Full-time Students; Part-time Hustlers

University life is an exciting time that marks the beginning of a transition into adulthood. For many undergraduates, this chapter is a time of self-discovery as they navigate the big, wide world: embarking on careers that align with their passions (sometimes it takes a while) and gradually finding their independence.  

As students find their way around what is often described as the “first taste of freedom”, financial independence takes centre stage. A quick search on Google and many articles pop up discussing how students can earn money while studying. While literature on part-time work that students engage in during their academic term is limited in the Singaporean context, studies suggest that there are increasing numbers of students who work part-time in countries like the UK and Australia. Motivations for working part-time range from covering living expenses to gaining work experience and of course, earning a few extra bucks to indulge in the small pleasures of life.  


Part-time Work at NUS 

Here at NUS, many students find part-time employment during their academic term through the NUS Student Work Scheme (NSWS) portal. This handy portal has many listings for part-time jobs that are based in NUS. The roles are offered by various departments and research groups within the university, with opportunities as diverse as photographing events to assisting in research studies. At the time of writing this article, there were 195 jobs advertised on the portal!  


 The NUS Student Work Scheme portal offers many part-time roles for interested NUS students to partake in.  


There are many perks to securing a part-time job through this centralised platform. Firstly, NSWS roles are primarily based within NUS, making it convenient for students who commute daily or reside on campus by significantly reducing travel time. School and work at the same location? Killing two birds with one stone! Secondly, the pay rate is attractive, with most jobs starting at $12/hour or above. Lastly, since the roles are NUS-related, these opportunities can be a valuable addition to students’ resumes. NSWS includes a filter option, allowing to find roles that align with one’s interests or course of study. 

Now, to add an element of fun to earning some extra cash, students can also sign up as a participant in research studies. We’ve seen a lot of interesting studies seeking to recruit participants through the NSWS portal: one study asked participants to drink a bottle of orange juice and fill out a quick questionnaire for a $10 Fairprice voucher. Can it get any better than that? 


Why work part-time? 

Consistently ranked one of the top universities in Asia and the world, NUS is well known for its academic rigour. There is no shortage of assignments and group projects that students need to plough through during the semester (been there, done that 😵‍💫). Then why do some students still opt to work part-time? We reached out to a handful of NUS students and from their experiences, the reasons for choosing to work part-time are as diverse as the NUS student community itself.  

For some students, it was a matter of avoiding overreliance on their parents. “When I first started [working part-time], my family was financially unstable. I wanted to earn an income and take some burden off my parents,” shared Rachel Sin (Y4, Life Sciences), who works as a student assistant at the Duke-NUS Chronobiology and Sleep Laboratory. Rachel helps out at the lab by assisting in different studies that are being carried out. Yap Ting Ru (Y3, Pharmaceutical Sciences), who works here at NUS Residential Life as a social media content creator, also echoed similar sentiments, expressing a desire to stand on her own feet after entering university. She landed her role after a successful stint as a content creator for the newly launched Helix House’s Instagram page.  


 The Residential Life Instagram page frequently features our resident mascot Resley and his adventures: envisioned and illustrated by Ting Ru. Fun fact: Resley was first created in 2021 by a ResLife intern, Bethany Low, and since then – subsequent interns have organically continued the comic strip all on their own! 


Suhaana Khanna (Y4, Communications & New Media), joined the NUS Student Ambassador program as a freshman, when classes had all moved online due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was upset that I was missing out on the NUS experience. Helping out at physical events and getting to interact with people was the main attraction [for me],” she shared. Now in her senior year, Suhaana is also a hosting director with Radio Pulze, NUS’s official campus radio, and a member of the Office of Student Affairs’ (OSA) digital content team.  


You may have seen Suhaana in some of the reels that she produces for the Office of Student Affairs (OSA)! 


Part-time jobs are also attractive to students who wish to explore their own interests while earning some monetary compensation. Mohamad Norman (Y3, Life Sciences) joined the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum as a tour guide so that he could share his love for all things biodiversity with others. He helps to run workshops and museum gallery tours aimed at school students, and sees his job as “a platform for me to learn and share.” 

Many international students in NUS work part-time, too. According to Singapore law, foreigners on a Student Pass are allowed to work for 16 hours a week during the academic term. For international undergraduate student Lizza Jacob (Y2, Life Sciences), working part-time is a means to support herself and earn some disposable income that she can use to treat herself. She works at the NUS Agritech Centre as a student assistant, helping to monitor plant growth in her lab. Binali de Alwis (Y4, Data Science), another international student, worked as a public art assistant at the NUS Museum last year. In fact, she has contributed to many of the public art installations that you see around the NUS campus! 


What’s a Right Fit for Me?  

There isn’t a universal formula for how students choose their part-time jobs. Factors such as course of study, career aspirations, and monetary compensation all play a role in the decision-making process. 

Suhaana has been a theatre enthusiast ever since she entered school, with a love for being on stage. Throughout her multiple part-time positions, she has donned various hats, including ushering events, emceeing university-wide programs, and conducting interviews with content creators and artists for the Radio Pulze podcast. Among her current projects is her involvement in the newly-released OSA podcast: WHOSAY 

Equipped with a wealth of experience in the digital marketing field, Suhaana aspires to continue working in the content creation realm after graduating—an ambition aligned with her degree in Communications and New Media. Reflecting on her four years of experiences in NUS thus far, she aptly described them as “almost like an internship before starting in the real world.” 


Suhaana’s role as a radio show host for Radio Pulze has led to other hosting opportunities within NUS. In the picture above, she is hosting the NUS National Day Observance Ceremony. 


On the other hand, many part-timers take on roles that are seemingly disconnected from their intended careers and university degrees. Despite majoring in Data Sciences, Binali’s part-time job assisting in curating art exhibitions at the NUS Museum may appear contradictory. However, Binali has always had an interest in the arts: she minors in Art History. “I can’t think of another time in my life where I will be able to work at a museum and see all the behind-the-scenes action behind putting up an exhibition,” elaborated Binali. She has now left the part-time job to complete an internship as part of her course requirements.  

During her time at the Museum, she accompanied the public art curator in liaising with NUS students from faculties as diverse as Engineering and Music who were involved with curating art installations that were to be exhibited across campus. She helped out with administrative tasks, designing signage, and crafting informative handbooks for upcoming art exhibitions.  


One of Binali’s favourite memories of working at the Museum were the visits she made to the art studio of the artist-in-residence, Delia Prvacki.


In the world of side hustles and part-time jobs, Suhaana and Binali’s stories are examples of how passions can flourish in unexpected corners of university life.  


Navigating Challenges 

It goes without saying that part-time jobs come with their challenges too. 

Rachel, who works at the Duke-NUS Sleep Lab, shared how the working hours of her shifts were demanding at times. As part of a study investigating the impact of sleep hours on secondary school and junior college students, Rachel supervised participants arriving at the study suite six hours before their usual bedtime.  On some nights, the study would receive students who had bedtimes as late as 3 am. This meant that she too had to stay awake; something that disrupted her usual sleep schedule initially.  

Rachel’s responsibilities also included maintaining a lively atmosphere, preventing participants from dozing off in the dimly lit study suite, ensuring no phone use, administering cognitive tests and behavioural questionnaires, and assisting research staff in taking saliva samples of students every 30 minutes. At times, the participants of the study could be difficult to deal with. “My approach was to meet them in the middle. You can’t be too authoritative, but you still have to be firm,” shared Rachel.  


Rachel works at Duke-NUS, a collaboration between Duke University and NUS. It is also Singapore’s only graduate medical school. (Image: https://news.nus.edu.sg/duke-nus-to-serve-eastern-health-cluster/) 


Although part-time jobs can be an uphill journey, they come with their smooth stretches too. Rachel fondly recalls a vivacious secondary school student who would pass amusing comments throughout his stay in the study suite. Rachel narrates, “His personality really lightened up the room and helped to drive the engagement with other participants up. It made my life easier too!” 

In addition to her work, Rachel finds great value in the positive work environment. “Everyone in the lab is very friendly and it motivates me to keep working here. Everyone has a different story about why they joined the lab. Even the participants have interesting stories about why they signed up to join a study,” explained Rachel with a smile. 


Skills Learned 

No one is born with mastery; it’s earned, one lesson at a time. Skill development stands out as a significant takeaway for students engaged in part-time jobs. Ting Ru, responsible for designing weekly Instagram posts for NUS Residential Life, attributes her enhanced people skills to this role. “Interacting with people is such a crucial skill to have, you know. This job has truly pushed me to go out there and engage with others,” reflected Ting Ru. Her job involves reaching out to hostelites across NUS and interviewing them on the latest happenings across campus. “While it may seem like a daunting task, I quickly realised how willing people were to help, even when they don’t receive anything on their end [from talking to me],” Ting Ru expressed her appreciation for her interviewees.  

While she has always enjoyed designing, Ting Ru also highlighted the challenges of writing content for the posts. Striking a balance between substantive content without being too wordy or overwhelming is no easy task.  

Both soft skills, like interpersonal communication, and technical skills, like writing, are transferable assets that she can carry on into the real world.  


Rewarding Moments 

All the students we spoke to had interesting stories to share. For each of them, there is personal value that they attach to their jobs, making the experiences meaningful for them.  

Norman’s job portfolio includes conducting gallery tours of the natural history museum and facilitating age-appropriate science workshops for school students. For him, his job is a way to get in touch with the biodiversity in Singapore and Southeast Asia and share that knowledge with others. “I can get nerdy about wildlife and they [participants] are forced to listen,” chuckled Norman.  

Norman also emphasised that taking on a job, especially one that you have never done before, can be overwhelming. “The first challenge was to memorise an almost 20-page script for the gallery tour. I needed to overcome the fear of the script to really appreciate what I was doing. Another challenge is when you’re conducting workshops, some students can be quite boisterous. And you can’t fight fire with fire. Eventually you learn how to handle these situations better,” said Norman. 


The school students that Norman works with usually have a ton of curious questions for him. Once he was asked, “Why do the rafflesia flowers grow so big, ah?” and even better, “Why is the sky blue?” 


Lizza, who lives in Singapore away from home, shared how working with plants at the NUS Agritech Centre brings back fond memories of working in her home garden back home in India with her mother. Her shifts involve maintaining and taking readings of sweet potato plants that are being grown for an ongoing experiment. Once the plants have grown, she takes root samples, separates the stems and leaves for further analysis. The leaves are then frozen in liquid nitrogen and then ground into fine powder for DNA metabolite analysis (cool, sciency stuff).  

“I love working with plants. It’s a lot of hands-on work and I find it very grounding. It reminds me of working in my home garden back home, although this isn’t outdoors,” she explained excitedly, “Of course, the tasks can sometimes be physically taxing and monotonous. Listening to music helps!” 


 At the lab, Lizza assists in various tasks. Here she is sorting out leaves of sweet  potato plants before they undergo further scientific analysis.  


The Juggling Act  

What’s the secret to striking a healthy balance between academic workload and work commitments? The key is the age-old answer: time management. Ting Ru explained, “It’s a lot of things to juggle. It is very important to manage my time properly. Since the job is remote and OTOT, my schedule is flexible.” Even with a tight schedule, it is important to set aside time for breaks too. “I like to pack in all of my work in a short period of time, so my Google calendar is quite packed,” laughed Suhaana, “and then I like to do nothing at all on the weekends.” 


Managing her time efficiently is important for Ting Ru, who, in addition to her ResLife job, is also undertaking an undergraduate research project and leading Helix House’s digital content team.  


To Save or To Spend 

How do students then choose to spend the money they earn? 

“Because I work, I don’t feel as guilty about indulging myself once in a while,” Binali smiled. Others shared that they spend the extra bucks they earn on the much-needed lunch or dinner when on campus. For international students like Lizza, the money goes to covering her living expenses. While earnings are spent, the students are also careful to save some of it. “As I get closer to graduating, I’m making sure to spend on my needs and less on my wants,” shared Rachel.  

Working part-time allows these NUS students to gain a small taste of what working life will be like, equipping them with money management skills and easing their transition into adulthood. 


Part-time Work: Everyone’s Cup of Tea? 

As we come to the end of this article, we want to ask: Is working part-time suitable for everyone? The answer is both yes and no. While working part-time can be rewarding both experientially and monetarily, it comes with its own learning curves and challenges. Here are some questions to consider before deciding to take on a part-time job:  


  1. Will I be able to manage my academic coursework alongside my job deliverables? Am I overloading this semester/year? Am I participating in any demanding CCAs?  
  2. What’s more important to me: work experience or monetary benefits? It’s important to recognize that different people have different needs, and that’s okay!
  3. How will the part-time job contribute to my future? Is it something I can include in my resume? Are the skills learned from this job transferable?
  4. Are there opportunities for networking?   
  5. What is the pay rate? A higher pay rate means I’ll need to work fewer hours to reach my target earnings.  
  6. Is the job on an ad hoc basis, or are there regular assignments that I will need to undertake as part of my role? If it’s ad hoc, will I need to take on additional part-time jobs to earn more?  
  7. How flexible is the job schedule? Can I work remotely? If the job requires me to travel out of campus, do I have the time to spare?  
  8. Will I enjoy this job so that even on tiring days, I am satisfied? 


We hope the guiding questions above help you to make an informed decision! There really is no other time than right now to explore your interests and take risks at such a low cost. We hope that you too will take on the spirit and venture outside your comfort zone once in a while. Signing off with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, who once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”  


Psst… a while ago, we had released an Instagram reel with some of the students featured in this article. Do check it out here! While you’re there, drop NUS Residential Life a follow 🙂 


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