Mr Joseph Daniels graduated from the Joint Degree Programme (JDP) in Geography hosted by NUS and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) with First Class Honours in 2013. He has won several awards, including the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal and NUS Geographical Society Gold Medal.
Currently a Master of Arts candidate in economic geography at the University of British Columbia, he came back to Singapore recently to conduct fieldwork for his master’s thesis. We had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with him to find out more about his experiences.
Hi Joe, can you tell us a bit about your research?
For my honours thesis, I was looking at bank restructuring in the early 2000s here in Singapore after the Asian financial crisis. I was focused on the ways in which state-firm relations had been reshaped by the restructuring as part of a larger process of international financial centre development. For my master’s thesis, I’m looking at the financialisation of urban space, or the relationships between real estate and finance, and specifically at the real estate investment trusts (REITs) and their role in shaping urban development and management in Singapore. This is work that tries to integrate what is called the ‘social studies of finance’ with the wider array of concerns found in Geography pertaining to places and spaces of economic, political, and social change.
That’s interesting. What got you interested in Geography?
At first I convinced my mom to let me enroll into UNC because I wanted to do public policy. To this day, I have never taken a formal course in public policy. However, I took a few geography courses in my first year and fell in love with it. It appeals more to me – I prefer to theorise and think about the world as opposed to perhaps the practicality of planning the world (though I do believe one leads to the other). Ultimately, geography provided a means of addressing the questions I had about the world in a way other disciplines had not—perhaps best captured by what some have called its intellectual promiscuity. The undisciplined nature of the field’s theoretical tool box was most appealing. I mean, who knew I would be able to meaningfully study the finance industry as a geographer! The ability to be surprised by what I learn is what is most enjoyable about geography. Geography at NUS is one of the best places to do that.
Q: Why choose Singapore?
I always knew I wanted to study abroad for a while. Unlike most of my peers who went to Europe or Latin America, I wanted to go somewhere different. This concern for difference and being different has probably impacted more than I would typically admit, and probably is one of the reasons the identification of Geographer was so appealing. Yet I didn’t have the language skills, aside from a little bit of German, so I didn’t want to go to a place that was too daunting, particularly because I wanted my education to be worthwhile. I did not want my study abroad experience to be a glorified vacation. I stumbled upon the JDP which happened to be in Singapore and thought it seemed like a great opportunity. Little did I know that NUS Geography is one of the top programmes in the world and that it would impact my life so greatly!
How did find your experience living and studying in Singapore?
JD: Well, I keep coming back! (laughs) This is now my third extended trip to Singapore. I was really interested in what NUS had to offer for its strength in economic geography and I really took advantage of all of what the joint degree programme (JDP) had to offer. I also enjoyed the independence I had in planning my readings and assignments in NUS. The JDP, with its support at both UNC and NUS, has certainly opened new doors for me; to new intellectual horizons in new places. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
I was staying at the Prince George’s Park Residences here in NUS and also at my friends’ places at Ang Mo Kio and Kovan. The best part of my experience living and studying in Singapore has been creating what will be life-long friendships from an incredibly supportive group of students and mentors.
(from left) Prof Robbie Goh, Vice Dean for Undergraduate Studies, Faizal Bin Abdul Aziz, Prof Brenda Yeoh, FASS Dean, Tan Sock Keng, Joseph Daniels and Yeo Li Kuang. The students are all from the Joint Degree Programme.