Facilitating Discussions


Nandabalan Panneerselvam, a teaching assistant at the Department of English Language and Literature, has received the Graduate Student Teaching Award Honour Roll. The award recognises sustained high performance in winning the award three times.

In a recent interview, he shares with us how each of his teaching experience varies from one another, the memorable moments he treasures and his hopes as a graduate tutor.

1) Why did you choose English Language and Literature?

There were a number of majors that interested me when I started my undergraduate studies – Literature, History, South Asian Studies, Theatre Studies, European studies. Soon, however, I found myself taking literature modules all the time! I simply could not stay away from any of the modules offered by the department. So perhaps it is more apt to say that Literature chose me! Literature felt like home. Furthermore, literature is naturally intertwined with many other disciplines, such as history, philosophy, geography and sociology, so to a certain extent I felt like I was studying all these subjects along with literature. It can be said that the study of literature involves an interest in discourse. More than the thing itself, we are fascinated by the way the thing is conceived and perceived, used and related to, talked about and discussed. This perfectly suits my temperament.

2) How did FASS and NUS contributed to your journey thus far?

I received my BA and MA degrees from NUS and am currently enrolled in a PhD programme offered by NUS. As such, there can be no doubt that NUS has shaped my thoughts, personality and motivations.  I’ve had the privilege of being taught by excellent lecturers, not just from my department but others as well, and they have ignited my passion for many subjects and topics. The conversations I have had with fellow students have been invigorating and have resulted in many epiphanies.

 3)  How do you feel about the award that you have achieved?

I feel honoured and humbled to receive this award. It has been a wonderful experience working as a teaching assistant. I hope this award indicates that I have succeeded in creating and sustaining a love for the subject in my students.

4) After teaching for three semesters, what is the difference between your most recent experience and the first time you became a teaching assistant?

The first time I was a teaching assistant was years ago when I was a Masters student. At that time, my teaching style tended to be rather top-down. I tended to control the direction of the discussion almost entirely. This has changed over the years. Now my teaching style has become far more collaborative. I let the students take charge of their own discussions and have learnt to be more of a facilitator, providing guidance and clarity when required.

 5) What are some of the observations you have made while teaching?

Mainly I have taught film modules. On one hand, students are very comfortable in discussing films, because they are so familiar with the medium. On the other hand, precisely because they are so used to being consumers of film, they frequently find it difficult to enter a more critical and academic frame of mind and the discussions can become rather banal. However, over the course of the module, I have noticed the students undergoing a noticeable change and they finally become students of film rather than remain as consumers.

 6) Describe a memorable moment in your teaching experience.

A student wrote to me, thanking me for letting the students have greater control over their discussions. She went on to inform me that usually she would be somewhat silent during tutorial sessions, but in my class she felt safe and motivated enough to express her own opinions. Her email made my day!

 7) What are your hopes as a graduate tutor?

As a graduate tutor, I wish to equip my students with enough knowledge and experience to start their own discussions and conversations, so that eventually they can make their own contributions to the field, be it in the form of an essay or one day, a thesis or a published book.

 8) What is the biggest takeaway out of these teaching experiences?

I think learning to relinquish control was the biggest takeaway from me. Rather than controlling the discussion, I have learnt to facilitate discussions, so that students can play a bigger role in their own education. I have witnessed the benefits of this strategy in the way this has aided the academic development of students.

9) What are your future plans with regards to your academic development?

I enjoy teaching tremendously so I envisage that teaching would still remain an important part of my life after the completion of my PhD. I also hope to write and publish academic articles on various topics that interest me.

Beyond conventional ways


Miguel Escobar Varela, has always been interested in theatre. Combining his passion for theatre and computer programming, Miguel – who also teaches a module UAR2207 Theatre and the World under the University Scholars Programme – decided to embark on an unconventional research project on Javanese Wayang Kulit using Digital Humanities.

The product of it is an interactive online dissertation that had bagged the Wang Gungwu Medal and Prize for the Best PhD Thesis in the Social Sciences/Humanities at the recent FASS Awards Ceremony 2015.

He shares with us the reasons behind his decision to pursue Theatre Studies and discussed the crux of his dissertation.

1) Why did you choose Theatre Studies?

I’ve always been interested in theatre as a way of understanding other cultures. I have been fortunate to live in different countries and theatre has always provided me with a unique mode of learning about other ways of looking at life. Theatre is about interactions: between people, between artistic forms and between ideas about the past and the future. I wanted to study theatre because I think it provides a fascinating insight into the way people think about themselves and others.

2) How has FASS and NUS contributed to your journey thus far?

The Faculty of Arts and Social Science at NUS has been a great place to study. As part of my PhD research I was able to be part of other research projects, to teach things I’m passionate about and to go on field trips to Indonesia, which was a fundamental part of my research project. I was very happy to be able to talk to researchers from other fields and attend talks by experts from many different places. I also had access to great resources at the library. Overall, it was the perfect place to conduct research, share it with others and get feedback.

3) How do you feel about the award that you have achieved?

It’s great honour. The dissertation was a combination of conventional theatre analysis and Digital Humanities (computational methods for the study of culture). The dissertation itself was submitted as an interactive website which includes a combination of diagrams, videos and texts. The methods and presentation format of the dissertation are relatively new, and I feel very encouraged by the fact that NUS chose to give the award to an unconventional, interdisciplinary dissertation.

4) Tell us more about your thesis. What is the crux of it?

The thesis speaks about new developments in the Javanese tradition of wayang kulit (leather puppet theatre). It is a very respected tradition but few young people watch the conventional eight-hour performances nowadays. However, many innovative dalang (puppeteers) have incorporated elements from popular culture and digital media into their performances in order to speak about socio-cultural change in Java. This performances are called wayang kontemporer [contemporary wayang]. For example, there is a performance which combines traditional narratives from the Mahabharata with Hip Hop music in order to explore inter-generational conflicts. My thesis was the result of a systematic study of wayang kontemporer performances that triedto identify patterns in the way the artists combined tradition and new media, and in the socio-cultural challenges they addressed. Even though the performances might seem similar at first glance, the study showed a wide spectrum of creative strategies and a very diverse range of attitudes towards topical concerns in Java. The thesis, in its interactive form, is now available at wayangkontemporer.com. The portal includes interactive diagrams, videos and the full text of the thesis. Users can also leave comments and I look forward to more feedback on this project.

5) What inspired you to conduct research in this particular area?

I first went to Indonesia many years ago to study the languages and performance traditions of Java. I knew a little bit about conventional wayang kulit and I thought it was a fascinating tradition. While I was in Yogyakarta, I happened to see a show that combined traditional puppets, actors and complex stage machinery with special effects. I had never seen anything quite like that and I decided to learn more about it. There were only a few books and articles that mentioned wayang kontemporer but I could not find any comprehensive study of these innovations. So the idea of starting a documentation project stayed with me and, a few years later, I decided that the best way to purse this was through a PhD project. Besides theatre, my other great passion is computer programming. I wanted to find a way to combine both theatre research and programming in my research. I started to read more about the emerging field of Digital Humanities, where researchers are often also programmers interested in using computational methods to study culture. This provided me with inspiration to continue with the project, which eventually became the interactive, online dissertation.

6) Were there any challenges while conducting this research? How did you overcome them?

The project demanded a wide combination of things: video recording, language training, field work, programming and writing. The work was fascinating but it was difficult to figure out how to turn all of these into a dissertation. Luckily, I had very good guidance from my supervisor and from many other people who read the texts, looked at the website and gave me feedback.

7) Were there any memorable moments?

The PhD research was exhausting but also fun. I travelled to every city in Java where I knew of anyone who had done innovative work within the wayang tradition. People often welcomed my curiosity; they happily answered my questions and allowed me to record their performances. I was often invited to share food and tea with many great artists, including not only the dalang but also film directors, writers, musicians and visual artists. My fondest memories of the PhD research are the conversations I had with people such as Sujiwo Tejo, Eko Nugroho, Enthus Susmono, Nano Riantiarno and the late Slamet Gundono.

8) Has your research findings influenced your lectures or your career?

Yes, I think this project has influenced the way I think about teaching and research. I try to encourage my students to do fieldwork and to learn how to use computational tools in their research. The research findings have also led to publications in different academic journals, both in theatre and in Digital Humanities.

9) Do you intend to further your research?

Definitely. For the PhD I tried to keep a narrow focus on contemporary wayang. But I also realized there are many other areas of Indonesian performance worthy of attention, and many ways in which digital tools can help further the study of theatre. I hope I can continue to explore these things through research and teaching.

10) What are your plans (career or research wise)?

I am working on a book project about the methodological implications of computational research methods for the study of theatre. I hope to continue learning about theatre (especially in Indonesia), teaching, and collaborating with people from different disciplines.

Picture Singapore 2015 – submissions open till 14 September 2015

Dear NUS shutterbugs,


As you already know, Singaporeans all over will be heading to the polls come 11 September!


To include your exciting Polling Day photographs, the Singapore Research Nexus has extended the submission period for our photography competition till 14 September 2015! Capture Singapore at the hustings (and the moments in between) and send your photographs to us!


Picture Singapore 2015 is now open to all current NUS students, faculty, and staff as well as all NUS alumni. Submissions are open till 14 September 2015 (Monday), 12pm.

For more information and a complete list of the T&Cs, please download the attached file or visit our Singapore Research Nexus Facebook page. We are also posting last year’s winning photos on our Facebook page to inspire you!
Picture Singapore 2015 TCs with FB (Updated)








Got a question? Ask us at singaporeresearchnexus@gmail.com.

picture singapore extended poster

Professor Wang Gungwu: China can learn from humanistic ideology of Confucianism

Lianhe Zaobao

Chairman of East Asian Institute, Professor Wang Gungwu, shared his views on the humanistic ideology of Confucianism from a historical perspective and its sustainable development as well as the relationship between Confucianism and governance, at a forum on Confucianism organised by the Institute of Public Policy at the South China University of Technology.

Getting an edge with enhanced research skills


“My undergraduate years with the Department of Psychology in NUS were filled with fun and lots of learning.  I was given a strong foundation in research skills which gave me an edge later on in my career.  The Doctor of Philosophy programme was a natural choice for me – I was returning to the place that gave me my passion for the study of psychology.  Thanks to strong academic teaching, supportive professors, and great support from classmates, I have successfully completed the programme and upgraded my research skills.  I look forward to furthering my interest in psychological research and contributing to the local data and knowledge on child and family issues with my newly updated skills.”

Quah Saw Han
(PhD, NUS, 2015)
Department of Psychology

Vast opportunities with Department of Japanese Studies

Maria Thaemar

“I am currently in my second year of PhD studies with the Department of Japanese Studies. The program strongly encourages multidisciplinary discussions and exchanges and trains students to conduct rigorous and relevant researches. Since joining NUS in 2014, I have grown so much as an academic, thanks to the support of my professors and peers. There are always opportunities provided by FASS and the Department of Japanese Studies to learn more about my field and build networks with like-minded scholars through study trips and international conferences, and to develop my personal attributes and professional skills through seminars and workshops. I am very honoured to receive the teaching award and this will give me an extra boost of motivation to further improve my teaching.”

Maria Thaemar Camanag Tana
PhD Student, Department of Japanese Studies
Recipient of the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award

Singapore team clinched 3 silver medals and 1 bronze medal at international Geography Olympiad

Lianhe Zaobao

A Singapore team has clinched three silver medals and one bronze medal at the 12th International Geography Olympiad (iGeo) held in Tver, Russia, from 10 to 18 August 2015. The silver medalists are from Raffles Institution and the bronze medalist is from the School of the Arts.

The students were selected for their outstanding performance at the National Geography Talent Development Programme and NUS Geography Challenge 2014, organized by the FASS Department of Geography and NUS Geographical Society last year.

The students’ participation in iGeo was supported by the FASS Department of Geography, National Institute of Education and Geography Teachers’ Association of Singapore.