What would spur you to encourage a student to take the Honours track?

A student asked:

I’m currently in my Third Year of Study in the Arts and Social Sciences. Right now, it’s hard not to think about pursuing the Honours track.

I know asking if I should take the Honours track may be hard to answer because circumstances will vary, so I will phrase my question as such: As someone who has went through the system, what would spur you to encourage a student to take the honours track?

I’ll start by talking about who shouldn’t pursue Honours. If all these intellectual/academic stuff is not your cup of tea, then you shouldn’t pursue the Honours track. I want to be clear that I’m not saying that you’re not good enough for it or that you’re bad/lousy. No, not at all. We all have different strengths.

If academic pursuits is not your strength, you’re better off using the time developing something else that is your strength. We all have different interests and passions. Some enjoy reading, some hate reading. Some love spending hours researching in the library or connecting different ideas together, some others don’t enjoy it as much and try to avoid such conversations or tasks like that.

If you don’t like these kinds of intellectual pursuits, then don’t pursue the Honours track. You’re better off using your time to develop your strengths that lie in other areas. And that’s perfectly ok. We are all very different people, each with our own unique strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. We can do certain things better than other people. And many of these things don’t require Honours, nor does Honours add value to them.

What would spur me to encourage a student to do Honours? If I know the student has the potential to grow and develop further because of the challenge brought about by the Honours programme, I will insist that the student go through it. Because this would be a match of a person meant for such a programme, and the programme actually having an effect on that person. What kind of student would that be? Well, one who does have an inclination towards such academic/intellectual things. Not everyone can think critically or write profoundly. If a person can do that kind of stuff somewhat decently, I think they should not give up on the opportunity for Honours to shape and cultivate their minds further.

You know how we feel sad when a budding young athlete or musician can’t do sports/music because of an injury or disease? That sadness comes from the fact that we recognise that that potential to go so far in life can never be realised. I feel the same when I see high calibre students with a passion for intellectual/academic stuff not pursue Honours.

I know some of us might feel fatigued and want to give up because it’s the middle of semester. That’s normal. Struggling is also normal. It’s something we do when we are growing and developing as persons. It’s normal to feel like it’s time to give up or graduate early.

So think about where your interests lies, and whether you actually like academic/intellectual pursuits. If you do, stay and do the Honours year so that you can realise your potential to go further in that direction. Otherwise, don’t waste your time. If you don’t like these things, the Honours programme won’t have much of an effect on you because you won’t really be investing as much time and energy as you should to grow and develop.

For an open book exam, is there still a need to make notes? Or is it enough to simply read the textbook/readings?

A student asked:

For an open book exam, is there still a need to make notes? Or is it enough to simply read the textbook/readings?

Usually, people associate the term, “open book exam,” to mean that the exam is going to be very difficult.

Properly speaking, an open book exam has a different set of objectives compared to a closed book exam.

Closed book exams usually test your ability to recall information, and/or your ability to comprehend what you have learnt. Open book exams, on the other hand, usually test the higher-level thinking abilities like evaluation, analysis, application, and even creation.

These are things which books, lecture notes, and other resources don’t often contain since you are required to think about the information presented to you in order to generate your own views on the matter.

Making notes will be useful. But not so much for you to refer to during the exam (I mean, you could still refer to it if you needed it). But the process of note-making helps you to better internalise what you’ve been learning. Because, you see, higher-level thinking abilities are only possible AFTER you have internalised your learning of the concepts and ideas.

Most students only copy the form of things, where they will use something in class as a template for answering. But they don’t understand why they are doing that. Internalising means really understanding why the template was made that way, and recognising the shortcomings of that template in other situations AND THEN being able to freely adopt new forms to better answer those situations.

The best way to internalise your learning is to actively engage with what you’ve learnt. Talk and debate with your friends. That’s when your learning comes alive.

This also is my teaching strategy. Which is why students have to struggle in order to learn. Because through that struggle, you are not a passive learner, but instead you become actively engaged in the learning process, thereby helping you to internalise what you’re taught. In education, this is known as “productive struggle.”

What do you think of couples who take the same major, and they enrol in the same modules and tutorials together?

A student asked me:

What do you think of couples who take the same major, and they enrol in the same modules and tutorials together? Would it become boring after awhile where projects are always done together and every minute of school is spent with that person?

Boredom isn’t the real problem that these couples should be worried about. While the idea of spending a lot of time together seems good, it’s actually not healthy for both individuals. It’s important to remember that a relationship comprises two unique individuals coming together to enrich each other as individuals. It’s not two individuals merging into a single hive mind as if The Singularity had taken place.

If you are already studying together or going out on dates, do you really need to spend even more time together?

While it is important to spend time together, it is just as important learning how to spend time away from each other so that each can continue developing their own individual selves, whether it is professionally, intellectually, or even socially as they meet new people or old friends.

Spending too much time together by taking the same classes would mean a loss of opportunities for each person in the relationship to explore new things on their own or to make new friends. It may feel really good now, but in the future you will look back and regret not making new friends or gaining new experiences on your own.

How do I get better grades in school?

A student wrote to me with this question:

How do I get better grades in school?

First of all, it’s important to recognise that it’s not about the amount of effort you put into studying that ensure you get better grades. You need to study smart and work smart. Studying hard and working hard will be very futile if you lack good learning methods.

In my four years teaching in NUS I often see students referring to learning resources and blindly trying to replicate the structure/form in order to answer an assignment. Students think that when they do this, they can’t go wrong if they model their answer off it. Of course in my module, students freak out when they discover they can’t do this.

And in fact, you should never do this. When you try to replicate the structure of an answer or lift lines from a lecture slide to answer a question, you are undermining the learning process. There is no real engagement with the question or the content. So you’re not really internalising what you are learning, and so the learning is superficial: it doesn’t go to the level where you can really link it to other issues or reach the level of creative mastery where you can take the knowledge to make something new.

A good way of gauging how well you understand something you’re taught is to always ask yourself how it is relevant to other things out in the world or how you can use that knowledge to do something (yes even seemingly “useless” knowledge that’s abstract from real life!). If you can’t see the link or can’t find the link, you haven’t understood it well enough to know how it extends beyond the classroom. I know students struggle with this and they would like their lecturers to show them how, but sometimes when we do, we’re met with scepticism. The problem resides with the learner. The learner hasn’t internalised and mastered the learning to see the relation for themselves.

An A grade is supposed to mean that you have mastered your learning well. So use this as a way of gauging how well you’ve mastered the content/skills. Because if you have reached this level of mastery, you can be confident that you are heading in the right direction towards an A.

Now, one other thing I noticed is that many students these are very impatient when it comes to assignments. They want to get over and done with it, and some of them are so immature that they resent their lecturers for making them work longer than they want to. Especially at University level, a lot of high quality work can only be produced after long hours of reading, thinking, and writing. Some people like to boast being able to write 3000 words in a short span of time. It reveals a grave lack of thought on the subject. To be clear, I’m not saying that if you spend a week on an assignment, you’ll get an A. What I’m saying is if you spend more time on it, your thoughts will mature and deepen beyond the mere superficialities. I mean… If something is so obvious and easy to answer at University, do you think we would be spending hours of our lives working on it? When we invite you to share in our experience through the various learning activities, we want you to develop a better grasp of the subtle complexities underlying the issues.

So if you do want to score well, you need to discuss more, read more, and think more. Rushed work usually results in poor work and a poor grade.

How essential is it to graduate with an Honours degree?

A student wrote to me, asking:

I am torn about doing Honours, as personally, I don’t really have a passionate thesis to work on, and I am the kind of person who values work experience more than academic learning. However, I hear that there are repercussions if one does not do Honours, that it would affect one’s employability, salary and progression issues which I personally thought were secondary to my life goals. But I would like to hear your opinion as well before making a decision. How essential is it to graduate with an Honours degree?

A Bachelors with Honours is essential if you are thinking of joining the public sector because they do care about it very much, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have Honours. I have a friend who’s very assertive, and she got a very good civil service job without Honours. She only has a B.A. (Philosophy), no Honours.

No one in the private sector actually cares about your degree or whether you had honours. If the job requires a degree, it’s only because having that piece of paper says that you can endure the hard work of university life and will be able to endure the hard work of working life. I know this because I have another friend who’s the head of HR in a huge MNC. All this comes from her, not from me. She also had no Honours, just a B.A. (Philosophy).

The degree only matters for your first job, and maybe the second one if you didn’t achieve much for the first. After that, no one cares what you studied or whether you had Honours. They’ll be looking at what you’ve achieved in your previous jobs. Once again, in terms of progression, it doesn’t matter.

Salary is based on how well you are able to negotiate salary with the hiring manager. It’s more people skills than it is paper qualification. Of course, in the public sector, there are salary ceilings based on a combination of paper qualification and work experience. But if you a degree holder, these things won’t affect you very much. It’s really more about the people skills, like the skill of negotiation, rather than paper qualification that matters. Just so you know the same assertive friend who used to work in the civil service without Honours is able to negotiate a $6-8k/month salary in all her jobs in the private sector. So it’s really the people skills that determines your salary.

Now suppose you want to graduate with Honours. The question now is whether to do Honours by research (thesis) or by coursework (modules). I will say that thesis is very essential if you want to do graduate school in the future, or any job that involves research. Because doing the Honours thesis is a process where you pick up a lot of research methodologies and where you learn how to critically evaluate the things you research. The reality is that if you want to do any job really well, this is a very good skill to have regardless of where you intend to go. There are many jobs – including admin support jobs – where tasks given to you require some degree of research. Having the experience of doing research will help you greatly because you would have the experience and know-how to begin. I know some people who struggle to do their work in the working world because they lack such research experience. They don’t know how to begin Googling for relevant information, or how to sift through the information for what’s relevant. Some don’t even know how to deal with website analytics reports or survey data. If you did thesis, you would have learnt how to execute such tasks with great academic rigour, and be able to provide solid analysis that will impress your bosses.

If you didn’t do thesis or don’t want to do thesis, it’s not the end of the world. You can learn it on your own. That said, you won’t learn it as well outside of a thesis programme because you won’t be challenged as hard when learning such things on your own.

At the end of the day, the final product of a thesis is not the dissertation that you submit. No, you are the final product. You come out a more matured person from the process. I wrote a lot more about this matter, and you can read more about it here: https://i.am.jyhsim.com/2020/06/11/whats-the-difference-between-choosing-to-do-a-thesis-and-choosing-to-do-modules-for-honours-which-one-is-better/

As for a thesis topic that you’re passionate in, you have to read widely and talk to your profs to find a topic that will be of interest to you. You won’t know what to write or what to be passionate about until you do this preliminary groundwork. If you like, I wrote a response to a similar Q&A here: https://i.am.jyhsim.com/2020/06/11/im-thinking-of-doing-thesis-but-im-not-sure-how-to-get-started/

Do you think doing Honours is necessary?

A student wrote to me with the following question:

I am currently a social work major who went through the diploma education in engineering before university. I am torn about doing Honours. Personally, I don’t really have a passionate thesis to work on and I am a person who values working experience more than academic learning. However, the common concerns I hear from people on the repercussions of not doing Honours typically relate to employability, salary and progression issues which I personally thought were secondary to my life goals. But I would like to hear your opinion as well before making a decision. Do you think doing Honours is necessary?

A Bachelors with Honours is essential if you are thinking of joining the public sector because they do care about it very much, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have Honours. I have a friend who’s very assertive, and she got a very good civil service job without Honours. She only has a B.A. (Philosophy).

No one in the private sector actually cares about your degree or whether you had honours. If the job requires a degree, it’s only because having that piece of paper says that you can endure the hard work of university life and will be able to endure the hard work of working life. I know this because I have another friend who’s the head of HR in a huge MNC. All this comes from her, not from me. She also had no Honours, just a B.A. (Philosophy).

The degree only matters for your first job, and maybe the second one if you didn’t achieve much for the first. After that, no one cares what you studied or whether you had Honours. They’ll be looking at what you’ve achieved in your previous jobs. Once again, in terms of progression, it doesn’t matter.

Salary is based on how well you are able to negotiate salary with the hiring manager. It’s more people skills than it is paper qualification. Of course, in the public sector, there are salary ceilings based on a combination of paper qualification and work experience. But if you a degree holder, these things won’t affect you very much. It’s really more about the people skills, like the skill of negotiation, rather than paper qualification that matters. Just so you know the same assertive friend who used to work in the civil service without Honours is able to negotiate a $6-8k/month salary in all her jobs in the private sector. So it’s really the people skills that determines your salary.

Now suppose you want to graduate with Honours. The question now is whether to do Honours by research (thesis) or by coursework (modules). I will say that thesis is very essential if you want to do graduate school in the future, or any job that involves research. Because doing the Honours thesis is a process where you pick up a lot of research methodologies and where you learn how to critically evaluate the things you research. The reality is that if you want to do any job really well, this is a very good skill to have regardless of where you intend to go. There are many jobs – including admin support jobs – where tasks given to you require some degree of research. Having the experience of doing research will help you greatly because you would have the experience and know-how to begin. I know some people who struggle to do their work in the working world because they lack such research experience. They don’t know how to begin Googling for relevant information, or how to sift through the information for what’s relevant. Some don’t even know how to deal with website analytics reports or survey data. If you did thesis, you would have learnt how to execute such tasks with great academic rigour, and be able to provide solid analysis that will impress your bosses.

If you didn’t do thesis or don’t want to do thesis, it’s not the end of the world. You can learn it on your own. That said, you won’t learn it as well outside of a thesis programme because you won’t be challenged as hard when learning such things on your own.

How much would peer review affect one’s own final grade?

A student asked me:

How much would peer review affect one’s own final grade?

I can’t say this for all modules because different lecturers have different policies. Some might drop a grade or two, some might choose to give a zero for the whole project.

In the case of GET1050, the worst case scenario is that you’ll get zero marks for the group project component, which is 35% of the total grade. That can drop a student from a B to a D, or a C to an F.

Many students think that they can hide and get away with not doing work, but they don’t realise just how transparent they are. My TAs and I are constantly monitoring our students so we already know who’s slacking before peer evaluation results come out. Also, it’s very obvious who didn’t contribute in the group because the social dynamics will be different compared to people/groups who contribute their utmost.

So what I’m saying is, we don’t just rely on peer evaluation reports to penalise slackers, because some people are very petty in how they evaluate their peers. So to ensure that we are fair, we make the effort to gather and corroborate evidence from a variety of sources.

I’ll just add one more point. You’ve probably heard of the phrase “6 degrees of separation.” Because of my social/professional network, I am 2 degrees away from Lee Hsien Loong, Obama, Clinton, and Putin. It scares me to think just how far away (or rather, how near) I am from these people.

If you know me personally, that puts you at 3 degrees away from them. Why am I saying this? The world is small. Singapore is even smaller. If I can notice slackers in a class of 800 students, what more the professors in other modules? What you do with your assignments and your projects don’t escape our attention. It goes beyond just grades. We know people who hire people, and those people do come to us asking us what we think of you. As a compulsory module, HR people do come to me to ask about my former students when they apply for internships/jobs. I have been fighting strongly to give my highest recommendations to students who have been great team players in their groups; and I have been very honest in telling these HR people about students who demonstrated horrible personal/work attitudes in the group project and in this course overall.

So the repercussions of how good/bad you are in your group go way beyond your grades. So do remember this well. Be good to your group mates and work hard. We are training you to learn how to work in teams and manage people of different personalities and working styles. It’s something you’ll have to do in the working world, so use this opportunity of group work to develop these important people skills. It’ll go a very long way in helping you after you graduate.

Is it true that it’s easier to score an A for some modules?

A student asked:

Is it true that it’s easier to score an A for some modules?

There’s no such thing as an easy A module because the number of As are determined by a quota in NUS (this is what people famously refer to as being at the mercy of the “bell curve”). There are quotas to the number of As, Bs, and Cs we can give. But I can’t tell you the quotas. That is confidential.

If a module is very easy to score, then the quota on As will determine that only the best of the best will get the As, and everyone else will get Bs and Cs even though they may have done very well in terms of absolute marks.

This is why there’s no such thing as a module that’s easy to score in university.

There’s this idea circulating among students that smart people don’t have to struggle to earn their As. It’s important to remember that some seniors want their juniors to regard them highly based on this belief, and so they will brag about how a module is easy for them to score without needing to struggle or needing to work hard. It makes them look very impressive, and people who take the module but end up struggling will look up to them for having done it so effortlessly.

Or in some rare cases, the student found it easy because it was something that s/he is already very good at, and so found no need to spend any effort.

So please do yourself a favour. Don’t believe any senior who tells you that a module is easy to score an A. They’re not telling you the truth about how hard they work behind the scenes.

I want to also comment about the belief that being good at something means not having to struggle. This is a false belief, and it has been very detrimental to many students’ esteems as they struggle in their studies (which is actually quite normal). Many students end up going away with the idea that they are very bad at it. I want you to know that struggling is normal. You struggle because you are growing and developing intellectually. And that is a good thing.

Will I be losing out if I don’t go on the Student Exchange Programme (SEP)?

A student asked:

Will I be losing out if I don’t go on the Student Exchange Programme (SEP)? I’m think that I’ll lose out by not getting the full university experience and also losing out by not looking as good as my peers in the eyes of future employers.

No, you won’t lose out at all. I didn’t go for SEP (student exchange programme), and I certainly didn’t lose out on anything.

SEP won’t help you gain any significant advantage when applying for jobs. The whole point of SEP is for you to have a full cultural immersion by interacting with the locals there. Once you are deeply soaked into their way of life, culture, language, you begin to better understand their system of values, ways of thinking about things, and gain better insight into their own way of life.

With such an understanding, you’ll be able to compare and contrast that with your own experience growing up and studying in Singapore (or wherever it is that you came from).

This is useful for helping you to appreciate the good points in both cultures, but also provide you with a basis to identify shortcomings in your own culture and start thinking about the values and assumptions that you’ve taken for granted all your life. E.g. Is it really important to be so focused on studies? Country X doesn’t do it that way.

But don’t just end with the conclusion that, “Country X is better because it’s less stressful.” That is a very superficial comparison. Ask yourself: Why is it that Country X can afford to be less competitive compared to Singapore?

Do the same for every other thing that you find is different in that country and keep asking yourself these questions. You’ll grow more matured in your thinking and appreciation of the pros and cons of each country’s policy, culture, and more.

Did you notice that it’s possible to still acquire this experience without going for an exchange programme? So the SEP is a nice to have. It’s certainly not a must-do.

SEP won’t really give you a significant advantage when looking for employment, unless you use the SEP to build up strong social networks. Otherwise, it doesn’t do much.

If you want to gain an advantage when looking for employment, you should be focusing on developing your people skills: how to interact with strangers, how to speak confidently to other people, how to promote/market yourself, how to work in a team, or how to lead and manage a team without having to play dirty politics, etc. These things will give you an advantage that will take you very very far.

So, you won’t lose out on anything if you don’t go on the student exchange programme. There are alternative ways to acquire cultural immersion and comparison without doing an exchange. And it’s really the people skills that matter in giving you an advantage.

My girlfriend got pregnant, and we’re both still studying in university. What do you suggest we do?

An anxious student wrote to me, asking:

My girlfriend got pregnant, and we’re both still studying in university. What do you suggest we do?

I can imagine this must be a really anxious time for both you and her. Please make yourself wholly available to her and support her in this time of need. Let her know that you are someone she can count on as a pillar of strength and support. And if either of you need someone older to talk to, feel free to reach out to me. You can talk to me without fear of judgement, alright? :)

Many people tend to conflate wanting to “get rid of the problem” with the idea that it means “getting rid of the pregnancy.” That is not true, and that choice has its own risks and consequences that will affect her much more than it will affect you.

First thing’s first: don’t rush to solve the situation so quickly. The stress and anxiety can lead to a lot of bad mistakes that will haunt you both for life. I want you to know that there are three possible options you can explore: (1) keeping the baby and raising the child; (2) giving the child up for adoption to couples who can’t conceive and desperately want a child; (3) terminating the pregnancy.

I think one of the issues people worry about is the shame and fear of what’s going to happen. I want you to know that we are living in a very modern and understanding society. Both of your families may care enough that you have to deal with shame. BUT in the bigger scheme of things, events like this happen so often, it doesn’t really surprise anyone these days (I know too many stories of it happening left, right, centre). So I want you to know that it’s not shameful at all. Just so you know, I’m not judging. It’s just one of those things that happens.

Let me tell you a story… Every year during Chinese New Year, my cousin would bring his super hot girlfriend over. He got married eventually (I didn’t attend the wedding). The following Chinese New Year, he brought his wife and baby over. The wife looked very different. So I remarked to my mother how amazed I was that the lack of make-up could make someone look so incredibly different, since she didn’t look anything like the pretty person I remember in the years past. My mother then told me that that woman was a different one from the girl we had seen in the previous years. It was a shotgun marriage. Whoops!

Anyway… Accidents happen. Life happens. And we should just hold our heads high and learn to handle what life throws at us. That’s how we grow. In some cases, it’s lemons. In some cases, it’s a pregnancy.

Let me discuss some options to consider. It’s important you both make the decision together as a couple:

If you both are still unsure about having a future together, DO NOT rush into a marriage or force yourselves to raise the child together. It doesn’t end well. There are many single-parents because of reasons like this. And the one who has to suffer most is usually the mother as she will end up raising the child all on her own.

In such a situation, I personally would strongly recommend carrying the pregnancy to term and giving it up for adoption. There are so many couples in Singapore who try so hard to conceive but they can’t. They have a strong desire to have a child, but they are afflicted with the inability to conceive. That puts tremendous stress on them and it does strain their relationship. You have no idea how much good you can do for such couples, and you can use this as an opportunity to bring joy to another home. At least one great and wonderful good can come out of this incident. I really think this will be most worthwhile.

Fortunately, because of the pandemic, it’s going to be 100% e-learning for most modules this and next probably next semester. So you both can go through the pregnancy without attracting much attention.

Of course, if you both are sure you want to be together in marriage later on in life, then I think it’s worth thinking about keeping the baby. Don’t stress over the finances. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You might initially meet with parental disapprovals, but usually when the baby comes, their attitudes will change. I must stress that this is the usual case. If you both have dysfunctional families, then it may make it more challenging to raise a child under such conditions.

Regardless, it can and will be tough having to juggle studies and a baby at the same time. BUT, I want you to know that it’s very possible to have a happy and functional family. I know a friend who had a shotgun marriage during their undergraduate days. They both graduated since and they are still happily married after 10+ years, with more kids added to the collection. What’s important for this to work out is to get wide social support. Not just from your immediate families, but from friends, and other older people. You’ll be surprised to discover how many supportive friends you’ll have in uni. And like I have said before, come talk to me if you need to. We can figure something out together. :)

The last option to consider will be the termination of the pregnancy. It seems like the easiest option to get out of a difficult situation. But there is a really high risk that your girlfriend will have to live with the guilt and emotional baggage of termination for the rest of her life. There is also the risk that her physical health/fertility may be compromised too (there’s always a risk with such procedures). Many people have gone through this without much thought, and it does come back to haunt them later in their lives. So I don’t like to recommend this as an option. And please don’t take this option lightly.

All options are difficult. There is no easy answer. Your parents will get upset for sure. But you will definitely discover that you will have many supportive friends who will help both of you out. Whatever is it, please don’t abandon your girlfriend when she needs you most right now. She needs you. So be there fore here.

And whatever it is, it’s important to make the decision together on what to do with the pregnancy. It is a joint responsibility.

If you need someone older to talk to, or if you need help getting the necessary social support or whatever, don’t be afraid to come talk to me. We’ll figure something out together.

Take care!

When is a good time to start doing level 3000 modules in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)?

A student wrote to me, asking:

When is a good time to start doing level 3000 modules in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)?

You can do it whenever you like!

I started doing level 3000 mods when I was in Year 1 Sem 2 (the module was PH3202 Philosophy of Law, if you’re wondering). But that’s me. The level of a module (1000, 2000, 3000, 4000) only indicates the depth of learning, and not the workload.

It is the modular credits (MCs) that determines the workload. 4MCs = 10 hours of work per week (includes time for lectures, tutorials, projects, and assignments).

If you belong to a small department, the depth of the module doesn’t matter too much because the lecturer will probably have to start from scratch, since they probably weren’t able to offer a level 2000 module in time (or train enough students in time) to have the fundamental understanding in place, ready for the level 3000 (or 4000) module.

But if you belong to a big department, the department may have the expectation that you need to clear some level 2000 mods first so that you have the fundamentals in place (since they would have the capacity to train enough students to be ready for the level 3000 module. In which case, the lecturer for the level 3000 module will assume that you already know these things.

To be safe, you should drop an e-mail to the module coordinator to ask about it.

One more thing to consider: You should enquire with your department about how regularly they offer certain modules. Some modules (level 3000 or 4000) are offered once in a long long time. So if you are really interested in it, you might want to consider taking it ASAP instead of waiting, because it may never be offered again during your undergraduate time.

What Students Have Said About GET1050 Computational Reasoning

Even though last semester ended in May, I’m still receiving many personal messages and letters from students thanking me for teaching them GET1050 Computational Reasoning. I thought it’ll be good to archive some of them here as a memento of the amazing time I had teaching the AY2019/2020 Sem II cohort. (They’re the best cohort I’ve taught thus far)

Relevance of GET1050 to Internship and Work

It has been really wonderful learning VBA from the module in particular. I couldn't imagine that I'll be learning programming in FASS. At least now with basic VBA skills in my belt, I hope for more useful things to come! Perhaps one thing of interest to you: I'm currently interning in the oil and gas sector. One of my tasks was to prioritize a list of interests for the firm, which was compiled in a spreadsheet. Evidently it'll be exhaustive to go thru each interest one by one (there was a lot). So my bosses would like me to justify how I'd prioritize it. This is similar to the optimisation exercises we went through in the module. I'd like to believe that they allow me to have a thinking framework in place for these kinds of tasks.

It has been really wonderful learning VBA from the module in particular. I couldn’t imagine that I’ll be learning programming in FASS. At least now with basic VBA skills in my belt, I hope for more useful things to come! Perhaps one thing of interest to you: I’m currently interning in the oil and gas sector. One of my tasks was to prioritize a list of
interests for the firm, which was compiled in a spreadsheet. Evidently it’ll be exhaustive to go thru each interest one by one (there was a lot). So my bosses would like me to justify how I’d prioritize it. This is similar to the optimisation
exercises we went through in the module. I’d like to believe that they allow me to have a thinking framework in place for these kinds of tasks.

Hi Jonathan! Just wanted to drop a message saying that I cannot believe I am facing people in internship that didnt even quantify their parameters and had to go through mini GET on what is best and how do we define best and what are the proxy measures we are doing. Can definitely see the application of GET again cause it felt like I was transported back into your class of discussions

Hi Jonathan! Just wanted to drop a message saying that I cannot believe I am facing people in internship that didnt even quantify their parameters and had to go through mini GET on what is best and how do we define best and what are the proxy measures we are doing. Can definitely see the application of GET again cause it felt like I was transported back into your class of discussions

Hope that you are doing well : ) Hope this isn't too random haha but I wanted to send you an appreciation email for making GET1050 so fun and enriching! I learnt a lot from your lectures and tutorials and enjoyed them very much. They were really insightful as well! I really appreciated your encouragement during the vba consultation too. Thanks to excel I managed to get an internship this break and gained more confidence in learning other tech skills xD Thank you so much for going out of your way to help us, creating such a fun learning environment and challenging us to think. This mod was my favourite one this semester! Stay safe and take care and hope to see you around in school!!

Hope that you are doing well : ) Hope this isn’t too random haha but I wanted to send you an appreciation email for making GET1050 so fun and enriching! I learnt a lot from your lectures and tutorials and enjoyed them very much. They were really insightful as well! I really appreciated your encouragement during the vba consultation too. Thanks to excel I managed to get an internship this break and gained more confidence in learning other tech skills xD Thank you so much for going out of your way to help us, creating such a fun learning environment and challenging us to think. This mod was my favourite one this semester! Stay safe and take care and hope to see you around in school!!

hey prof!! how has this cb been for you? :) hope youre doing well HAHA i got my first job this vacation and my boss gave me this huge excel data set and asked me to categorise the data and all thank God i took GET1050 be i managed to use pivot table and filter function to get the data that my boss wanted and it took me less than 5min, my boss was so impressed HAHAH thank you prof!! hope this little news will bring you some happiness this gloomy cb :)

hey prof!! how has this cb (circuit breaker/lockdown) been for you? :) hope youre doing well HAHA i got my first job this vacation and my
boss gave me this huge excel data set and asked me to categorise the data and all thank God i took GET1050 be i managed to use pivot table and filter function to get the data that my boss wanted and it took me less than 5min,
my boss was so impressed HAHAH thank you prof!! hope this little news will bring you some happiness this gloomy cb :)

I was your student of your mod last sem. Just want to share a story with you haha! I did horribly for your module due to the lack of time in the school semester. I got a 8/8- even when i contributed a big portion of project works that scored decently well. As a result, i decided to prioritize other mods, neglecting VBA which was the latter portion of the module. During the CB, i decided to pick up VBA, and went through some of the notes you had and youtube. This helped me to secure a banking internship in a tough period, during the interviews, the head mentioned that she wanted someone to automate excel, and I listed some of the examples i saw on youtube, impressing her. Fast forward 2 weeks into my internship, other than small projects, i just created a excel sheet to automate manual intranet web queries and print them(For compliance against terrorism etc, intranet will show whether company suspicious or not) for my team! Saving my teammates 30 mins-ish a day.

I was your student of your mod last sem. Just want to share a story with you haha! I did horribly for your module due to the lack of time in the school semester. I got a 8/8- even when i contributed a big portion of project works that scored decently well. As a result, i decided to prioritize other mods, neglecting VBA which was the latter portion of the module. During the CB, i decided to pick up VBA, and went through some of the notes you had and youtube. This helped me to secure a banking internship in a tough period, during the interviews, the head mentioned that she wanted someone to
automate excel, and I listed some of the examples i saw on youtube, impressing her. Fast forward 2 weeks into my internship, other than small projects, i just created a excel sheet to automate manual intranet web queries and print them(For compliance against terrorism etc, intranet will show whether company suspicious or not) for my team! Saving my teammates 30 mins-ish a day.


GET1050 is Empowering!

hi mr sim, hope you're doing well! just wanted to let you know that i've taken up an online programming course and so many of the concepts that they're teaching were covered in get1050! for eg i just wrote a code in c using the greedy rule to solve a question. so really thank you for the past semester in this module, it's taught me to think about computing in a way that makes it much easier for me to write codes now!

hi mr sim, hope you’re doing well! just wanted to let you know that i’ve taken up an online programming course and so many of the concepts that they’re teaching were covered in get1050! for eg i just wrote a code in c using the greedy rule to solve a question. so really thank you for the past semester in this module, it’s taught me to think about computing in a way that makes it much easier for me to write codes now!

However, I wanna let you know that the course you conducted, was really REALLY helpful for me. Acting as a bridge that guides us into the unknown, I actually FEEL REALLY EMPOWERED to take a new coding module, and refine my skills in excel. And this is really thanks to you. You gave me the room to leverage on my instinctive ability to reason and plan, to complete the complexities of the tasks of excel. For that, I am deeply grateful.

However, I wanna let you know that the course you conducted, was really REALLY helpful for me. Acting as a bridge that guides us into the unknown, I actually FEEL REALLY EMPOWERED to take a new coding module, and refine my skills in excel. And this is really thanks to you. You gave me the room to leverage on my instinctive ability to reason and plan, to complete the complexities of the tasks of excel. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Hi Mr Sim!!! (This is quite late) I just want to let you are an amazing prof and Thank you for doing some an amazing job in GET1050. Although it's only my first Y1, I can say this is probably my most favourite mod because of that way you deliver the teaching materials! (And partly cuz I got a high grade in it HAHAHA) It has also sparked within me an interest of coding and I have been doing the CS50 module to widen my knowledge of coding. I'm alr building my own homepage WOW As a FASS student, I didn't expect to have such knowledge within my academic life and I really thank you for introducing it to me and the other students! ALSOOO, I've been reading your Tellonym and your replies have been eye-opening and refreshing. Thanks for sharing your opinions and inspiring your students (especially FASS students)

Hi Mr Sim!!! (This is quite late) I just want to let you are an amazing prof and Thank you for doing some an amazing job in GET1050. Although it’s only my first Y1, I can say this is probably my most favourite mod because of that way you deliver the teaching materials! (And partly cuz I got a high grade in it HAHAHA) It has also sparked within me an interest of coding and I have been doing the CS50 module to widen my knowledge of coding. I’m alr building my own homepage WOW As a FASS student, I didn’t expect to have such knowledge within my academic life and I really thank you for introducing it to me and the other students! ALSOOO, I’ve been reading your Tellonym and your replies have been eye-opening and refreshing. Thanks for sharing your opinions and inspiring your students (especially FASS students)

Beyond thanking you for the obviously tremendous amount of effort and humour that you put in this mod in order to make it bearable, enjoyable, and educational; I would like to thank you for giving me a good springboard into this world of data science and computing. After seeing the value of computing knowledge and thinking from this module, I recently took up a certified business analytics course and intend to do CS50 in due time as well. I also intend to strengthen my understanding of VBA (ps. do you have any recommendations of where I can do this other than Linkedln Learning? Philo mod recommendations also please thanks haha I haven't taken intro to Philo but I would love to learn how to think better) I am very proud to tell you that I got an A for this module. I had at the very start told you that I was scared of this module and prepared to SU it (and got scolded by you haha). I am hence extremely proud of not only the grade, but the effort me and my team put into this module and the learnings we got as a result; but also that I have a good grade to show you to thank you for your dedication and kindness.

Beyond thanking you for the obviously tremendous amount of effort and humour that you put in this mod in order to make it bearable, enjoyable, and educational; I would like to thank you for giving me a good springboard into this world of data science and computing. After seeing the value of computing knowledge and thinking from this module, I recently took up a certified business analytics course and intend to do CS50 in due time as well. I also intend to strengthen my understanding of VBA (ps. do you have any recommendations of where I can do this other than Linkedln Learning? Philo mod recommendations also please thanks haha I haven’t taken intro to Philo but I would love to
learn how to think better) I am very proud to tell you that I got an A for this module. I had at the very start told you that I was scared of this module and prepared to SU it (and got scolded by you haha). I am hence extremely proud of not only the grade, but the effort me and my team put into this module and the learnings we got as a result; but also that I have a good grade to show you to thank you for your dedication and kindness.


GET1050 is Awesome!

Heelllo Jonathan!! Sending this a bit late but, I just wanted to say thank youuu. I personally had an amazing GET1050 learning experience the past sem! Thanks for creating such a comfortable learning environment for asking questions and putting in so much effort to make learning so enjoyable!! (PARDON this not so look-a-like drawinggg HAHA)

Heelllo Jonathan!! Sending this a bit late but, I just wanted to say thank youuu. I personally had an amazing GET1050 learning experience the past sem! Thanks for creating such a comfortable learning environment for asking questions and putting in so much effort to make learning so enjoyable!! (PARDON this not so look-a-like drawinggg HAHA)

Thank YOU for all your hardwork and love you have for your students:")) your dedication to this mod is amazing!!! :")) Rest well!!!!

Thank YOU for all your hardwork and love you have for your students:”)) your dedication to this mod is amazing!!! :”)) Rest well!!!!

I am a student from your GET1050 course. Though this email may be a little late, given that the module ended quite some time ago, the semester has finally concluded but I wish to extend my gratitude to you for having been such a passionate professor and I have genuinely learned much from your course. I really appreciate that you explain every single concept down to the last detail with so much enthusiasm. The amount of effort you and your GET1050 TAs is truly unimaginable, but I am very thankful for all of it! Thank you for building my foundation for EXCEL well and I can't wait to learn more tricks and codes! : D Thank you Jonathan once again :-), take care and rest well this summer!

I am a student from your GET1050 course. Though this email may be a little late, given that the module ended quite some time ago, the semester has finally concluded but I wish to extend my gratitude to you for having been such a passionate professor and I have genuinely learned much from your course. I really appreciate that you explain every single concept down to the last detail with so much enthusiasm. The amount of effort you and your GET1050 TAs
is truly unimaginable, but I am very thankful for all of it! Thank you for building my foundation for EXCEL well and I can’t wait to learn more tricks and codes! : D Thank you Jonathan once again :-), take care and rest well this summer!

hi prof! I wanted to say thank you for interacting with your students and spending your time to engage us in our growth :-) hope u r doing well in this season!!! :-))

hi prof! I wanted to say thank you for interacting with your students and spending your time to engage us in our growth :-) hope u r doing well in this season!!! :-))

Dear Mr Sim, now that the mod is about to be over i just want to say a huge thank you to you- for your patience in coaching us, checking up on us whenever u can, and just being such a great prof. I am very lucky to have taken this mod under you, and i thank you so much for all the knowledge you have imparted to us. Ive started to be able to see proxy measures, interpretive gaps havjng to be filled in etc in my daily life as well. I hope you take good care of yourself, dont overtire yourself please! As your student, it is my pleasure and honour to call you my professor

Dear Mr Sim, now that the mod is about to be over i just want to say a huge thank you to you- for your patience in coaching us, checking up on us whenever u can, and just being such a great prof. I am very lucky to have taken this mod under you, and i thank you so much for all the knowledge you have imparted to us. Ive started to be able to see proxy measures, interpretive gaps havjng to be filled in etc in my daily life as well. I hope you take good care of yourself, dont overtire yourself please! As your student, it is my pleasure and honour to call you my professor.

Next, I want to sincerely thank you for being such a genuine and hardworking educator. In my entire education career as a student, I have only met one or two teachers who were always going the extra mile in getting to know their students and preparing their lessons in a way that students will truly enjoy and learn useful things they will take away with them for the rest of their lives. When I first entered university, I thought that the lecturers , in general , would be less enthusiastic about getting to know students or even teaching the content they do, as the material they teach would undoubtedly be repetitive on their end, and the opportunities they have to interact with students are less, considering the lecture group sizes and the number of classes they have with students. It was surprising when you went out of your way to get us email short introductions to you before our very first class, you did not have to, but you chose to do it. I honestly think that shows how much you care about your students and am touched to have an educator like you. This is just one of the many things, coupled with the crazy amount of effort you put into creating funny names in assignments and easter eggs for us to find when doing the assignments, that left me speechless. Your passion for teaching is admirable and shines through.

Next, I want to sincerely thank you for being such a genuine and hardworking educator. In my entire education career as a student, I have only met one or two teachers who were always going the extra mile in getting to know their students and preparing their lessons in a way that students will truly enjoy and learn useful things they will take away with them for the rest of their lives. When I first entered university, I thought that the lecturers , in general , would be less enthusiastic about getting to know students or even teaching the content they do, as the material they teach
would undoubtedly be repetitive on their end, and the opportunities they have to interact with students are less, considering the lecture group sizes and the number of classes they have with students. It was surprising when you went out of your way to get us email short introductions to you before our very first class, you did not have to, but you chose to do it. I honestly think that shows how much you care about your students and am touched to have an educator like you. This is just one of the many things, coupled with the crazy amount of effort you put into creating funny names in assignments and easter eggs for us to find when doing the assignments, that left me speechless. Your passion for teaching is admirable and shines through.

Thank you so much for all you've done for us, Prof. Our group and all your other students are extremely grateful to you. We all enjoyed your whacky, hilarious lectures and will remember them for years to come. See you soon, Prof. Wishing you continued good health

Thank you so much for all you’ve done for us, Prof. Our group and all your other students are extremely grateful to you. We all enjoyed your whacky, hilarious lectures and will remember them for years to come. See you soon, Prof. Wishing you continued good health

How should I make use of my Unrestricted Electives (UE) requirement? Is it worthwhile to pursue a Minor, or should I instead use the time to explore modules from different faculties?

A student asked this question:

How should I make use of my Unrestricted Electives (UE) requirement? Is it worthwhile to pursue a Minor, or should I instead use the time to explore modules from different faculties?

My personal take is that you should only do a minor if you yourself have an interest or passion in it. Otherwise, don’t bother.

When I was an undergraduate student, I used the UE slots to take modules from other faculties, mainly from engineering, computing and the sciences. I’m very grateful I did that because that gave me enough conceptual resources that allowed me to talk and work with engineers in my first job, and later on with academics from STEM majors (and even edit books for them because I knew enough to learn more on my own).

I worked in another university before coming to NUS. And one thing that struck me was the strong culture of learning they had there. I was very amazed to see science and engineering majors so passionate about the humanities, and conversely, humanities students so passionate about learning different things in the sciences. I remembered talking to some humanities undergraduates there and they were determined to take the engineering core mathematics module and PWN (defeat) the engineering majors in their own game.

Here in NUS, we don’t seem to have this culture, or at least I haven’t met students like that. But I do wish students here were more courageous and willing to try and conquer topics beyond their comfort zones, and see it as a healthy challenge to grow and develop yourself.

When you try to do things like this, you are training yourself for the working world, because you are learning to get used to taking on any task that gets thrown at you. You become more resilient.

I spoke to my peers (FASS alumni), and they said that in the course of their working lives, they have been made to do things at work they never thought they had to do when they were students. Things like writing code, develop business plans, etc. Oftentimes, we will have to do this not because we want to, but because we have not much of a choice (it’s assigned to us). So take it in good stride and learn to explore beyond your comfort zone. It’ll be good for you in the long term.

My Experiences in Using the Telegram Messaging App as a Teaching Tool

In this article, I wish to reflect on my experience using the messaging app, Telegram, as a teaching tool. I will begin on the motivations for adopting Telegram, and then proceed to discuss how I carried out the use of Telegram in my teaching, and my observations of how students responded to it.

In the past 3.5 years of teaching here in NUS, I have learnt through my conversations with many local students that so many students perceive barriers to various modes of consultation that are typically available to them. These obstacles revolve around fear and issues of ‘face.’

In public settings, like asking questions in class or on the online forums, students are afraid of making a fool of themselves by asking a “stupid” question in front of everyone else, or at least saying the wrong thing, and risk the embarrassment of being corrected in front of everyone. In other words, they fear losing ‘face’ by asking questions in a public setting.

On that same line of thought, there is also a fear that speaking out or asking certain questions can make one stand out so much that it creates pressure on the student to maintain that expectation or risk losing ‘face.’

Three years ago, I commended a student for her excellent writing on the online forums. After class, she approached me saying how she wished I did not do that as it had “revealed her true abilities” to the rest of the class. As it is, the forums were already very stressful as she did not want to stand out from the crowd, nor did she want to embarrass herself by saying anything wrong. But now that she had been “outed” by me as having excellent writing, she now has to deal with the added stress of maintaining the same standards. In a competitive culture, many students perceive this as a bad thing, because they worry that doing so would mean having to work extra hard to maintain that reputation. Failing to meet that public expectation, would result in a huge loss of ‘face.’

And while our local students prefer to seek help in a more private setting (face-to-face consults or e-mail), there is still an obstacle that puts them off: they perceive these modes of consultations as too formal, and they feel that this apparent “formality” requires them to prepare well beforehand so that they do not waste the teacher’s time, or to say or do something that will cause them to look bad before the instructor.

This became very apparent to me two years ago when I had to tutor a module on computational thinking to FASS undergraduate students. Because the nature of the subject was so alien to these students, many of them simply did not know how to articulate their questions. The ones who asked for consultations (or e-mailed me for help) knew how to articulate their questions, or at least questions on issues they were clear about. But it was apparent to me that many students did not understand. They wanted help, but they were too afraid to ask. And when I asked what kept them from seeking consultations with me, they said that they wanted to get everything in order, that they wanted to compile a list of questions before approaching me. They thought that it would be a waste of my time and that it would be embarrassing to reveal how much they did not understand.

This was the same answer I got from many students. And because they struggled on such a fundamental level, they could not achieve the level of preparedness they wanted before they saw it fit to arrange for a consultation, or even draft an e-mail with their questions. In other words, the formality of a face-to-face consultation, or even a private e-mail was an obstacle for students to seek help even when they urgently needed it. The fear of losing ‘face’ was just too great.

To summarise: many local students feel that the act of asking questions or seeking help is an act that risks losing ‘face,’ or tarnishing their reputation before their peers or teachers.

When I was tasked to develop and teach a new compulsory module for FASS students – GET1050 “Computational Reasoning” (which was, once again, an area alien to most FASS students) – I remembered the experiences and conversations I had with my former students, many of whom felt that questioning was a terrifying act of risking one’s ‘face.’

I decided to experiment with setting up a Helpline chat group on Telegram, a popular instant messaging app that allows for the creation of large chat groups. The helpline would serve several functions: (1) it would be an informal setting and to some extent, an almost anonymous platform where students can ask questions without drawing too much embarrassment to themselves; (2) if students were afraid to post questions on the helpline, they can still reach out to me privately on Telegram; (3) since the module is a blended-learning course, Telegram was the one platform that allowed me to engage and interact with my students on a regular basis (especially for students who are not in my tutorial groups); (4) the platform is the ideal means for cultivating a safe and positive learning culture where students should not feel afraid to seek help; and (5) the instant communication allows me to converse with students so as to help those struggling to articulate their questions.

I have since used Telegram for two semesters with great success. Here, I’d like to document what I did and several observations I made:

In the first two weeks, Telegram was rather quiet. There were not many queries. That was because students were still exploring and wondering what sorts of questions they could safely ask on the platform. The first couple of questions were sent privately to me on Telegram, and I made it a point to post the Q&A to the Helpline, even though students may have felt that the question was silly, pointless, or irrelevant. Nonetheless, I did it anyway because it served two purposes: (1) it allowed me to share the knowledge as I believed that there were other students with similar questions; and (2) it was a way of educating the cohort about the kinds of questions they could ask, and I wanted them to know that they can always expect a safe environment where I would answer them without judgement.

Every few days, I would also post light-hearted remarks and other jokes, or joke around with students on the Helpline. This was my way of interacting with students and building rapport with them. After all, I don’t have the luxury of interacting with all the students in a lecture setting (all my lectures are in the form of videos online). I also made a point to involve my TAs in the chat. They would help to answer queries, and occasionally post light-hearted content. This was my way of reinforcing the idea that this is an informal setting, a safe environment where we can learn together and be silly together. That this helpline was a community of learning.

As the weeks went by, not only were there more students joining the Helpline, but there were also more students daring to ask questions publicly on the chat group. I believe the interactions that my TAs and I carried out in the first few weeks of the semester were very critical in establishing that trust in students, that they could trust us enough to ask questions without fear.

And what was most amazing, was that by the time we got to Recess Week, there was a sense that the community on the Helpline had grown and matured. There were moments where I would inform the Helpline that I’m too busy to respond to queries. Not long after, I’ll find students rising up to the occasion, and answering queries from their peers. The same happens when students ask questions very late into the night.

So not only is there an increased sense of trust and respect for all on the Helpline, but I believe that students have begun to feel safe to seek help and to help others on such a platform. That is, of course, once the culture and environment has been set right at the start, and continually maintained.

In both semesters, the feedback from students have been incredible positive about the use of Telegram. Here I’d like to conclude with an excerpt of a reflection that a student wrote that best summarises how the use of Telegram and the Helpline played a critical role role in helping students grow comfortable with seeking help:

“My main learning point is summarized by the phrase: ‘No one can push you if you don’t want to push yourself; we all grow through struggles’. Having a good attitude towards learning is important. I particularly got this takeaway because this module is by-far the most encouraging, most-interaction (during tutorial) and most interesting module I took . The instructor and my TAs from tutorial class are really encouraging and I like how they always assure us that they are very willing to help us as long as we seek help. It really motivates me to want to do well for this module since I know that I am equipped with all the resources that I need and in addition, I have approachable people that I can turn to when I need help. However this also means that it is a test of self-discipline as we take charge of our own learning progress. If I choose not to help myself, then I will not learn to the best of my ability no matter how encouraging the instructors and TAs are. This module made me realized that I cannot have excuses to justify as to why I didn’t do well for this module because I can no longer say that I find it hard to seek help/the professors are not approachable, thus a good learning attitude is important.”