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

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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!

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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.

Celebrating Words

It was a gathering of an all-star cast of Singapore poets and writers under one roof. From Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo to author and poet Felix Cheong, the event was a celebration of our literary scene and proved that with their vibrancy and creativity, Singapore’s literary minds have much to share with us all. The event, Celebrating Words: A Symposium of Poetry Readings by ELL Alumni and Friends, was held on August 23 in NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Thirteen prominent writers were invited to share their experiences and answer questions from eager students and members of the public. The fourteen prominent poets, all alumni and friends closely associated with the Department of English Language and Literature (ELL), were Felix Cheong, Elangovan, Gwee Li Sui, Heng Siok Tian, Aaron Lee, Lee Tzu Pheng, Oliver Seet, Kirpal Singh, Paul Tan, Edwin Thumboo, Eric Valles, Cyril Wong, Wong Phui Nam, and Yong Shu Hoong. Celebrating Words was co-sponsored by the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation.

In his opening address, Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo reminisced about the “old days” decades ago with a whole gang of young poets who loved and honed their craft through the years. Some, as he noted, are not known for their poetry, but for other aspects of their public life, yet he remembers their creative output fondly. In the panel sessions, the thought on not being known for their poetry continues to be echoed. Lee Tzu Pheng spoke of no one in her parish knowing that she wrote poetry, almost for a decade. Paul Tan added that he wears the hat of a poet “awkwardly” especially as our day jobs may be most “unpoetic”.

In the next panel session, a student raised the very pertinent question about what the hardest part of writing poetry is. To Kirpal Singh, the greatest challenge to poetry was being honest, echoing Hemingway’s insistence on writing words that are honest and true. For Cyril Wong, it was to continue writing despite social rejection of his poetry and even being turned away from events and sessions. On the other hand, Elangovan found poetry writing not a challenge at all, because to him it was “zen” – something to bring peace and calm in routinely crafting a work to represent the communities he was looking at. Yong Shu Hoong agreed that if a poem took a great amount of effort, it might not be meant to be. These insights were very illuminating in showing the students in the audience what it takes to be a poet and how these local literary greats honed and perfected their craft.

The final panel launched into a spirited discussion on gender. A member of the audience enthusiastically brought up the male gaze, used in poetry and prose when the female is objectified as the target of the male character. In response, Felix Cheong discussed one of his works where he took on the point of view of a woman and turned the male gaze on himself in that sense. The discussion also delved fruitfully into the purpose of poetry, when Oliver Seet very aptly pointed out that the purpose of poetry is to project oneself into different points of view and cultures and take on varied voices.

In sum, the stellar cast of local literary greats provided the audience with a session of poetry and enlightening discussion. Ultimately, they prove more than ever, that the local literary culture is not just existent, but flourishing. As Prof Thumboo noted, poetry is about passion. With passion in the human psyche, there will be words to translate that passion into poetry.

blog 2The event was attended by almost 200 students from schools, universities and members of the public.

blog 3Panellists for the 1st of 3 sessions: (from left) Edwin Thumboo, Gwee Li Sui, Lee Tzu Pheng and Paul Tan.

blog 4Paul Tan: “It was very meaningful to come back to NUS and see all the familiar and friendly faces.”

blog 5Celebrating Words (from left): Organising Committee member Vincent Ooi, Cyril Wong, Kirpal Singh, Yong Shu Hoong, Elangovan, Wong Phui Nam, Kirsten Law from the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, Edwin Thumboo, Oliver Seet, Lee Tzu Pheng, Heng Siok Tian, Eric Valles, Paul Tan and Aaron Lee. Absent from photo were Felix Cheong and Gwee Li Sui.

blog 6Panellists for the 2nd session (from left):  Aaron Lee, Yong Shu Hoong, Elangovan, Cyril Wong and Kirpal Singh.

blog 7Panellists for the 3rd session (from left): Heng Siok Tian, Felix Cheong, Oliver Seet, Eric Valles and Wong Phui Nam.

blog 8Felix Cheong: “It was great to be back in NUS to do a reading.”