All about NTU Psychology

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

All links open in new tabs.

Contents

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

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

A bit about me for context

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

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

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

Common misconceptions

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

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

Essential information

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

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

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

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

Students take three types of modules in NTU:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples of electives I’ve taken:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Academic Supplements

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

Research Opportunities

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

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

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

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

Internships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Admission Information

Indicative Grade Profile AY21/22 for Psychology

A levels

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

Polytechnic

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

[5] Scholarships

There are many scholarships for freshmen that NTU offers.

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

[6] Why NTU Psychology?

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

Some major concerns might be:

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

Student life

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

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

Final credits

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

Resources and relevant posts

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

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

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

Gwyn Reviews: the NTU Counselling Centre

Mental health in youths is the In Thing now. There’s been a proliferation of ground-up and top-down initiatives targeting this issue in the past year, with even the Singapore government publicly committing to progressive improvements (albeit not reforms). This leads us to the questions: what resources are available, and are they adequate?

For me, there was one FREE resource under my nose I’d neglected for the longest time: the school counsellor. Yes – after more than four years in university and pursuing two psychology (!) degrees, I finally reached out to the NTU University Counselling Centre (UCC). This post will describe my experience seeking counselling services from the NTU UCC.

Sections to be covered (Ctrl-F to skip to a section directly, e.g. [1]):

[1] Why people don’t always seek help
[2] Booking the appointment + waiting time
[3] The actual counselling session

Even though I visited a university counsellor, I expect the overall experience to be generalisable, so youths of other ages and institutions may still find this post applicable. Students not from NTU/uni may skip [2], though I’d still recommend you read everything.

My goal here is to encourage help-seeking on my readers’ part: if you feel like you’re facing difficulties with your mental health in any way, go to a professional if you can. Don’t wait until your stresses boil over and you find yourself in a state of burnout (speaking from experience).


[1] THE PREAMBLE: WHY PEOPLE DON’T ALWAYS SEEK HELP

Considering I’m a psychology graduate, it’s ironic how I’ve never seen a counsellor. I mean, I’ve studied under clinical practitioners. Hell, I took a counselling module once, where my counselling skills were assessed. (Minor flex: I was the “top performer” in the cohort for that module. But look at where I am now. So.) Either way, I’ve never been a client.

That’s not to say I never considered the prospect of seeking help – I just never got around to doing so.

The point is: there’s a gap between intention and action that many of us find ourselves stuck in. You know (from the indelicate “oh mental health is superrrr important and we shouldn’t neglect it” narrative that we’re bombarded by) that seeking help is good, but… you just can’t seem to bring yourself through the steps to get there.

Granted, not everyone has the energy or time to seek professional help. There exists a multitude of (valid) reasons people don’t. Here are mine in the past that I cycled through at my convenience:

  • I am busy / I have too much work / I don’t have time / it’s too much of a hassle
  • It might not help me / I could just talk to my friends or family 
  • It’s too expensive* (high-SES private therapists can go up to $180/h)

*So I found a free service. Baby steps, my friends.

Tl;dr: in deciding to seek help, you must believe that the value you’re receiving is worth the investment you’re making. In describing my experience with counselling below, I hope to demonstrate the value that counselling can bring. It will not solve all your problems – but it might get you closer to addressing them.


[2] BOOKING THE APPOINTMENT + WAITING TIME

Send help, am suffering

What prompted me to request an appointment was a stressful episode midway in the semester. Long story short, I felt that I wasn’t living up to my unattainable standards and doing terribly compared to my peers. A common experience, I guess, but with sufficient intensity to shut me down for three consecutive days – a significant amount of time when you’re running on weekly deadlines. Then, I saw an email advising students to seek help at the UCC if they needed it. LOL. This whole scenario reads like a comedy advertisement.

The appointment request form is on this page (login credentials required), but you can email the UCC at ucc-students@ntu.edu.sg or call 67904462. Getting to the request page is NOT an intuitive process (take note NTU); from a Google Search of “NTU counselling”, you need a minimum of four clicks on the correct links to get there.

The specific order is Student Intranet > Student Wellbeing (under Student Services) > Counselling > Making Appointments (Students) (under Student Wellbeing) – like how many Student Wellbeings do I need to see before I get to my destination LMFAO.

hello sgsecure? i am insecure

The intake call

Surprise, surprise: the appointment booking form I filled was not, in fact, for the counselling appointment. It was for an intake call. They contacted me through my email to arrange a call, and after some back and forth, we agreed on a timing. Anyway, they forgot to call me at the stipulated timing on the day itself, and I had to write in after a 15-min period of radio silence to remind them.

The intake call is a means of gathering initial information about the client through a series of questions (for the nitty-gritty, read here). The lines of enquiry that stood out to me were:

  • Any current issues/life transitions/symptoms experienced in the past month
  • My reason for seeking counselling; what I expect to get out of counselling
  • Any intentions for self-harm? (They were particularly meticulous about this)
  • Existing sources of social support I could draw upon

Naturally, I wanted to see the counsellor ASAP, but they informed me that the next appointment wasn’t available until a month later. I remember responding: the semester would have ended by that time – what would I have to talk about then? Can’t be helped, the caller essentially replied. It was crunch time for them because everyone gets stressed around the exam/assignment period. So, ironically, the time when students are most vulnerable is precisely when they are least likely to get opportune help because the centre can’t cope with the demand.

OK, well, whatever. I booked the appointment for the following month and promptly forgot about it. Later, I had to postpone it for another week because I had an urgent deadline that cropped up, which was a hassle. The other thing about UCC’s booking system is that it is internally and manually managed. There is no convenient online portal that you can log onto – like that of polyclinics – to book or reschedule appointments. You have to write/call in to deconflict and haggle for the timing that works best for you AND them.


[3] FINALLY, THE ACTUAL COUNSELLING SESSION

24 for me but same same

Counsellors, therapists, and psychiatrists

Before we proceed, a note between the differences between a counsellor and (psycho)therapist because there is a common misconception that they are the same. If you’re wondering where clinical psychologists are, they fall under the umbrella of therapists. Finally, neither counsellors nor therapists are psychiatrists, who are specialised medical doctors and the only ones that can prescribe medication for mental disorders. (Confused? This resource may help clarify.)

Therapists undergo more specialised training focusing on diagnosis and treatment, and minimally require a Master’s to practise professionally. Counselling does not require a Master’s, though there is a certification requirement of a few hundred hours of supervised training. The above does not mean one profession is better than the other – it just means they address different needs of the client. A counsellor is well-equipped to handle immediate problems causing distress and is a resource bank of coping strategies that the client can draw upon during trying times.

Think of counsellors as the “first line of defence”. If your symptoms are severe such that a counsellor’s assistance is insufficient, your case will be escalated to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further attention. But for many, seeing a counsellor will be enough. I think of counsellors as similar to GPs. We all get sick once in a while, and so seeking regular check-ups is a good habit to cultivate. But sometimes we have severe or recurring symptoms beyond their expertise, and that’s when they refer you to a specialist.  

Nice to e-meet you

I opted for an online call because I didn’t want to travel down to Pulau NTU. Ah, the joys of technology! My counsellor was randomly assigned to me – I didn’t get to choose. I won’t disclose her name for privacy reasons, but she was sweet and approachable. And a great listener.

We started in an open-ended fashion, where she invited me to share what I’ve been up to and any challenges that I’d been facing recently. I’m a great rambler (ideal client type), so I wasted no time and jumped straight into rattling off all my problems. Throughout my monologues, she remained highly engaged, interjecting appropriately during my pauses.

When I shared my chronic belief of never being good enough, she gently guided me to elaborate and interrogate the causes of this belief. Examples:  

  • When did I start feeling this way?
  • Is it really feasible to be the best at something (all the time)?
  • How do I deal with situations when I do not meet my expectations?
  • What is my relationship with myself?

As I attempted to answer these questions, I found myself exploring dusty places in my mind. I realised I possessed thought and action patterns that I had simply accepted as normal and automatically used without noticing their impact on me through the years. It was a pleasant surprise when her questions decentred me, throwing me off my usual line of self-talk, and pointed me in new directions to explore. It was exciting.

What I really liked was the new perspective that she offered to the things I took for granted. It’s easy to believe that we know everything about ourselves – after all, we live with the voices in our heads 24/7. And I’d already had extensive conversations with my loved ones and mentors before about the struggles I faced. While they are indubitably a valuable source of social support, I stopped learning anything new about myself from those repeated conversations at some point. So, gaining an outsider’s perspective was illuminating.

Problem-focused coping is my passion

Before ending the session, she provided me with a few coping methods to try over a few weeks. She mainly proposed journaling with specific adjustments. I mentioned that I have a habit of reviewing my day in writing, so she commended me (LOL) and recommended further minutiae I could try. Namely:

  • Write down the events of the day. Next, identify and label the emotions I experienced – positive or negative. Then validate them: was it reasonable to feel this way, given the circumstances? Would others have felt the same in similar situations?
  • If there are negative thoughts, create a separate column to reframe them: rewrite them as valuable takeaways to learn from.
  • Write one positive thing about myself every day (basically gratitude journaling), e.g. “I am proud of myself for powering through the day!”

You might think these sound commonsensical. I’d already learnt all of it before, and I know that these are helpful in theory. The thing is (again): it never occurred to me to practise doing these things. She reiterated that I don’t have to be ambitious or perfectionistic about this whole journaling endeavour: start small and build up slowly. The same goes for mental health, really – it’s a process.

Finally, we scheduled our second appointment for a month later, since one hour was grossly inadequate to work through two decades of self-doubt. Afterwards, she emailed me a cute diagram with tips on cognitive restructuring.

i will NOT break down today

UNTIL THE NEXT APPOINTMENT…

In summary, I would rate my experience as:

  • Appointment process: 2.5/5, as mediocre as me, needs improvement
  • Counselling experience: 5/5, exceeded expectations, would recommend to all

I firmly believe that counselling is a resource that everyone deserves and should use to better their well-being. I say this based on my experience seeking counselling and as a psychology graduate. The good news is that there are now many free counselling services available (see the end of this post for a list of community resources), and one’s educational institution is a great place to start.

Ultimately, my hope is that seeing a counsellor can be as normalised as going to your GP for a physical ailment. Fortunately, with mental health awareness steadily increasing in Singapore, that doesn’t seem such a far-off goal now. That being said, there’s always room for improvement… but that’s a story for another time.

Wishing you all wealth and health and that you will meet the counsellor who helps you flourish and be your best self! 

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Update (4/1/22): Dr Lim from the University Wellbeing Office commented on this post with further resources for NTU students!

Thank you for promoting and your championing of mental health and wellbeing for our youths. Regarding my suggestion to include a link for the students, you could consider this: https://ts.ntu.edu.sg/sites/intranet/student/dept/uwo/resources/Pages/default.aspx (NTU student intranet under UWO webpage). This page has different categories of self-help and will encourage exploration of the different resources and services available to the youths.

APPENDIX: USEFUL COMMUNITY RESOURCES

Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service
ec2.sg
[Live chat] Mon-Fri: 10am-12pm; 2pm-5pm (Closed on Public Holidays)
e-Counselling Centre

Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
1800 283 7019; 6283 1576
Toll-Free Helpline from 9am-6pm on weekdays (except public holidays)
counselling@samhealth.org.sg
A helpline for all mental health-related matters

Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT)
https://www.chat.mentalhealth.sg/get-help/About_webCHAT/
6493 6500 / 01
chat@mentalhealth.sg
webCHAT operates from Tues to Sat, 1pm-8pm
Provides a confidential and personalised mental health check for young persons between 16 and 30 years old. CHAT is NOT a counselling or crisis service

Touch Community Services
1800 377 2252
Mon to Fri from 9am-6pm
TOUCHLine Youth Counselling Service

Care Corner
1800 3535 800
Daily from 10am-10pm (excluding public holidays)
Toll-free Mandarin Counselling Hotline

National Care Hotline
1800-202-6868
Provides emotional and psychological support to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

IMH Emergency Help Line (24h)
6389 2222
Urgent intervention for those experiencing acute difficulties in their mental health

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) (24h)
1800 221 4444
pat@sos.org.sg
Facebook Messenger (6pm-6am on Mon to Thu and from 6pm-11:59pm on Fri)
A 24-hour suicide prevention helpline to provide emotional support for those in distress

Mental Health Services Resource Directory

*The above are unabashedly taken from a school email, no shame, thanks NTU

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.