Getting Ready for the Future (II) – Career Preparation and Future-ready Skills

We are at an extremely critical point of human existence as technology and automation are rapidly changing the future of the world and causing disruption on a scale that the World Economic Forum calls “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Entire job sectors are becoming obsolete and new ones are being created as we speak. Over the next decade, the World Economic Forum predicts that 47% of all occupations will be affected by deepening automation. Many children in primary school today may end up in jobs that do not even exist now.

Some business experts call this environment “The VUCA World”, VUCA being a US military acronym used to define an environment that is “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous”.

If we don’t know what the future holds for us, how do we prepare our youth for their future?

At NUS, we pride ourselves as being at the forefront of educational innovation and we have implemented a range of initiatives to prepare our students for the future. One of the less conventional approaches we have taken is with the Centre for Future-ready Graduates and its work.

A couple of years ago, we restructured our NUS Career Centre, turning what was a traditional University career services office into what you know as the NUS Centre for Future-ready Graduates (or CFG) today. CFG now serves as the vital bridge between students and the world of future careers. It offers career advisory services, but also functions as a teaching arm, equipping students with future-ready skills and competencies, and performs research on future-readiness.

To better equip our students for this VUCA world, CFG started a groundbreaking programme “Roots & Wings” in 2016 that focuses on upgrading students’ internal Operating System so that they can function better and maximise their potential in a world of change.

Roots & Wings is formulated based on students and industry feedback that developing social emotional intelligence is of crucial importance for students to be prepared for the future, regardless of what career they are aiming for.

The latest psychology, neuroscience and leadership research contributes to the development of the module. Through a combination of experiential learning and interactive technology, students are taught social emotional intelligence based skills.

“Roots” stands for personal skills such as:

  • Focus – Learning to train one’s attention and curb distraction
  • Self & Interpersonal Awareness – Learning one’s strengths and challenges, emotional literacy and sensing
  • What’s my Operating System – Learning about how to self-regulate, manage stress and adopt a healthy growth mindset
  • Happiness and Resilience – Learning the essentials of a happy and meaningful life, and how to bounce back from adversity

“Wings” stands for interpersonal skills which include:

  • Sensemaking – Understanding different perspectives
  • Empathic Communication – Listening and communicating on a deeper level
  • Collaboration & Networking – Developing collaborative mindsets and teamwork skills

Roots & Wings allows students to maximise their potential, encourage diversity of thought and collaboration, and reduce reactivity as students learn to manage stress during times of complex change.

Students also learn to view the world through different lenses and adopt different perspectives, build positive relationships and use their strengths in the service of others and the wider community. They also learn crucial career preparation elements such as personal branding, networking skills and develop awareness of the industry landscape.

Over 7,000 students have participated in the Roots & Wings module as an essential part of their NUS education. Many have given positive feedback on the relevance of its content as well as commended its innovative teaching methods. 87% of students felt that the content was relevant and useful and 92% agreed that teaching had been effective.

One of our students, Erica Lim from FASS, wrote to CFG about the programme, saying: I really appreciated the focus on personal development, because this is something that’s often neglected in Singaporean education. A good education should teach us how to be better people, not just better students. Personally, I felt skeptical at first; I had attended a few personal development workshops prior, and they were so abstract they were meaningless. However, I found myself learning a lot from the seminar.

It was eye-opening to see how my actions deviated from my words and plans – I realised I was very others-focused (focusing on family, friends and other intimate relationships) to the detriment of my personal well-being. It also taught me that your priorities in life are yours to decide, not for society or the people around you to dictate. The breathing exercises, while simple, were also very helpful in anchoring myself. I’m looking forward to more seminars in the future, and I am very glad that NUS have these programmes for undergraduate students.”

Students from many different Faculties – from Arts and Social Sciences, Computing and Engineering, to Medicine and Dentistry – have reported similar stories of improving their wellbeing and abilities by practising these skills.

We plan to further complement the 2 MC Roots & Wings programme with a Career Practicum programme, where students can earn 2 MCs for participating in career workshops, networking events and industry education talks, and deepening their career preparation journey. More details will be announced in due course.

With the establishment of CFG and its various innovative programmes, NUS seeks to support the holistic development of our students – not just their academic skills, but their character and values as well. These, in conjunction with the world-class academic and research skills gained at NUS, will give them the necessary tools to thrive in a fast paced and complex future.

Introducing Computational Thinking into the Undergraduate Curriculum

NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan delivered his State of the University Address on 4 Nov 2016. It was a visionary and impactful speech, titled ‘Empowering for the Age of Empowerment’. He spoke on NUS’ plans to empower students for the future, enable faculty to stand out globally and create new platforms for high impact. (You may view the event webcast or read President’s speech here.)

Amongst the many educational initiatives to prepare and empower students for the future, President had made mention that NUS is considering introducing Computational Thinking on a large scale. I would like to take this opportunity to share more about Computational Thinking.

What is Computational Thinking?

Computational Thinking has been known to humans as long as we have been thinking. One of the initial formalisations of Computational Thinking happened, perhaps, in Geometry.  Along with Euclid’s axiomatic approach to Geometry, which focused on proving properties of geometric objects like triangles and quadrilaterals, there was a robust parallel development of constructing objects using a ruler and a compass. This approach emphasised constructing objects (for example, constructing a right-angled triangle) over proofs. In fact, one fed the other, leading to increasing intellectual sophistication in the understanding of Geometry. Not only that, there was a pragmatic facet to it as well. It helped put Geometric conceptualisations into practice – in areas ranging from building construction to time-telling to Astronomy.

Another example of Computational Thinking in daily life is cooking! Humans have been cooking for a long time; in fact, civilisations take great pride in their cuisines. Any recipe which can be executed by a non-Michelin-starred cook is a fine demonstration of Computational Thinking. The ingredients of that recipe are precisely specified and the steps laid out clearly for anybody to follow. By following the recipe (think algorithm – a series of steps to the solution) fastidiously, we get delicious outcomes.

Fast-forwarding to modern times, Wikipedia explains that Computational Thinking was first used by Seymour Papert in 1980. It caught wide attention when Computer Scientist Jeanette Wing wrote an influential article about it in 2006 (  It refers to the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solutions in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out. Simply put, Computational Thinking involves creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively.

Why Computational Thinking?

Computational Thinking is important because this is the thinking process of creative humans.. First, it compels us to discard inessential aspects of any problem to focus on minimum conceptual abstractions that are salient to the problem. Second, it enables us to successfully accomplish even very complex tasks by breaking them down into a set of elementary simple tasks. (In Geometry, the elementary tasks are (i) drawing a line using a ruler and (ii) drawing an arc using a compass. In cooking, there are basic skills such as chopping, stirring, straining, roasting etc.) Third, Computational Thinking helps us give an idea of the inherent complexity of any problem. Simple recipes comprise fewer steps and complex recipes require more steps in a certain order. The chef who uses Computational Thinking realises the importance of preparing the ingredients beforehand and in the right order so that the meal arrives at the table at the right temperature. No one likes a cold, bleeding steak.

As you can imagine, this way of thinking practically covers most areas of human endeavours. All of us have been unconsciously practising Computational Thinking throughout our lives. What is different today is that many of these elementary steps can be performed by computers. In fact, Computational Thinking is increasingly recognised as a fundamental 21st century skill, especially in this digital and technology-centric era. Together with reading, writing, critical thinking and problem solving, Computational Thinking is ubiquitous with vast applications across a range of fields, so much so that practically no field has been left un-touched. It is therefore time that we, as a university, start thinking about Computational Thinking formally in our curriculum.

The relevance and importance of Computational Thinking is also borne out in the job market. The World Economic Forum recently published an article on 2017’s most in-demand skills, according to LinkedIn data. It is quite evident that data and IT literacy have become a necessity, and at the next level, data proficiency and Computational Thinking are critical, relevant and sought after. This list of top ten most sought-after skills may change with time, but it is an indication of the skills in demand now.

This trend in the labour market is not surprising. Big data and technology developments are shaping the world. In Singapore, the big data sector is set for big growth and EDB expects the data analytics sector to contribute at least $1 billion to the economy every year by 2017. To stay competitive, companies will have to harness data for better decision-making.

Computational Thinking at NUS

NUS is mindful of these developments and we make effort to ensure that our educational programmes equip our graduates with the knowledge and skills to take on jobs immediately upon graduation, as well as to engage in lifelong learning, so that our graduates can adapt and learn to ride the waves and opportunities in this ever changing world.

A distinctive aspect of NUS’ curriculum is the General Education (GE) Framework. Comprising 20MCs, the General Education Framework serves as a common, core university experience for all students to be exposed to fundamental approaches to knowledge for a broad intellectual perspective and lifelong learning. Implemented in AY2015/16, the revised GE framework is designed as a five-pillar curriculum structure, and is closely aligned with the University’s educational philosophy which seeks to ‘help students become individuals with questioning minds, willing and able to examine what is taken for granted, and who engage in rigorous inquiry within and beyond assumed disciplinary borders’. The five pillars are:

  • Singapore Studies
  • Human Cultures
  • Thinking and Expression
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Asking Questions

Under the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) pillar, all NUS students read GER1000, a module introducing foundational data competency, taught using a blended format. Lectures are pre-recorded and are available online for students to view, pause and play at their own pace; learning is facilitated and reinforced with face-to-face tutorials. The module introduces students to the role of data in addressing real-world issues, and how to collect and employ data to conduct projections and scenario planning. Students will acquire basic reasoning skills, and learn to quantify and characterise relationships between data.

Given the growing importance of quantitative skills, we plan to take one step further to introduce Computational Thinking as a requirement for selected undergraduate majors and degree programmes. Computational Thinking is a set of cognitive skills and techniques that can be used to support problem solving across situations and disciplines. More specifically, as Google’s website summarises, Computational Thinking entails

  1. Decomposition – breaking a (big, complicated, complex) problem into parts or steps;
  2. Pattern Recognition – finding and identify patterns and trends in data;
  3. Abstraction – identifying the general principles that generate these patterns;
  4. Algorithm Design – developing instructions for solving the problem.

Step by step, part by part, the solutions to the small problems can be brought together, and help shed light on and provide a solution to the big, complex problem.

Computational Thinking is useful as a problem-solving methodology, but beyond that, training in Computational Thinking can also help cultivate positive learning attitudes and values, such as tinkering and experimenting with solutions, debugging through finding and fixing errors, perseverance in working with difficult and open-ended problems, and confidence in dealing with ambiguity and complexity.

I hope NUS students will be keen to acquire and deepen their QR and Computational Thinking skills, and that you are curious and excited about the many future job opportunities in these fields. With a good foundation in QR and the added training in Computational Thinking for some of you, NUS students will gain confidence and are empowered to pick up computer coding, even if you are not a Computer Science major.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew – A Life of Dignity and Distinction

I have read the many moving tributes and eulogies of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He has clearly left a deep impact on many, within and beyond Singapore.

Like many Singaporeans, I am not personally acquainted with Mr Lee. Yet, I have much to thank Mr Lee for.

I was not born of patronage. My father was a mini-bus driver, and had to support a family of 9 including my grandmother. My mother did not have the opportunity to receive any education, and she later too, because a mini-bus driver to supplement the family income. That my 5 siblings and I could under these circumstances, receive an education, find jobs, build homes in Singapore and raise our children; I count it remarkable.

Mr Lee built a meritocratic Singapore.

Of course, the outcomes may not be equal. Even between siblings, we pursued different paths and progressions in life. Nevertheless, Singapore prospered and all of us have seen our lives transform for the better. Each of us is contributing to society in different areas and capacities. We have a system which enables each of us to be nurtured, developed and to achieve, regardless of our race, religion or socioeconomic background. Today, NUS continues to count many first-generation graduates amongst its students.

Perhaps the pace of change in our lives is so quick that we sometimes fail to consider the enormity of the challenges Singapore faced and how far and how fast we have come. Those of us born in the 1970s or before will remember that even the basic commodity of water was so precious and difficult to secure. (I have lived in a kampong where we had the bucket-system for sanitation, and we bathed by scooping water out of a big urn. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Mr Lee’s house did not have a shower until 2003 after Mrs Lee suffered a stroke.) I recall every time there were news reports on discussions with Malaysia on water treaties, there was much tension and anxiety, and we feared and dreaded the worst.

This article by Mr Heng Swee Keat gives a good account of Mr Lee’s immense dedication to Singapore, and of his work ethics. It is admirable and inspiring, and I hope all NUS students will take time to read it.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a great Singaporean. He loved Singapore with all his heart and might and life. Thank you, Mr Lee.

Career Preparation Programmes – An Update

Two years ago, I shared about the importance of career preparation workshops, and making them as accessible and convenient for students to attend them. I thought it would be good for me to give an update on how these workshops have been progressing.


The NUS Career Centre (NCC) introduced the HeadStart Module in AY2012/13. This is a 5-week tutorial module specially designed for freshmen, and it aims to guide students in thinking and preparing for their future careers. Students can then start to plan their education journey and projects, hone their expertise and cultivate experiences to develop a portfolio in line with their career goals. The topics covered include maximising student life, winning resumes and cover letters, effective interview skills, and mastering the art of networking. HeadStart was piloted in AY2012/13 for Faculty of Science (FOS) freshmen; the module was extended to Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) freshmen in AY2013/14, and from AY2014/15, freshmen from the School of Computing (SOC), School of Design and Environment (SDE), and the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) will get to read this module. At steady state, we hope that all 5,300 freshmen from these 5 Faculties will complete the HeadStart module.

Classroom 2Classroom1

For the pilot run, nearly 1,300 FOS read the HeadStart module in AY2012/13. Participants shared honestly that they could not initially reckon why the HeadStart module was pre-allocated in their timetables. Deanery members had to prod and encourage students to attend, convince them of the benefits, and urged students to give the module a chance. Some students were sceptical; others were apprehensive. Certainly, the onus was on NCC to deliver an outstanding module, so that students can see the value of the experience.


The NCC rose well to the challenging task of organising career workshops on a large scale. The feedback received to date from course participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants felt that the HeadStart module has been effective (score of 5.02 out of a 6-point scale), and they are satisfied with the module (score of 4.97 out of a 6-point scale).  On hindsight, having gone through the module, many understood the need for such courses; some have asked for more sessions, and some even suggested for career preparation courses to be made compulsory! NCC will continually review and improve on the HeadStart course content. NCC is also exploring how certain segments of the HeadStart programme can be put online, perhaps on IVLE, so that students beyond the 5 Faculties can also access them.



Apart from the HeadStart module for freshmen, NCC also launched the StepUp module, which is designed to help graduating students identify the careers that best align with their profiles and interests, and to equip them with essential skills to differentiate themselves in a successful transition to their first jobs. StepUp was introduced in AY2012/13 to graduating students from the 5 Faculties in their 3rd or 4th years. StepUp is an opt-in programme and about 30% of graduating students attended StepUp in the last two academic years. Students’ feedback for the StepUp module has also been highly positive. The StepUp module will be phased out after AY2016/17 in tandem with the expansion of HeadStart programme.


The support from NCC does not end with the HeadStart and StepUp programmes. NCC offers a suite of other more purposeful and targeted programmes and advisory support that students can attend and consult for their career preparation, throughout their time at NUS. In addition to offering career preparation and development programmes, the NCC also provides Faculty-based Career Advisors at FASS, FOE, FOS, SOC, SDE and Faculty of Law. There is also a dedicated Career Advisor for postgraduate students. Career Advisors engage students at a personal level to work out customised career action plans; they also advise students on how best to present themselves and to acquire soft skills and practical work experiences. In AY2013/14, more than 3,000 students consulted their Career Advisors for mock interviews, career advice, resume critique and job search strategies; more students are coming forward to consult with Career Advisors. If you have any questions about your CV, or about careers, feel free to make an appointment with your Career Advisors.


We certainly welcome all feedback from students who have attended the HeadStart and StepUp programmes. May I also encourage graduating students to attend the StepUp programmes. To the freshmen from the 5 Faculties, I wish you a fun and fruitful learning experience for this year’s run of the HeadStart programme.


EduSports Complex at University Town

Welcome back to a new semester!  I would like to wish one and all an exciting and fulfilling 2013.

As we begin a new year, I am also happy to announce the opening of a brand new facility at UTown – the EduSports Complex.


Designed as a mixed-use complex, EduSports has something for everyone.  For the sports enthusiast, there is a rock climbing wall, a well-equipped gym to challenge your strength and endurance, two multipurpose sports halls with badminton and basketball courts, as well as a recreational pool.

Challenge your skill and perseverance at the 15-metre high rock climbing wall (Photo by Leong Mun Wai)

If you are more inclined towards the performing arts, there are dance studios and orchestra practice rooms.

The NUS Wind Symphony in action at a practice room.
A bookstore on campus for e-gadgets, books and more
Flavours@UTown (food court) on level 2

EduSports also offers a range of dining choices, including a large food court overlooking Town Green, Japanese, Taiwanese and vegan food outlets.  For those with a passion to read, Book Haven, stocks a range of books, magazines as well as e-reading gadgets. For students or staff looking for a space for an activity or simply a group discussion, there are seminar rooms, an auditorium and four lecture theatres, as well as open discussion spaces which you can utilise. The ground level of EduSports features a  Visitors Centre, which is co-located with the NUS Office of Admissions.

The completion of the EduSports Complex brings  the construction of UTown to completion. The sporting and arts dimensions offered by EduSports complement the existing educational facilities at the Education Resource Centre, bringing full circle to our vision of UTown as a pulsating hub for both academic pursuits as well as the holistic development of our students.

When we conceived of and planned for UTown, we wanted UTown to be a place that will enrich the experiences of all our staff and students. It is exciting to see how UTown is shaping up and I hope that UTown will form part of the fond memories you have of NUS.

See you around the campus and at UTown soon!