites are there, what actionable steps can you take to get to your goal? Get help from whatever sources you can to get it planned – just do it, and execute it as planned. Also have a Plan B and C. Otherwise you’ll end up overloading, not completing modules in the right order, not having enough AUs to graduate, not taking enough research/opportunities, and just suffering in general – ala me. 

I will also say one controversial thing – that joining the JCRC is probably not worth it unless you’re P/VP. If you can understand that sentence, then you should reconsider whatever you’re thinking! I have the utmost respect for the brave people who joined, but this is based on my observations and firsthand testimonials.

Q8. What research opportunities are available for students in your batch, and have you taken up any of them? How was the experience like?

Eric (NUS): Usually we get a lot of emails asking for RA (Research Assistant) positions in NUS. But I feel it’s competitive and hard to get because typically only one or two slots are available. 

YR (NUS): I am currently undertaking a Research Assistant position at a Psychology lab that I knew about through the email blasts they sent. These emails are sent quite frequently, so as long as you keep your eyes peeled and send in the required documents before the deadline, you stand a chance. The RA position I have now is under the Motivation and Self-Regulation lab. It’s been such a pleasure to gain actual exposure to research conducted by professors involving real parents and children, and I got to see the behind-the-scenes of the experiments I read about in textbooks.

I am involved in two separate studies in the lab, the first on strategic mindset, and the second on emotion reasoning. The former examines how a positive mindset intervention for young children can empower them to apply better strategies for learning and self-control, and the latter examines how children learn about and reason about emotions. Real psychy stuff.

Example of the duties of a RA:

  • Collecting, recording, and coding behavioural data 
  • Conducting experimental sessions 
  • Assisting in research and literature review for scientific papers
  • Handling administrative, design, and logistical tasks 

Tar (NTU): There are plenty of opportunities around for Psych students in NTU – RA and URECA (Undergraduate Research) positions are in abundance. Before jumping into either, ask around for the working styles and personality of the supervisor that you will be working with. The supervisor-student relationship is an EXTREMELY important one and cultivating a good relationship will place you in a good stead for the future.

Gwyn (NTU): I joined the Undergraduate Research Experience on CAmpus (URECA) programme in Year 2. Long story short, I conducted my own research study of my choice under the supervision of a psych prof. I delved into all aspects of the action, from the planning to the data collection (imagine having to wake up at 9am and crawling to the computer labs to collect responses until 5pm, unfathomable) and analysis. I also got to participate in an exhibition event featuring my work at the Nanyang Auditorium where I floundered trying to explain my study to more frowny profs. Read all about it here!

I should mention that I have built an enduring relationship, again for better or for worse, with the wonderful and very exacting Prof Catherine. I met her through the URECA programme and she’s now my final year project (FYP) supervisor. How time flies and I suffer! On this note, I have come to realise something similar to what Tarif said: it might be more important to choose a professor that knows how to nurture you, rather than a prof who specialises in a research area that you want to pursue. A professor did once tell me “the professor is more important than the university that you’re applying to” in the context of future studies; the logic similarly applies here. I was lucky to get one who is invested in my growth (I GUESS). So ask your friends and seniors what it’s been like to work under who. I would compile a list of anecdotes from students for easy reference, but I have a rice bowl to keep… 

There are many RA opportunities, but I haven’t taken up any for various reasons (I should have, but then again there’s just so many distractions… again I reiterate the importance of planning.) There is this one professor that I would very much like to work with, but despite me essentially prostrating myself at their service(!), they have been too busy to bother with me. That’s life I guess! Get used to it, and don’t unnecessarily limit yourself. Also, remember that you don’t have to sit around and wait for RA opportunities to fall into your lab lap. Why not try reaching out to the professors first?

Q9. What career opportunities have you been exposed to?

YR (NUS): Every FASS student has to take a “career” module called CFG1002 Career Catalyst. It teaches you things like resume and cover-letter writing, how to dress for job interviews, where to find internships and job opportunities etc. Just mundane and usual workplace preparedness stuff. There are also email blasts regarding different internship briefings that students can sign up for.

Gwyn (NTU): We also have online modules for career stuff. Nothing revolutionary though they do have relevant tips that we should all practise. I was so preoccupied with maximising school life with CCAs and whatnot that I did not take up any internships straight through university up to now. I got the shock of my life when I recently attended a group interview session on Zoom and realised that my peers were all Year 2s and 3s with multiple internships under their belts. Meanwhile cue me, shy (believe it or NOT) and rapidly deflating through the interview. Panicked And Fearing For My Future, I immediately signed up for and attended a talk organised by the NTU Career Office. That was then I realised that they do share resources that are quite legit – how to perform in interviews, consultation sessions, career guidance, Excel skills workshops. I should have gone earlier! You should! 

Similarly, there are many career recruitment emails sent to us in literal droves everyday – to the point where students have (regularly) complained. There’s also the annual(?) NTU iFair, a virtual job fair I recently participated in. NTU hosts tons of those and they are literally begging us to attend ALL THE TIME. Anyway during the online fair I beelined for the public service sector (with my mouse) and found a few places. I emailed the Ministry of National Development, spoke to a representative from the Economic Development Board, and found out about internships with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I really don’t think there’s a lack of career opportunities available, though some might argue that some jobs are not directly relevant to what we do. My response to that is that we should probably be more flexible and diversify. I’m trying to.

Tar (NTU): NTU Psychology Society (@ntupsychsoc) shares many academic and career-related materials on our socials. From time to time, our school (of Social Sciences) does blast out recruitment opportunities and resume vetting services, but I have not engaged in any… maybe I should. The Graduate Employment Survey has shed a rather dull light on the prospects of NTU Psychology graduates – we don’t have a particularly high employment rate. It’s a hard truth to swallow but a truth nonetheless. In my opinion, the onus is on us students to ensure that beyond graduating with a good degree, we develop core competencies that would aid in increasing our employability.

Gwyn (NTU): Very classic neoliberal mentality from Tarif there, but I agree in the sense that we do need to go beyond and above to distinguish ourselves as more than Psych graduates, because that degree alone frankly won’t get you very far. This applies whether you go to NTU or NUS. To enter many key fields that are often associated with psychology in the public mind (clinical, forensic, professional) typically requires even more education on top of a degree – a Master’s or a PhD for that matter. I love Psychology and the time I’ve had in NTU Psych, but it remains a reality that it’s not very bankable in comparison to other degrees. It’s definitely something incoming students will want to consider in deciding whether the belief that “Psychology is fun and interesting” (LMAOOOO) is going to get you the 4 years of writing reports to find that you’re in a job that might not use that psychology knowledge much at all. The world out there is a lot more dynamic and multidisciplinary. Be mentally prepared to take the dive and follow through, kids. If, like me, you find this real world hard to accept, then you should consider a postgraduate degree. HAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA

Q10. What resources do you recommend for incoming students to your university’s Psych programme?

Tar (NTU): Again ~NTU PSYCHOLOGY SOCIETY~ (@ntupsychsoc)!!! Also do not ignore mails that come from the school – there are little ingots of gold to be uncovered among the spam and clutter. The clubs and societies in NTU are also in great abundance so do take the time to check them out during CCA orientation week. 

YR (NUS): I agree. School emails are important and can present useful information and opportunities, so please make sure to check them regularly. It sounds commonsensical but you’d be surprised at how many people do not do so. Also, there is a useful bus service app called NUS Next Bus, which can give you information about the various internal shuttlebuses that roam about the campus like their routes and how long they will take before reaching your busstop. (The NTU variant of the bus app is named NTU GO!, same concept.) 

Gwyn (NTU): NTU Students’ Union and all their socials (mainly @ntu.su). Don’t mark their emails as spam. It’s a great connector to other platforms and clubs and ongoing events. I recommend some other apps here in my NTU Starter Pack. Another useful resource is, obviously, this blog, so follow it by clicking on the top right hand corner, and my Instagram too. Kthxbye~

We hope this not-so-brief sharing of our guests’ experiences in NTU and NUS Psychology has helped you emerge with a clearer picture of what to expect, and will assist you in making your final decision. If you have any questions or remarks, feel free to leave a comment below, and we’ll get back to you! Here’s wishing everyone the best of luck in your applications. 🙂

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