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!

Gaining Perspectives


(Hsuyin (left) with Associate Professor Fellow Mrs Ann Wee, Associate Professor Ngiam Tee Liang and Dr Alex Lee, from the Social Work Department)



(Far left: Associate Professor Esther Goh joins in the photo session with us)

“Coming back to school after a long hiatus was a new and enriching experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed the learning and hearing new perspectives in considering issues affecting social services and social policy.  The Master in Social Work allowed me to delve deeper into social issues and offered flexibility in combining electives from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.  It was invigorating to learn from and interact with lecturers and students from various disciplines.  I only wished I had done my Masters earlier!”

Ms Marie Yeo Hsuyin
(MA, NUS, 2015)
Department of Social Work

Reading Social Sciences in FASS: What to Expect


In an ever-changing landscape of information and communication technologies, Social Sciences has never been more important as it seeks to understand the dynamics of interactions within a society. For students who are particularly interested in this area of study, FASS offers a variety of programmes that will provide a solid understanding of these interactions.

Such programmes include Communications & New Media, Economics, Geography, Political Science, Psychology, Social Work and Sociology.

Communications & New Media

The Department of Communications and New Media recognises the ever-changing new media landscape that takes place worldwide and offers a flexible, innovative and dynamic programme that prepares their graduates exactly for that.

It is the only programme in Singapore and Southeast Asia that offers a concentration in communications and new media studies within a single department.

Students are often encouraged to take up modules outside the department and beyond FASS (e.g. School of Computing and the School of Business) to be more competent.

Students can select between modules such as NM3210 Cybercrime and Society where students will look into the growing usage of ICTs for illegal activities and its countermeasures and NM4230 Communication for Social Change where they will critically examine the role of collective learning, information sharing, public participation and dialogue in designing, implementing and evaluating communication strategies for social change.

To find out more about other modules, click here.


Offered by the Department of Economics, one of the largest and leading departments of Economics in the Asia-Pacific region, the programme comprises a wide range of specialised sub-fields of the discipline and esteemed faculty members dedicated to impart both knowledge and skills that are applicable to various employment sectors.

Some of the modules that the programme offers include FMA1202D Taking Risks: Economics, Psychology and Biology where students seek to understand how people take risks through the role of biology,

Students can also expect to examine the central business organisations, keiretsu and chaebols that brought economic success to Japan and Korea in EC3375 Economy and Business of Japan and Korea.

To find out more about other modules, click here.


Established as Asia’s leading Geography department, the Department of Geography offers modules that are organised along four areas of enquiry – environmental processes and change, global political economy, society and culture as well as regional specialisations (with a focus on Asia) and is equipped with the latest facilities to facilitate better learning.

Beyond theoretical learning, students get the chance to travel to countries in the region to conduct field work or take part in home-stays, visits to local universities and key sites of interests such as in GE3230A Field Studies in Geography: Southeast Asia – a module conducted over six weeks in Thailand in partnership with Chiangrai Rajabhat University.

Throughout the course of study, students will be introduced to the functions of the biophysical environment of the city state of Singapore in SSA2215 The Biophysical Environment of Singapore before moving on to explore the role of space in the interplay of different social groups in relation to daily life in GE3241 Geographies of Social Life.

To find out more about other modules, click here.

Political Science

The Department of Political Science, offers a growing number of module selections for students who are interested to specialise in comparative politics, international relations, political theory and public administration.

Students of Political Science are trained to be broad-minded and sophisticated thinkers through modules such as PS2249 Government & Politics of Singapore where they will examine the key areas in Singapore’s domestic politics and issues related to nation building and PS3237 Women & Politics where they will critically examine established political theories and ideologies concerned with gender equality and representation.

To find out more about other modules, click here.


The Department of Psychology provides a comprehensive basic academic grounding in Psychology and hones the students’ empirical skills needed to undertake behavioural studies.

The curriculum comprises modules such as PL2131 Research & Statistical Methods which equips students with critical thinking and analytical skills for empirical research and FMA1201N Music on the Brain which provides an insight into the processes involved behind our reception to music.

To find out more about other modules click here.

Social Work

The Department of Social Work curated a programme framework that emphasises on the development of generic clinical expertise to ensure their graduates are ready for the social work profession at the direct-service level.

Students learn through cognitive and experiential knowledge in SW1101E Social Work: A Heart-Head-Hand Connection; visits to social service organisations is an integral and compulsory part of this module.

Students will also explore the nature of mental health and human dysfunction in SW3217 Mental Health and Illness and get a hand in developing their own public education campaign through copywriting, graphics and design, visual display and photography exercises in SW3203 Communication & Public Education.

To find out more about other modules, click here.


The Department of Sociology offers a comprehensive curriculum comprising a rich diversity of modules that focuses on exciting contemporary issues, ranging from popular culture, media and communications, race and ethnic relations, gender and sexuality.

This rigorous curriculum trains the graduates to analyse and critique the social dimension applicable to various aspects of individual and group behaviour in different social settings and contexts so that they will develop a good understanding of sociology needed to analyse social phenomena.

In FMA1201Q Freshman Seminar: Love Actually? The Social Construction of Romantic Love, students will engage in critical understanding of romantic love and address the impact of class and stratification on contemporary societies in SC2204 Social Inequalities: Who Gets Ahead?

Students will also be able to do a comparative study on deviance in SC3229 Comparing Deviance: Perverts & Scandalous Improprieties.

To find out more about other modules click here.

Archeologists in Need of Funds and Resources

The Straits Times

Department of Southeast Asian Studies Associate Professor John Miksic and Mr Lim Chen Sian from the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies hope that more funding support will be made available for the discipline’s activities and staff over the next 50 years.

In the article, Assoc Prof Miksic mentioned that they have been dogged for years by the lack of interest in the field and scant resources.

He shared that he wants Singapore to be a regional hub for the field and added that they have developed a system of analysis over 30 years. This allows for collaborations in building a picture of South-east Asia together.

To read the full article, click here.

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.

Kleptocracy and Media Control — Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

The Malay Mail Online

In his article contribution, Department of Sociology Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas discussed whether or not Malaysia is a kleptocracy in light of the recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report alleging massive corruption involving the upper echelons of the political and corporate elite of Malaysia.

To read the full article, click here.

A Harvard-Yenching Institute Visiting Fellowship Programme Experience by Masao Imamura

From July 2012 to January 2014, I was at Harvard-Yenching Institute (HYI) as a Visiting Fellow. I wrote almost all of my doctoral dissertation in the HYI office, right next to the beautiful and historic Andover Theological Seminary in the northern corner of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The resources available at Harvard are extensive. It has the largest academic library system I have ever seen. Not only do they have an incredible amount of books, they have excellent services and they organise an impressive array of events.

HYI throws great parties. And you get to eat a lot of seafood. With Prof. Suradech Chotiudompant from Chulalongkorn University, who was a HYI Visiting Scholar for 2012-2013.”
HYI throws great parties. And you get to eat a lot of seafood. With Prof. Suradech Chotiudompant from Chulalongkorn University, who was a HYI Visiting Scholar for 2012-2013.”

During my time there, I took the opportunity to learn African Studies – a field that broadened my horizons beyond Southeast Asian Studies. I was also fortunate enough to be able to consult with some renowned professors at Harvard who were willing to make time to answer my questions. The HYI is extremely supportive of intellectual efforts, and the staff are absolutely superb. With HYI’s support, I was able to invite a scholar from another university in Massachusetts whose expertise was close to my own research topic. HYI also assisted me in contacting and visiting an esteemed professor at Boston University.

Distinguished scholars often came to give talks. I had the chance to meet and converse with some of them whom I had always dreamt of seeing in person. Unfortunately, I was preoccupied with my dissertation and had to give some courses a miss. At times, I will go to events afterwards to unwind after work.

It snows a lot in New England. How much it snows is not funny.”
It snows a lot in New England. How much it snows is not funny.

A greatly refreshing thing I love about HYI and Harvard at large is its commitment to the humanities and fine arts. There are not only excellent museums, but also countless events that involve academics as well as novelists, poets, artists, and musicians. There are so many concerts throughout the year! The main concert hall at Harvard is a few minutes’ walk from the HYI office. On many days, I worked on my dissertation during the day in the office, went to an academic talk in the late afternoon, and then went to a concert in the evening. One day I went to a talk about American legal history, and in the audience I saw Yo-Yo Ma!

But the spring comes and it is beautiful!
But the spring comes and it is beautiful!

Harvard is for those who particularly love the cold weather and snow. It is located in the town of Cambridge – a beautiful place with full of historical buildings for those who love to explore as well.