Turning your Dream into Reality

john mead

He has a passion for dance, with over 40 years of experience in the performance arts. This year, at the age of 62, John Mead graduated with a PhD in Communications and New Media from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). John, who was also one of our Valedictorians for the Class of 2015, shares his thoughts on pursuing his graduate education at FASS.

  1. Tell us a bit of your professional background in performing arts.

I am an internationally recognised choreographer, performer and educator. I began my career in the performing arts by dancing professionally for 12 years, primarily in the United States and Europe. Subsequently I became a choreographer having choreographed over 120 concert stage works over the past 30 years, which have been performed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States. In 1988, I won the prestigious “Lausanne New Choreographers Competition” hosted by Bejart Ballet Lausanne, Switzerland and subsequently worked periodically for four years as a visiting faculty member of the official school of the Bejart Ballet: Rudra Bejart Lausanne. From 1993 to 2000, I was the Artistic Director of John Mead & Dancers in New York City, and was also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the New York University Programme in Dance Education during that same time period. I am currently the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of two Singapore-based companies: the John Mead Dance Company (JMDC) which presents concert stage choreographic works and Firefly Tales (FFT) which is JMDC’s affiliate organisation dedicated to narrative film production and dance education outreach. Since 2002, I have lived in Singapore and am now a Permanent Resident of the country. Recently, on 31 May 2015, after 6 years in the Communications and New Media (CNM) Department at NUS, I was awarded my PhD, and chosen to be a doctoral Valedictorian of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

  1. Given your professional background, why did you choose to pursue a PhD in Communications and New Media at FASS? Which part of the programme appealed to you?

In 2009, I made the decision to apply to the CNM Department to pursue my PhD on a “part-time” basis as I continued to direct my Singapore-based dance company.

The reason I applied to the CNM Department was because there are few universities which offer a doctoral degree in the performance aspects of Dance. In the performing arts, a Masters of Fine Arts degree (MFA) is often considered to be a terminal degree. In order to go on to the doctoral level in Dance, you usually have to study some tangential subject area – such as Dance Anatomy/Kinesiology, Dance History, Dance Philosophy, Dance Ethnography, Dance Anthropology, etc. I wasn’t interested in pursuing any of those disciplines since I already had a certain amount of knowledge in those areas from all of my years in dance. My real interest was to engage in the philosophic study of performance-related work, so when I decided to pursue the PhD at NUS, the only two departments I thought might be relevant with my arts background and two Masters of Fine Arts degrees (in Dance and Film), were the Department of Philosophy and the Communications and New Media Department (dance being one of the most ancient forms of communication). I applied to both. Because of my extensive background in the performing arts, I was accepted into the CNM Department.

  1. Can you tell us about your experience in the programme?

My experience in entering the CNM Department was probably a bit different than that of younger students who enter the department – especially since I was 56 years old when I entered. I’ve worked professionally with my own companies most of my life and even though I had wanted to earn a PhD one day, I had never made the time to do it. However, I’ve never felt age should be a deciding factor regarding important dreams in one’s life, so I went ahead in 2009 and began my pursuit of the PhD. It was a bit difficult at first to re-enter an academic environment as a student after having been an Adjunct Professor at New York University for 8 years, and to be in classes with other students that were less than half my age, but I soon forgot the age difference and began to enjoy my studies. The required classes I took during my first two years in the CNM Department were challenging, and opened my eyes to ideas about academic inquiry and doctoral level work. The last 4 years of work were primarily oriented around my research and thesis writing. This proved to be the most demanding, and in turn, rewarding area of my studies. The many discussions I had with my excellent doctoral advisor, Dr. Lonce Wyse, concerning a host of intellectual and difficult philosophic ideas in connection with dance, the arts, technology and the concept of practice-based research in the arts, was a consistently rewarding experience, that helped to clarify my research, and deepen my related thought processes.

  1. Were there any challenges during the course of study?

There were many challenges on many different levels during my course of study. Even though I considered myself to be a decent writer, one challenge I soon discovered was to learn to write in an academic, doctoral fashion – which I came to realise, is a very specialised way of communicating. With the help of my doctoral advisor, the tone and style of my writing evolved over the years of my candidature, toward a more academically rigorous quality.

  1. How has the programme benefitted your career?

My doctoral thesis is titled, A Framework for Understanding Practice as Research in Dance. It is a study of the nature of dance practice that is simultaneously considered to be research. My related work as a practicing choreographer in one of the most primal areas of communication, i.e. human movement, is primarily driven by the desire to create authentic art work for the simple sake of creating it – letting the artwork speak for itself.

It is yet to be seen what impact my research work may have on my chosen field of study. Hopefully it holds potential to add to the dialogue which exists concerning the nature of practice as research in the arts, in relation to knowledge acquisition, transmissibility and the ability to gain new knowledge from areas where we continue to lack information.

In my current choreographic work, I continue the investigation of movement as my chosen communication medium. The PhD I’ve earned will benefit my career by hopefully opening doors to academia as well as avenues to other aspects of society for which the PhD stands as representative of a level of achievement that is respected in many quarters. The study I conducted while at NUS serves as a model for future investigations I plan to continue to make into my chosen field.

As I leave the CNM Department and FASS, I would like to thank all those who made my journey possible and meaningful!

Invitation to Apply – SG100: The Think Future Programme

Welcome to the next phase of SG100: The Think Future Programme!

Through the Think Future Programme, you will be able to experience being a policy maker, identify a policy problem and work on it with your group on potential solutions. Each work group will be assigned academic, practitioner and operations mentor, who will serve as resource persons for your team in the process. At the end of it all, the winning team from each of the 4 main groups will present your findings at the Think Future Forum in January, and advocate your policies to your peers as well as an expert panel. Furthermore, the winning team will receive a certificate of distinction from the Guest of Honor, while all other participants will receive certificates of merit. Along the way, participants may also be asked to take on volunteer roles for the Think Future Forum.

There are 4 topics that you can choose from to be involved in. We have provided some guiding questions for you to think about the key issues as well. You are also more than welcome to develop other policy problems within each of the broad topic choice.

  1. Jobs and economy
  • How do we help our workforce stay relevant and productive amidst fast paced technological and global developments?
  • How can Singapore nurture an entrepreneurial core, which will create better paying and interesting jobs in Singapore?
  • Should the education sector make changes to the education system or curriculum to better prepare younger Singaporeans for the future?

2. Family and demography

  • What policies can help Singaporeans to better prepare for their retirement?
  • What policies can better support families to cope with raising a family and looking after their aged?
  • How can we introduce more work-life balance and redevelop models of care to allow for a more family-centric environment?

3. Society and identity

  • What is it to be “Singaporean”? Is there a common set of values and norms we can point to?
  • How should we introduce national education in the curriculum for students?
  • How do we ensure a sense of belonging given our growing foreign population?

4. Liveable cities

  • What policies will make Singapore a home that Singaporeans love?
  • What infrastructure should we develop to allow Singapore to continually support its population?

The indicative commitment level is as such:

  1. Policy Workshop (22 Aug)
  2. 1 -2 lecture(s) by Thought Collective on the topic you have chosen (TBC)
  3. 4 month mentorship programme (with a minimum of 3 physical meetings with your mentors from Aug-Nov)
  4. Think Future Forum in January (TBC)

To register, click here. Selected participants will be contacted.

Home Away From Home

The appeal of studying at two locations – Singapore and London – for my PhD was the main reason I chose the NUS-King’s College London Joint PhD programme.

I began my PhD at NUS, under the supervision of A/P John Phillips, which allowed me to be close to my field of study in local religious practices. After completing my local fieldwork, I moved to London to begin my writing process. There, I received supervision from Dr. Kélina Gotman and was part of the Performance Research Group of the English department.

Having two supervisors gave me fresh perspectives on my research and I was able to develop my thesis in ways that I had previously not considered. I was able to scrutinise my arguments more thoroughly and learnt how to articulate my ideas and theories to readers from different positions.

Strand Campus, King’s College London, Autumn 2012
Strand Campus, King’s College London, Autumn 2012

London life was eye-opening too; a cultural capital where a variety of performances, cultural events, and academic talks are constantly held. I developed an enjoyable routine where I would take rides in the notorious tube service, arrive at Dr. Gotman’s office (situated along a narrow corridor), where we would discuss various topics and tangents stemming from my thesis. After this, I went either to the theatres or spent the evening figuring out how to make Chinese food with the ingredients I could get from Tesco or Chinatown.

My wife and I: Gone shopping at Harrods during the Christmas period, 2012.
My wife and I: Gone shopping at Harrods during the Christmas period, 2012.

My work also became more multi-dimensional. Having two institutions meant that I had access to two libraries, worked with two supervisors who had very unique points of view, and became part of a network of international scholars, academics and practitioners who possessed noteworthy experiences I could learn from.

The past four years in the programme have broadened my worldview, and I returned with more knowledge and experiences that have come to redefine me as a researcher, and most of all, as a person.

The greatest advantage of this joint initiative is being able to interact with various people and research communities, and share our thoughts and interests with each other. There are opportunities to meet other graduate students as well. Both universities run short courses and skills-based workshops where students from different disciplines meet. I learnt how to shift from one paradigm to another, switch from one language to another, apply different skills in different situations and immerse in cultures both familiar and unfamiliar. The intercultural exchange between the two institutions and cultures benefitted me most.

Being away from my comfort zone and home was the biggest challenge. I had to learn how to adapt and adjust to my surroundings. Sometimes I would face issues that were very foreign to me and I had to learn to react accordingly. Completing your postgraduate studies is like running a long marathon race, and at certain points, you might find yourself alone in your journey. Thankfully those moments were rare and few in between, due to the large number of international students in both institutions. There were really basic problems to confront like finding a plumber to fix my boiler that broke down during the long and harsh winter!

Somerset House, which is next to my department building, Winter 2012. The whole space is converted to an ice skating rink every December.
Somerset House, which is next to my department building,
Winter 2012. The whole space is converted to an ice skating rink every December.


Maughan Library, King’s College London, Spring 2013.
Maughan Library, King’s College London, Spring 2013.

The Maughan library near the Strand campus is a massive labyrinth that houses an impressive collection of books, and was one of my favourite places to spend time in. My dual library accounts gave me access to digital versions of international journals and e-resources from the catalogues of both libraries. As a UK student, I could also access the British Library. I cannot stress how invaluable that is for a researcher.

It has been a really humbling and enriching experience as a whole. I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone through the Joint PhD at two outstanding institutions and I do hope prospective doctoral students would consider joining such a remarkable programme.

At Stratford-upon-Avon with friends from Japan, 2013.
At Stratford-upon-Avon with friends from Japan, 2013.

Contributed by: Alvin Lim, a Joint PhD student with King’s College London, who just graduated in July 2015.

Congratulations Class of 2015!

As you embark on a new journey of endless possibilities and opportunities, let us look back and celebrate this milestone with the people whom have all played a part in your journey here at FASS.

Here’s a short video proudly brought to you by NUS Students’ Arts and Social Sciences Club (FASS Club) and the Dean’s Office (External Relations & Student Life):

Our heartiest congratulations to all our graduates again!

A Clarion Call to Women Scientists to Share their Stories

Asian Scientist Magazine

Dr. Debalina Dutta, visiting fellow at the Department of Communications and New Media will be studying the role of gender in Science – specifically women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.

She noted that women in these sectors are often underrepresented and hopes to change that by highlighting more success stories of women scientists.

Dr Dutta also intends to study the motivations behind their career choice as well as their communication and negotiation styles in the working environment.

To date, she has already interviewed 30 women. However, she hopes that more women scientists or engineers will come forward to share their stories.

Click here to read the full article.

The Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Competition 2015 (Drama)

Enter your original unpublished play in The Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Competition (Drama) now and stand to win!

The biennial Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Prize is a gift from Dr Sylvia Goh to NUS in memory and recognition of her late husband Goh Sin Tub, one of Singapore’s best-known writers. The Competition is open to all members of the NUS community. The closing date for receipt of entries is at 5pm on Monday, 31 August 2015.


Interested? Please click here for the entry form.

For enquiries, please contact:

Email: ellanga@nus.edu.sg

NUS Psychology wins Regional 2015 SPS–ARUPS Student Research Award

NUS Psychology wins Regional 2015 SPS–ARUPS Student Research Award

The 5th ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies Congress, organized jointly by the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) and the ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies (ARUPS), took place in Singapore from 25 to 27 March 2015. Among 227 research entries that were submitted by psychologists and academicians in the region, and the 147 that were finally accepted for presentation, Mr. Yong Zhihao Paul, a recent NUS Psychology graduand and winner of the 2014 Singapore Prison Psychology Prize, has won the SPS-ARUPS Student Research Award this year for his submission titled Enhancing Online Learning Using Retrieval-based Practice: Implications for Singapore’s Educational System. This research was first pursued as Mr. Yong’s Honours Thesis at the NUS under the mentorship of Dr. Lim Wee Hun Stephen, one of NUS’s recent named Rising Stars and enlistees to her Honour Roll for Teaching Excellence.

The researchers commented: “A goal that modern Singapore pursues relates to meaningful advancements in our educational system, which would in turn determine the continued progress of our society, in terms of our workforce quality, national economy, and so forth. We constantly seek productive methodologies of education – instruction and learning – with the aim to discover optimal educational approaches. Educators typically rely heavily on learning activities that encourage elaborative studying, whereas activities that require students to retrieve and reconstruct knowledge are used less frequently and often for nothing more than testing purposes. Here we show that practising to retrieve information gained from online Coursera lectures actually, albeit counterintuitively, produced better long-term knowledge retention than did studying that information repeatedly. Based on the findings, there is a need to carefully (re)consider the notion and role of ‘testing’ in schools and contemporary – online – learning platforms, because testing potentially promotes learning. Our longer-term goal is to contribute meaningfully to shaping the educational landscape in Singapore through our research programme.”

Currently a psychologist at the Singapore Prison Service, Mr. Yong expresses his appreciation to his research supervisor. In his words to Dr. Lim: “You have this unique ability to connect with, and influence students to excel beyond the classroom. This has spurred me to do the same with my peers and juniors. Your traits of a distinguished educator are more than just life-changing. Your inspiration for excellence and your friendship transcend beyond the people you meet – it is ‘lives-changing’. I have not met any other educator who makes me feel truly confident in my work and in myself. You have instilled a burning passion in me to be a lifelong learner. I would not be half the psychology graduate I am today, without your inspiration and supervision.”

Dr. Lim, who also sits on the Executive Council of the NUS Teaching Academy, shares his personal thoughts: “The theme of the ARUPS Congress is Professionalising Psychology: Raising the Standards of Psychology for Nation Building. We are glad that our educational psychology research won an award. As we mourn the passing on of our nation’s first Prime Minister Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, we fondly remember Mr. Lee as someone who made every effort to strengthen, among the many other things, education in Singapore. In his speech to principals of schools at the Victoria Theatre on 29 August 1966, he shared about the kind of education he would like to have, if he were given superhuman powers:

The ideal product is the student, the university graduate, who is strong, robust, rugged, with tremendous qualities of stamina, endurance and at the same time, with great intellectual discipline and, most important of all, humility and love for his community; a readiness to serve whether God or king or country or, if you like, just his community.

As an academic and educator, I continue to do my part for the nation by nurturing students holistically, and preparing them for life after university. I believe all of us have a very specific role to play in nation building. Together, let us bring the legacy into the future, and keep on loving and building Singapore our home.”



Mr. Paul Yong (left); Ms. Clare Yeo (middle; President, Singapore Psychological Society); Dr. Stephen Lim (right)

FASS Anniversary Dinner: A Night of Asian Nostalgia

[NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (467 of 609)

FASS ended its year of celebration with a bang! The Faculty’s 85th Anniversary Dinner. centred on the theme of “Asian Nostalgia” was held at the NUS Society Kent Ridge Guild House on 22 November 2014. It was graced by Guest-of-Honour, NUS Board of Trustees Chairman, Mr Wong Ngit Liong, NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, NUS Provost Professor Tan Eng Chye, former deans of the Faculty and 300 alumni, faculty members, students and friends of the Faculty.

In her opening address, Professor Brenda Yeoh, Dean of FASS said, “This evening, we are in the mood for nostalgia, and I would like to take you along a short journey from the beginning to relive how it is that we have grown to become one of the largest Faculty on campus in terms of undergraduate numbers, with 17 Departments, 20 Major Subjects and 7,000 students…The Faculty certainly has cause for celebration, and indeed, all segments of the Faculty have celebrated our 85 years in their own way.”

Prof Yeoh brought the audience back to the founding of the Faculty as part of Raffles College in 1929 to the present day and our celebratory events for the year. She then followed up her address with a quiz for all the guests to see if they had been paying attention during her address!

We also launched two awards that night; the FASS Student Leadership Award (FSLA) and the Ann Wee NUS Social Work Alumni Award. Mr Wong Ngit Liong and Prof Tan Chorh Chuan led the launch for the FSLA which was set up in commemoration of the Faculty’s 85th anniversary to recognise the efforts of FASS student leaders beyond academic excellence by focusing on experiential learning and student life leadership within FASS and the wider community. We also held the Faculty’s first ‘silent auction’ of artworks contributed by faculty, alumni, student and friends that raised over $42,000 in support of the FSLA.

The Ann Wee NUS Social Work Alumni Award was launched by Prof Tan Eng Chye, Provost, NUS. He said, “This award is a reminder that while we strive for world class standards in research and innovation, ultimately the work we do impacts community and society. I hope that our alumni, not just those from Social Work, will be inspired by the selfless contributions from Mrs Wee and the social workers as symbolised in this award.” The idea of setting up the award and naming it after Mrs Ann Wee was mooted by several social work alumni and friends to reflect the memory and affection they have for her as the longest serving Head of the Department and to recognise the work of the many unsung heroes in the profession.

Starting with an energetic starting performance by the Jigri Yaar Bhangra, Singapore’s pioneer Bhangra Company, the guests were regaled throughout the evening with performances by the Faculty’s very own singers – Mithila, who is currently a postgraduate student in the Department of Economics, and Farisha, an undergraduate in the Faculty and winner of Singapore’s The Final One competition. Mithila sang a wonderful rendition of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep followed by the upbeat Mamma Mia. Farisha sang two songs, Soulman, and Hidup Ini Indah, a self-penned number from her album, “Aligned”.

Guests were also entertained by re:Percussions who performed the Chinese Drum Medley 2211, arranged specially for this performance. The medley is a collection of music played on Chinese percussion instruments that contain elements of traditional Chinese, Western, Indian and Malay percussion music at its core.

It certainly has been a busy year for our Faculty and we would like to thank everyone for their support for the past 85 years. We are also looking forward to the excitement the years ahead will bring!

[NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (107 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (194 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (206 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (255 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (281 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (283 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (321 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (335 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (340 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (362 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (370 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (412 of 609)
[NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (483 of 609) [NUS FASS] 2014.11.22 - wo Borders - (506 of 609)


First ever prize devoted to Singapore history

Singapore, 13 November 2014 – The Department of History at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has introduced the NUS Singapore History Prize, the first ever prize devoted entirely to Singapore history. Created in support of the national SG50 programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, the NUS Singapore History Prize will be awarded to an outstanding publication that will make a lasting impact on our understanding of the history of Singapore.

Mooted by Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS, the Prize aims to invigorate research relating to the history of Singapore. It seeks also to inspire the highest scholarly standards in research and publications that address the history of Singapore and also to promote critical interest in studying the history of Singapore.

Prof Mahbubani said, “History, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not dead. It re-surfaces politically from time to time, influencing both international affairs (for example, China-Japan relations) and domestic debates (for example, the struggle against the communists). Even as Singapore celebrates fifty years of peace and prosperity in 2015, there will be debates about Singapore’s history. The goal of this prize is to inspire new historical studies of Singapore and generate an informed historical discussion which will help future generations understand what was truly unique and special about Singapore’s history.

Professor Brenda Yeoh, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, hopes that the Prize will create a “multipier” effect that will spawn more research in all aspects of Singapore history, especial in the “histories of the people and ordinary lives of people”.

The NUS Singapore History Prize will be awarded every three years and the author of the winning publication will receive a cash award of S$50,000, which makes it the largest prize devoted to Singapore history.  The winner of the Prize will also speak at a public lecture hosted by the Department of History, during which the Prize will be presented. Nominations for the Prize will open from 1 January 2015 onwards, and the inaugural award will be presented in late 2017.

The Prize will be an open global competition and will accept nominations from any author or publisher of any work, published anywhere in English (written or translated). Nominations will have to be a book-length work of non-fiction; be authored or co-authored, rather than edited. The work should address any time period, theme, or field of Singapore history, or include a substantial analysis of any aspect of Singapore history as part of a wider story. The work will also need to be published at any time between when nomination opens and the final date for submission of nominations.

For the 2015-2017 competition, the Department of History has invited eminent Singaporeans and scholars to serve on the Jury Panel that will determine the winning publication. They are Ms Claire Chiang (Senior Vice President, Banyan Tree Holdings); Professor Peter Coclanis (Director, Global Research Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Professor Wang Gungwu (Chairman, East Asian Institute at NUS); and Professor Kishore Mahbubani. The Jury Panel will be chaired ex-officio by Prof Brian Farrell, the Head of the Department of History.

The NUS Singapore History Prize website will be available on 1 January 2015, which will provide further details on the Prize, nomination criteria, forms and other information. 

The NUS Singapore History Prize is now open for submission. Click here to access the page.