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

Contributing to the NUS Learning Experience


“I am currently doing my PhD degree under the guidance of Dr Trevor Penney from NUS and Dr Po-Jang (Brown) Hsieh from Duke-NUS. As a Russian student who studied and worked in the U.S., I was always fascinated with Asia and considered the NUS programme a natural extension of both my interests and academic career as NUS has a very competitive research focus. FASS has been very welcoming from the first days of study and the modules I have taken from the Department of Psychology were nothing short of exceptional. Since the graduate programme here places a lot of importance on teaching, I knew I would have to acquire some skills from the very start to do it right. In this, both the teaching workshops organised by FASS and the department, as well as some reading on the side, were of great help. The students’ intelligent questions, enthusiasm and feedback were extremely rewarding for me. I feel honoured to receive the teaching award and to contribute to the reputation of NUS as one of the finest universities in the world in terms of learning experience.”

Egor Ananyev
Graduate Student, Department of Psychology
Recipient of the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award

Flourishing under guidance and supportive environment


Annisa Ridzkynoor Beta, a graduate student of the Cultural Studies in Asia programme, is a recipient of the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award – an award that recognises and rewards the teaching efforts of FASS graduate students.

Annisa has facilitated the module ‘Social Capital’ together with Dr Vincent Chua (Department of Sociology) for a semester.

Recently, we caught up with her to congratulate her on the award and to find out more about her thoughts on pursuing a graduate programme with FASS as well as her experience as a Teaching Assistant.

1. Why did you choose Cultural Studies in Asia?

It was essential for me, when I was looking for PhD programmes, to study in an environment that will allow my research interests to flourish, not just to have a degree. The programme’s focus on Asia allows me to learn about and further investigate important notions in Asian context that are not taken for granted for its ‘Asian-ness’.

My main research interest is on Muslim women in Indonesia, specifically on their movements and subjectivity. Being in Cultural Studies in Asia PhD programme has allowed me to critically read previous studies about Muslim women in Southeast Asian context. There has always been a conscious effort in the programme to rethink ideas such as identity, representation, power relations, subject formation, and politics of the body in Asian context, and I found it indispensable for my research progress.

Thus, I found Cultural Studies in Asia fitting to my criteria to further my study.

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

Taking different modules from different departments has shown me how supportive FASS and NUS has been for an interdisciplinary student like me. The scholarship scheme, campus facilities, as well as events and seminars organised in the university has facilitated my intellectual growth, and I believe that FASS and NUS have provided me the most vital contributions I need as a young scholar.

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

I am grateful, and I cannot express how happy I am to receive the award. Assisting Dr Vincent Chua for a semester has opened up a lot of fields of study that I have not thought of before.

Knowing that the module ‘SC3225 Social Capital’ was new for me, Dr Chua was really kind and encouraging, and his sessions were engaging, allowing me to position myself not only as a Teaching Assistant but also as a student of the class itself. Being awarded for an opportunity to learn has made me realized how lucky I am as a PhD student in a very supportive institution like NUS.

4. Can you tell us more about your experience as a Teaching Assistant?

Starting the semester with the module was a bit challenging. However, Dr Chua was very supportive and I felt involved and engaged with the materials. My students were also very interested in the topics in the module, so I felt challenged to work harder as a teaching assistant. For the tutorials, I looked into extra materials, and the students were also asking stimulating questions, and by the end of the semester, I felt like I learnt a whole new set of knowledge.

5. Were there any challenges during the course of teaching?

Not really. Dr Chua provided guidance and information, and students in my tutorial were cooperative and interested in the module.

6. What were the memorable moments?

I always enjoy receiving emails from students in my tutorials. They inquire about issues that may not be addressed in the lectures or tutorial sessions, and I found those electronic discussions motivational for me as a teaching assistant.

 7. Has the teaching experience changed your outlook on learning, academic interests or personal aspirations? How so?

Yes, mainly because ‘Social Capital’ was a field that prioritises quantitative analysis, and I have been accustomed to humanities’ qualitative approach in doing research. I learnt that social inequality can also be critically approached via quantitate based research, and for me this opened up more areas in understanding gender issues.

8. What are your future plans with regards to your academic development?

I plan to earn my degree in the next two years, and to focus on developing my research interest through research projects and teaching.

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

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.

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.