reflections of a “student leader”

Just around this time in 2018 I was eagerly awaiting Union Day. For many of us, it’s an otherwise ordinary day with a minor perk: classes, by law, are not allowed to be conducted between 10:30am-2:30pm. For me it was a day of reckoning, where my fate as a “student leader” lay in the hands of my peers. In the month leading up to the big day, I had applied for the role of Union Representative (now “Union Executive Committee Representative”) in SSS Club, and had my plans all laid out for a corresponding role in the NTUSU Exco as Corporate Communications Executive (Relations). On Union Day, undergraduates are empowered with the ability to vote and elect a handful of representatives to their school Club, as well as the Big 3 (CAC, SC, WSC). And I was one of those hopeful applicants, filled with dreams and grand visions of a building a better place for students.

look at this sellout!

Fast forward two years and here I am – no longer a student leader of NTU, but a student who can say she’s had the experience of being one. Still, I remain invested in the election affair every year not only because it is an event of personal significance, but also that many of my friends have opted to contest for various positions in the clubs/societies they identify with. But enough about me – this piece wasn’t written for me, but for NTU students.

I aim to answer two questions, broadly:

  1. What is the significance of the student leader?
  2. More importantly: why should you care?

I will juxtapose two perspectives: as a leader from my experience in my junior years, and as an observer watching from the crowd following “retirement”.

The contested role of the “student leader”

What do you think about when you hear the phrase “student leader”? Responses range from the apathetic/nonchalant to mild approval to aggressive frustration. The last one is typically the most salient, perhaps because of the negativity bias. (In other words, we are more likely to recall unfavourable information, and we are tea-loving drama hoes).

There is a murkiness that surrounds the exact responsibilities of student leaders, though I will endeavour to state that this is largely deliberate – this is so that leaders can absorb a range of functions without being unnecessarily restricted. But while its abstract nature offers freedom, it also means little guidance and the leader is left to concretise it themselves. In my role as CCE(R), my overarching aim was to “bridge the gap between students and administration”. That could be anything. I opted to build U-Insight and U-Feedback, since they were the main channels of communication. But if there is not enough key initiatives or functions achieved that distinguish the role, then it is easy for onlookers to claim that the leader is not doing enough, or even that the role is redundant. They’re not necessarily wrong.

I’ve observed a disjuncture between the perceptions of students “on the ground” vs. student leaders on the issue of what they actually do. As a leader, it’s easy to list out all the things that I did – craft and disseminate timely information, manage social media channels, provide copywriting for all publicity materials, respond to students’ concerns… the list goes on. On the other hand, ask any cynic what they think student leaders do and you might get a diametrically opposed view.

this is not uncommon to see. it is not exclusive to the SU.

A compilation of some strong criticisms of the so-called student leader. I address all below:

  • Selfish; only out for ourselves and our resumes, without real intention to benefit the student community.
  • The image of the porcelain doll is apt here: filled with an air of unwarranted self-importance, yet not serving any real purpose other than to look pretty.
  • Limited in power, yet corrupted by power. (Make up your mind!)

I personally believe there is a positive correlation between individuals driven by power/achievement and the likelihood of taking up leadership positions. But this does not necessarily mean they will be selfish. The ability to make a change is imbued with power, yet this proposition attracts different kinds of people. Some are motivated by a real desire to do good, and I also know of others whose ego is wildly out of proportion to their capability. It is unfair to make broad generalisations of the entire character of a group based on a few eye-catching examples. The best way to know is to judge for yourself, and this is not via hearsay. It is about hearing from the candidates themselves. I elaborate on this later.

Another common accusation is that clubs and societies are merely extensions of the administration/upper management. Here is where I recall an article I read in a module on organisational structure (HS2005) by Kanter (1994). It addresses issues of power. I took it the same semester I was in the Students’ Union, and thus found it particularly relevant. Kanter proposes that there are three sources of power in any organisation, and I attempt to contextualise them here.

Power

First is lines of supply – the more capacity a leader has to bring in new resources such as money and materials, the more powerful. It is important to establish here that virtually all events are funded by the school/SAO. Thus, proposals by student organisations are subject to multiple layers of approval and careful consideration of costs and benefits. This means that bargaining power is relatively limited, especially if it is not in line with the consensus from management.

Next we have lines of information – knowing current affairs and relevant news. The club has a bit more power here if they can manage to conduct surveys that assess members’ opinions, which they can then use to strengthen their claims to the administration. However, due to the inherently hierarchal structure of the system, information on school policies is often ambiguous or not conveyed to student leaders altogether. The opacity of the decision-making process at the highest levels of NTU is common knowledge – only when decisions have been confirmed are they announced to students. While there is an effort to include representatives in this process, this is not always a guaranteed. Furthermore, the rapidly-changing nature of key events such as Covid-19 means that things are constantly in flux. When students write in asking for certainty in uncertain situations, there are a very limited range of responses student leaders can pursue. It takes time to clarify.

Last we have lines of support – the power to call for extraordinary, innovative, but risky events without having to worry about resistance. This is arguably the most complicated. A bureaucratic structure is naturally predisposed – by design – to maintain the status quo as far as possible. The life cycle of any ambitious uprising against the current order is like that of a bug’s – short and usually quashed before it can grow into anything bigger. Irreversible upheavals are anathema to the existing order. Even at the policymaking level, many initiatives may be delayed with the rationale that “more research is required to avoid unforeseen consequences”. And that is rational to say considering any change has implications on up to 24,000 undergraduates at an institutional level. But that is not to say extraordinary things can’t be achieved. I don’t believe that the history of NTU has ever seen a fully S/U-able semester until last year. And that was achieved because students were able to collectively galvanise their interests, providing the sufficient momentum for student clubs to campaign for changes. However, it comes with great difficulty, and you need the right time, place, and people.

Agency

One note to make is that our system of (school) governance is not universally applicable to other cultures. When I was in McGill University I saw critical reports on existing practices all the time. But that’s not how it works here. It seems like a very cop-out answer but I believe it is best understood within the broader climate of Singapore’s political ideology.

Student leaders, by virtue of their position, are agents created to perpetuate the existing order. This is not their fault. They still do their best with the resources and constraints they have. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that members sometimes take for granted. Those “welfare pack” events every year that some mockingly disparage even as the same people readily join the thousand-strong queue for them? They take months of planning and logistics. Not to mention that there are tons of other activities occurring across the year. And even event-running is pivotal to maintaining school culture. We take student activities for granted until they disappear.

Leaders as just “overhyped event planners”? I recall the time my colleague showing me a 50-page document reviewing a school policy based on a large-scale survey that he had teamed up with another colleague to implement (hi A if you’re reading this, pat on the back for you). I would have disseminated it but got shot down before I could. His partner (also A, love y’all fairies) worked himself half to death over policies relating to student life, personally tailoring thoughtful 300-word responses to students who were flagging issues they faced. He finally saw his ideas come to success after months of back and forth, but was it worth it? Either way, I know he did his best.

The student not immersed in this reality only has a partial view into what leaders actually do – but that’s not their fault. The student-member doesn’t see what’s going on, because they don’t have access to this privileged information. I argue that this is due to the limitations on the part of clubs (and perhaps by default the system as whole) in measures to ensure accountability and transparency.

Accountability and transparency

I had the pleasure of attending the SSS Union Rally last Friday via Zoom. I noted a discrepancy in the recruitment emails and final rally line-up sent earlier that week by the club, and thus I sought to clarify the matter as a Concerned and Invested Member. Unfortunately, I picked an inappropriate time to do so, during the transition between two candidates — the Returning Officer appeared visibly thrown off by my question. Seemingly offended by my indiscretion, he first spluttered that I should have “done my research beforehand based on the information available” (but I did, or I wouldn’t have a question to ask in the first place…). He then proceeded to inform me chidingly that it was rude and unbecoming to unmute and show my face in a rally(!) without seeking permission to do so.

Throughout this lecture, he did not answer my question nor seek to clarify what I meant. He did say it could be asked at the end of the rally “when the questions are open to the floor”, but I left because I have better things to do than sit in for another three hours. Still, don’t take my word for it – verify it with the recording of the rally! If they make it publicly accessible, that is. (Maybe if a Student Advisor was present, there might have been a better outcome to this? Hahaha!) Of course, there are many potential innocuous explanations for the discrepancy. The club is welcome to respond to my question and I will revise my account where necessary.

every voice, always heard.

Every year leaders face the same problems and ask the same questions — how do we increase student engagement, and actually make changes that benefit the members’ welfare. These are questions with no answers and no end: we can only inch forward slowly in trying to discover what works and what doesn’t. One way to start is to increase transparency and accountability of all processes, and not ignore students’ concerns. If the students know what is going on then they can be invested in it. But this is, of course, not as easy as it sounds.

Before Covid-19 happened, there would be a period of time where applicants’ details were publicly displayed at the foyer for students to peruse. Inconsistencies, if found, could be raised to the election committee, and disqualifications could ensue if they were found to be legitimate. For example, I believe there is a rule whereby you cannot have a fellow candidate endorse you (you need a supporter and seconder for your application). Maybe in the transition online, this process was omitted. I didn’t know who my representatives were until two nights before the rally.

I have good faith that the student leaders did their best for SSS Club during their term. They organised a few events, e.g. a welfare-themed one. In response to students’ concerns on the newly implemented S/U option, they provided relevant clarification on questions raised by students. They created a new social media page @sss.academics to address academic concerns. There are a lot of background processes running at any given point, and we should give them credit for what they have achieved.

I believe that the onus is on student clubs to make information about club proceedings and updates easily accessible to their members. That means that relevant documents should be stored in an online location that is retrievable at a click and not hidden in some dusty treasure chest. In my opinion, reports, constitutions, or meeting minutes should be sent without question upon request – and the member shouldn’t even have to ask for it to be privately sent in the first place. It should be a given that it is publicly available. Fun Accountability Test: send an email to any club asking for their constitution and assess the response you get. I will qualify this by saying that clubs often have to strike a fine balance by deciding what is shared and what is not, because you don’t want to risk inundating your members with information to excess and driving them away or detracting from other relevant matters. Presidents should also regularly conduct reviews to ascertain if certain positions are doing too much or too little.

Walkovers

A final phenomenon to tickle your interest is the overwhelming tendency towards walkovers in school elections. This means that only one person is running for one position. But did you know that all roles, as long as you meet the prerequisites, are open for contest? Some societies do engage in deconflicting strategies to maximise student fit but a position doesn’t “close” even if there are no vacancies – nobody is guaranteed a position until they are officially voted in on Union Day / Annual General Meeting. So watch out when you receive a recruitment email where certain positions are omitted. Oftentimes you can still apply for those omitted from the list – and you should raise alarm if you receive a suspicious, deflecting, response. The reservation of roles is not allowed. But nobody is handing you anything on a silver plate – you want it, you should be prepared for it. Anyway, walkovers are the norm, and contests are the exception. This creates a troubling situation sometimes when onlookers perceive leaders as incompetent (but there is no better choice). Yes, if there was a better choice they wouldn’t win… but where are the contestants?

Okay, so what?

The takeaway for students is: if you’re frustrated at the current state of affairs, demand accountability. Make your opinions heard, and stand for constructive change. Even if you think student leaders suck, being one is better than being a sitting duck lamenting that nothing is happening. In case anyone takes my words out of context: I have NEVER once blamed students for any of this. I have made it clear that it is a STRUCTURAL issue. But you have the POWER to change it.

Vote. Know who the people representing you are. Ask questions (at the right time, I guess). Save the receipts. Demand accountability. Attend your AGMs and rallies and ask your questions and find out what events are relevant for you. It’s not as if you have anything to lose. Watch out for leaders who present with an arsenal of lofty, abstract ideals (hot air) but have no concrete plans to back it up. If they say they want to “improve the welfare of students”, ask them what examples of initiatives they have in mind and how they will implement them. Don’t be afraid to vote against people that you feel don’t reflect your ideology or are ill-equipped. Again: your vote counts. It will tomorrow. It always will.

Wow, you’ve made it!

Special section for Psychology students only. Come for AGM tomorrow! (See @ntupsychsoc on Telegram.) I wish to promote my friend Tarif who is running for president in PsychSoc this year. He is an outstanding student who excels academically and socially. As a former student leader, whatever that means, he has my stamp of utmost confidence. But decide for yourself! Tune in to PsychSoc AGM tomorrow (Tues, 15/9) 6:45pm on Zoom to hear more about his plans and ideas. (He has concrete plans!) And of course, vote – your opinion matters. Note that you need to be registered as a member to attend the event.

he’s on the left.

Update for my tea-loving drama hoes

Woke up this morning to this:

nice new vision
look ma, now i can ask questions on the spot

Coincidence? Whatever it is, remember to vote and question.

Gwyn’s Guide to NTU Modules (or: PSYCcess)

Updated Jan 2021

Dear readers, hope you guys are enjoying the new semester~! Feel free to contact me at gwynethtyt@gmail.com if you are looking for textbooks/notes, have a question, or just wanna chat. 🙂

welcome to SUCCESS

Hello to all my fans. Sorry about the subtitle (thx Tar). This post is a comprehensive review of every module I have taken in NTU. For each I briefly discuss the lecturer’s style, content, assessments, workload/difficulty, and personal tips if any. I categorise modules by semester, following the chronological order in which I took them. Ctrl-F is your friend here – enter either the year/semester (e.g. Y1S1), course code (e.g. HP1000), module name (e.g. Introduction to Psychology) to jump to the relevant section directly. I also indicate the type of module (Core/Major-PE/Ger-Core/Ger-PE/UE) and number of AUs.

Background: I’m majoring in Psychology with a 2nd Major in Sociology. This means I’m doing a normal workload for psychology + 35AUs in sociology courses substituted from my UEs. Trivia: if you do the math you will realise I took too many modules and exceeded my AU cap unnecessarily. This is called poor planning, and serves as the basis of my #protip: always plan your courses in the grand scheme of your 4-year journey here. (I don’t regret it.)

Disclaimer: Module syllabus differs by year and is especially contingent on the lecturer so what you read here may not be what you get. This applies most to the general modules. Niche topics, however, tend to be dominated by the same professors (Prof Ringo’s shadow looms over my harrowed soul to this day). Also note that my module trajectory is neither the definitive standard nor a guideline. I just did whatever I wanted and look how that turned out for me (not great, thank you). Finally, all notes I make are tentative and you should always take them with a pinch of salt. It is your responsibility to do your due diligence.

If you find this list helpful, share it with your friends and hopeful juniors. And follow me on Instagram @gwynethtyt for more Tips N Tea – nothing but the best, served piping HOT. Feel free to DM me suggestions for improvement or if you’d like to contribute. Hit me up if you’re looking for any books. I am a textbook hoarder, and I treat all my books with care, love, and respect. I also annotate the books that I read, and you know what that means! Get my thoughts in the palm of your hand… for a marginal fee!

This list is not complete and will continue to be updated as I finish my final year (AY20/21). All links open in new tabs.

Y1S1 (AY17/18)

HP1000 Introduction to Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Qiu Lin
Assessments: RP (10%), mid-terms/final exam (80-90%)?
Workload/difficulty: Low/easy

This is the class that all the misguided youth of NTU clamour for because they think psychology is “fun and interesting“. Extremely popular module. I’m guessing extremely steep bell curve too. Imo it roughly has the content that you would find in a pop psychology book but with more academic flair. It does a good enough job of familiarising you with the basics. Prof Qiu helped to break down concepts further by incorporating the occasional brain teaser (in the form of printouts and videos). Tutorials were group discussions on simple questions; the exams were a matter of memory. Because the module entirely relies on secondary-source content, reading the textbook alone was enough for me. Following my batch, Prof Victoria took over this module. I heard she has a different approach, so I guess the golden era is no more. But if it ever returns… 🙂

HP1100 Fundamentals of Social Science Research | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Olivia Choy
Assessments: Mid-term (40%), final exam (60%)
Workload/difficulty: Medium/medium

Let me get this out before we proceed: statistics is my nemesis. It will be an uphill challenge to some, juniors and seniors alike. This is because statistics is classically incompatible with the traditional method of studying that we’re accustomed to and that typically works (i.e. last-minute mugging). I can brute force my way through about anything except statistics. Granted, the ability to command the numbers is an essential skill for any good student of psychology. It is also a badge of honour. Master statistics and dazzle your peers with your outstanding brilliance! And you will forever be in demand for group projects!

Prof Olivia is a sharp cookie. Her slides are good quality (she has an affinity for the colours black and red). She knows how to test your understanding rather than your regurgitation skills. Example: we learn about various types of interaction effects in class. The mid-terms question throws out some specific scenario where I had to chart the DV and draw out the whole ass interaction graph. Still got it wrong though. And that was 1 out of 40 questions. To stand out you need an excellent grasp of the basics – and that won’t come from reading the slides alone, not even the textbook. But don’t be disheartened! Practice makes perfect in statistics. Or so I’ve heard. That means you have to make the effort to go above and beyond. If you see a practice exercise unanswered in your notes, you’d better get to working on it. NOW! IMMEDIATELY! (For more tips, read HP2100/HP3101)

I am having so much fun with these

HW0105 Academic Communication in the Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences | GER-Core | 2AUs

Lecturer: Alvin Leong
Assessments: “Observational research” essay (25%), argumentative essay (40%), class presentation (20%), class part (15%)
Workload/difficulty: Medium/easy

Acad Comms is a unique course for two reasons: 1) it is compulsory for every SSS student and 2) it is a game of luck, because each class has a different lecturer, even though the syllabus is fixed. Since modules in your first semester are registered for you, students are grouped in classes with others of the same major. But I transferred out of mine volitionally and joined one dominated by economics students instead. Fantastic decision because Dr Alvin is an amazing lecturer. He trusted that we had the discipline to read the textbook independently and instead spent most of his time giving targeted suggestions to improve our writing. I prided myself on my Anglais skills before but was totally nerfed in his Zone. I vividly recall one time he corrected me because I mistakenly assumed that “an” preceded “university” because the latter started with a vowel (u). He kindly pointed out that the starting sound (you-niversity) rather than the letter matters – because the word starts with a “y” therefore it is preceded by an “a” (a university). English is hard.

The assignments were simple. The first was a descriptive essay. We had at least 3 weeks in advance to write it. Even O-level English students have it tougher. The remaining assignments involved writing an argumentative paper and presenting on that topic. I argued that free will is an illusion. I remember the grudging look on Dr Alvin’s face as he tried to accept my proposition. It was fun.

To score better, brush up on your English skills by reading academic essays, opinion pieces, and even fiction (for descriptive inspiration). Finish your essays early and spend 1-2 days away from it before QCing it again, so that you are better able to re-evaluate your work with a critical eye (I know this is common knowledge, but we don’t follow it! I might not even be doing it with THIS post!) Swap essays with your friends and comment on each others’ strengths and weaknesses. And get reviews from Comms Cube; it’s free! (Read HW0208 for more.)

ES8005 Environmental Earth Systems Science | UE | 3AUs

Lecturer: Can’t recall, but he was French AND handsome
Assessments: 2 mid-terms (40%), final exam (60%)
Workload/difficulty: Height of Mt Everest/easy

This module was my first S/U. I knew it the moment I saw the final paper. It was geography – but ambitious and on crack. There was the Sun, earthquakes, rocks, clouds, global warming, volcanos, the oceans… and not enough time. The top grades were likely dominated by people with H2 geography credentials and/or who were taking the EESS major in the first place. Kinda like a non-psych student taking an introductory psych module against others who’ve already taken it in poly, not realising they’ll be stepped on thoroughly. I guess what goes around comes around…

To me this module is the equivalent of the other famous UE Astronomy, except it deals with Earth. Fascinating, but heavy in content, and requires a lot of memory space to ace. A background in/passion for geography will help. The syllabus appears to have been modified since AY17/18 to include an online discussion component (20%), but is still exam-heavy.

S C I E N C E

HS8008 Understanding Culture and Globalisation | GER-PE (LA) | 3AUs

Lecturer: Ian Rowen
Assessments: Class participation/quizzes (25%), group presentation (15%), final exam (60%)
Workload: Medium/hard

This module was my first foray into sociology in university. It doesn’t require any foreknowledge of sociological theories and so is accessible for the layman. However, concepts tackled could be jarringly abstract. We learnt about globalisation in the context of people flows, material flows, culture flows, whatever flows. And we had discussions about things like malls becoming nothing because everything was increasingly homogenised. The complexity of the content drove me to overinvest myself, particularly on the group project. This was the paper we had to deconstruct. Even Prof Ian acknowledged that it was a complicated piece. (He removed it in the following year’s syllabus.)

Nonetheless, it provided a unique and relevant take on various aspects of everyday life. We covered local cultural icons, the Internet, K-pop (yes, oppa), and tourism among others. The module epitomises the magic of sociology: it illuminates and gives dimension to parts of your social world that you know exist but take for granted and don’t question. I don’t regret taking it, though had I known better I would’ve counterbalanced it with a less intensive UE.

Prof Ian is stoic, no-nonsense, and exceedingly accomplished. A lecturer that one can learn much from. He was helpful and treated me kindly when I faced difficulties. As intimidated as I am, I would love to take another module under him again.

ML0001 Absolute Basics for Career | GER-Core | 1AU

Lecturer: N/A
Assessments: Recap quizzes (pass/fail)
Workload/difficulty: Low/easy

I might have taken this module one semester in advance because I wanted to get it out of the way. It’s impossible to fail unless you miss the deadlines. It reiterates a lot of commonsensical pointers that you implicitly “know” but don’t practice. I recommend writing down notes that resonate with you, because you will eventually forget. I know a lot of students who just rush through it nearing the deadline. I’m no saint myself, but after all, it is a course that could be beneficial for your career development. You might as well put some effort into it.

Y1S2 (AY17/18)

HP2100 Research Design & Data Analysis in Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Ringo Ho
Assessments: Quizzes (10%), mid-term (20%), group project (20%), final exam (50%)
Workload/difficulty: High/Ringo

New semester, same old suffering! This time we are face-to-face with the omniscient Stats God himself. You will learn the permutations of ANOVA and multiple regression. (In the words of my idol, Prof Catherine: everything, in the end, is merely regression.) The module is well-structured and progressively builds across lessons. It puts your skills to practice; the group project substantially value-adds to your learning of relevant content (if you recover from the blow you have been dealt). But the good things in life never come easy. It demands active concentration in connecting concepts that rapidly mutate into complex forms. There is a lot to imbibe every class, and little room to falter. A weak foundation makes for a shaky building.

I thought about it. Why did I struggle so much? I have many excuses. First, Prof R doesn’t subscribe to recording lectures – apparently he compared the performance of 2 cohorts with and without recordings and found no significant difference. (Might change with Covid.) Second, and compounding the issue, classes were at 9:30am. I am not a morning person. But those reasons are hardly adequate. It boils down to me delaying my inevitable confrontation with the module until it was too late, because I wanted to avoid the feeling of failure. You can run, but you cannot hide!

me running away from my problems

Prof Ringo is a seasoned lecturer. It is readily apparent that he knows what he is doing. He’s done it so many times he can probably predict who the winners and losers will be, and how the emotional turmoil of students will play out. Sometimes I feel he is desensitised. I remember him telling me to “go back and read the notes” multiple times. Maybe I didn’t.

Good news for you all is that my failure translates to your success. To succeed in this module, it is imperative that you revise regularly. By “regularly” I don’t mean shortly before each quiz or mid-term. I mean like every week after each class. 2.5h for the exam is deceptively short. You need to know the formulae as if it’s second nature because there isn’t enough time. Catch Prof Ringo for consultations; collaborate with your friends and compile a list of questions before prostrating yourself to avoid humiliation. Practice your SPSS. And don’t burn the midnight oil for ANY assessment. You can’t handle it. I couldn’t.

Don’t worry; you’ll be fine. (For more hijinks, read HP3101)

HP2300 Developmental Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Setoh Pei Pei
Assessments: Letter (5%), online questionnaires (5%), group presentation (10%), 2 quizzes (30%), final exam (50%)
Workload/difficulty: Like caring for a child/Medium

Your first lesson from this module might be on how to politely draft an email to an academic superior. It’s a running joke in my cohort. This module covers early development up to around adolescence across multiple dimensions – physical, mental, emotional, and moral. The content is extensive; the notes from this module (along with statistics) take up the most space in the organising file I keep them in.

One aspect of this module that differentiates it from the other junior-level cores is its emphasis on primary research. Prof PP’s slides are frequently interspersed with journal articles, many of which include groundbreaking discoveries. The tutorials serve the function of contextualising what we learnt in lecture, usually by providing real-life examples (e.g. the case of Genie, feral child) or further expanding upon said journal articles. Two assessments – the letter and the group presentation – each involve examining a research paper and explaining it to an audience. Free marks for participating in Prof’s most recent studies (smart move).

This is all to say: pay attention to the studies highlighted every tutorial. Hell, pay attention to every single study that’s name-dropped in the course. If you can find the original papers online, even better: read the abstracts and summarise their key findings. It goes without saying that you should peruse the tutorial papers throughly. The module is heavy in content, but is not difficult – you just have to figure out how to connect the little dots to form the bigger picture. It will ultimately contribute to your skills in critiquing papers, which is another quality expected of a psychology major.

HP2400 Social Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Albert Lee
Assessments: Class part (10%), group project (20%), mid-term (20%), final exam (50%)
Workload/difficulty: Medium/easy

A fan favourite. The nature of social psychology is fundamentally compelling because it gives meaning to the world that we [dramatic tone] find ourselves inescapably immersed in. The content of this module scratches an itch in your mind that you didn’t know you had. Sometimes it rings like common sense. Other times you learn something new. It gently nudges you towards the epiphany that the world does not revolve around you (though I can at least name you one person who did not attain that realisation), and that everyone is the protagonist of their own unique story. One of the best ways to learn is to relate a concept to yourself, and this module makes it easy. For example: think about the last time you judged someone harshly for something they did to offend you without delving deeper into the circumstances. That’s the fundamental attribution error! Still gonna judge people tho, losers!

Prof Albert is a Big Personality who is adored by glittery-eyed students. He has a quirky sense of humour that makes lectures a breeze. Speaking of lectures, keep an eye out for his policy of “skeletal class notes” i.e. where the slides he uploads have ___B L A N K S___! Among other out of context quotes that I could use from him, “creativity is central to learning” prefaces the section Group Project in the syllabus. Well, creativity comes in the form of a poster here, where poster roughly means mini research project with fancy aesthetics. Fancy aesthetics has never been my forte, so I concentrated on the research. I feel that a lot of times group projects spiral out of control, but matching each person to their forte may help – research, organisation, or artistic flair. Ideally, teammates can help each other to improve on their respective weaknesses by assisting one another. Ideally. Whatever it is, don’t be that person who loafs without contributing. Nobody likes habitual freeloaders; they’re scum.

OK, before I get carried away. The textbook is pivotal in this module: you are, of course, expected to read the relevant chapters before lectures. (But who does that?)

HW0208 Academic Communication in the Social Sciences | GER-Core | 2AUs

Lecturer: Waheeda Gapar
Assessments: Annotated bibliography (25%), research paper (40%), oral presentation (20%), class part (15%)
Workload/difficulty: Medium/easy

Every lecturer has their unique quirks and preferences, and if you can adapt to those, it can make for a more smooth-sailing journey. HW0208 is essentially HW0105 with a technical edge so the content ultimately can’t stray far. Ms Waheeda, in contrast with Dr Alvin, was more by-the-book – literally. There was a steady adherence to the textbook, that cold slab of black, white and grey. Learning to read and write critically is pretty meta and can get dry – I found myself more distracted than I’d have liked to be. Nevertheless, this module is important because it lays the foundation for another crucial skill: report writing. The more journal articles I read, the more it seems to me that persuasion boils down to artful storytelling. The more compelling, the more reiteration, the more your points stick. (My social media handle is @gwynethtyt. Remember it. ASDLKLDKFD)

The assignments are easy to score – if you know what your lecturer is looking for. So ask for pointers and use whatever you can get. I wasn’t clear on her standards of excellence; that reflected in my grades when I decided to just ram through everything like a bull, as I tend to do. For the benefit of those who did not read HW0105 above, get your writing reviewed at Comms Cube. Getting an external opinion on your work helps by revealing weaknesses as well as new perspectives. Be ruthless in interrogating your own work and omitting redundancy. For the presentation, which I performed only mediocrely, my strategy was to cram all my result/discussion pointers from my research paper into 5 minutes. In hindsight, it might have been more important to catch my audience’s attention and keep them entertained instead. Who cares about the central route to persuasion when you have the peripheral route, amirite? LMAO

yes

HP8005 Introduction to Human Resource Management | GER-PE (LA) | 3AUs

Lecturer: He was always reticent with his name… Jerry? Gary? I can at least tell you that he sported a distinctive tuft of shoulder-length hair that was always slickly oiled. And wore rimless glasses. I miss his eccentricities.
Assessments: Mid-terms (40%), final exam (60%)
Workload/difficulty: Medium/medium

Welcome to IO Psych for the Layman. The content covered in this course is more pragmatic than theoretical. You have topics such as hiring decisions, employee development, and performance management. Mr Cool Hair would launch into passionate monologues of the state of affairs in the corporate world. He spent much time discussing how local policies and regulations (e.g. CPF, healthcare) had ramifications on businesses. My printouts are littered with hasty annotations of his observations, delivered in rapid fire.

Many concepts here come intuitively to the psychology student. Test validity and reliability, motivation, reinforcement – our daily bread and butter. At the same time, you have business ideas sprinkled throughout the course – organisational models, equity, market forces. It’s a niche module; I doubt I’ll be applying what I’ve learnt in my pedestrian not-in-HR life. But there is much targeted knowledge to be gleaned here, with the module’s sharp awareness of the world in which it exists. It can be beneficial when searching for a suitable career environment – especially if you’re considering binding yourself to any bureaucratic conglomerate.

Pay close attention to what he says, and attend his exam review.

GC0001 Sustainability: Seeing through the Haze | GER-Core | 1AU

Lecturer: N/A
Assessments: Recap quizzes (pass/fail)
Workload/difficulty: Low/easy

I am of the belief that this module should be renamed “Palm Oil” instead. Thanks to this module, I went on a Lush shopping spree because their products are “environmentally friendly” and don’t include palm oil. Should I say: primed by palm oil? Anyway, stop using palm oil, guys. (But don’t be a victim of capitalism either.)

Y2S1 (AY18/19)

HP2200 Biological Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Ryo Kitada
Assessments: Attendance/online quiz (10%), mid-term quiz (25%), in-class essay (15%), final exam (50%)
Workload/difficulty: High/Big Brain

It’s impossible not to like Prof Ryo. He is so soft. And amicable. Unfortunately everything else in this module is hard. LOOOOL. Biopsych is the “hard science” child of the field. We love social and personality psych but those feature relatively intangible constructs. Here you learn about entities and processes that have a physical existence. The brain and its four lobes. The basal ganglia. The retina and its RODS and CONES. The mitochondrion being the POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL. (Wait – maybe not that one.) It feels more grounded as a result – though this perception in no way means that biopsych is more legitimate.

It is a comprehensive module, and there is much to internalise. His slides are pretty self-sufficient. The content spans broadly (from memory to sexual behaviour) and is yet simultaneously specific (long-term potentiation, INAH-3 somehow predicting homosexuality). The good news is what you see is what you get: there’s no need to get creative with the information given. Understanding the process and function of each bodily part – and what happens when they fail – is what matters. No projects! Just plain ol’ understanding and application questions! We love you, Prof Ryo! A cognitive neuroscientist, and a KING!

The assessments: be careful with the in-class essay. Because it is an open-ended question, you need to be comprehensive in your response or you’ll omit key points. Perhaps due to the complexity of the content, he allows a double-sided A4 cheat sheet in the final exam. And he instituted this particular rule for short answer questions: respond in no more than two sentences. Not AT ALL my cup of tea – how else would we have this post – but a commendable strategy to sift out the most lucid answers. He is superb at setting tricky questions, though he provides contextual detail to compensate for it. Like I said, focus on process and function.

I will end my fangirling with a heartwarming story. He used to use a generic red laser pointer in lectures. A student apparently informed him that the tiny dot was hard to see in the recordings. The lesson after summer break, he proudly unleashed his brand new $300 laser pointer. Imagine a dot except magnified a hundred times and it came in the shape of a hand pointing a finger. No joke. He was proud of himself. Again: a KING.

I am CONVINCED it looks like this

HP2500 Personality & Individual Differences | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Tania Nagpaul
Assessments: Duo presentation (20%), midterms (30%), exam (50%)? Not sure – there was no syllabus given(!)
Workload/difficulty: Ezpz

Perhaps because I found this module interesting, it was a breeze. It’s hard not to find personality theories compelling, if only because they are so relatable. Lectures are truncated versions of the textbook and readily digestible. The textbook itself is similarly clear and easy to read. No primary research or readings required here either. There are many interpretations of personality to explore – dispositional, cognitive, humanistic and more. All more diverse and promising than the MBTI. It’s a fun and chill mod handed to you on a silver platter.

I particularly enjoyed tutorials. Mr Loo Seng was my tutor. He’s a specialist on extremism from the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre (HTBSC), where I interned in 2016. He possessed a calm demeanor while exuding a crisp confidence with his materials. I dig it. For the presentation, we had to apply a self-chosen personality theory to a public figure. Other than ensuring that the theory clearly explains prominent facets of the individual, it may be useful to critique the theory. Lastly, the tests aren’t hard, though they sometimes demand an intricate understanding of the theories’ rationale and predictions to score. You’ll need the textbook’s elaboration and perhaps some online material.

HP3101 Applied Statistical Methods for Psychological Research |
Major-PE | 3AUs

Lecturer: Ringo Ho
Assessments: Quiz (8%), mid-term (22%), group project (20%), final exam (50%)
Workload/difficulty: Ringo/Ringo

This module is my only B in university (so far). Given my prior reports, you might be wondering at this point why of all things I opted for this as a 3k module. Well… I have a complicated relationship with statistics. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. No matter what, I know I needed it, and I trusted that future me would appreciate the decision. (Even if the consequence was a B.) The problem is I, apparently, did not learn from my previous experiences of failure, and continued to fail. So let me be a cautionary tale to you all.

me entering this module waiting to be terrorised

The format is identical to HP2100. So is the focus: ANOVA and regression. Everything’s just harder. My affectionate name for this module is HP2100 On Crack Where I Get 1/5 On My Weekly Quizzes Because I Don’t Understand!. The topics covered range from clearly relevant (model fitting, simple slopes) to you might need this someday (diagnostics, dominance analysis). Honestly: diagnostics still eludes me. There are also academic papers written by statisticians(!) as recommended reading. As if there wasn’t enough for my feeble mind to fret about. Also, I wish to take this opportunity to once again apologise to my statistics groupmates ASFDFSKJ

Well, was it worth it? I can at least say I have seen a marginal improvement in my ability to understand results sections in journal articles. There remain numerous terms that are beyond my reach, but they’re not as daunting anymore. Recently I read this paper that used a contrast comparison at one point (where you compare multiple groups in combinations instead of separately, e.g. A+B vs C). It was one of the topics covered. I realised, even if I had forgotten most what I’d learnt, I roughly knew what was going on. Another paper used polynomial regression analysis and I was like… OK… that’s regression with extra steps. LOL

It’s business as usual with Prof Ringo. His exams are fine-tuned to perfection: they test understanding of key content, the ability to deliver under immense time pressure, and comfort with application and generalisation. He especially excels with the last one, likely due to the nature of his work. Mr Jie Xin was my tutor, and his enthusiasm in classes made my miserable time that much bearable. He would accommodate my questions after class and give encouraging comments. Case in point:

I could have 3 hands and still not have enough time

All my printouts for this semester share office space in a red arch file, except my stats notes. THOSE get an exclusive black file to themselves. I have a feeling I will be reviewing them a lot for FYP.

So, yeah, I don’t regret it… probably. :,-)

HS1001 Person & Society | UE (2nd Major) | 3AUs

Lecturer: Shirley Sun
Assessments: Class part (20%), term paper (30%), final exam (50%)
Workload/difficulty: Medium/medium (easy for social science students)

Midway through Year 1 I became fixated on Sociology as a 2nd Major. It seemed too great an opportunity to pass up. It’s Study Another Thing You Like and Profit, But With Less Commitment. I can get behind that. The trade-off is you can’t S/U your modules under the programme (same goes for a minor), such that they are in effect cores or electives. If you are interested, here are all the 2nd Majors available to you. Plan ahead.

Sociology is a fantastic complement to psychology. The two disciplines share the same tenet: the individual is influenced by the social. But psychology begins with the individual as the unit of analysis while sociology is everything but the individual. In the words of Durkheim, social structures transcend the individual and have a life of their own. Therefore, they deserve study in and of themselves.

Similar to HP1000, HS1001 is a module open to all colleges and is thus chronically oversubscribed. The textbook title reveals much – “The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology”. The course covers topics that have a significant impact on my own writing: inequality, culture, and social control among others. I should note that I think the term paper’s topic is too specialised considering the nature of the course. But everything that is taught is appropriate for a general audience.

If I could recommend one module for all students this would be it, because of its enormous applicability to everyday living. It imbues you with the priceless skill of thinking about the social world critically. It challenges your assumptions with inconvenient facts. By cultivating the sociological imagination (the ability to detach yourself from the situation you are immersed in), you’ll find that life is indeed full of surprises.

HP8003 Are You Okay? Mental Health in Singapore | GER-PE (LA) | 3AUs

Lecturer: Lim Choon Guan
Assessments: Mid-term/s (40%), final exam (60%)
Workload/difficulty: I’m okay for both

Yes, it’s that module. Open book. Massively oversubscribed. Dr Lim is an actual psychiatrist with the Institute of Mental Health, so that’s cool. His slides are well-rounded, somewhat heavy in content, with frequent nods to local statistics. Each lecture is about 50 slides, which he delivers with charisma and ease. His repository of resources includes his own notes, and other expositions; it’s a nice touch that I appreciate. No textbook – it’s a personalised course. Mid-terms are MCQ, final exam has essay questions.

I wouldn’t say this module is easy to ace, though it is easy to S/U. I will note that it didn’t significantly value-add to my knowledge as a psychology student because a lot of the content is implicated in other cores e.g. abnormal psychology. The module stands well on its own however, and is a good primer for anyone interested in exploring mental health as a topic.

Y2S2 (AY18/19)

HP2600 Cognitive Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Charles Or
Assessments: Class part (10%), quiz (15%), group report (15%), final exam (60%)
Workload/difficulty: Just right

In my opinion, cognitive psychology was just right. There is just enough content in every lecture to challenge you, whilst not overpowering. The specifics of cogpsych are far from easy (honestly, what is this) but Prof Charles keeps it accessible. He sprinkles all sorts of interactive activities in his lectures, which break the monotony of theory and keep our attention. Many are iterations of famous experiments in the field. Included also are real-life examples to illustrate how susceptible we are to our cognitive tendencies. Understanding how your brain operates to make sense of the world around you is both enlightening and exciting.

The tutorials generate thought-provoking questions and provide hands-on engagement through activities e.g. online visual search tasks. My tutor was Mr Aaron (Ang). He did a good job with elaborating on key concepts from lectures, rather than merely rehashing them. Discussions encouraged us to search for recent findings and primary research papers, only to realise that the answers are not clean-cut. They never are in academia.

The group report was interesting – we were given a set of results and expected to build a report around it. This is counterintuitive since the literature review traditionally comes before the results, but it’s nothing that can’t be resolved with some reading. To make a strong case, you will need to familiarise yourself with the phenomenon and the rationales behind specific experimental designs. Furthermore, you will need to be able to explain the results convincingly. That means Google Scholar and many references. For the quiz and final exam, ensure you have a good grasp of the major theories/models covered in the slides relating to each topic (similar to HP2300). Each set of slides covers a broad range of information so drawing up mind (cognitive, geddit?) maps may help.

HP2700 Abnormal Psychology | Core | 3AUs

Lecturer: Shen Biing-Jiun
Assessments: Mid-terms (35%), finals (50%), discussion boards (10%), attendance (5%)
Workload/difficulty: Normal/normal

A remarkably Normal course, considering its name. And SuperDry. A quick check for this lecture’s schedule this coming semester (AY20/21 Sem 2) informs me that it will be held every Monday from 3:30-6:30pm. From personal experience, let’s just say that you want to avoid heavy lunches right before class.

The course syllabus in my year did not offer information about what topics were covered, so I never had a good grasp of what was going on. I can say there is a LOT to be covered. I typically print 4 slides per page (to annotate during revision) but my records show that some point I switched to 9 (nine) slides per page for this module only. And then I gave up on printing the later lectures LOL. The number of slides ranges from 70 on a good day to the 100s on a challenging one. Lecture information seems to be organised around major disorders in the DSM (e.g. eating disorders, autism, schizophrenia), their etiology, clinical criteria, prevalence and so on. Multiple disorders are included in a single lecture, so the learning experience is really about being pummelled with an overwhelming stream of new information that you can’t do anything about except absorb. Finally, the textbook provides a useful, structured complement to the information in his slides. *I am selling my lightly highlighted and annotated textbook (20%) for $25 – hmu!

Due to the broad nature of this module, the exams similarly request answers on a wide range of things as opposed to a focus on specific theories or models. To do well in this module, I believe that you will need to take the initiative to reorganise the information in the slides into a format that is easier to understand for yourself. I would say study widely rather than closely spotting. He also has the trollish tendency to test esoteric information from his slides (e.g. the phobia of peanut butter – of which the answer I still do not know and do NOT care for), so keep an eye out. Nothing new about the discussion boards, except do them on time and spare at least 30 minutes to write a good quality post. Attend classes for your free 5%, despite how tempting it is to skip them – I know…

This should have no bearing on the evaluation of the module, but I can’t help but like Prof Shen despite everything. I feel profound empathy with his cause when I watch him struggle to finish presenting his 100 navy blue slides (juxtaposed against yellow text, for the love of eye strain) each lecture, give up, and then bring over the remaining content to the following lecture only to suffer through the same process.

HP3002 Positive Psychology | Major-PE | 3AUs

Lecturer: Andy Ho, and his 9 titles
Assessments: 2 quizzes (20%), 2 group presentations (20%+20%), group report (20%), weekly gratitude journal (20%)
Workload/difficulty: Not positive about this one

Thriving, flourishing, unbothered – all these memeish words that I use ironically to step on my haters stem from this branch of psychology. I registered for this module with the intention of bettering myself and my perspective toward living. I am not an optimistic person by any means – rather its pragmatic antithesis. But I didn’t find what I was looking for. Not to mention that his class imbued me with more stress than positivity. The quizzes demanded a lot and I chronically underestimated the time required to revise. There were ups and downs with the group components (and social loafing) that left me drained. In his three-minute meditation exercises at the start of class, I would fall asleep half the time. But above all is the reason I might have failed: because happiness is in finding contentment now, rather than in some elusive ideal only attainable later. At least, that’s the main lesson I’ve taken away from positive psychology. Knowing it doesn’t mean applying it, however.

This module takes on the mighty task of balancing theory and application – with its key side effect being a sizeable amount of work. Across the semester, he will cover 10 topics, each tagged to a textbook chapter of ~30 pages. The quizzes (10%+10%) are split evenly, each covering 5 topics. That’s about 150 pages, so you want to start preparing at least one week in advance, not two days like me. (The % accorded to tests for the amount of content is disproportionate imo.) He tests from the textbook, so you can’t get away with just the slides. *I am selling my annotated/highlighted textbook for $20 – DM me! wink*

Onto the group presentations: there are two. He really likes things in pairs. The first is categorised as a “flipped classroom activity” (20%), which means you do the teaching (if I ever become a lecturer you can be sure I will do this all the time too…). Each group is randomly assigned a movie and they have to deconstruct it using the concepts covered that lecture. I think depth matters more than breadth here. To be frank, I have never known how well/badly I perform in his classes because he does not return us his grading for presentations, and he sandwiches his verbal feedback. Anyhow, the other presentation (20%) is one half of the main group project deliverable for the module, with the other half being a written report (20%). Creative liberty is encouraged, so you can pick anything that speaks to you as long as you can apply relevant concepts. I think of it as a tyranny of choice, but it can be fun to experiment with something new. With Andy’s modules (HP3002 and HP4002), the key ingredients are teamwork and creativity. As you may have observed, group components make up 60% of the entire module. You want – need – a group of people you can trust to carry a project through, and you want to impress with an innovative idea.

Additionally, there’s this weekly gratitude journal on Discussion Board. You reflect on a good experience you had that week, which is commented upon by a anonymous (randomly assigned) peer. In turn, you provide constructive encouragement to another student anonymously. I know that writing gratitude journals work – if you can cultivate a regular habit – and social support further bolsters the effect. The journals are due every week at a set time, so you want to set reminders in advance to write. I forgot some of the time and that was a real waste of free marks.

To wrap up: this module does a fair job at attempting to integrate theory and application. However, the bulk of the assignments are academic, and it lacks exercises that train your capacity for positivity besides the weekly gratitude journal. If you are looking for an immersive practical experience to positive psychology, I recommend taking the MOOC course The Science of Well-Being (it’s covered by NTU so it’s free!). The focus of the module is on integrating practice into everyday life through hands-on activities. With it, I’ve been practicing savouring my everyday experiences and getting into states of ~Flow~.

Later on I took another module with Andy – HP4002 Qualitative Psychology in Y4S1. I will get around to writing it eventually (maybe it’ll take another semester LOOOOL), but its structure, expectations, workload, and murkiness is identical.

HP3708 Biopsychosocial Criminology | Major-PE | 3AUs

Lecturer: Olivia Choy
Assessments: CA1 (20%), CA2 (20%), class part (20%), research paper (40%)
Workload/difficulty: High/normal (wanted to put “psycho” for kicks but it’s really manageable)

Welcome… to cRiMe! Featuring the factors behind criminality and many types of criminals. This module is the prototypical ideal in my non-criminal mind. Two tests and a research paper, and class participation for the remainder. What a fantabulous grading scheme. I was thriving, flourishing, and unbothered, so to speak. The content of the module is curated, not relying on any textbook but a selection of journal articles (about 2 articles/week, averaging 30 pages). These included one with her as main author, and her mentor Adrian Raine features occasionally (they have made some interesting, if controversial, findings together).

Classes are straightforward lectures, with designated activities for collective discussion and sharing. The class size is small (30-40 students max) such that you have no good reason not to participate. There are a healthy number of slides, but the content is dense. Fun counter-intuitive tidbits pop up sometimes, like the findings that prison visit (“scared straight”) programmes may actually increase offending. Or that drug educational programmes, much like the sex ed programmes that scare you into abstinence, are ineffective. Peppered throughout the slides are also references to other studies. Her tests include both the reading articles and these studies. I cannot remember if there were MCQs in her papers but SAQs feature prominently. It is good to overstudy.

sample, under the topic of nutrition (health factors). feed your kids omega-3 supplements.

The key assignment is the research paper (40%). In short you pick a criminal phenomenon/behaviour that intrigues you and deconstruct it using a biopsychosocial perspective. You should go beyond the readings of the course so some independent research is in order. (My paper had 37 references.) Prof Olivia provided a set of writing tips, but otherwise we were free to structure the essay however we wanted, and go in whatever direction we wanted. One tip I found helpful was to set up a central question/argument and address it. I think presenting competing views and evaluating which is better supported by evidence is another useful strategy.

This module is popular even among seniors so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time. Good luck!

HE9015 Undergraduate Research | UE | 4AUs

If you’re considering URECA, read this.

HS2002 Doing Social Research | UE | 3AUs

HY0001 Ethics & Moral Reasoning | GER-Core | 1AU

They really designed a module to convince students not to cheat…

Y2S2 Special Term (AY18/19)

6-week language immersion in Tokyo, Japan – see review here.

Y3S1 (AY19/20)

Things got heated in Year 3.1 – with 22 AUs, I needed two arch files to hold all my notes. My term in the Students’ Union Exco had ended with the new academic year, and I figured I had more time on my hands. By this time I had already secured my spot at McGill University for overseas exchange in 3.2, so my plan was to complete more modules this semester such that I could devote more time to fussing over my Final Year Project (FYP) in Year 4. All psych students have to complete four 4k modules by graduation, with one of the four being a laboratory module. Because the lab mod is a prerequisite for taking on FYP, we usually aim to complete it by end of Y3. Lab mods are limited by semester so keep an eye out – content of courses is your best friend.

HP4041 Laboratory in Social Psychology | Major-PE | 4AUs

Lecturer: Kenichi Ito (proud father of his cute daughter)
Assessments: Class part (5%), quizzes (10%), group presentation (10%), individual research proposal (20%), presentation (25%), report (30%)
Workload/difficulty: High/easy

Three lab mods were offered in 3.1 – social (Ito), cognitive (Charles), and neuroscience (Gianluca). All lab modules are geared towards preparing students for FYP. I never had any doubt I would end up anywhere else but social lab. Guess I’m boring. Laboratory is used to describe the module in the sense that we learn to conduct scientific experiments, but most of your research will be performed outside the classroom in your own time.

Social lab was a well-structured course, even with lots of things going on. The progression of content mirrored a report: introduction, literature review, ethics application, results, and analysis. Each week, we had to read 1-2 articles in preparation for lessons, which was assessed via a quiz (10%) that was due the morning of class. One week he presented two published papers that contradicted each other to illustrate the importance of alternative explanations; that was great.

Prof Ito is humourous and succinct. He loves his daughter very much and he will make sure EVERYONE KNOWS. Lessons were short and sweet; it’s a 3-hour seminar, but we were usually released earlier. His lesson format begins with a short lecture (about 30 minutes to an hour), followed by independent or collaborative activity. The tasks are simple extensions of class material and provide good practice.

Aside from the quizzes, there were no examination-type assessments. More than half of the module revolves around an independent project. We came up with a research proposal and implemented it (on a small scale). This was followed by report writing and an individual presentation. Without a doubt, my report writing skills improved with the resources he provided. I still refer to those notes today when I write. In addition, there’s a pair presentation where we were made to partner up and explain the findings of an existing academic article. It’s nothing we haven’t done before.

*If you are intending to take Social Lab in AY20/21 Sem 1, Prof Catherine is probably going to be your lecturer. Enjoy~

HP4104 Evidence-based Practice in Clinical Psychology | Major-PE | 4AU

Lecturer: Chermain Wong
Assessments: Class part (10%), group presentation (20%), individual report (30%), final exam (40%) – 20 MCQs, choose 2/3 essays
Workload/difficulty: Everything is on fire!!!

Evidence-based Practice in Psychology (EBPP) is more than a string of words. It is a commitment; it is a creed; it is an entire movement. And this module will etch it into your MIND FOREVER.

EBPP is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preference. – APA

read it again until you live and breathe it!

This module is centred exclusively on clinical practice and psychotherapeutic methods. The specialised nature of the content meant that it was my first time encountering many concepts introduced. There’s a little bit of everything – case formulation and implementation, depression and anxiety, treatment models, specific procedures in treatment… I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t picture how the lectures fit together until the final lesson, when Ms Chermain literally drew a pictorial diagram connecting the major themes. That and after I read the textbook, which was incredibly helpful in connecting the dots. But by then it was too late, of course. (This should be clear by now but last-minute studying never works. Yes, starting 2 weeks before your exams is also last-minute.)

The two assignments – an individual paper and group presentation – both require direct application of the content taught. For the individual paper, we were asked to build a case formulation given a fictional scenario. It’s one of the most challenging and time-consuming assignments I’ve had to do. The good news: all the resources we needed to write the paper were compiled neatly for us beforehand; we only had to download and read them. The bad news: the amount of reading to do was monumental. There was no word limit, so I ended up with a 28-page report. One thing she did that I have mixed opinions about was sharing a model report submitted by an ace student a few years prior. Because the entire class now used it as reference, everyone’s papers were virtually identical. The best students stood out by thoughtfully including elements that were typically overlooked. I was not one of them, so don’t ask me. HAHAHA

me but I am Bowser

The group presentation was a nightmare. It was again a case formulation. The instructions were simple: create from scratch a character presenting with any disorder, and tailor a comprehensive treatment plan. There were other pointers, but we otherwise had absolute freedom. I struggled a lot with the lack of boundaries due to the infinite choices at every turn. The four group presentations that emerged from the same class were diametrically different as a result. The discrepancy was so great at times I felt physically uncomfortable. Ironically, this group situation was opposite of that with the individual paper. What a time to be alive.

I must append this section by saying I underestimated this module, which at least partially accounts for my less-than-optimal experience. 4000-level modules are meant to be specialised and consequently challenging; that is why their weightage is greater (4AUs). There were many motivated students in that class who fared better, and who likely have more positive testimonials. It remains a valuable opportunity for students who are considering a career in clinical psychology.

HS2001 Classical Social Theory | UE (2nd Major) | 3AUs

HS2005 Organizations and Organizational Change | UE (2nd Major) | 3AUs

HS2028 Graying Society: Issues & Challenges | UE (2nd Major) | 3AUs

ET0001 Enterprise & Innovation | GER-Core | 1AU

ML0002 Career Power Up | GER-Core | 1AU

Y3S2 (AY19/20)

Semester exchange at McGill University in Montreal, Canada – see review here.

Y4S1 (AY20/21)

I wish I had kept more 4000-level Psych mods for Y4 instead of clearing 3/4 in Y3. That left me with only one this semester, which I cleared with Quali. Now sexy ones like Intergroup Relations (HP4243) are coming up in S2 and I can only watch and cry. I repeat: draw up an 8-semester plan, even if you’re a junior and think you have a lot of time left.

HP3901 Cultural Psychology | Major-PE | 3AUs

HP4002 Qualitative Methods in Psychology | Major-PE | 4AUs

HS3001 Contemporary Social Theory | UE (2nd Major) | 3AUs

HS4015 Sociology of Reproduction | UE (2nd Major) | 4AUs

Hope you enjoyed this read… and don’t forget to check back for regular updates! Feel free to contact me at gwynethtyt@gmail.com if you are looking for textbooks/notes, have a question, or just wanna chat. 🙂

virgin crisis

“But virgin girls are the best, right?”

good, better, and best – who determines the rest?

As my fans and haters are well-aware, Gwyneth is a feminist (and the whole world must know). That’s a loaded label that can mean a lot of different things depending on who you are and what you believe. Not everyone can relate to my definition of it, i.e. equality of the sexes. In fact, there exists a notable group of people who sincerely believe that men and women have achieved equality in society (and by extension, that the ladies don’t know their place by asking for more). Evidently, they have never taken a class in sociology, but then again I’ve never taken a class in men’s rights.

Yet because I am equipped with debilitating self-awareness, I recognise that I can’t criticise others for being keyboard warriors without being hypocritical. I’m the liberal here, and liberals are only good for getting triggered :-). So I’ll save you the trouble and call myself out first. The difference between me and the rats out there is that I hope to impart a lesson through this piece, rather than merely inconveniencing others. If I am a keyboard warrior, at least let me be an enlightened one.

baby g in her natural habitat.

Disclaimer before we proceed: this piece is written in opposition to a specific subtype of man. Certainly, it would be unfair to generalise the beliefs and behaviours of a select few to the entire population, so I would like to clarify in advance that I am in no way saying “all men are trash”. If you’re reading this and it hits too close to home, know that I frame your opinions as a manifestation of social evil. That is to say, I may have personal vendettas against you (as you may have with me), but for the purposes of this essay, I am discussing the problem at a group level. For stylistic and venting purposes, I will also be pulling ad hominems – because I can and I want to. To sum up, the entire argument to follow is grounded on three cornerstone assumptions.

  1. Gender inequality exists.
  2. Men as a group, vis-à-vis women, occupy a superior position in the existing social hierarchy.
  3. Regardless whether individual males are aware of, or acknowledge this imbalance of power, they are beneficiaries of a structure that systematically privileges them on most grounds.

I understand that the above may be contradictory. If you are confused or simply disagree, feel free to defend yourself by hashtagging #notallmen. It’s the quickest way out and you don’t even have to expend any mental energy. This is also not to say that the lives that males have by virtue of their existence is a path of rainbows and flowers. But overall, they do get away with a lot more. If I had to elaborate further I would require the space of another blog post, but why expend the effort when we have Wikipedia and Google Scholar?

Well then, if you’re still here, let the proselytising begin.

THE LEGACY OF SEXUAL DISEMPOWERMENT

Where do I begin my journey of triggeredness? All it took was a single statement, really. Virgin girls = best girls. But as we will learn, nothing is ever that simple. A single statement can reveal a lot about one’s underlying perspectives and values.

Slut-shaming has existed for eons, though it emerged in popular discourse more recently. In short: it’s the act of denigrating women as long as they are perceived to fall outside acceptable standards of (sexual) behaviour. To simplify my explanations, I will let the pictures do the talking. They range from subtle to blatant. And, sadly, it can be perpetrated by women too.

absolutely. It’s also usually young women who get slut-shamed.
i lost it at penis punching bag

Slut-shaming encompasses a wide range of aspects – anything from dress to the number of sexual partners. Sound familiar?

VIRGIN GIRLS ARE THE BEST

A picture says a thousand words. So do statements, especially when they come with a ton of Bigotry Baggage. Here, together, let us break down what “virgin girls are the best!” really means, irrespective of the identity of the person who advanced it.

  • Virgins = good.
  • Non-virgins = not so good.

Let’s spice up the above by assuming that the person is speaking of virginal status before marriage. It flows logically: without it, the speaker would merely be reduced to someone with a fetish for virgins, plus they would be attacking everyone around them who is not a virgin, including their parents. Perfectly valid, except rather strange. Now, the implications rise.

  • Unmarried virgins = good
  • Unmarried non-virgins = not so good
  • Based on the above, losing your virginity before marriage somehow degrades you or makes you less desirable as a female (girl).
  • Sound familiar?

In the following section, I express my reservations with the above logic, or should I say plainly, slut-shaming mentality. They come in two forms. First, the emotional “effeminate” argument, where I just get mad and yell because women are apparently more emotional creatures. Second, to counteract the previous statement, we have the logical “masculine” argument. But don’t worry – there isn’t much substance in the latter either because, well, there’s not much you can put against irrationality, ha ha.

r/menwritingwomen

The ad hominem, emotional, feminine argument, where I attack the person behind the argument instead of targeting its content because I’m triggered. Think of all this repressed anger as the inevitable culmination of a whole lifetime of misguided individuals attempting to instruct me what I should or should not do with my body.

Some boys (not real men, since we’re playing the game of “constructing arbitrary differences within groups”) really be out there saying bullshit like this before they, in the same breath and without a trace of irony, ask me why I detest the male enterprise. For the benefit of all then, I have to explicate my distaste by overtly referencing dumb quotes that I can’t believe I’ve heard sometimes.

What’s worse than a chauvinist? A chauvinist who acts as if he is a proponent of gender equality, while acting to limit the freedoms of women. Kudos for creating an artificial distinction between women on the basis of their private affairs that has nothing to do with you in the first place. You’re not the one sticking your dick into them anyway, so why is it any of your business? But then again, it’s not as if we haven’t had centuries of experience of men sticking their noses (and dicks) into places where they don’t belong (see: abortion), because ~women are weaklings that need to be protected by their morally and intellectually superior counterparts~.

It’s okay, you can simply write me off as a dumb female going on a rant about imaginary oppression that doesn’t even exist. There’s so many other more meaningful things that one can focus on – like sieving out the virgin females to chase. Not that you’re getting any either way.

The logical, rational, masculine argument, where I attempt to present a coherent argument against this virginal rubbish, though I shouldn’t have to because any decent person who respects others would realise that this line of reasoning is problematic in the first place. Whoops, ad hominem!

I decided to rephrase my argument in a way that appears logical, since well, ladies are too emotional and need to be more rational. Side-track: yes, I was informed by a kind man recently that inherent biological differences between men and women mean that the latter are predisposed to be more emotional creatures. Of course I had to deconstruct his argument thoroughly by repeatedly asking questions to clarify, because no smart man, virgin or not, will explicitly acknowledge that he actually holds such beliefs without some prodding. Because of how broad this statement is, let’s delve in a little deeper to investigate: what emotions are we talking about? To what extent do they differ, and why do they differ? Consider the following from a psychological study on gender differences in emotion. The frequency and intensity of emotions experienced by men and women from two samples (Australian/International) was measured. Effect size refers to the “practical magnitude” of the phenomenon in question.

[In the Australian group], there are significant gender differences for the frequency of Affection, Joy, Pride, Fear, Anger, and Sadness. The effect sizes for Affection, Fear and Sadness are small, and those for Joy, Pride and Anger are extremely small. In terms of intensity, significant differences are only found for Affection, Pride, and Sadness. The effect sizes for Affection and Pride are extremely small, and that for Sadness is a small effect. The means for Pride are in the opposite direction from the other positive emotions with males scoring higher than females.

In the international group, there are gender differences for the frequency of Affection, Joy, Contentment, Fear, Anger and Sadness, with females scoring higher in all cases. The effect size for Anger is extremely small and none of the others is more than small with 0.30 for Affection being the largest. The results for intensity in the international group differ from the Australian. Significant gender differences, with females scoring higher, are found for all emotions except Pride. Apart from the extremely small effect for Guilt, the other effect sizes fall within the range of small effects.

From these results it is apparent that there are significant gender differences in the reported frequency and intensity of some emotions, particularly in the international group. But the differences are uniformly small or extremely small. Any stereotyping of females as more emotional than males for these emotions is, therefore, based on small differences between the genders. […] This interpretation lends support to views like Brody’s (1997) that the perception of gender differences in emotional expression are exaggerated by stereotyping, and are acquired during the process of socialization rather than being physiological or neurophysiological or genetic in nature, Buss (1999).

Gender and Emotions, Brebner (2003) – emphases mine

(You know, some research has found that men tend to be angrier than women. But you can probably tell from this post alone that I am chronically angry too. LOOOOL.)

With that addressed, let us revert to the point. On what basis is a virgin “better”? We’ll leave the scripture part out of this, because otherwise there would be no need for a “rational” segment of this piece. Actually, that doesn’t leave much to address, but I’ll do my best.

THE PERILS OF MARRIAGE

Why is marriage in particular so revered as a milestone? Sure, it is a rite of passage signifying commitment and usually stands as a celebration of love. But does being unmarried dilute the love that two people (or more, if you like) share? Radical concept in our society for now, perhaps, but there is a rising trend of unmarried parents in the world today. These people possess all the characteristics that a married couple would have – cohabitation, children, long-term commitment – everything sans the legal binding. Are they less “good”, just because they decided to have pre-marital sex?

And not even marriage is a guaranteed. There were 7,344 divorces and annulments in 2018. What if two people (both abstinent prior to marriage) wed and then have spectacular coitus, but decide to divorce later on? Since they are now technically single but no longer virgins, what category do they fall under? Are they inferior beings until they remarry? Surely it is apparent by now that determining the worth of a person via such arbitrary standards makes for sticky situations.

This is merely a conjecture on my part, but it almost seems as if the desirability of a virgin to the believers of premarital-virgin supremacy lies in the [female] virgin’s propensity to be deflowered. So that you belong solely to the one who marks you, as if you’re territory to be conquered by dick. The pinnacle of objectification. Sorry but that only works in young adult erotica, which is the furthest thing removed from reality possible. (People in there neither need lubricant nor have refractory periods at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Lastly, if you’re having sex only for the purpose of procreation, I can only say I feel sorry for you. Not a valid argument, but really. Really.

CRITICAL COMMENTARY: IT’S YOUR CHOICE

I have no qualms against virgins, male or female. Prude-shaming is as toxic as slut-shaming. It is fair game if one has a sexual preference for virgins or non-virgins. That’s fine. That’s like having a preference for males or females, or even neither. Or like, BDSM play (shame me more, daddy!). What is not fine is attempting to impose your standards on others regarding what is considered good, bad, pure, impure, right, and wrong on matters relating to their bodies. The issue is compounded when it disadvantages certain groups over others.

It makes me most sad when I see women themselves slut-shame each other, or subscribe to these outdated ideologies. Imagine learning to hate your natural propensity for pleasure – very much a part of you, and your body – because you were told that your desirability as a person somehow stems from suppressing your sexuality.

damn liberals be coRRuptiNg thE sOciAL orDeR

My main goal of writing this piece was, surprisingly, not to let my anti-feminist counterparts know how misguided they are (still, if the shoe fits, you are welcome to wear it). Change comes from within, rather than outside. This was targeted at my readers who are ambivalent about this issue or who find themselves taking a middle-ground on such matters. Slut-shaming hurts both men and women. It is a tool of control. Remember that the next time you’re reading an article and find yourself exacting certain standards that may not be fair to all parties involved. Remember that when you hear your friends making a demeaning comment disparaging someone because they “stepped out of line” on some arbitrary standard of sexual behaviour. If they want to have sex with 30 people because they can, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, you don’t have any right to lecture them. You’re not superior because you didn’t have sex or had less.

Consider this a declaration of intent. Every time someone says something dumb like “virgin girls are the best”, I’m going to call it out for its bullshit. The era of sexism, well-intentioned or malicious, is passé. Talk shit and get hit. You’re going to learn that your words and actions have consequences even if you like to coop yourself up in your little bubble. You can say it again; I will simply call you out for it once more. The age of laughing it off as a joke, or as the oversensitivity of a fragile woman, is long over. If you suddenly feel prosecuted because you have a penis, perhaps you will finally understand how it feels like be someone with a vagina who is constantly told that they should feel guilty for embracing the basic instinct that is sex, original sin or not. If my ladies want to keep their virginity until marriage, fine. I cannot stop them from celebrating orthodoxy when it comes to matters of their own body (although neither should they be allowed to infringe on the rights of other women). But god forbid it be men who get to do so.

The good news is that with the passing of time the younger generation (our age) is starting to become more comfortable with their sexuality, even in our socially conservative climate. (But don’t take my word for it – I use markedly biased samples such as NTU Confessions and NUS Whispers LOL). Sometimes I see posts that imply people are stressed over their virginal status instead. Hopefully this is a sign that certain regressive mindsets are slowly being swept away. Either way, let’s continue work hard at making the social world a better place for all. And do yourself a favour: after this circuit-breaker, go out and indulge in the sex that you deserve. Unless you don’t want to.

on the failure to fail

Two weeks ago, I had my first classes at McGill University. It is a gorgeous, sprawling institution located in Montréal, a city in Canada’s province of Quebec. (Took me a while to get that sentence too – geography eludes me.)

Introductory day was spectacular, setting my existential crisis into motion. I walk into morning class to be greeted by a course syllabus with no exams and massive class participation. Anyone who knows me recognises my enthusiasm for group work. And a poster exhibition worth 40%. What? But the module is on the sociology of science! I’d be a fool to let that go for some adjustment issues.

Three hours later, I am late for a seminar because it is a 15-minute hill away from the second lecture, and also because of my abysmal time management. (There’s no way around either.) I awkwardly fumble for a seat at the makeshift discussion space, made up of four rectangular tables aligned such that sixteen people can stare daggers at each other simultaneously. Sixteen. The instructor is devastatingly charming, up to the point he casually mentions that everyone in class will inevitably and individually lead a class discussion. You could pull that phrase apart into single words and I’d be as horrified. Individually / lead / class / discussion.

I share my personal difficulties with being nervous in social situations with two friendly classmates, as they walk me to my fourth and final class out of goodwill. They are mildly sympathetic. Or not. Could I chalk it down to cultural differences or personal weakness? I have no answers, and it doesn’t matter.

I attempt to strike a conversation with an aloof, if cordial, student seated beside me in the lecture theatre. She doesn’t catch my accent half the time. It’s fine. I won’t be seeing her in the next lesson, or the next, or any of the following lectures really. We sit in silence, and I make a comment on how the theatre is packed.

She replies: “Ah, don’t worry about that. The numbers start falling off in a few weeks.”

Me, intrigued and dumb: “Why? Is it because they drop the class?”

Her, blandly: “No. They just stop coming.”

well, there’s that.

I leave the theatre confused by my professor’s rambling on development, colonialism, and what the definition of “betterment of society” really entails. I am emotionally and socially depleted, and I don’t have anyone to go home to. To mitigate my nagging loneliness, I go searching for John William’s Stoner near my place as an alternative to the more scandalous books I currently possess. It’d be easier to read in public. There, on level 2, an older man’s fingers dance across the piano at an adjoined café as mine run across pages and glossy covers. The book’s not available.

On my way home, I ruminate on why I’m so worried about my performance when I’m being graded on a pass/fail scale. I could even get away with missing class occasionally (obligatory disclaimer: not that I intend to). The answer, introspectively derived, is that it’s not only my performance that I’m worried about. I’m worried, and I always have been, about how others perceive me. And that is inextricably intertwined with my fear of failure, in the words of my lecturer on human motivation. To be precise, it would be inaccurate only to say that I want to do well; it’s more that I can’t accept not doing well.

I am positively sickened at the prospect of sitting in a group discussion feeling like I’m the only one who hasn’t done the reading. That happened on the second day of class, actually. I forgot to read one paper in advance, I admitted it to the four other girls I was grouped with, and the discussion promptly continued as if Thanos had snapped his finger and scattered my humiliated ashes to the wind. For all I know, half of them didn’t do the reading either, a suspicion that was highlighted when they went off-topic multiple times. But I still hated every moment of being in that situation. I don’t know how the exchange student in my group last semester back at NTU managed to pull it off (not reading any assigned articles), though I do know I did not hide my contempt for him.

don’t do shit, get hit.

I recall one class presentation where it was readily apparent to me that I was putting out inferior work. Relatively speaking, at least, because the bell curve dictates that one’s work is judged only against the performance of compeers in the same module. Standing under the watchful eye of the lecturer and classmates, I remember thinking, why are you guys paying attention now of all times!? I was wringing my hands desperately, looking anywhere but at the lecturer (and the other students too) in case they discovered my incompetence.

Throughout the ordeal, the irrepressible urge to simply up and bolt out of the classroom held me hostage – a classic flight response to a situation rapidly spiraling out of control. Thankfully, I was too petrified to budge. It was not a good day. Failing is an incredibly noxious sensation that I don’t have the resources to handle.

The problem, then: isn’t failing a necessity for growth?

I can’t bring myself to relax now, because I’ve never allowed myself to under equivalent conditions. I’m deeply terrified of mediocrity, and my talent is escaping from that inevitability.

Still, I’m learning. I missed one day’s worth of class earlier this week. (Obligatory disclaimer: whoops.) I’m telling myself it’s okay, even if I didn’t understand half of what the lecturer said in the class on development today. (At this point, I’m inclined to think it’s him and not me.) Even if I don’t have anyone to help me catch up on the content. I will get through it as I always have. There will be no caveats here, only a commitment to self-acceptance. After all, exchange promised to be a time for growth. I’m going to make the best out of it – even if it means pulling apart and rebuilding myself in the process.

penis envy

Especially at the peak of puberty, I used to wish I had been born a boy instead. In those years, that desire was fuelled by curfews and a classic catch-22 cast upon me by my parents. The conundrum was as follows: to protect myself from being attacked out there by males, I should find a male chaperone. If that seems logical to you, think harder. Never mind that historical romance novels inform me that chaperones are a dated concept that belong to and should remain in the 19th century. On top of that, boyfriends (a version of a male chaperone) were disallowed, because my parents believed boys were distractions. (They were right on that one, and they still are, but that’s besides the point.)

Granted, those were abstract principles and were not implemented to fundamentalist extremes. I was still allowed to leave the house alone and have fun in a mixed school. Still, as an example, my parents – particularly my father – distrusted my first boyfriend (and me), while simultaneously conceding that they had to entrust me to him. I am unable to comment on whether they would have approved the subsequent ones because I stopped updating them, LOL. As a side note, even now it seems to me the concept of female sexuality is still actively resisted by the social mass, at least back at home. We want love, but the love we demand should be chaste… according to society (and men)! Step outside your allotted boundaries, and get struck out.

Either way, my left-wing identity strengthening with education further fanned the flames of my frustration. My budding sexuality was the gasoline. As far as my young, female, feeble mind was concerned, men were allocated disproportionate privileges that I was in turn denied. If only I had not been born a girl, I rationalised, those illogical and unfair restrictions on what was most important to me – freedom and control – wouldn’t exist. Perhaps because I was powerless to do anything else at that point, the most viable strategy to compensate for my perceived helplessness was simply to wish I was a male. An awful strategy, by all means. But we move on.

That pubertal penis envy faded as I grew older, more gender-appropriate desires blooming in its place to mask its putrid stench. The liberal female empowerment phase happened. But recently it’s been coming back to haunt me. For all I know, it never left. As if this remission is my surrender to the recognition that women are indeed the second sex.

The trigger? Being a minority.

To coexist in a sphere where men dominate, trying so hard to get noticed, starting to wonder why the conversation is happening with everyone except you, and whatever you say echoes off the walls against the impassive silence of the others who won’t even meet your eye because you make them uncomfortable, and starting to think you’re better off being quiet. The discomfort that hangs in the air, because my existence as a woman, and all the social baggage that this master status entails, overshadows all my interactions with members of the opposite gender. (I haven’t even gotten into intersectionality, currently very much salient as I type this from a place where I’m in a minority group.)

Your presence is noted, but not acknowledged. And the thing about privilege is you can’t explain it fully until you realise you don’t have it: for example, I can relate somewhat to Chinese privilege by drawing parallels to male privilege, but what about my Chinese male friends?

I wish I could brush this feeling off by simply tacking a “grass is greener on the other side” sticker onto it. And I know some people who would argue to that effect. But to say that would be to downplay the reality of the lived experience, mainly my own here but definitely shared by others, that feeds into it. I’m not saying men don’t have their own unique set of problems. But ultimately it’s important to realise that there are hidden power structures (gender, race, disability, among others) that pervade and colour our everyday experiences of living, and we don’t always get to be on top. In classic sociology terms: if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. (Note the absence of the woman!)

Do I still wish I had been born a guy? Sometimes. Would I necessarily have a better life? That I don’t know, though I’m guessing it would be statistically easier to achieve. In the meantime, I would do better to stop the self-loathing and focus on elevating my group as a whole instead.

my NTU URECA experience: a review

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.

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.

Finally, 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. Okay, before I give away my life’s secrets, let’s move on.

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 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. I wonder if there was any other means I could have used. If you know, let me know!

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. (You can read 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.

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. You may be able to get pass with merit (or some kind of special award) though, if you are outstanding. 4AUs. They don’t give stipends anymore, beginning from my batch. I was registered in Sem 2 (HE9015 Undergraduate Research) but afaik 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 don’t think I would 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 one who was willing to make time to see me regularly, but this is not universally applicable.
  • The URECA 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. I’d recommend making your own notes of the dates and pointers provided.

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 ask and I’ll try to help.