Graduate study at FASS is priceless, simply because it does not revolve around the search for answers. This will seem a peculiar, almost contentious, statement to make – more so in a contemporary global milieu that emphasises creative responses and innovative solutions to a whole myriad of social, economic and political puzzles. Let me suggest however that an intellectual orientation merely trained to “solve problems” or “get results” often cannot help but fall into the trap of treating the conditions of the predicament as fixed, as parameters that must simply be worked with. This is where FASS, I have found, distinguishes itself most clearly. By actively cultivating a disposition that is focused on asking rigorous questions, interrogating issues and imagining possibilities, FASS undoubtedly sets its students apart.
Let me draw on my recent experience to offer just a glimpse of this. For the past year, my graduate work has converged on the issue of educational inequality in Singapore. In particular, I am interested in elite schools. My main concern when I began was how elite schools entrenched unequal educational opportunity. Alternatively, how could the educational landscape in Singapore be made more equitable? Convinced that my questions were important (as most graduate students are), I was confident (again, as most graduate students are—at the beginning at least) that I would produce “groundbreaking” work in this area. Yet, I quickly found myself stumped (as most graduate students often eventually find themselves). How was I even going to begin?
I decided to enroll in classes in Sociology, History and Political Science, in an attempt to frame my research in broader and possibly inter-disciplinary terms. Looking back, it is precisely these possibilities for interactions with graduate students from diverse backgrounds—not only through classes but through seminars and workshops—that have impacted my scholarly development the most; and this, in my opinion, must surely be FASS’s greatest offering. Soon, through debate and discussion with professors and peers I began to realise that tracing the historical formation of elite schools in Singapore would provide me with the crucial insights I needed to better engage my original concerns. My point here is basically that this is a line of inquiry I would never have reached on my own accord.
Still, why is this relevant? Put simply, this process has taught me skills that I believe will be invaluable not only for my remaining time in graduate school but also in my future endeavors. Let me conclude by mentioning just three. First, I have come to realise that thinking critically does not just involve the ability to consider multiple perspectives. It also means learning to convincingly defend and justify the merits of the framework one decides to employ. Next, I have learnt that the ability to effectively communicate ideas is often more valuable than the ideas themselves. Frequent interaction with faculty and students of similar as well as different disciplinary backgrounds has forced me to refine my skills in this area. Finally, I am convinced that the future will be increasingly shaped by collaborative endeavors rather than individual forays to understand and explain the world. Graduate studies at FASS will certainly have provided me with a critical foundation for my participation in that future.
By Christopher Navarajan S/O Selva Raj
Teaching Assistant at the Department of Sociology