Our SEP experience in Kansas University (Ng Shi Qi and Tan Junxian)

June 18, 2015

NUS Psychology recently set up a department-level student exchange program (SEP) with the Psychology department at Kansas University, and two of our majors (Ng Shi Qi & Tan Junxian) spent the Fall of 2014 there. They share their experiences here in pictures and words.

Shi Qi

CLIMATE & WEATHER

The inevitable conversation topic

I touched down at the Kansas City International Airport, stepping off the plane to receive literally the warmest welcome of my life. It was August and I was experiencing the height of the summer heat. Kansas is landlocked, which means that weather conditions are more extreme, relative to states located near the coasts. The torrid heat took me a while to get used to, being unaccustomed to the lack of humidity in the air.

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As the months past, summer transitioned to autumn (or fall as they call it here) amidst a rapidly falling temperature. The foliage around rejoices by bursting into a flurry of reds, oranges and yellows. I will always remember kicking up piles of leaves on the pavements (or sidewalks as they call it here) and falling in love with fall.

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However, in close pursuit of fall was winter, characterized by harsh winds, the blistering chill and the occasional scattering of snow. The weather tends to get more erratic towards the end of the year, with temperatures ranging from 20°F to 50°F within a single day. It necessitated the checking of the weather forecast before getting dressed for the day. You do not want to be waiting at the non-sheltered bus stops for 20 minutes, feeling your bones freeze under too little clothing.

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I was there for the fall semester of AY2013/14 from August to December, similar to that of NUS, although school starts a couple of weeks later. Spring semesters run from January to May. And to assuage any potential fears about natural disasters, KU is located at a region in Kansas characterized by uneven elevations relative to the rest of the States. This means that we hardly experience tornadoes of great magnitude. Yes, like the tornado that swept Dorothy’s house away.

KU AND ITS CLASSES

A taste of the American college system

The Office of Study Abroad (OSA) at the KU is excellent in their hospitality towards incoming exchange students. KU’s international program is one of the most established ones in the States despite the fact that I am one of the first students from NUS to be given the opportunity to participate in an exchange semester there. We arrived in KU two weeks prior to the start of the school term for the orientation program for international students. Together with over 100 students from all over the globe, I took part in a meticulously planned schedule of programs, effective in getting the last of the paperwork settled and easing me into the KU culture.

Since this is a department-level exchange program, I studied mainly Psychology classes during my time at KU. I took a Social Psychology class, conducted in a large lecture and tutorial format, similar to what we have in NUS. I also had the opportunity to attend more senior level classes which were significantly smaller in size and are conducted in 3-hour-long blocks, much like the honours modules offered in NUS.

My favourite class was Positive Psychology, with just 8 students in total, affording an intimate setting conducive for sharing and learning. The classes and assignments were structured in ways that emphasized the application of concepts taught in the classrooms to the students’ personal lives. My final project for the Positive Psychology class was to write a 10-page paper about my personality traits in relation to my life. At the end of the class, I have emerged with a solid understanding of the theories taught in the class and more substantial knowledge about myself.

In KU, the continuous assessment (CA) component is a major part of class assessments. Some common methods of CA are weekly quizzes, weekly reading responses and fortnightly essays, which can come up to about 60% of the grades. Most of the classes I took required the submission of research papers (a minimum of 5 pages). I had the whole semester to work on this, which contributed to the final grade component.

LAWRENCE

A piece of my heart was left in this town

The University of Kansas (KU) is located in Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence is a college town, about an hour’s drive away from Kansas City (and also the airport). This means that majority of the town is populated by college students attending KU, who will leave the place during winter or summer breaks. I adore the quaint and unique character Lawrence possesses, a refreshing contrast to the Singapore city I had grown up in. I spent most of my time in the rolling hills of the KU, amidst school buildings of beautiful architecture.

 

 

Another of my favorite places to hang out was the downtown area, also known as “Mass Street”. The street is lined with hip and interesting shops running the gamut from cafes serving superb brunches to theatres showcasing old films and the beloved buffalo wings joints.

Getting around Lawrence was a hassle initially, as public transportation is limited, given that most people drive around the town. Bus shelters were also scarce, making it almost impossible to endure the long waiting times when the weather got cold. Getting to the airport in order to travel to other states required advanced planning and additional fees. I am grateful for the kindness of the people I’ve met in KU who owned automobiles of their own and were enthusiastic to show me around. And it wasn’t difficult to make friends either. Americans are known for their warmth and friendliness. A “Hello, how are you?” had felt odd during my first week in Kansas but as the culture shock rubbed off, I witnessed how easily friendships had been forged by that mere greeting, accompanied by an inviting smile on the faces.

Living on campus was also a great opportunity to meet local freshmen and international students. I stayed at McCollum Hall, which (unfortunately) will be demolished this year to make way for a newer building. Situated on Daisy Hill, within the KU campus together with several other residence halls, the campus shuttle service stopped right at the doorstep of the hall. This is extremely important during winter. Staying in a residential hall was an incredible experience. I had some of the best memories with my fellow residents there. After a long day at school, it was always such a joy to be able to hang out with my floor mates in the warm and spacious student lounges.

The campus accommodation came with meal plans which allowed access to the school’s dining hall, lovingly called “Mrs. E’s” by the students. I was certainly spoilt for choice with the plethora of food choices confronting me daily – onion rings, French fries, mac and cheese, pasta, pizza slices, steak, cakes and ice-cream etc. On special occasions like Thanksgiving and Halloween, traditional American holiday food was also served at the cafeteria.

EXPERIENCES

Culture shock and more in Kansas

 

Junxian

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My journey to the University of Kansas (KU) started like many other Student Exchange Programme (SEP) journeys: I had heard about an exchange that was solely reserved for psychology students with an American college. American researchers and universities have always been at the forefront of psychological research; this was my chance to go abroad to learn from them and get a good sense of how psychology is taught and research is done overseas.

I checked KU out and it seemed like a really nice place! Beautiful scenery, fields of corn and sunflowers, nice cool weather. Plus, it was right in Kansas, in the center of the United States – I hoped that would make travelling to other states more convenient.

But of course, nothing is always as perfect as it seems. I still remember sitting in a car being driven from Kansas City to Lawrence, where the university town is located. It took over one and a half hours! The sunshine was piercingly hot – Kansas is a place where weather extremes are very common. Summer heats can go up as high as 36 degrees Celsius, and Fall/Winter temperatures can drop as low as -15 degrees. Another thing that took getting used to was the lack of public transport – and trust me, Kansas is so big that you need to drive close to one and a half hours to get to the nearest “international” shopping mall.

KU however had an awesome orientation programme. I met a whole bunch of really cool international friends! I made friends from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the U.K., Venezuela, Peru and Argentina. I was also pleasantly surprised by the warmth and hospitality shown to me by the school administrators. Right from the start, my emails were promptly replied by Kate Gerken from the International Students Office. KU also had a programme where exchange students are paired up with a buddy – I was paired up with a Thai-American senior – needless to say, she brought me to try some really awesome Thai food around Lawrence!

I stayed in Naismith Hall during my exchange. At first, I was apprehensive about my new American roommate – how would he be like? Would we get along? To my pleasant surprise, I did get along very well with Jared, my roommate from Illinois. He’s from out of state, so he was as lost I was in the first few weeks of school. We became pretty good friends with each other throughout my stay in Kansas.

Classes in KU were a refreshing experience. American students are expected to be vocal in class, and anyone can stop the professor at any time to ask any question, even seemingly unrelated ones. I thought I was vocal back in classes in NUS, but American students were so much more willing to ask questions compared to me. I also felt a great sense of passion from my professors. My professors teaching cultural, clinical and positive psychology were very much at the forefront of their respective fields. As the semester over in the US takes around 15 weeks, we managed to cover many interesting topics and I felt that I was given the freedom to learn without an overt focus on exams and tests like in NUS. I also garnered important information about pursing a Masters or PhD in the United States from my professors. One class had at least four entire weeks dedicated to coaching students on how to apply for graduate school and writing an academic curriculum vitae.

During my free time, I also made use of the various resources that KU had to offer – for example, the awesome Art Museum and Natural History Museum on campus. I would make my way over there to relax in between classes when I had the time. The gym in KU is also very good. Close to two entire levels of floor space devoted to all the weights and machines you could dream of. If you a planning to use the gym often, I advise that you should stay in Naismith Hall, it is only a 5 minute walk away from the gym and swimming pool.

Overall, my experience at KU was a pleasant one. I had it hard at first, having to get used to the weather, the lack of public transport and entertainment possibilities, the food and the education system. But I survived and thrived! And I am very sure future NUS students who are planning to follow in my footsteps will be able to do so to.

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Visiting speaker Dr. Shelley McMain’s research seminar on 13 July

June 17, 2015

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4 Graduate Student Teaching Award Winners

May 27, 2015

We are pleased to announce that four of our graduate students have recently won the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award. Charlene Fu is receiving the award for the third time, and has been placed on the Honor Roll. Congratulations!!

Fu Siling Charlene
Alethea Koh Hui Qin
Eri Sasaki
Vania Yip Ting

Since Eri is a first-time winner, we also took the opportunity to find out what makes her such an effective teacher.

What inspires you to teach?

1. My teachers. I am fortunate to have had nurturing teachers who have made a difference in my life; in fact, I can confidently say that these teachers have largely contributed to the person I am today––they changed the way I see the world, fueled lifelong passion in certain fields, and encouraged me to find and pursue my career dreams. Hence, I understand that teachers can touch students’ lives in the present and far into the future, and I hope that in my own little ways, I can also make a positive difference in my students’ lives.

2. My students. There is something alluring to watch my students learn and grow intellectually alongside myself. Furthermore, little acts of appreciation by students, such as a simple “thank you” after class, as well as encouraging notes and email messages are always heartening and only motivate me to be a better teacher for my students.

What are some of the major challenges you face as a teacher?

I am new to teaching and it was not long ago that I was on the other side of the classroom as an undergraduate student. Thus, I sometimes feel inadequate of my abilities and knowledge as a teacher. At the same time, I understand that confidence is necessary for effective teaching. Building self-confidence is still a work-in-progress for myself. I strive to be well acquainted with the tutorial content, and to also learn to be at ease with uncertainty when asked a question I do not know the answer to.

Why do you think you are an effective teacher?

I am honored to receive the GSTA award, but I am still learning to be an effective teacher. For now, I believe that a fundamental trait of an effective teacher is caring for students. A genuine concern for students motivates teaching with clarity with the goal of helping students understand the teaching material. At the same time, it fosters a comfortable learning environment that encourages an open exchange of ideas in class. Of course, caring for students goes beyond the teaching materials––I also strive to take on the role of a mentor to my students, such as helping students explore possible future directions, of which are opportunities that I greatly treasure.


Brown Bag Talk by Mr. Melvin Ng on 15 May

May 11, 2015

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Speaker: Mr. Melvin Ng

Title: The Past and Future are in Your Hands: How Gestures Affect Our Understanding of Temporal Concepts

Date: Friday, 15 May, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)

Abstract:

Spatial metaphors are commonly used by individuals to represent and reason about time in daily conversations. In English, such spatial metaphors are arranged primarily along the sagittal axis. These metaphors are often paired with gestures that reveal the possible axes along which our internal conceptualisation of time may be aligned against. Previous experimental investigations have commonly found that time is represented along the lateral axis in English speakers, despite an absence of metaphors arraying time along this axis. One of the issues faced by such investigations is the usage of a forced spatialization of responses as proxy to investigate space-time associations in the mind. The usage of such specific motor responses may compel participants to adopt these convenient frames for temporal representation transiently. As such, their findings could have been a result of their experimental methodology, rather than how individuals actually represent time in their minds. The present study attempts to use gestures as primes to investigate how English-Mandarin bilinguals conceptualize time by tapping on their temporal concepts directly. Participants were required to make temporal classifications of words after watching a gestural prime. Results from our experiments into the lateral and sagittal planes revealed effects of congruency along the sagittal axis, but not the lateral axis. This suggests that individuals primarily represent time most strongly along the sagittal axis when not constrained by a particular response format. Implications for models of how individuals represent time as well as methods of investigating how time is represented in the mind are discussed.

About the Speaker:

Melvin Ng is a Masters candidate pursuing his M.Soc.Sci at the Department of Psychology at NUS under the supervision of Dr Winston Goh. His main research examines how gestures may serve as a means by which to access cognitive representations in the mind.


Social Anxiety Management Program (Organized by CHPC)

May 8, 2015

Social anxiety group flyer


Brown Bag Talk by Ms. Alethea Koh on 8 May

May 4, 2015

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Speaker: Ms. Alethea Koh

Title: The Effect of Awe on Negative Affect towards Lost Possessions 

Date: Friday, 8 May, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)

Abstract:

Awe is a relatively less studied emotion and there are only a handful of studies examining its effects on people. As awe has been theoretically linked to experiences of vastness and spirituality, the present study proposes that awe helps individuals alleviate their negative affect towards possessions that are lost. The findings show that participants experiencing awe had less negative feelings after both imagined and actual loss of their possessions. The results also suggest that awe may be able to produce the same alleviating effect as happiness.  Implications of awe as an alternative means for individuals to cope with loss and other future directions will be discussed.

About the Speaker:

Alethea Koh is a Masters candidate pursuing her M.Soc.Sci at the Department of Psychology at NUS under the supervision of Dr Eddie Tong. Her interests stems from how positive emotions can be applied to help individuals strengthen their character and values. Her current research examines how awe can help individuals overcome experiences of material loss.


A/P Mike Cheung’s new book is out!

April 27, 2015

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A/P Mike Cheung’s new book titled “Meta-Analysis: A Structural Equation Modeling Approach” is out. It presents a novel approach to conducting meta-analysis using structural equation modeling.

http://mikewlcheung.github.io/


Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Luca Onnis on 15 April

April 13, 2015

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Speaker: Dr. Luca Onnis

Title: Learn locally, act globally

Date: Wednesday 15 April, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)

Abstract:

Human learning is subserved by powerful cognitive mechanisms for extracting statistical regularities in the environment. However, not all possible statistical regularities can be computed at any one time, especially by the young developing brain. When several streams of regularities present themselves, which will be learned and which ignored? In this talk I propose that statistical learning proceeds incrementally, using small windows of opportunity in which the relevant relations are those that hold over spatially and/or temporally neighboring objects, sounds, or other events. Results from behavioral experiments and computer models suggest that temporal contiguity and contrast are effective constraints for learning, and that the order of presentation of learning materials can make a significant difference. In addition, the time window can be influenced by the dynamics of attentional focus as guided by social interaction. In interactions with caregivers, the structure to be learned is typically presented redundantly, which fits well working memory constraints of a young learner. In particular, a ubiquitous aspect of parent–child interaction is the use of utterances with partial repetitions that cluster in time (variation sets). I end by sketching an ongoing project, in which we ask whether individual differences in parental use of variation sets predict successful language learning.

About the Speaker:

Luca Onnis directs the LEAP lab (http://leaplab.hss.ntu.edu.sg) in the Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at NTU. His research focuses on basic mechanisms of human learning in both children and adults as they relate to language evolution, acquisition, and processing.


Brown Bag Talk by Mr. Alexander Yuen on 10 April

April 9, 2015

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Speaker: Mr. Alexander Yuen

Title: Profiles of Amazement

Date: Friday April 10, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)

Abstract:

The feeling of amazement is an experience we have all felt at some points of our lives. Amazement can occur in a variety of situations ranging from a simple discovery that the mimosa plant closes when touched to something complex like comprehending how a heavy object like the aircraft can stay in the air. However, what exactly is amazement and how is it different from related states like awe, surprise, confusion and amusement? The talk will discuss a study that examined the experience of amazement where participants recalled events pertaining to amazement (and other states) and rated along several appraisal dimensions, this study identified various core appraisal dimensions specific to amazement and established them to be different from its related states.

About the Speaker:

Alexander Yuen is a Master Degree candidate working on his dissertation with Dr Eddie Tong. With his background as a corporate magician, he draws anecdotal inspirations from his performances toward the current research that pertains to the experience of amazement.


Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Lidia Suárez on 8 April

April 6, 2015

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Speaker: Dr. Lidia Suárez

Title: Recognition Memory for New Characters and Words by Bilinguals with Different Writing Systems

Date: Wednesday April 8, 12-1pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)

Abstract:

Distinct orthographies demand and promote specific cognitive skills to a different extent. For example, greater visual memory ability has been associated with reading logographic languages (Tavassoli, 2002), and better phonological awareness with alphabetic languages (Rickard Liow, 2014). Moreover, studies have focused on how the use of different scripts affect the learning of new logographic words. For instance, Ehrich and Meuter (2009) found faster response latencies during new-character recognition by Chinese-English bilinguals as compared to English-French bilinguals. However, the bilinguals’ performance was equal regarding recognition accuracy and syntactic processing speed. Those results suggested that a logographic background might facilitate basic processes involved in character identification (e.g., visual speed and storage of visuospatial information) rather than higher-order processes involved in lexical access. The current study explored the influence of the use of different writing systems on basic processes of visual memory, and recognition memory of new characters and words. Participants were 243 English monolinguals and bilinguals literate in English and another alphabetic, alphasyllabic, or logographic language. The first hypothesis predicted that logographic users would show visuospatial memory enhancement and advantage at recognising new characters. Results showed that logographic users performed better than the average of the other three groups in visuospatial memory tasks. However, memory recognition for characters was similar. This suggests that experience in reading Chinese might facilitate rapid processing and storage in short-term memory, but not long-term memory. The second hypothesis compared biscriptal bilinguals (English-Chinese and English-Tamil [or Hindi]) in order to understand whether memory enhancement could be related to the use of Chinese or the use of two scripts. The results revealed that greater memory and character-learning performance were associated with the use of Chinese and not alphasyllabic language. Thus, it could be that experience with alphasyllabic script might have prompted the participants to use inadequate strategies when learning new character-like forms. The third hypothesis tested bilinguals’ learning facilitation of new spoken words. The results showed that bilinguals’ new-word recognition response latencies and accuracies were higher than the monolinguals’. This supports previous findings that relate bilinguals’ enhanced phonological capacity to a broad phonological repertoire stored in long-term memory.

About the Speaker:

Lidia Suárez is a senior lecturer of Psychology and registered research supervisor at James Cook University. She received her M.Soc.Sci. and Ph.D. from the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include bilingualism, psycholinguistics, second language acquisition, linguistic relativity, and word recognition. Lidia is a member of the Language Research Centre at the Cairns Institute, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. She also collaborates with researchers from the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (A*STAR), and is a consultant for the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) in Singapore. She has published her work in journals such as Psychonomic Bulletin and Review and Memory and Cognition.