An Action Guide to Atomic Habits by James Clear

I’m probably late to the game but I recently read Atomic Habits and found it a game-changer for my own life! Due to the sheer volume of tips and content covered, I found myself writing a summarised version of each chapter after reading. But I went beyond to include my own tables and exercises based on James’s suggestions. And thus the Action Guide to Atomic Habits was born.

I’d like to share it here in the hopes that others will find it useful!

Mandatory recommendation to support James Clear by buying his book. While I think my modified guide is fantastic, it can never beat learning from the author himself.

JAMES COMMANDS YOU

Before we begin, my review of Atomic Habits: 5/5 stars. This book marked a paradigm shift for me. It is also well-integrated with psychological principles, so bonus points! I also love that there are many action pointers interspersed throughout the book, though I would have appreciated it even more if he straight up had “exercises”. But it’s alright because I’ve created them – problem solved.

*This post is the first of two. It covers the first 10 chapters in the book (of 20), because writing a summary takes time. Also, because the content covered can be dense, don’t expect to be able to finish the summary/exercises in one sitting. Yes – you know what that means! Bookmark this page, subscribe to me for updates, and send love if you enjoyed it!

USING THIS GUIDE

For starters, I recommend selecting one habit – and only one – that you hope to build and focusing on it via the exercises in this guide. The habit I’ve been working on is reading academic journal articles every day. Well then, without further ado…


All about NTU Psychology

Hello everyone and welcome to the world of Psychology! This post is written for poly/JC students considering a future with NTU Psychology. The sheer amount of online information can be daunting, so I have kept it to the essentials. I hope that it will be useful to you in making an informed decision.

All links open in new tabs.

Contents

[1] Curriculum: Overview, course structure, modules, lesson format
[2] Academic supplements: internships, research opportunities
[3] Work/future prospects: pay, career pathways
[4] Admission information: IGP for JC/poly
[5] Why NTU psychology: comparing NUS and NTU + some considerations 
[6] Scholarships available

For a future post: how to maximise chances of admission + student life

A bit about me for context

I graduated from the NTU Psychology programme in 2021 with Honours, Highest Distinction. I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in NTU now, researching social psychology. In addition, I’m the incumbent President of the Singapore Psychological Society (Youth Wing), which you should follow for more psychology opportunities! Oh and I also studied psych in poly.

In short, I literally have no identity besides “I do psych UwU”, but in exchange, I think about it ALL the time and that means I can deliver quality information to you, my dear reader.

How better than to start with some common misconceptions? Let’s see:

Common misconceptions

  • Psychology students can read minds or are more well-tuned to others’ emotions. Unfortunately, neither are true – though the second is a skill that can be developed with training based on psychological principles.
  • All psychologists deal with mental health. Not at all – clinical psychology is a popular discipline, yes, but it’s only one out of like, fifty (50) fields available. I’m serious.
    • Related misconception: psychology is a back-up plan for becoming a medical doctor (psychiatry). Let me put it out there now that there is virtually zero chance one can become a medical doctor with a psychology degree. The ONLY exception (available to the 1%) is if you go to graduate medical school.
    • You can become another type of doctor though (PsyD, PhD).
  • Psychology is easy because it’s commonsense knowledge. Yes, everyone has a natural tendency to try to understand other people, but here’s two things for your consideration: 1) you’re often wrong and 2) you don’t know that you’re often wrong. Psychology is also not easy because: STATISTICS IS COMPULSORY!!!
  • A degree in psychology means you are a psychologist upon graduation. Nope, you’ll need to pursue further studies – usually a Master’s degree.

These are not to scare you, merely to illustrate the realities of what it’s like to study psychology in Singapore. If you are willing to accept the above, it marks a great start for your journey ahead!  

Essential information

The full name of the NTU Psych degree as of 2022 is a BSocSci(Hons) in Psychology – short for Bachelor of Social Sciences. It used to be the Bachelor of Arts, and I believe the nomenclature change marks a transition to recognising it as more of a “science”. Some folks make a distinction between BA, BSc, and BSocSci, but imo it doesn’t matter.

What’s important is this – all students that enroll in NTU Psych are guaranteed an Honours degree. That means all students do a 4-year programme, since a conventional undergrad degree is typically 3 years. In comparison, an Honours is optional for NUS FASS.

To fulfill the honours requirements in Year 4, you will write a 10,000-word research paper (aka the fearsome Final Year Project) or take 2 additional higher-level modules in its place.

[1] Curriculum – click here for the full curriculum document.

Students take three types of modules in NTU:

  1. Specific stuff related to your degree (Major Requirements)
  2. General knowledge you need for the world (Interdisciplinary Collaborative Cores)
  3. The “have fun and S/U it” (Broadening and Deepening Electives)

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll only look at the first. Suffice it to say that the interdisciplinary cores will provide a good foundation. You will learn both skills (e.g. writing, critical thinking) and an appreciation of big trends in the world today (e.g. sustainability, big data). As for the broadening and deepening electives (every time I see this phrase I wanna laugh lol), use them as an opportunity to explore without fear of jeopardising your GPA. 

The modules that you take for psychology are split into two main types – the major-cores and major-electives. You will be clearing the 9 major-cores in the first two years, which are compulsory modules that the entire cohort has to take. These serve the function of exposing you to the diverse fields within psychology – e.g. social, biological, cognitive psychology – which can be poles apart in the methods and theories that they use. They’re all introductory-level modules, so don’t worry if you don’t have a H2 from JC.  

You will also be introduced to statistics from your very first semester. Even though students are only required to take two statistics modules (there are more, but they’re optional), you’ll realise that the subject matter bleeds into everything else. For example, to evaluate a journal article, you need to know what the numbers mean. Some students erroneously believe “oh since my future career goal is to become a therapist [for example], it’s not that important”. But without the numbers, we’re not a science at all. Either way, no matter how much mental gymnastics or procrastination you put yourself through, it will find its way back to you. So, you might as well tackle it head-on and set aside a lot of time to practice.

Most of the major-cores are lecture and exam-based. Lectures are usually 3 hours in a large lecture theatre or possibly online with COVID. Alternatively, it will be 2-hour lectures and 1-hour tutorials with more room for discussion. There is a heavy focus on content absorption and regurgitation. You will be expected to read a lot, from textbooks to journal articles. Some assignments will require you to write essays, where you will have to synthesise and evaluate the literature. There may also be presentations and posters to deliver. Nonetheless, the weightage of your grade is primarily determined by exams. Most of the exams are a combination of MCQs and short-answer questions.

Moving on to the major-electives. NTU Psychology offers over 50 (!) electives, though not all are available every semester. You won’t be taking all of them, of course. That’s why they’re called electives – because you get to choose. You won’t be taking them until earliest Y2S2, though it never hurts to plan ahead. 

Here are some examples of electives I’ve taken:

  • HP3002 Positive Psychology
  • HP3402 Social Cognition (fun fact: I’m the tutorial assistant for this now)
  • HP3708 Biopsychosocial Criminology
  • HP4104 Evidence-based Practice in Clinical Psychology

You might note a few things from the above. First, the topics are rather niche. You can think of them as “offshoots” of the core modules. They are also more integrative, e.g. social cognition blends social and cognitive psychology. Second, there are level 3000 and 4000 modules. Level 4000 modules are the most specialised, with a focus on the state of the art and application. Classes are smaller, with less lecturing and more student discussion. At this level, we move away from exams towards applying the knowledge to create new ideas and products. These are the modules that will stretch you the most. The instructors of those modules range from experts to superstars, who often have fanbases (LOL).

Single majors can expect to have a workload of about 15-18 AUs per semester, which is about 5-6 modules including the miscellaneous ones. This means you will be taking about 3-4 psych modules every semester. Double majors do a bit more, and 2nd majors are stressed a bit more because they have fewer modules they can S/U. Each module may further split into a number of quizzes, ranging anywhere from 2 to 5 (bless these students). The lesson is clear: consistent work is the only way to survive and thrive.

A brief note regarding the Final Year Project (FYP) that students will take in Year 4. I quote from the website:

The objective of the Graduation Project/FYP is to expose students to the elements that are inherent in independent research work in psychology. With the guidance of an advisor, the student will learn to identify a research issue in an area of psychology, conduct empirical, meta-analytical (use of secondary data), or library research, and write up a research report of about 9,000 to 10,000 words

“Empirical” just means “run your own study”, meta-analytical just means “take a bunch of existing studies and run analyses on them”, and library research means “literature review”. All worthwhile and fun. FYP is compulsory for GPAs >=3.9/5, optional for 3.75-3.89, and disallowed for those below 3.75. The third group will take two 4000-level modules in its place. You’ll graduate with an Honours regardless of whether you do your FYP, though it’s required for the award of Distinction and above.

You don’t have to worry about the FYP because it’s so far away. But if you need to ease your kiasuism, what you can do is to take your first semesters to find out more about the professors. Learn about their personalities, their work, their interests, and decide if you’re aligned with those aspects. If you have an idea of who/what you like early on, you can also volunteer as a research assistant at their labs to get a headstart. More on that below.

At some point, every student probably goes through the phase of “this was not what I was expecting”. If you want a clearer idea of what to expect, check out my guide to NTU Psych modules, where I cover the content, assessments, and personal tips for all modules I took.

[2] Academic Supplements

Research opportunities are useful if you are gearing for a career that is research-oriented. Internships offer an avenue to demonstrate your aptitude and interest in a field of work.

Research Opportunities

Research Assistantships (RAs): a university has two functions – to educate and to churn out research. Professors are conducting new research studies all the time, and many have “labs” – workgroups of students running projects spearheaded by the professor (known as the Principal Investigator). Students can volunteer (i.e. unpaid labour) to join labs to assist with these projects and learn about the research process. Early on, you’ll be assigned more menial tasks like coding responses, running studies and data cleaning, but as you gain more experience, you’ll ideally be empowered to contribute more. You might even land a co-author spot eventually!

The demand for manpower is ever-present, but so is the supply. Thus, you’ll have to be proactive in seeking out your professors and be able to articulate clearly why you have chosen their lab over others. The good news is you don’t have to limit yourself to the professors that have taught you – you could even go beyond the department if you wanted.

URECA: An acronym for “Undergraduate Research Experience on CAmpus”, this is an optional programme that allows students to conduct their own research project with a supervisor of their choice. It is available from Year 2 onwards for all students with a GPA of over 4.0. It’s 4AUs, which is the equivalent of a 4000-level module. In other words, it’s like a mini-FYP. The good news is that it’s pass/fail, allowing a rare opportunity for students to freely pursue their interests without having to worry about their GPAs. How your experience will play out is heavily dependent on your supervisor’s workstyle and preferences (this is a rule you should remember as you go along), but in general, all students are expected to submit a 5,000-word research paper as the final deliverable. They will also be credited as the first author alongside their supervisor. You probably will not end up with a ground-breaking discovery, but it’s an excellent foray into the world of research.

For more information, I wrote a review of my URECA experience here.

Internships

I only took one internship in poly – right before I graduated. Since I knew I wanted to pursue further studies early on, I wasn’t too worried about whether I had an internship or not. The pressure to obtain an internship under one’s belt can be daunting, though. In my conversations with friends, the stresses of applying for internships was a frequent topic.

There is no restriction on where and what kind of internships you can apply for. Additionally, the School of Social Sciences (of which the Psych department is under) offers the Professional Attachment Programme (HPAP) that students at the end of Year 3 can take. Students will receive 5AUs (pass/fail) in exchange upon completing 10 weeks of internship. The organisation in which you intern at must be approved by the Career and Attachment Office (CAO), though.

Juniors often ask me where to find internships. Honestly, I’m not very sure in light of my limited experience in this area. Three avenues I can suggest:

  • Ask your professors
  • Use platforms such as LinkedIn
  • Do your own research

Just because a job is not listed doesn’t mean it’s not there. One of my friends shared that she had landed an internship by proactively reaching out to companies that interested her even when they did not indicate that they were hiring talent. I was so impressed. I just applied for mine because I saw that they were recruiting via school email.

At the end of the day, before jumping into any research opportunities or internships, start by asking yourself: what value am I looking for out of this, and is it what I really need? Or am I merely doing it for the sake of having something on my résumé? Don’t just do it because you’re FOMO. Remember that every choice you make entails an opportunity cost. 

[3] Work/future prospects – ah yes the million-dollar question

Pay: An average fresh grad from NTU Psych can expect to earn in the range of $3000-3500.

Sectors (that I’ve seen my friends enter): civil service, private sector (HR, banks), research, marketing, clinics

  • To reiterate: to become a full-fledged psychologist, you need a postgraduate degree. It is not a negotiable, and takes years of investment and commitment. 

Key skills gained: critical thinking, writing, translating research, data analysis, interpersonal skills, possibly advocacy (HAHAHA)

[4] Admission Information

Indicative Grade Profile AY21/22 for Psychology

A levels

  • 10th percentile: AAC/B
  • 90th percentile: AAA/A

Polytechnic

  • 10th percentile: 3.72
  • 90th percentile: 3.92

[5] Scholarships

There are many scholarships for freshmen that NTU offers.

I might do another post on how to improve your chances at getting a scholarship/maximise your chances of getting into the programme based on my experiences of receiving the Nanyang Scholarship and NTU Research Scholarship, so feel free to give a like, leave a comment under this post, or even support me if you want to make it happen!

[6] Why NTU Psychology?

I cover various reasons why in my post comparing NTU and NUS Psychology, written with the input of my friends in the two programmes. That being said, I recognise that there are other universities in Singapore offering psychology, and they too are valid choices.

Some major concerns might be:

  • The major declaration system: NUS FASS allows you to change your major to something else, NTU doesn’t; you’re in for psych all the way
  • The module balloting system: NTU is fastest fingers, NUS is bidding
  • The S/U system: NUS allows seeing your grades before S/U, and NTU students have been up in arms for years about this, but it didn’t matter much to me
  • The location and living arrangements: NTU has first 2 years guaranteed hall, and I think NUS doesn’t have this

Student life

I originally wanted to include my experiences with hall living, overseas exchange, and student clubs in this post but in the interest of time I think I’ll save it for another post. Again, let me know if you’re interested by liking, commenting, or just reaching out!

Feel free to AMA by leaving a comment here or on the Reddit post I’ll probably be linking this to.

Final credits

This post and its format was inspired by the following “All about [Course]” series of posts which I am grateful for: law, nursing.

Resources and relevant posts

Follow/contact me | OR if you want to show some love, you can buy my candy and share it with your friends, it’ll make my day ❤

Follow for more psych opps: Singapore Psychological Society (Youth Wing) | NTU Psychology Society

More on NTU life: Guide to STAR Wars and other FAQs

Gwyn Reviews: the Cuddle™ Cool 2.0 Weighted Blanket

Are you WEIGHED DOWN by your enormous responsibilities in everyday life? Do you ever feel like you could SINK INTO THE FLOOR and stay there forever? Look no further, for you can now replicate this EXISTENTIAL HEAVINESS even in SLEEP… except that this time you will relish every moment of it.

you don’t have to deal with life if you’re unconscious.

Yes. I took the leap of faith and bought a weighted blanket online during a recent sale. I’ve been meaning to do it for a long time (since I came across a Reddit post swearing by it years ago) but never got around to it until now. And it seems like I’m not the only one whose interest is piqued by this revolutionary technology! So you guys are going to get exactly what you want: a review of my experience with my new weighted blanket from Cuddle Beddings. (…I guess you could say I am weighing in with my opinion… LOL).

Note that I was not sponsored for this post – it’s written entirely volitionally, if only because 1) I love to sleep and I find it super fun to discuss sleeping and 2) my fans asked for it and 3) I have nothing better to do. But Cuddle Beddings is welcome to invite me to join them as a brand ambassador or upgrade me to Forever VVVIP status anytime. (Don’t worry – I will be sure to tag them 300 times on social media to drive home this once-in-a-lifetime invitation for them.)

Below are the main points I’ll be cover-ing.

  • The blanket (price, dimensions, weight, look, texture, etc.)
  • User experience (pros and cons, thoughts)

THE BLANKET – LAY IT ON ME, BABY

The blanket I got is named the CUDDLE™ Cool 2.0 Weighted Blanket from Cuddle Beddings on Shopee. Tbh I just swiped it because it came up on top of my search listings for “weighted blanket” and it had the word COOL in it (you know those fabrics that promise that icy sensation… I CRAVE it). It comes in all shapes and sizes (literally) – there’s a variant each for kids(?!), super single, queen, and King-sized beds. For adults, the weight ranges from 6-11kg. All are grey in colour but it doesn’t matter to me since most of the time I will spend with it is in darkness anyway.

I got the Queen-sized (accommodates 2), 7kg. I paid ~$165 after discounts, but as of this post, it’s retailing at a base price of $228. You’ll be paying minimally $200+. Included in the package was a “free” quilt cover. The whole blanket can fit three of me, so it’s sufficient for two people plus some extra room to wiggle around. It’s stitched in a way that divides it into many equally-sized squares, apparently to ensure an “even distribution of weight”. I’m not sure how it works, but I can testify that the weight feels evenly distributed to me when I drape it over my Tired Body.

As for care and hygiene, the rule of thumb for weighted blankets seems to be to avoid washing the blanket itself, because it may mess up the materials. Instead, wash the quilt cover regularly. (Update: I asked CB about this and they say it’s OK to machine wash it. I’d still avoid doing so though.)

here’s what CB (oh well) claims goes into the bedding material.

Oh look, they have a Cuddle (Sizing) Guide too. I would’ve gotten a lighter one if I could, but the minimum weight for the queen-sized is 7kg. A casual guide for my readers based on my experience: if you’re xmm-sized, get 5-6kg at most. I’m 42kg and 7kg is pushing it, though not suffocatingly so. If you’re guy or a tall/beautiful/thriving lady, also start off with 7kg. A few other (male) reviewers have commented that 9kg is heavy even for them. Also, the heavier it gets, the harder it is to lift and carry around. The weight clearly has implications for your sleep too, which I will explore next.

bought something fit for a Queen but the crown is too heavy for me??

USER EXPERIENCE

The night I received the blanket, I was so excited I jumped straight into bed with it. I didn’t even bother putting on the quilt. And BOY were my lights knocked OUT good. My whole being dissipated into a void. I woke up feeling like I couldn’t move (more so than usual), but in a sickly pleasurable kind of way. Like I wanted MORE.

oh my god.

After my first night of fitful sleep, I decided to try sleeping with my ordinary unweighted blanket over the next few days to assess if the weighted blanket made any difference. I only managed to do this for 3 days, because honestly, the temptation to return to CB was too much to resist. And that ties into my first major point about weighted blankets – once you start using them, it’s hard to go back. For better or for worse, you’re in for it once you try them. Some people liken this to an addiction. It has the same effect as discovering bubble tea, I guess.

Here are some observations based on my flawed A-B-A-B experimental design.

How does the blanket feel?

(At this moment, typing this section below, I am lying on my bed with the weighted blanket up to my shoulders for maximum immersion.)

When you get under the blanket, it takes a few moments to “flatten”. What happens is that the blanket will mould itself to snugly fit your shape. This means air pockets are minimised and most of your skin will be in contact with the blanket or your bed. It’s warmer compared to a microfibre blanket, which is what I used before. I wouldn’t say it’s cool though. It can get quite warm under the blanket because there’s less room for air to circulate. I keep myself close to the edge of the blanket at night so I can flap it quickly in case it gets too warm.

Also if you’re wondering, given its name: compared to an ordinary blanket, it does mimic the feeling of a cuddle. Of course, it can’t fully replicate the warmth and comfort from your live/breathing/snoring crush, but it gets pretty close, and does it better than a bolster (or a blowup doll, whatever your preference).

i am a toasty cinnamon bun.

Did it help me sleep better?

I fall asleep faster for sure. The overall effect feels like something is lightly pressing down on your whole body, but in a friendly, coaxing manner, lulling you into dreamland. You know that trippy state when you’re falling asleep but not quite yet, where reality warps and it feels like an angel is coming to take you to heaven? This blanket extends that feeling by getting you there faster, so you can languish in that state for just a while longer before you drift away into nothingness.

The downside of this is that it’s harder to wake up. I have long-running issues with snoozing and getting out of bed on time, and the introduction of the blanket only exacerbates my oversleeping habit. The reason for this is that the pressure of the blanket has a calming (paralysing) effect on your muscles i.e. you have to exert more willpower to summon them back into your command in the morning. For example, I intended to wake up today at 10:30am to work on this post, but I only sat up at 12pm. So there’s that – if you’re unsure of how heavy you like it, err on the side of caution and get a lighter blanket, so it’s easier to kick off in the morning.

On sleep quality – I don’t feel more or less refreshed waking up, compared to an ordinary blanket. My dreams were also unaffected: I continue to have visions with talking fish heads garnished with a looming fear of failure. Or sometimes less exciting ones. The evidence is unclear on whether weighted blankets in general help with insomnia and other disorders that affect sleep like anxiety. There’s anecdotal evidence, yes, but it’s not a panacea as their advertisements appear to promise. You’ll need more than a product if you want to fundamentally transform your sleep quality (like a commitment to regular sleeping hours, less screentime at night, getting medical treatment for respiratory problems, you know, things that actually require effort).

IN SUMMARY: IT’S WORTH ITS WEIGHT

Whether a weighted blanket is right for you depends on how you define better sleep. If it means falling asleep faster, a weighted blanket might just be your new best friend. If you’re expecting to wake up like a supermodel in like what, a Kotex ad, probably not. But you will at least enjoy going to bed more with a weighted blanket.

Long story short, I am Super Satisfied (5/5 stars) with my purchase of this CUDDLE™ Cool 2.0 Weighted Blanket from Cuddle Beddings. It’s one of those things that you could live without but concretely improves your quality of life once you start using it. At first glance, the price is enough to make you think twice, but it qualifies as a good long-term investment since I’m expecting to use this for years to come. After all, considering I’ll spend at least a third of my life in bed, I might as well enjoy the time there. With that, I’ll see you guys in my dreams where I’m rich and famous…

goodnight, sleep tight, & don’t let the bed bugs bite.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like, subscribe, or leave a comment down below. Follow me on Instagram @gwynethtyt for more clownery all the time. Or reach out/support me here so I can keep the good stuff comin’!

the (briefer) art of thinking clearly

I read The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli a while back. It already is a summarised version of 99 common thinking errors, but I took it upon myself to simplify it even further. So here we are. I haven’t completed it, though, so we’re only up to 30 for now.

  1. Survivorship bias: success cases are over-represented, leading us to overestimate our chances of success
  2. Swimmer’s body illusion: selection factors are confused with results
  3. Clustering illusion: tendency to perceive patterns where there are none
  4. Social proof: predisposition to follow others’ behaviours, esp. in uncertain situations. Combat with being skeptical and challenging norms
  5. Sunk cost fallacy: reluctance to abandon an undertaking due to incurred costs, though that has no relevance to future outcomes (irrational). Consider only the latter
  6. Reciprocity bias: social predisposition to respond to actions in a similar manner (e.g. kind behaviour is returned, so is hostility)
  7. Confirmation bias: we disproportionately focus on evidence that confirms prior beliefs and disregard contradicting information. Seek out disconfirming evidence and clarify milestones to ensure we do not overlook failures.
  8. Authority bias: information with authority is perceived as more credible/influential
  9. Contrast effect: the effect of an object is enhanced/diminished when perceived in relation to another, though it should have no bearing (beware discounts, cheap add-ons, beauty standards).
  10. Availability heuristic: evaluation of a concept is determined by how readily examples come to mind, which distorts actual risks and decisions made. Make effort to consider relevant but less accessible information, e.g. alternative views.
  11. Narrative bias: illusion of causality; tendency to connect disjointed, random occurrences into a cohesive, controlled narrative (stories). Consider omitted elements (via negativa) and be wary if the bias encourages risky decisions.
  12. Hindsight bias: hindsight is 20/20; we modify our cognitions after an event such that the event seemed inevitable and logical, although we are poor forecasters in reality
  13. Overconfidence effect: person’s subjective confidence in his/her judgements is reliably greater than objective accuracy of those judgements – even pessimists.
  14. Chaffeur knowledge: vs. real knowledge – people who have invested time and energy to genuinely understand a topic. Chaffeurs merely repeat it without real understanding. Know your circle of competence and recognise when you fall outside.
  15. Illusion of control: tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events
  16. Incentive super-response tendency: people respond to incentives by changing their behaviour (e.g. if you pay per hour, people prolong their work). Reward both intent and result, and watch out for ways people may exploit the system.
  17. Regression to mean: the natural tendency for phenomena to even out towards the average. If an extreme event happens, it is likely to return to the average in time (think normal distribution).
  18. Outcome bias: tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome (good/bad) rather than the decision-making process. This is an error because no decision-maker in the past ever knows for sure how the risk will turn out. To avoid the influence of outcome bias, one should evaluate a decision by ignoring information collected after the fact and instead focus on the quality of the factors at play.
  19. Paradox of choice: more choices decreases quality of decision-making, and leads to lower satisfaction. Set a list of criteria and stick to them; recognise that perfection is unattainable; and learn to love what you choose. 
  20. Liking bias: the more we like someone, the more likely we are to trust and help that person. Influenced by 1) attractiveness, 2) similarity to us, and 3) they like us too. To maximise this benefit: send people compliments and make them think you like them.
  21. Endowment effect: people’s willingness to pay for a new object is typically lower than the amount they are willing to accept to give up the object. e.g. people lowball for textbooks on Carousell but sell it at high prices. Related to loss aversion. Related to mere ownership effect – owning an item makes one evaluate it more positively. Endowment effect applies even to near-ownership circumstances. Don’t cling to things and consider whether the relationship you have to those items really matter.
  22. Groupthink: phenomenon where desire for harmony in an ingroup leads to dysfunctional decision-making processes and irrationality. Symptoms include: illusion of invulnerability, illusion of unanimity, pressures toward conformity.Question tacit assumptions and always appoint a devil’s advocate to break consensus.
  23. Neglect of probability: we respond well to the magnitude of an event, but lack intuitive grasp of its likelihood (probability). Zero-risk bias: we prefer 0% risk even when the alternative may have better outcomes. When faced with emotional topics or serious threats, we respond more poorly to risk reduction stats.
  24. Scarcity error: tendency to place higher value on an object that is scarce and lower value on those that are in abundance. The more difficult an item is to acquire, the more value that item is perceived to be. Arises from social proof and commitment. Reactance: when we are deprived of an object, we deem it more attractive. To counteract, assess products solely based on their qualities. And remember that most things will come back – like sales.
  25. Base-rate neglect: when people are given generic information (e.g. statistics) and then specific information (e.g. anecdotes), the mind tends to focus on the latter. Disregard of fundamental distribution levels. Specificvariant of extension neglect – cognitive bias whereby people ignore size of the set during an evaluation in which the size of the set is logically relevant, e.g. ignoring sample size and variability.Watch out for anecdotal information.
  26. Gamblers’ fallacy: the erroneous belief that if a particular event happens more often than normal in the past, it will “balance out” by occurring less in the future. This is problematic if the events are statistically independent, e.g. a dice roll. What happened in the past is unrelated to the future.
  27. Anchoring bias: cognitive bias whereby an individual relies too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (the “anchor”) to make subsequent judgements. Once this initial value is considered, subsequent negotiations and decisions will align towards it while dissimilar values are discarded. The more uncertain the value of something, the more susceptible people are to anchors. Use anchors to elevate your value, but also be wary of them when it comes to sales.
  28. Induction problem: inductive thinking is the tendency to draw universal generalisations from specific observations. However, these generalised certainties are always provisional – think Black Swan event.
  29. Loss aversion (Daniel Kahneman): people fear loss much more than they value gain, and are much more motivated to avoid loss even when this comes at the expense of potential gain. Exploit this when advertising by appealing to how a product may help you avoid losses/disadvantages.
  30. Social loafing: the tendency for individual effort to depreciate when in a team setting. Groups’ total productivity is less than the sum of its individual members working separately. Increases proportionally with group size, due to diffusion of accountability and deindividuation. Combat this by making individual contributions visible (measurement), and motivation. Related to risky shift.

my NTU URECA experience: a review

Updated 31 Jul 2021 because all the links were broken (thanks, NTU!).

I first received the invitation to join the NTU URECA programme in August 2018. It was an exciting time. Early on in the game, all the possibilities seemed so alive. So I jumped on the bandwagon and went crashing into a wall at full speed. Wait, what?

Excuse me. Let’s try again. In this post, I will recap my URECA journey over the past year for your benefit and mine. Mandatory disclaimer: I did a project relating to the social sciences, so the research process may vary with other disciplines.

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Yes that’s me and my beautiful friend Cal.

Background

All good research papers must begin with a succinct and relevant background of the topic. The current piece is no exception. URECA is an acronym, standing for Undergraduate Research Experience on CAmpus. It’s a derivative of the word “eureka”, which implies a moment of insight where a solution to a complex problem is spontaneously realised. This all sounds great on paper, but I will inform you now that the reality is nothing like that. There are no sudden moments of miraculous magic, at least not without the preparation. There is only pain, and in it some potential for growth, if you make the best out of it.

i‘m only putting pics bc i know people get intimidated by huge chunks of text.

Registering for your project

If you are interested in joining the programme, there are two ways to go about it. Both of them involve attaching yourself to a research project. The email that the office sent delineates three options, but two are essentially the same thing.

  1. You pick a project that is already available on the portal.
  2. You propose your own.

The first one is straightforward enough. Half the work is done for you. The seeds of the idea have already been sown by the professor and their team – all you have to do is to bring it to fruition. Plus, some projects sound like they promise a lot of fun. (“Psychophysical investigation on association between tactile softness perception and onomatopia”? Count me in!) Looking at the projects available this cycle, I am reminded of how the research space is bursting with creativity.

You don’t have to limit yourself to your own major either – you can choose to work with professors from other disciplines. Ah, now is a good time to mention: you might be interested in working with them, but they must want to work with you too. Professors are popular and they know it. They revel in it. And if they have to pick the best student to work with, they will. So prepare your résumé and a convincing argument why they should pick you over the others; you never know when you might need it. As far as I know, it is customary to meet the professor in person to express your interest and get the ball rolling (for some of my friends, it was the one and only time they saw the professor in the flesh LOL).

Anyway, me being the masochist that I am, I opted for the second option. I wanted to do something related to Psychology, but I wasn’t particularly inclined towards any existing project either. And every moment I hesitated, professors and projects were being snapped up left and right. My strategy: I identified a list of professors whose areas of interest overlapped with mine, and sent them customised emails. Customised emails = not merely replacing their names, but a brief comment on their field of specialisation and how my potential project aligned with their work.

sticks and stones may break my bones…

Prof Catherine was the professor whose work (and later on, personality) intrigued me most. Yes, disclaimer: I am her fan and I will spare no effort to put her on a pedestal from here onwards. I am kidding, but I am really not. She had no projects registered on the portal – I found her through the staff directory. She benevolently stated in our first meeting that she would be Very Busy (she still is) and due to that I might suffer (I did, a lot), but she was otherwise willing to give the collaboration a shot. It’s hilarious thinking about this now because my ideas got so butchered in the process of development that I wonder if she knew what she was saying yes to in the first place. But I am happy that it worked out with her, and I have #noragrets.

Idea development

Another pivotal part of all good research is a fresh idea. As I have mentioned, if you have opted for Option 1 (selecting an existing project), this should be relatively easier because the foundation is already laid out for you. Still, this doesn’t mean you have a license to relax. Expect to do a lot of reading and critical thinking during this period, where you need to pick out relevant literature that supports your project’s thesis. On top of that, you need to innovate by coming up with your own unique selling point of your project that makes it worth caring for. Sorry kids – plagiarism and social loafing ain’t gettin’ you through this one.

Fortunately, the URECA office offers a few workshops to help you through this process. There are some useful tips to be gleaned from those sessions. (There are also compulsory quizzes.) I get the impression that some students look upon them as a chore rather than an opportunity to benefit. Ultimately though, it’s your project, and whatever you make of the experience is what you’ll get.

For Option 2 (proposing your own project), it’s the same thing, but on harder difficulty. I took a good few months before finally settling on a central idea, and that was after redoing the whole thing at least three times. It’s not like erasing a few lines and rewriting it – more like throwing the whole whiteboard out, markers and all, and replacing it with a new set. In the meantime, I had to deal with being interrogated by my astute Prof C every other week. She caught all my presuppositions, prejudices, and paradoxes in my proposals and reflected them to me. And where I could not account for them, I had to go back and think about it until I could. There was no escape. (There is no escape from mediocrity and misery. If you can accept that, I am sure you can accept anything.)

Data collection

I underestimated the potency of the data collection process. The actual “collection” per se is time-consuming, but it’s hardly the most taxing part. It’s the preparatory work: the justification of questions, supervisor comments, the ethics committee’s approval, participant recruitment and management, booking of rooms, financial reimbursement… merely typing this makes me shiver. It is not as intellectually challenging as the idea development stage, but it is extremely tedious. Start as early as possible. Even though I started the preparatory work in March, by the time I was officially allowed to begin data collection, the exam period was already setting in. As such, my potential pool of participants was reduced (screams in small sample size).

I could afford to have 160 participants, so I had to exhaust every resource I had to get as close to that number as possible (or risk the wrath of my Prof!). Thankfully, my course department was supportive and accommodated my requests for reaching out to the participant pool. Other than that, it was posting on social media (fyi: there’s a Telegram Channel called NTU Paid Studies/Surveys for this purpose) and begging my friends.

My means of obtaining data was an online survey. However, to replicate “laboratory conditions”, my participants had to make the trip down to the computer lab and complete the survey under my Watchful Eye. Upon receiving their registration deets (slyreply.com is popularly used in my discipline), I sent multiple personalised reminders (including specific time and location) on the advice of my all-knowing Prof. You can imagine the chaos that come from dealing with humans, who are inherently fickle. Some didn’t read the instructions and registered when they did not meet the eligibility criteria. Others registered a second time after not showing up for the first appointment and ultimately still did not come (why??? WHY???). But most were polite and came on time, though I would have been even more grateful if they had not mowed through my painstakingly-crafted survey in the span of a few minutes.

Data analysis

This is arguably the part where I struggled the most. At the same time, I learned a lot. While the data can be anything you make of it, you need to know what to do in the first place! There’s not much to talk about here, except that it involved yet more meetings (à la Coffee Confrontations) and actual revision. I had to scour through my archives to find my statistics notes from the previous semester, so that I could identify the limits of what I previously learnt and by extension what I was expected to know (not that it mattered, because I knew nothing). If you’ve noticed thus far, URECA is basically an opportunity to apply the material you’ve learnt in university, with some scaffolding from your professor. I ran so many SPSS tests I started dreaming about them at one point.

Prof held my hand through my suffering. I am still grateful. I remember one of our final meetings where we were deciding whether to investigate a marginally significant 3-way interaction effect. She took 30 minutes to illustrate in detail what tests I would be expected to run. At the end of it she looked at my face of despair, deadpan, and we collectively decided we would be strict about the cut-off p value after all.

Report writing

Not only do you get to improve your knowledge relating to your topic, your report writing skills will be sharpened too (I sound like an advertisement – I should be paid for this LOL). Remember those academic writing modules that we were made to take? I hope you paid attention, because those actually come into good use here. You’re given only 12 pages so every sentence counts. At least, my Prof was exacting in her expectations that there were no loose ends and all threads were tied up neatly. While my end-product was by no means spectacular or perfect, I attribute its relatively decent quality to her attention to detail. (Check out my final report here). In short, if you want to create something you’ll be proud of, set standards for yourself and be sure to communicate your expectations with your supervisor.

Other notable events

There are some events that I did not cover above. I probably don’t remember all of them but here are a few major ones to look out for.

  • ICUR-URECA (International Conference of Undergraduate Research). Optional. You get to watch the presentations from the best of the previous batch of NTU-URECA students, as well as students from other universities. It was intriguing enough for me, though it did not inspire any ideas on my part. If your project is eventually good enough, you may be selected to participate yourself. (2021 update: I submitted my FYP-URECA project to this conference, and was waitlisted. HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA)
  • Poster Presentation. Optional. You summarise your project into the size of an A1/2 board and present to judges and interested passersby. They get to vote on their favourite poster for each category. It’s fun doing with friends. (Trivia: that’s where the video at the top of this page came from.)

QnA – our favourite thing

1. Is it worth it?

This is such a loaded question. But for my fans I will deliver.

It’s worth it if:

  • You intend to pursue a career related to academia, or a post-graduate degree.
  • You have some interest in research and you’re looking to test the waters before committing. In that case, think of it like a hands-on internship project. One where you don’t get paid, that is.
  • You are particularly passionate about a specific topic in your discipline (e.g. social psychology, quantum mechanics??) and you want to use this opportunity to expand your knowledge base or plan ahead. FYP-URECA is this initiative where you basically do a sequel to your original URECA project with the same professor, but this time you mark it as a FYP. This obviously suggests a great deal of dedication to a single topic. (2021 update: this paid off for me! I qualified for FYP-URECA because of this foundation I had set two years back).
  • You are emotionally and physically ready to invest a substantial portion of your time developing and cultivating an idea that may not pay off in the end (I would know).
  • You enjoy the camaraderie of suffering with your peers.
  • Having a slight tinge of masochistic tendencies in your blood also helps, because you’re going to need it when you inevitably get bashed by your professor. They can’t help it – it’s an occupational hazard, dealing with naive students. I can’t count how many times my mind felt like it was on the verge of imploding because my professor decided to ask me if I had learnt 6D multimatrix regression in stats class or something.

It’s probably not so worth it if:

  • You are unlikely to end up in academia
  • You just want to make your resume look nicer (there’s no point really – most of the research comes back with null results and gets buried somewhere in the void of space). I guess it can be a good conversation starter though. “Hey, I conducted my own student research project. I got none of the results I expected, but at least I tried.” Sounds about right to me.
  • You’re doing it for the AUs. It’s not worth it. You’ll need a lot more than that to get through it.
  • You are currently overcommitted. There’s only so much one can give. If your will collapses, so does everything else. Be ready to sacrifice something in return for a good piece of research, whether it be your sanity, your sleep, your co-curricular activities, or those nights out with your friends. My informal guideline is that you should have no more than 3 major commitments including this one (leadership positions and academics included). And that’s already a lot to handle.

2. What’s the workload?

  • If you are consistent with your effort and pace yourself, it’s actually not much. I could get things done the night before early on, though as the project progressed I had to start earlier in the time leading up to my meetings with my professor. Since the final product should not exceed 12 pages, it is comparable to the length of a group assignment. Considering you are given one year to do it, it’s manageable. At the time I was doing it, I was pursuing a 2nd Major, had co-curricular activities, and went on summer exchange too.

3. Should a person going on semester exchange take it up?

  • I would say no. You miss out on valuable f2f time with your professor, and that’s where you get the most out of meetings. Texts and emails can’t replicate the, should I say, eureka feeling. LOOOOOOOL. Plus, who wants to spend their exchange worrying about deadlines on a research project? If possible, I recommend you schedule URECA for one year and exchange in the next or before.
  • Truth is, I’m not sure if this is even allowed. Please write in to the office to ask; they are always there to entertain you. Prof Siva is very nice – I talked to him on the phone once. Feelsgoodman!

4. Pass/fail or graded?

  • Pass/Fail. 4AUs. You may be able to get pass with merit (or some kind of special award) though. I was awarded the title of “NTU President Research Scholar” on the basis of outstanding achievement, though I have no clue how common it is. They don’t give stipends anymore, beginning from my batch. I was registered in Sem 2 (HE9015 Undergraduate Research) but the entire duration of the project was one academic year, or two semesters.

#Protips for Pros

  • Communicate with your professor (or your PhD student-in-charge, lel). I always set deadlines in advance and there was rarely, if ever, a period of time where we both did not know what was happening. Perhaps that was because I could always feel her disapproving spirit loom over my being, but whatever goes.
  • Take advantage of the opportunities the URECA body offers. This means participating in the workshops, poster presentations, conferences, blah. You may not win, but you will learn either way. Not only was I pushed out of my comfort zone, I also learnt to identify the people around me who actually cared for the things I was passionate about. (There were not many.)
  • Plan ahead. While I did not rush to finish my work, I missed the deadline to submit it to an international body (Global Undergraduate Awards Programme). While I wouldn’t have won anyway, I feel bad that I didn’t manage to enter at all. If I had completed it just slightly earlier, I might have made it. So don’t estimate to complete your work on time, but complete it earlier. There are a lot of stages to research, as I listed through this post, so having a sense of the big picture really helps. I thought once I had gotten past the literature review phase everything would go easy but no-o-o. There is still data collection, and data analysis, and report writing, all of which were challenging in their own right.
  • Every professor has their own style and quirks. If you do not know what they’re like beforehand, you can only pray and roll with it. Being adaptable goes a long way here. Asking your seniors about your professors’ personalities as a precautionary measure is also wise. I am lucky that I met a nurturing one who was willing to make time to see me regularly, but this is not universally applicable.
  • Make your own notes of the dates and pointers provided by the URECA office. The office (or just Prof Siva, the Director?) is generally quite thorough in its instructions provided over the course of the programme, but the email content can be all over the place.

Mandatory self-plug

I mean, since I’ve written so much, I should share about my URECA project too. Let me pluck it out of the dust. Okay. I just tried to break down my thesis and hypotheses, but I gave up. So I will just put the entire paper up for view here. Like I said, it’s not an excellent paper by any means, but I’m nevertheless happy that it’s here. It’s tangible proof that I tried. And I will remember the memories that came with it. I also want to thank my loved ones, in particular V, L, and J, for being there for me.

If anyone is reading this, I hope this article helped you to know more about URECA and possibly contribute to your decision on whether to take it up or not. I’d be happy if you could share it with your friends who are in a similar situation too! 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to help.

Jul 2021 update: I’ll be writing about my FYP-URECA experience sometime, so stay tuned. You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email under the “vip club” section on the right side of the page. Or follow me at @gwynethtyt on Instagram for live updates and clownery.

until then losers!