I get a lot of questions from juniors in NTU. But I only have so many hours in a day, so I made this FAQ which should serve to answer most of your questions. You can still contact me if you have other questions, though I make no guarantees about my response rates. I will continually update this list as new questions come along.
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How do I win at the NTU STAR WARS?
Here’s what worked for me (I got virtually every mod I wanted as an undergraduate).
Prepping for War
Split your modules into three plans.
The first two plans will ONLY have your cores and major electives. GER-Cores come under here too.
The first is your plan A, and you should populate it with your first-choice modules. Make sure they do not clash and that you do not have more AUs than you should have (people who hoard modules are trash). If you want to maximise your chances of getting the mods you want, consider selecting those with less popular tutorial timeslots. At least you’re in the module – you can swap indexes later.
The second is plan B, which contains the modules that you’re willing to settle for – there should be no overlaps with A. Plan B’s actually optional, because even if you lose the first round, you can play the waiting game to get all the modules you want eventually.
The third plan, the “essential afterthought”, consists of everything else – GER-PEs, UEs, or ICCs/BDEs as they now call it. Speed does not matter for these modules because ballotting, so just take your time to rank and submit after you’ve recovered from the initial shock of submitting Plan 1 and 2.
Use time.is – the STARS system is well-aligned with it.
In your free time or let’s say about 20-30 minutes before the actual war, practice holding the button from around XX:XX:55 onwards and release just as the clock turns to XX:XX:00. The system will indicate to you the time – if you’re in the “next minute”, you’ve succeeded. Practice releasing as early as possible while not being too early, because a mistake later during the actual bidding will cost you.
Sit really close to your Wi-Fi source, or use a desktop PC (those ethernet-wired ones). It worked for me, especially with the latter, but it might be a placebo effect.
Load up the page about 10 minutes before the actual timing and keep loading your modules in intervals of 30s. I am paranoid so I was loading every 15s LOL. This is so the page doesn’t expire by the time you submit your mods.
I read online that some people use two devices i.e. a computer and their phone to bid at the same time. I think that is hilariously dramatic and I did not need to do that, but whatever works amirite?
The What War?
When you submit Plan 1/2, another page will launch asking you to rank the modules. You do not need to rank the modules. Just locate and select the button at the bottom to submit.
The page may freeze. DO NOT close it. That’s what I did once when I panicked and I lost big time. Just wait, even though your heart wants to jump out of your chest and your mind is SPINNING.
… [processing] …
If you win, congratulations! No further action is required on your part. Do your little victory dance, submit Plan 3, and text your friends.
If/when you lose, DO NOT PANIC. Do NOT launch your email application in a fruitless attempt to complain to your school office – they will not be able to do anything for you at this point.
Speaking of which, keep an eye out for emails from your admin. They will usually be around to resolve any cohort issues (but not your individual ones, so don’t waste their time).
More slots for your modules are likely to be released periodically through the remainder of the day. Some say it is 5-10pm, but check back every 15 minutes anyway. It’s not as if you’ll be able to focus on anything else.
If you have a group chat with your coursemates, start posting your deets to exchange mods. First-come-first-serve!
Contrary to popular opinion(?), THIS is actually the stage where I got most of the modules I wanted.
Sometimes I wrote to the office and pulled the 2nd major/exchange card (scientia potentia est, ladies and gentlemen).
Most other times I simply waited for the add/drop period and camped religiously at the STARS planner page. I would check back every 30 minutes or so waiting for people to drop the modules through the first and second week (esp. following the first lessons). I checked during class, outside class, when I woke up, before I slept. I usually got my modules by the end of the first week. Yeah so kinda anticlimactically, for me it was really just patience and persistence that sealed the deal.
I know some students write directly to professors, but it depends on the prof’s personality. I never used this method because I didn’t want to inconvenience others (the admin who has to accommodate extra slots, and the other students and professor who may have to bear the brunt of an overloaded class) and I don’t like it.
Even if you don’t get the modules you want, try something else and you might find yourself in for a surprise! I do have modules I regret taking (everyone does), and I can’t help but wonder what if I experimented and found something else in the process? You never know.
Be kind to your fellow peers and help them out. You never know if they might return the favour. People are more prone to helping friends when it comes to this kind of thing like swapping modules and all.
Updated 31 Jul 2021because all the links were broken (thanks, NTU!).
I first received the invitation to join the NTU URECA programme in August 2018. It was an exciting time. Early on in the game, all the possibilities seemed so alive. So I jumped on the bandwagon and went crashing into a wall at full speed. Wait, what?
Excuse me. Let’s try again. In this post, I will recap my URECA journey over the past year for your benefit and mine. Mandatory disclaimer: I did a project relating to the social sciences, so the research process may vary with other disciplines.
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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.
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.
You pick a project that is already available on the portal.
You propose your own.
The first one is straightforward enough. Half the work is done for you. The seeds of the idea have already been sown by the professor and their team – all you have to do is to bring it to fruition. Plus, some projects sound like they promise a lot of fun. (“Psychophysical investigation on association between tactile softness perception and onomatopia”? Count me in!) Looking at the projects available this cycle, I am reminded of how the research space is bursting with creativity.
You don’t have to limit yourself to your own major either – you can choose to work with professors from other disciplines. Ah, now is a good time to mention: you might be interested in working with them, but they must want to work with you too. Professors are popular and they know it. They revel in it. And if they have to pick the best student to work with, they will. So prepare your résumé and a convincing argument why they should pick you over the others; you never know when you might need it. As far as I know, it is customary to meet the professor in person to express your interest and get the ball rolling (for some of my friends, it was the one and only time they saw the professor in the flesh LOL).
Anyway, me being the masochist that I am, I opted for the second option. I wanted to do something related to Psychology, but I wasn’t particularly inclined towards any existing project either. And every moment I hesitated, professors and projects were being snapped up left and right. My strategy: I identified a list of professors whose areas of interest overlapped with mine, and sent them customised emails. Customised emails = not merely replacing their names, but a brief comment on their field of specialisation and how my potential project aligned with their work.
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.
Another pivotal part of all good research is a fresh idea. As I have mentioned, if you have opted for Option 1 (selecting an existing project), this should be relatively easier because the foundation is already laid out for you. Still, this doesn’t mean you have a license to relax. Expect to do a lot of reading and critical thinking during this period, where you need to pick out relevant literature that supports your project’s thesis. On top of that, you need to innovate by coming up with your own unique selling point of your project that makes it worth caring for. Sorry kids – plagiarism and social loafing ain’t gettin’ you through this one.
Fortunately, the URECA office offers a few workshops to help you through this process. There are some useful tips to be gleaned from those sessions. (There are also compulsory quizzes.) I get the impression that some students look upon them as a chore rather than an opportunity to benefit. Ultimately though, it’s your project, and whatever you make of the experience is what you’ll get.
For Option 2 (proposing your own project), it’s the same thing, but on harder difficulty. I took a good few months before finally settling on a central idea, and that was after redoing the whole thing at least three times. It’s not like erasing a few lines and rewriting it – more like throwing the whole whiteboard out, markers and all, and replacing it with a new set. In the meantime, I had to deal with being interrogated by my astute Prof C every other week. She caught all my presuppositions, prejudices, and paradoxes in my proposals and reflected them to me. And where I could not account for them, I had to go back and think about it until I could. There was no escape. (There is no escape from mediocrity and misery. If you can accept that, I am sure you can accept anything.)
I underestimated the potency of the data collection process. The actual “collection” per se is time-consuming, but it’s hardly the most taxing part. It’s the preparatory work: the justification of questions, supervisor comments, the ethics committee’s approval, participant recruitment and management, booking of rooms, financial reimbursement… merely typing this makes me shiver. It is not as intellectually challenging as the idea development stage, but it is extremely tedious. Start as early as possible. Even though I started the preparatory work in March, by the time I was officially allowed to begin data collection, the exam period was already setting in. As such, my potential pool of participants was reduced (screams in small sample size).
I could afford to have 160 participants, so I had to exhaust every resource I had to get as close to that number as possible (or risk the wrath of my Prof!). Thankfully, my course department was supportive and accommodated my requests for reaching out to the participant pool. Other than that, it was posting on social media (fyi: there’s a Telegram Channel called NTU Paid Studies/Surveys for this purpose) and begging my friends.
My means of obtaining data was an online survey. However, to replicate “laboratory conditions”, my participants had to make the trip down to the computer lab and complete the survey under my Watchful Eye. Upon receiving their registration deets (slyreply.com is popularly used in my discipline), I sent multiple personalised reminders (including specific time and location) on the advice of my all-knowing Prof. You can imagine the chaos that come from dealing with humans, who are inherently fickle. Some didn’t read the instructions and registered when they did not meet the eligibility criteria. Others registered a second time after not showing up for the first appointment and ultimately still did not come (why??? WHY???). But most were polite and came on time, though I would have been even more grateful if they had not mowed through my painstakingly-crafted survey in the span of a few minutes.
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.
Not only do you get to improve your knowledge relating to your topic, your report writing skills will be sharpened too (I sound like an advertisement – I should be paid for this LOL). Remember those academic writing modules that we were made to take? I hope you paid attention, because those actually come into good use here. You’re given only 12 pages so every sentence counts. At least, my Prof was exacting in her expectations that there were no loose ends and all threads were tied up neatly. While my end-product was by no means spectacular or perfect, I attribute its relatively decent quality to her attention to detail. (Check out my final report here). In short, if you want to create something you’ll be proud of, set standards for yourself and be sure to communicate your expectations with your supervisor.
Other notable events
There are some events that I did not cover above. I probably don’t remember all of them but here are a few major ones to look out for.
ICUR-URECA (International Conference of Undergraduate Research). Optional. You get to watch the presentations from the best of the previous batch of NTU-URECA students, as well as students from other universities. It was intriguing enough for me, though it did not inspire any ideas on my part. If your project is eventually good enough, you may be selected to participate yourself. (2021 update: I submitted my FYP-URECA project to this conference, and was waitlisted. HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA)
Poster Presentation. Optional. You summarise your project into the size of an A1/2 board and present to judges and interested passersby. They get to vote on their favourite poster for each category. It’s fun doing with friends. (Trivia: that’s where the video at the top of this page came from.)
QnA– our favourite thing
1. Is it worth it?
This is such a loaded question. But for my fans I will deliver.
It’s worth it if:
You intend to pursue a career related to academia, or a post-graduate degree.
You have some interest in research and you’re looking to test the waters before committing. In that case, think of it like a hands-on internship project. One where you don’t get paid, that is.
You are particularly passionate about a specific topic in your discipline (e.g. social psychology, quantum mechanics??) and you want to use this opportunity to expand your knowledge base or plan ahead. FYP-URECA is this initiative where you basically do a sequel to your original URECA project with the same professor, but this time you mark it as a FYP. This obviously suggests a great deal of dedication to a single topic. (2021 update: this paid off for me! I qualified for FYP-URECA because of this foundation I had set two years back).
You are emotionally and physically ready to invest a substantial portion of your time developing and cultivating an idea that may not pay off in the end (I would know).
You enjoy the camaraderie of suffering with your peers.
Having a slight tinge of masochistic tendencies in your blood also helps, because you’re going to need it when you inevitably get bashed by your professor. They can’t help it – it’s an occupational hazard, dealing with naive students. I can’t count how many times my mind felt like it was on the verge of imploding because my professor decided to ask me if I had learnt 6D multimatrix regression in stats class or something.
It’s probably not so worth it if:
You are unlikely to end up in academia
You just want to make your resume look nicer (there’s no point really – most of the research comes back with null results and gets buried somewhere in the void of space). I guess it can be a good conversation starter though. “Hey, I conducted my own student research project. I got none of the results I expected, but at least I tried.” Sounds about right to me.
You’re doing it for the AUs. It’s not worth it. You’ll need a lot more than that to get through it.
You are currently overcommitted. There’s only so much one can give. If your will collapses, so does everything else. Be ready to sacrifice something in return for a good piece of research, whether it be your sanity, your sleep, your co-curricular activities, or those nights out with your friends. My informal guideline is that you should have no more than 3 major commitments including this one (leadership positions and academics included). And that’s already a lot to handle.
2. What’s the workload?
If you are consistent with your effort and pace yourself, it’s actually not much. I could get things done the night before early on, though as the project progressed I had to start earlier in the time leading up to my meetings with my professor. Since the final product should not exceed 12 pages, it is comparable to the length of a group assignment. Considering you are given one year to do it, it’s manageable. At the time I was doing it, I was pursuing a 2nd Major, had co-curricular activities, and went on summer exchange too.
3. Should a person going on semester exchange take it up?
I would say no. You miss out on valuable f2f time with your professor, and that’s where you get the most out of meetings. Texts and emails can’t replicate the, should I say, eureka feeling. LOOOOOOOL. Plus, who wants to spend their exchange worrying about deadlines on a research project? If possible, I recommend you schedule URECA for one year and exchange in the next or before.
Truth is, I’m not sure if this is even allowed. Please write in to the office to ask; they are always there to entertain you. Prof Siva is very nice – I talked to him on the phone once. Feelsgoodman!
4. Pass/fail or graded?
Pass/Fail. 4AUs. You may be able to get pass with merit (or some kind of special award) though. I was awarded the title of “NTU President Research Scholar” on the basis of outstanding achievement, though I have no clue how common it is. They don’t give stipends anymore, beginning from my batch. I was registered in Sem 2 (HE9015 Undergraduate Research) but the entire duration of the project was one academic year, or two semesters.
#Protips for Pros
Communicate with your professor (or your PhD student-in-charge, lel). I always set deadlines in advance and there was rarely, if ever, a period of time where we both did not know what was happening. Perhaps that was because I could always feel her disapproving spirit loom over my being, but whatever goes.
Take advantage of the opportunities the URECA body offers. This means participating in the workshops, poster presentations, conferences, blah. You may not win, but you will learn either way. Not only was I pushed out of my comfort zone, I also learnt to identify the people around me who actually cared for the things I was passionate about. (There were not many.)
Plan ahead. While I did not rush to finish my work, I missed the deadline to submit it to an international body (Global Undergraduate Awards Programme). While I wouldn’t have won anyway, I feel bad that I didn’t manage to enter at all. If I had completed it just slightly earlier, I might have made it. So don’t estimate to complete your work on time, but complete it earlier. There are a lot of stages to research, as I listed through this post, so having a sense of the big picture really helps. I thought once I had gotten past the literature review phase everything would go easy but no-o-o. There is still data collection, and data analysis, and report writing, all of which were challenging in their own right.
Every professor has their own style and quirks. If you do not know what they’re like beforehand, you can only pray and roll with it. Being adaptable goes a long way here. Asking your seniors about your professors’ personalities as a precautionary measure is also wise. I am lucky that I met a nurturing one who was willing to make time to see me regularly, but this is not universally applicable.
Make your own notes of the dates and pointers provided by the URECA office. The office (or just Prof Siva, the Director?) is generally quite thorough in its instructions provided over the course of the programme, but the email content can be all over the place.
I mean, since I’ve written so much, I should share about my URECA project too. Let me pluck it out of the dust. Okay. I just tried to break down my thesis and hypotheses, but I gave up. So I will just put the entire paper up for view here. Like I said, it’s not an excellent paper by any means, but I’m nevertheless happy that it’s here. It’s tangible proof that I tried. And I will remember the memories that came with it. I also want to thank my loved ones, in particular V, L, and J, for being there for me.
If anyone is reading this, I hope this article helped you to know more about URECA and possibly contribute to your decision on whether to take it up or not. I’d be happy if you could share it with your friends who are in a similar situation too! 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to help.
Jul 2021 update: I’ll be writing about my FYP-URECA experience sometime, so stay tuned. You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email under the “vip club” section on the right side of the page. Or follow me at @gwynethtyt on Instagram for live updates and clownery.
That’s right. After an interminable period (frankly, I can’t recall how long) of me yapping about creating a new blog for all my fans, it’s here. You may look forward to my official Youtube channel in another four years.
Why should you care? I mean… you don’t. And you won’t. It doesn’t matter. I am sitting alone, just as you probably are. Sometimes I dream about dying alone. That’s fine too. It’s okay to let the existential angst inundate your being once in a while. But if you enjoy ruminating about insignificant Everyday Things or you ever feel up for a mini-debate, you’re always welcome – even if you’re one of my haters! (If you think I don’t have any, you’d be surprised – I am so popular it pains me. I can’t even sin in good conscience anymore.)
Topics that may or may not be covered for the next two years or so include university life, human dynamics, sins, with a generous portion of psychology magic dust sprinkled on top of it all. As you may already know, I enjoy oversharing about my life to the discomfort of others, though I should really know better. Either way, you’ll get my irrelevant opinions on all sorts of issues. You are cordially invited to join me and weigh in if you have any points to advance the conversation.
Recently I was pressured (encouraged) to develop this ability that is called self-censorship. Personally, I think that it is a tragedy, and it says a lot about me being unable to stand up to the forces (expectations) that weighed down on me. But a lady’s gotta survive in this world, and that means: no expletives, and no inflammatory opinions that might offend others’ sensibilities (which I agree is perfectly legitimate, though the extent to what is offensive is really relative). Hopefully for me this means I will be using eloquent and rational arguments, rather than just angry ranting, to express my opinions. I mean, the last time I said I detested men somebody reported me for it (L O L). Maybe I deserved it? But I’m a reformed woman now. You know it. Anyway, I expect the same from all my fans (i.e. you guys).
Finally, feel free to correct me if I make any grammatical errors, if you want to. It’ll boost your ego, make you feel superior for a while (I guess), and help me to improve. Or critique my ideas. I don’t know. Actually, I don’t know if I want to be criticised at all. My fragile self-esteem might crumble. In fact, why am I even thinking so far? What if nobody even reads this? It’ll be the ultimate #sadcringe. Oh man.
Let me know if there’s anything you want me to write about, and I’ll credit you for it if it’s a novel idea. Not that you care, but yeah! xoxo