Into the Minds of Local Luminaries

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Discover also in ScholarBank@NUS, these 10 theses written by local famous personalities while they were students at NUS. Together, these 10 theses represent scholarship from the last 50 years and we hope that it would be an interesting experience for you as you journey down memory lane.

Goh Chok Tong

Department: Economics

Degree conferred: Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Year: 1964

A Statistical Analysis of the Production Response of Malayan Fishermen to Price Changes

The purpose of this academic exercise is to employ statistical methods to study the behaviour of the supply and price of fish, as a preliminary, to the more important analysis of the production response of Malayan fishermen to price changes.

Thoughts from Goh Chok Tong

I was good in statistics. At least that was what my lecturer, Dr S. C. Fan thought. He suggested that I do a regression analysis of the relationship between the supply and price of fish for my academic exercise. I gladly accepted. The statistical series was readily available and I did not have to crack my head to look for an appropriate research project.

But there was no computer then so doing the regression analysis manually took some work!

I must have met Dr Fan’s expectation. After my graduation, he asked me to help him as a part-time tutor in Statistics! I could not oblige him as my job in the Ministry of Finance kept me busy.

Department: Sociology

Degree conferred: Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours)

Year: 2004

Virtual Intimacy and the Paradoxes of Anonymity

The advent of the Internet and the myriad communication tools associated with it has opened up worlds of possibilities in the area of social interaction. There exists a wealth of literature both within and without the social sciences with regards to the effects that these technologies … have on the collective and the individual. Prominent in this literature are three themes:
i) CMC is inherently anonymous,
ii) CMC allows for the development of intimacy between its users and
iii) anonymity and intimacy are antithetical to each other.

Thoughts from Joanna Dong

My mother has always been supportive of my interests in performing. However, when I graduated from junior college, she laid out her terms: “get an Honours degree, in any discipline – and then you have my blessings to pursue your dreams of performing, no questions asked”. I had always assumed that like most conservative Singaporean parents, she simply believed possessing an advanced University degree would ensure some form of employability; a safety net should my dreams of performing come to nought. On hindsight, she was wiser than I realised. In requesting not just that I complete my Bachelor’s degree, but my Honours, the latter for which writing a thesis was requisite, I came to be equipped with the tools to approach any endeavour later in my career, performance-related or not, with the same academic rigour, clarity, and cogency

This thesis was written in 2004. It was a time when social interactions on the internet were becoming prevalent, but not yet as pervasive as is today. I examined three social applications: ICQ, LiveJournal and Friendster, and rightly predicted they would soon be obsolete. When I chose my thesis topic, I had done so with some childish glee at the prospect of doing some serious writing about a social experience considered back then by most to be “fluff”. Now that social media has become the primary obsession of the modern person, I feel strangely vindicated, as if I had somehow foresaw its rise to significance. The irony is not lost on me however, that for someone who was an early researcher into social media, I fare quite poorly with my social media skills compared to the generation of “influencers”!

Today, the premise that “Computer-Mediated Communication (CMCs) is inherently anonymous” no longer holds true. In fact it appears now to be the diametric opposite – individuals are engaging in self-disclosure in unprecedented detail on the internet. At the heart of my thesis, I sought to examine and challenge the purported inverse relationship between anonymity and intimacy – something which I believe remains worthy of consideration today. How has the ostensible erosion of anonymity in online communications affected the intimacy and quality of those social interactions?

“…the oppositional relationship between ‘anonymity’ and ‘intimacy’, which I have proven to be problematic in this thesis – may perhaps need to be changed, changed and changed yet again – not because technology is inclined towards change, but because human beings are.”


Department: English Language & Literature

Degree conferred: Doctor of Philosophy

Year: 1986


English in Singapore: A Study of its Status and Solidarity and the Attitudes to its Use

This study examines a particular attitudinal tendency of Singaporean speakers of English towards their own speech – a tendency which this writer calls linguistic insecurity, manifested in a general repudiation of the value and functions of Singapore English, feelings of embarrassment and anxiety about it and a strong dependence on native speakers to set standards.

Thoughts from Catherine Lim

For my PhD thesis in 1985, I had undertaken the study of Singaporeans’ attitudes towards something that had become a unique feature of our linguistic landscape. This was the widespread, indeed entrenched use of English, the language of the colonial masters that had evolved to assume a distinct role and character of its own. It had emerged to become one of the four official languages in Singapore (the other three being Malay, Mandarin and Tamil) but was the single, preferred language of use in the domains of education, government and administration. Moreover, it became the major language of informal communication among the various ethnic and linguistic groups in the society. Lastly, it established itself as the lingua franca in virtually every area of everyday communication among Singaporeans, whether in the home, the school or the workplace.

Such a powerful range of roles has generated a correspondingly wide range of attitudes, from the distinct disapproval of ‘Singlish’ and the concern to promote ‘Standard English’, to an increasing acceptance of localised varieties of English as a reflection of Singaporean culture and identity. I found this range of attitudes as both a relevant and absorbing subject for my thesis.


Department: English Language & Literature

Degree conferred: Master of Arts

Year: 1997


Broch, Culture and the Death of The Death of Virgil

This thesis performs a methodical unravelling of Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil as a formal critique of culture. The argument is made up essentially of two parts: one part presents the overall internal meaning of the work and the other part contextualizes this meaning within a larger external meaningfulness which mobilizes both worldly and human determinants. To construct this sense of mediation between two frames of meaning, the former part has been inserted between the latter part and this arrangement accounts for the three sections of the thesis.

Thoughts from Gwee Li Sui

My interest in twentieth-century German literature began with my honours thesis on Günter Grass’s postwar classic The Tin Drum (1959). That inquiry nonetheless left me with some unresolved questions. My subsequent quest for a writer who could confront the ethics of writing in a time of barbarity took me to Hermann Broch.

The Death of Virgil (1945) was introduced to me by a lecturer, Dr Terence Dawson. Its self-conscious reflection on art and the politics of culture intrigued me, and I persuaded Dr Barnard Turner, my former honours supervisor, to guide me again.

Looking back now, I think that what became my master’s thesis helped me meet my own doubts as a writer and artist. It got me to understand the scope of my creative work and to set this against my wider responsibility to life. I also managed to sneak a couple of jokes into the writing although I’m unsure if anyone caught them.

This endeavour solved some questions of mine but created new ones. I became fascinated with how socio-physical space could possess a uniform sense of ethical meaning in the Western mind. The puzzle paved the way to my doctoral research, in which I studied the influence of Newtonian thought on the philosophy and poetry of the long eighteenth century.


Department: English Language & Literature

Degree conferred: Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Year: 1996

In Search of Strategies: Depicting Alternative Sexuality In Singapore Plays

In a country as morally conservative as Singapore, the depiction of alternative sexuality on stage involves complex choices. On one hand, playwrights have to consider questions of censorship and their plays accessibility to a mainstream heterosexist audience, and on the other, they also have a responsibility to the under-represented community to whom they are giving a voice. In the case of Singapore, where the stage is heavily policed and audience knowledge of alternative sexuality is marked by ignorance, same-sex representation is often overtly ‘disguised’ rather than openly displayed.

Department: Chinese Studies

Degree conferred: Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Year: 1981

王孟并称说硏究 = Study of the Literary Relationship Between Wang Wei and Meng Hao-Ran

Wang Wei (王維) and Meng Hao-Ran (孟浩然) were two great poets of the Tang Dynasty. Historically, they have always been associated and, even today, the duo have their own place. No one, however, has studied the reasons for this partnership. This academic exercise attempts from various angles, to trace and analyse the reasons for this relationship by using the poets’ own works and commentaries on them, and thus to present a systematic explanation for their association.

Thoughts from Low Thia Khiang

Both Wang Wei (王维) and Meng Hao-Ran (孟浩然) were poets of the Tang dynasty. They lived in the same era and were friends. Their poems are similar in theme and share the same sentiments and thoughts. They are classified as “山水田园诗人”. They are not as famous as other poets in the Tang dynasty but their distinctive expression of nature and sentiment attracted me because I too like nature and am sentimental towards nature and living. Although many literary studies compared their works and named them together, there was little research about the literary relationship between them.

My supervisor, Dr Wong Yoon Wah (王润华博士) is a US-trained scholar; he and his wife are also poets. He believed in guidance with a free hand. This meant I was left to approach the thesis with my own assumptions from content structure down to details while he provided comments, direction and assessment while tracking my progress. I faced challenges in the research because this was a “cold topic” (冷门题); there was very little material that I could draw from to support my assumptions in the thesis. I even resorted to combing through old books in some old, big book shops those days. The initial few months of research yielded scanty results and I was not sure whether I would eventually be able to collect sufficient evidence to back up my assumptions and complete the thesis on time. Dr Wong encouraged me to press on and I did despite feeling mounting stress as the days went by and the submission deadline approached.


Department: Social Work & Psychology

Degree conferred: Master of Social Sciences

Year: 1994

The Social Support Networks of Low Income Families

This study presents a cross-cultural analysis of the role of social support networks in the lives of two groups of low income families with different coping abilities. There are two main arguments : 1) given similar economic circumstance, the ability of control families to cope better than the target families is dependent on the effectiveness of their social support networks. 2) the development and maintenance of social support networks involve continuous process of interaction between external/environmental and internal/individual factors.

Department: History

Degree conferred: Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Year: 2000

Suez Crisis or Leadership Crisis?: Britain and the Road to Suez 1951-56

Simply put, British leadership was found wanting in the period 1951-56. Employing a chronological reference to the run-in to the Suez crisis as its framework, this thesis will show that the inept leadership offered by Churchill and Eden in regard to the Middle East during their respective periods in office, directly led to the embarrassing position Britain found itself in by the end of 1956, and hastened its relegation from a first-class power to a third class power.

Department: Social Studies

Degree conferred: –

Year: 1954

A Research Paper on the Nature and Extent of Work Done in Singapore for the Welfare of Merchant Seamen

Welfare work [done for merchant seamen] could then be discussed under three headings: (a) Preventive measures against the development of problems of social significance; (b) Remedial measures, introducing corrections of and relief from maladjustments; and (c) Rehabilitative measures applicable to those seamen who, for various reasons, cannot return to seafaring. A study of the problems of seamen welfare seems to show that the inter-relationship of certain welfare facilities available in the Colony has tended to create instances of overlap between the three main objectives.

Department: English Language & Literature

Degree conferred: Doctor of Philosophy

Year: 1969

A Study of African Poetry in English: Personality, Intention and Idiom

The diversity of African poetry in English has frequently “been mentioned. Until quite recently critics and reviewers were surprised and puzzled (but never bored) by the battering and peeling of the language in the cause of Africanisation. It seemed fashionable to acclaim what were, after all, exciting instances of English used creatively, at times brilliantly, by others.


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