Making Our DIY Wooden Rings

This summer Rachel and I went to a woodworking workshop to make our own wooden rings. I never really understood how a metal band is supposed to signify our commitment to each other, so before we buy our actual rings, I figured that the experience of making rings ourselves would be a little more fun and meaningful. Neither of us have much experience in woodworking, so we took the lathe-turning workshop at Tombalek to learn the basic skills required.

How to Prepare and Apply for a Master's Degree in the US

It’s that time of the year again when ambitious wide-eyed undergraduate students start applying for graduate studies. I’ve gotten my fair share of requests for advice, so employing the help of my friends D and T, I’ve decided to compile a list of how to prepare and things you should know before applying for a Master’s program overseas, specifically in the US. Please note that these are our personal opinions (mostly mine) based on our personal experiences, so they may not necessarily be accurate or applicable for your purpose.

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1. Types of Master’s programs

Broadly speaking, there are two different kinds of Master’s programs out there, industry-focused and research-focused. Which should you choose? It depends on your end goal. If you’re looking to enter the job market as soon as possible, go for the former. If you’re looking to pursue research as a career, go for the latter. Many people will be unsure about this, especially if they have never done research work before. My general feeling is that doing research takes a particular type of personality, and most people are not cut out to become researchers. If you have the chance to, expose yourself to research work in your undergraduate studies. You’ll have a taste of what research feels like and it’ll help you decide what to choose in the future. If you’re still unsure, the following table highlighting the main differences between the two types of programs may help you decide.

Remember these are generalizations and specific requirements differ from program to program.

Industry-focused Master’s program Research-focused Master’s program
Terminal Can lead on to a PhD
Not funded Funded
1 to 1.5 years 2 years or more
Courses + possibly Capstone project Thesis
More industry resources Less industry resources
Relatively easier admission Relatively harder admission

Generally, industry-focused Master’s programs are catered more towards international students, since it’s a cash cow for the university. This is also why it’s easier to be admitted into one.

To clarify, whatever I’ve written here is based off my experience of applying for an industry-focused Master’s program, not a research-focused program. If you’re looking to pursue a research career, these may still apply to a lesser extent, but there is no guarantee.

2. Motivations

Before you apply for a graduate degree, you must first contemplate what your end-goals are. Out of all the peers I’ve met in my Master’s program, there are three main categories of motivations.

a. Scholarship

You’re on a government or private scholarship, the cost of your studies will be sponsored entirely. Your primary concern will be how the program benefits you in exchange for the amount of time you’re giving up. It is entirely possible to breeze through a one-year Master’s program without much trouble. Therefore, you have a lot more freedom here than other students. Think about what you want to achieve by pursuing a Master’s. Is it simply for a higher starting salary? Is it for the experience of studying overseas? Is it for gaining deeper knowledge in a domain? Whatever it is, make sure that the length and rigor of the program you’re applying to matches your end-goals. Remember, most Americans come out of college with debt. You may not have to pay for it, but college is still a service where you’re the customer. Make the most out of it.

b. Work

Most international students (excluding Singaporeans) enroll in a Master’s program in the hope of finding work subsequently. It is easier to find a job in the US with a Master’s degree. If you study and work in STEM, your student visa can be extended for up to 3 years. This grace period is 1 year for other majors. Your primary concern will be how likely it is that you will find a job you desire after your Master’s. Empirically, if you plan to work in tech and study at a relatively prestigious university, your chances are pretty good. More traditional forms of engineering such as material science and civil engineering may struggle a little. I honestly don’t know how non-engineering majors fare, but it’s definitely much worse compared to engineering majors.

If your chances are slim, you should consider whether it is even worth it for you to expend the time and money to pursue a Master’s degree here. Visa notwithstanding, a Master’s degree is not viewed much differently from a Bachelor’s.

c. Further studies

These are the rarest breed of Master’s students that I’ve met. Typically, if you were interested in research, you would pursue a PhD, since 1) you will actually do research and 2) it’s funded. However, sometimes it may just be too difficult to be admitted into a PhD program right out of college, especially if you have no prior research experience. In that case, you could pursue a Master’s in the hopes of doing a PhD after. I’m not going to lie, you’re probably going to have to work harder than others to achieve this. You should start to actively look for professors to do research with in your Master’s program.

3. Preparation

So, as an undergraduate student, how would you prepare for a Master’s program? Truth be told, I had no idea when I first applied, and I was just extremely lucky to be admitted into a Master’s program which I liked. Even now, I still can’t tell you with certainty what schools are looking for, but I could provide some advice based on experience. Again, my experience is with an industry-focused Master’s program, so these may not apply if you’re looking to do research.

a. Participate in Research Work

Even with industry-focused Master’s programs, prior experience in research-related work is always a plus. It shows that you have the mental fortitude to tackle difficult problems that are not well-formulated. For NUS students, there are research opportunities in the form of UROPs. CREATE in U-Town also offers opportunities to do research-related internships, so take advantage of these opportunities to boost your resume and learn more about a domain which you’re interested in. Who knows, you may even end up liking it enough for it to become a career.

b. Participate in Overseas Exchange Programs

If you have the means to, participate actively in overseas exchange programs. This will give you a feel of how it is like to study abroad, as well as give you the opportunity to shop around for universities that you may be interested in.

c. Keep up With Global Affairs

You don’t have to be aware of every single event that’s happening around the world, but at least have an idea of the recent developments in the US and China. A lot of people hear about the US simply because it’s plastered all over mainstream media, but they’re pretty ill-informed when it comes to other countries. If you want to bring value to discussions rather than rehashing what everyone else already know, try to consume a healthy balance of information from different sources.

D. Get to Know Your Professors

All of your professors have gone through the same graduate system, so they’re your best source of information regarding each university’s domains. Furthermore, you should build that relationship simply because when the time comes, they’ll be the ones writing your recommendation letters.

4. Application details

So you’ve done your homework and application windows are opening. What do you need to prepare for your application?

Required documents

  1. Statement of purpose
  2. Letters of recommendation x3
  3. GRE Scores
  4. TOEFL for non-native English speakers
  5. Academic transcript
  6. Proof of financial ability

Generally, these are the requirements to apply for any graduate program. Different schools may have specific requirements, so do check with the admissions department what is needed for applications beforehand.

Statement of purpose

This is probably what gives students the biggest headache when it comes to college applications. What should I write in my statement of purpose? If I write about my achievements, will it come across as arrogant? Again, I cannot claim to be an expert in this and you should probably consult an admissions officer in your school. However, a general guideline for this is that you should 1) articulate your interests, 2) highlight your experiences in the field, and 3) talk about how the program fits your interests and how it would help your future development. Make sure that you are not just providing a list of achievements. Put your achievements into the context of “I am interested in this and therefore I did that to further my interest in this”. This way, it won’t come across as conceited. Remember that admissions officers are looking for character as much as academic abilities, so it is always wise to show a healthy concern for the community.

Letters of recommendations

Who should you ask to write your letters of recommendation? Typically, these are professors who are familiar with your work and are related to your field of study. This is why it’s important to build relationships with your professors early on. You can also ask for recommendations from your employer during previous internships or jobs, but remember that their position has to be relevant to your field of study for their words to have any weight. For example, if your previous internship is in the F&B industry, it might be wiser to choose a professor instead.

GRE scores

GRE scores will be sent directly to your desired universities and may take a month or more to process, so it is recommended you take your GRE at least three months before the application window closes. GRE scores are valid for 5 years. Do a quick Google search to find out what the average GRE scores of admitted students are and see where you stand.

TOEFL scores

If you’re Singaporean, skip this. If not, it depends on your nationality. Find out more on the school’s admissions website.

Academic transcript

Some schools accept unofficial soft copies while others require you to mail an official hard copy to them. Again, do a quick Google search to find out the average GPA of admitted students in past years to see where you stand.

Proof of financial ability

If you’re applying for an industry-focused Master’s program, you are expected to be able to pay for it out of pocket. Most schools offer scholarships, but it is relatively rare to be offered one if you’re an international student. Whether it is an external scholarship or a family sponsorship, you need to be able to provide proof that you can afford it. The ugly reality is that most colleges are not “need-blind”, which is to say they may reject you if they think you are not financially capable of paying for your program. The budget should be around USD 70-80k for a school year, but of course it depends on the program you apply to.

5. Case studies

My friends D and T have kindly shared with me their experiences in their respective Master’s programs and I have collated their responses (along with mine) here. The three of us all graduated from NUS and went on to different Master’s programs in different colleges in the US.

1. What is your course of study?

D: Master of Science, EE (Electrical Engineering), Stanford

T: Masters of Engineering, Advanced Manufacturing and Design, MIT

CM: Masters of Engineering, EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), UC Berkeley

2. What are your reasons for choosing this program?

D: To be honest, I chose Stanford based on reputation back then. But on hindsight, I really love the weather in the bay area all year round, the architecture and beautiful campus (people often underestimate how much these things matter in keeping you in a good mental state during the hours spent on homeworks and projects). The faculty are world renown, lecturers are very good in general, and office hours are very helpful for understanding concepts you didn’t catch in class. Also, as a private university, student organizations get huge budgets which means lots of activities and free stuff for everyone throughout the year.

T: The reputation and quality of teaching at MIT is well known within the industry and is held in high regard.

CM: I had an undergraduate degree in EE, and I wanted a program to bridge my crossover to CS. EECS is the best of both worlds. I didn’t particularly like the reputation of UC Berkeley (w.r.t. protests and safety), but the program and the vicinity to the Bay Area is too perfect to give up.

3. Are there any specific requirements for application?

These are additional requirements on top of the documents listed in section 4.

D: Bachelor’s degree in a STEM field (transcripts).

T: None.

CM: Personal history - Written component detailing your background and why you want to study at Berkeley.

4. How would you rank the application requirements in order of importance?

These are estimations based on what we know, so please take these with a grain of salt.

D: I would say
1. Statement of purpose
2. Letters of recommendation
I can’t give you a minimum required GPA because such information is not released but you should know that admissions is competitive so you probably need a high GPA anyway. I got my letters of recommendation from 2 different internship supervisors and one of which was at a research institute. I didn’t see what they wrote but they were very happy with the quality of my intern work, which I think helped with my recommendations a lot.

T: Meeting the minimum GRE cutoff would be the most important, after that they will consider other aspects. Basically they will assess your ability to excel in the program as well as how you can apply the knowledge in the future.

CM: 1. Statement of purpose
2. Letters of recommendation
3. Personal history
GRE and GPA must pass minimum requirements. Average GPA is 3.8, average GRE scores are 157/166.

5. What is the program structure like?

D: 45 credits to graduate - 12 units depth, 9 units breadth, 15 units technical, 9 units electives. Students typically do 9 units per quarter (3 classes) to graduate in 5 quarters (~1.5 years)

T: Coursework and a research thesis based on an attachment to a company. The industrial attachment is the hallmark of the program as it allows you to work in a team and apply what you have learnt in an actual problem that the company faces.

CM: 1. Compulsory bootcamp - MBA classes everyday over a period of 2 weeks.
2. Roughly 2-3 technical courses per semester, you rank courses, then they assign you based on your engineering discipline and track.
3. Capstone project - can be research under a professor, or working with an industry partner to produce a solution. Capstone project can be across disciplines and tracks.

6. How is the diversity of the program?

D: According to the Stanford website, 33% of graduate students are international, 14% are asian american and 38% white. Most of my friends in EE are Asian American, and want to work in the bay area for startups, big tech companies or in IC design (my EE specialization is in Circuits)

T: My peers consisted of people from around the world. Many of them have found jobs in manufacturing while some have found jobs in mechanical design. The good thing about manufacturing is that the knowledge can be applied to nearly every industry from medical, oil and gas, semiconductor, automobile, etc.

CM: Majority internationals, majority looking for employment in the US. One or two pursuing further studies. Perhaps half of them are Asian. My Singaporean friends are mostly on scholarships.

7. Any tips or tricks you want to share to get into your program?

D: My impression of Stanford is that they want students to be holistically trained and be able to do very interdisciplinary work. This is very evident from the way the classes are designed. Hence, I would recommend writing in your statement of purpose about applying your domain knowledge into other fields to solve problems and any relevant research that you have done in the past. Try to find out more about faculty and what they are doing and indicate your interest in working with these professors. My opinion is that nothing works better than showing that your statement of purpose is tailored specifically to Stanford and not a generic one. Ultimately, even if you don’t get into Stanford, it doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough, there’s always a bit of luck involved with a low admissions rate.

T: While grades may get you a spot into the interview session, its really your character, project experiences and ambition that will be the defining factor.

CM: Berkeley is well-known to be extremely liberal, so try to focus your personal history on the challenges you’ve encountered, as well as how you’ve helped others along the way.

Why Everyone Thinks Hillary Clinton is all about Identity Politics

A few days ago I read an article from Vox about Hillary Clinton. In light of her presidential defeat, people are offering up theories as to why she could never seem to find appeal amongst the masses. Her approval ratings dipped ever since she left her job as the Secretary of State, and it only worsened over the course of her presidential campaign. The article points to a common criticism people have – that Hillary Clinton ran on a campaign of identity politics, pandering to special-interest groups while shoving aside the woes of the disillusioned working-class voters.

The author then reveals a surprising statistic. By compiling all of Hillary Clinton’s campaign speeches and doing a word-frequency analysis, he found that the most common words in Clinton’s speeches were in fact, not about identity politics, but about economic issues.

I was perplexed. If Hillary Clinton spoke mostly about economic issues, then why does it seem like all we hear about in the media are abortion rights and immigration laws? Could it be that the media is skewing its representation of the presidential candidates? After all, such rhetoric sells. Identity politics are the centerpiece of viral, click-baity headlines which can be only be described as ‘outrage porn’.

To test this hypothesis, I scraped Vox for all the articles it published containing the word “Hillary” in the title and “Clinton” in the body, from the start of the Democratic primaries to the end of the general election. I then did a word-frequency analysis for the same words and in the same order as the graphic from the original article. Here are the results.

Word Count

For comparison, here is the original graphic published in the Vox article.

Original Graphic

Just by taking a glance at the two graphs, one can immediately see a difference in Vox’s coverage of Hillary Clinton versus the issues she talked about. To its credit, Vox does mention ‘Economy’ and ‘Jobs’ the most. However, if you look at the section under ‘Identity Politics’, you can see exactly which topics Vox is over-representing. ‘Abortion’, ‘Latino’, ‘Immigrant/Immigration’, and ‘Gun(s)’ are all keywords which stand out when compared to Hillary Clinton’s campaign speeches. In the other two sections, ‘Russia’, ‘ISIS’, ‘Wall Street’, ‘Minimum wage’, and ‘Trade’ are the keywords that are over-represented. With the exception of ‘Trade’, the rest are all keywords which divide opinion just as much as identity politics do.

I didn’t write this just to rag on Vox and point out its hypocrisy in publishing an article that downplays identity politics. I wrote this because I feel that news outlets need to be aware of their own biases when writing stories. I consider myself a moderate, and I have been feeling increasingly alarmed by what I am seeing in the media. It seems as though each media source is focused only on pushing their respective agendas, neglecting stories and omitting details that do not fit their rhetoric.

There has been a media frenzy recently about so-called ‘fake news’ and disinformation, leading to a witch-hunt to weed out these unscrupulous news sites. As always, this simplistic view does not reflect a much more nuanced reality. The mainstream media we consume all come with concealed biases that are much harder to detect and much more pervasive than ‘fake news’.

Confucious once said “中庸之为德也,其至矣乎”. That roughly translates to “The golden mean is the highest virtue”. If we want to bridge the divide that seem to so consume us, we need to realize our own biases and look to the other side of the aisle.

A Revelation, of Sorts

Before I left Singapore, I read about a half dozen articles on travel that my friends shared on Facebook. That’s the amazing thing about Facebook nowadays. They see that you’re clicking something and they just keep feeding you more. The downside is that your Facebook feed becomes an echo chamber, but then again, I think I’ve read enough about that on Facebook.

About half of these articles extolled the virtues of travelling, while the other half denounced travellers as classist, pretentious, and overbearing. To be honest, they didn’t much have an impact on me, as I was more concerned over the practicalities of living abroad. I simply stowed these opinions away at the back of my mind.

My exchange destination was Sweden, and when I arrived the first thing that struck me, besides the cold, was how empty the place was. I tell you, people who live in big crowded cities all their lives will be really surprised by how sparsely populated smaller cities can be. It wasn’t really that difficult to adjust to, it was just… different.

Not long after I settled down in Sweden, I decided to pack my bags once again and go travelling. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Europe, and I wanted to visit as many places as possible. I made it a point to avoid travelling too often with fellow Singaporeans, since I tend to have this herd mentality and only stick with the group. In the end, it is really the trips that I have taken alone and the people that I’ve met along the way that defined my exchange experience. Over the period of these six months, I’ve had many thoughts and opinions, so I decided to write them down.

Angry Baby
The angry baby in Oslo. Why is the baby angry? I’ve got a theory — existential angst.

All the world’s a stage

I always had this preconceived notion that Westerners are a lot more extroverted, out-going and boisterous than us. After all, you always heard about the wild partying and drinking culture abroad. What surprised me was how similar people actually were. There was a spectrum of people who embodied certain traits – cool, geeky, nerdy, sensible, but one would be hard-pressed to classify them into groups. Partying in Sweden is actually more like a social gathering, where people get together, drink, and perhaps play some games. It really isn’t the kind of hair-whipping, ass-shaking partying that we’re used to think about.

Sure, alcohol is cheaper there, and it is way easier to get drunk and do something stupid – there was a guy who “borrowed” our fire extinguisher and had no idea why the next morning – but the guys who partied are like you and me. Perhaps due to the scarcity of interest groups, college students in Sweden seem to bond over drinks instead. I have also heard the legend that Swedes go to bed before the pleasantries, but I’ve never experienced or witnessed that personally. What I’m saying is that most people act in the context of their cultures, and individually, they are no different at all.

That said, I would like to make a few sweeping generalizations on cultural differences based on observations of people I’ve met. People from large countries tend to be more assured of their place in the world and tend to have a stronger take on world issues. If you go to a tourist attraction and hear a commotion, there’s a high chance that that person is from the US or China. The same can be said if you overhear someone talking about politics. Perhaps this difference boils down to the fact that there’s just so many of them, or perhaps there really is a difference between – as Ronaldo would say – a “small mentality”, and a big one.

Another observation is that in my limited interaction with Eastern Europeans (and Russians), I noticed that they seem to decide whether they like you or hate you really fast. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone decided that they really hated me.

Iceland Statue
Roleplaying in Iceland.


When people hear that I’m from Singapore they usually have one of two reactions. “Oh I love Singapore!”, or “Is it true that you can get caned for chewing gum?” The ones who have been here and seen our beautiful city tend to be full of admiration, while the ones who have only heard about us on the news are a little more critical. Now, I’ll be honest and say that I have never felt a strong sense of belonging to Singapore. Perhaps it is due to my upbringing, but I’ve always felt… uprooted, as if I’ll never really belong here, or anywhere, for that matter. Coupled to this is the fact that I’ve never quite liked the rigidity of our education system or the paternalistic nature of our government.

Nevertheless, if there’s one thing you can’t deny, it is that Singapore has undoubtedly come a long way in a really short period of time. For people to even recognize the name of our country – but a tiny red dot – is no small feat itself. Our infrastructure is amazing, even in comparison to most European countries, and the fact that we can live harmoniously with significant Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities is mind-boggling. It is only after I have lived overseas that I realized how unique our situation is.

*For the record, Sweden is one of the most welcoming places I’ve been, and it is definitely a pleasure to live there. I’m not commenting based on my own experiences as an exchange student, but based on what I have observed.

In certain European countries, there seem to be a distinct sense of – to borrow the words of a famous philosopher – “Otherness”. Sub-communities exist almost disconnected from the mainstream. These are usually Eastern Europeans (less so because of similarities in culture), Middle Eastern people, or Africans. Whenever someone points out a problem with this, the standard response from politicians and media alike comes in the form of a lot of hand-waving and a few lines on diversity and acceptance. I don’t think that there is any easy way to tackle the issue, but the first step to solving any problem is to admit that there is a problem. Perhaps the government needs to make the tough and unpopular decision of turning people away until they can figure out how to deal with them. Integration must be done in small steps, and that is on condition that you don’t let sub-communities form. Honestly, I worry a little for the Swedes, since they have taken in a large number of migrants recently and I can already sense slight problems festering within their otherwise admirable society.

I could say that I am a little relieved and a little proud that our government is able to coerce such a diverse group of people to behave. The Economist may call us out for being undemocratic and authoritarian, but I’m content as long as we can avoid the racial riots of the past. In actuality, “coerce” may be too strong a word, and “persuade” is a little more accurate. Bottom line is, when the line is drawn in the sand - or snow, you cannot bend to the whims of any group of people, be they part of the majority or minority.

Swedish laplands. It’s too white… Racists!

… and prejudice

Being in a situation where I was constantly traveling and almost didn’t have to study gave me the benefit of having a lot of time to mull over certain things. One of these things is why Singaporeans are so unhappy. Singaporeans have been consistently ranked as one of the most unhappy nations in the world, despite our rather high income and standard of living. Why are we so unhappy? The answer, I think, lies within our competitiveness, or rather, our glorification of competitiveness.

It is a story we are all familiar with. Since kindergarten, kids are forced to sit through classes, remedial lessons, supplementary lessons, musical lessons, and everything else you can think of. As a result, Singaporean kids become the most irritating little know-it-all jerks I have ever seen, and that is coming from someone who likes kids.

No, but really. PSLE, ‘O’ levels, and ‘A’ levels are probably some of the most important times in your lives, and doing well for them is your only sure way to success. Stray from this path and you’ll be trampled mercilessly underfoot the thousands of other students clamoring for a spot in university. Even when adults meet, it is customary to discuss your jobs and future, or god forbid, your children’s jobs and future. This can also manifest in more sinister ways. If you drop out of school, for example, you can be sure that most of your friends are silently judging you as a failure.

Le Louvre
Judging my friend who is judging all those pretentious people trying to take a photo of Mona Lisa.

Everyone’s involuntary participation in the rat race creates a culture in which we glorify achievement, and much less thought goes into our happiness. I’ve met a foreigner (a Taiwanese, no less) who asked me for my thoughts on this. I didn’t really know what to say, except that to me, it seems unavoidable. Truth is, I’ve mostly been comfortable with the rat race, and I’ve never really put much thought into it. He also questioned why so many of our cleaners and service staff are elderly, and I didn’t really have a good answer to that either.

One of the great things of living in a place that is completely unfamiliar is that you have no expectations of what people are going to be like. If I see a Singaporean, for example, I would immediately start judging him based on how he dresses and how he speaks. I don’t do it consciously, but it happens. Not so much with foreigners; I could meet a junkie and have no idea until he starts trying to sell me pot. This has opened me up to a lot of conversations with people that I would otherwise not have. One of the greatest takeaways of this trip for me is that I’m more open to people, because really, people are all the same inside. In a way, I think I’ve become less prejudiced.

Again, this may be because I’m a foreigner, but rarely have I ever met a stranger’s eyes in Singapore and exchanged a smile, but it happens pretty often in Europe. I guess part of the reason is that we’re constantly rushing for time. I’ve never noticed how fast Singaporeans walk until now.

Generally, it seems that the less emphasis you put on your career, the happier you tend to be. I’ve met guys who lived as though the next day is their last, and they are happiest of the lot. Is there a way to balance happiness with competitiveness? I really have no idea, and if there was, I am not sure where the balance would lie.

Happy Russian
One of the happpiest guys I met.

Veni, vidi, (vici?)

Thinking back to those articles I’ve read, I think the jury’s still out on whether travel is a way for one to “discover oneself”, or whether it’s just a self-gratifying thing to do. For me, I think it’s a little bit of both. I do want to experience foreign cultures, but I also like the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve been there, done that. One thing that I can really identify with though is the feeling of escape; the rush of excitement while visiting someplace new without a worry in the world. This feeling has really defined my exchange experience, and I am glad that I was blessed enough to have the chance to go for it.


Global Engineering Programme

Update: (14 August 2019) In the past few years, quite a few people have reached out to me regarding the contents of this post. For new readers, I would like to highlight that as of 2019, the Global Engineering Programme has been rebranded to Engineering Scholars Programme, and the programme has undergone an overhaul. It seems that the administration have addressed many of my concerns below, whether it has anything to do with this post I do not know. I have no knowledge on the effectiveness of these new measures, so read the post with this in mind.

I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time. This is my third semester in NUS, which means that I’ve been through my freshman year already. Studies wise, I’ve done pretty well, by some miracle I was even named the top student of my cohort. But I’m not satisfied.

I’m not satisfied because I feel like my school life has become just this - school. Before I entered NUS, I was accepted into the engineering ‘flagship programme’ - Global Engineering Programme, or GEP in short. The programme offers you a scholarship, and allows you to complete your bachelors degree in three years. By ‘allow’, I mean force. Yes, our engineering ‘flagship programme’ forces us to complete our studies in three years, cramming 6 or 7 modules every semester just to accomplish that. The result? We miss out on the opportunities other students have in terms of enriching our personal lives, work experience, or simply just broadening our horizons. We are unable to complete our internship attachment programme, we are unable to sign up for the NUS Overseas College programme, and some people I know can’t even go on overseas exchange because they have to complete their modules locally, which are only offered in alternate semesters. This is ironic as the programme is supposed to be ‘Global’, but it is the very thing that’s preventing us from stepping out of Singapore. Before we joined, we were also promised mentorship, site visits and special seminars, but none of that has happened. Granted, there has been a few talks here and there, but the site visits were totally non-existent, and mentorship is a bare minimum. Students under the programme are required to ‘overload’ and take more modules than normal every semester, but there is no structure to this and all the timetable clashes have to be sorted out ourselves. We have to be very careful of issues such as modules being pre-requisites of each other, and the pre-requisites being only offered in alternate semesters. A single mistake might cause us to lose our chance to go on exchange. To date, all the people I know who have dropped out of this programme have done so willingly because they can no longer see the benefit in it.

It is not like I am not grateful for the chance to be in this programme. I am, and I appreciate all the hard work our one and only working staff has put in to enrich the programme. I am also immensely grateful for all the friends I’ve made in the programme, without them I probably would have dropped out already. But I just want to raise the question: If this is really our engineering flagship programme, then what incentive do potential engineers have to join this field? The Straits Times recently published an article talking about the ‘high-tech brain drain’ in Singapore. The government wants to “enhance this sector’s appeal among youth and help it retain grads”. But if even our best and brightest are feeling disillusioned and pessimistic about the future of engineering, you can understand why the youth would not want to join this sector, or would jump at any job outside this sector at the first opportunity. To rectify this, I believe a few changes need to be made.

Remove the 3-year requirement to complete the programme

I get it. 3 years mean less financial burden. But weighed against the potential upsides the extra year can bring, I see zero reason for this requirement. Why not make this requirement optional, and let students choose whether they want to accelerate or not?

More enrichment programmes

Given that we’re touted as a ‘flagship programme’, the enrichment programmes we have is really underwhelming. And by underwhelming, I mean non-existent. Not even that, the fact that we have to accelerate even prevents us from joining any external programmes. I would have loved to go on NOC, but given how invested I am in this programme already, I find it hard to just drop out and go ahead with it.

Modules that are specifically targeted for people like us

Ok, let’s say you want to keep the 3-year requirement. At least offer some modules which allow us to clear our unrestricted electives, breadths, and depths without us having to worry about timetable clashes, programme requirements, and such. I have already suggested this to the professor: a good example would be School of Computing’s CP2201, Journey of the Innovator. The module is relatively light, compulsory SU, and provides us with information that cannot be learnt in the classroom. Having such a module would be really beneficial for people who want to accelerate, or just want to experience something different.

More structure

When we first joined the programme, we had no idea what to bid for, how to plan our modules, what are the requirements, etc. For other students, it is relatively easier since everything is preallocated, but we had to figure out which module to overload first, which module is a prerequisite of what, and which module can be mapped overseas. Some kind of structure, recommended schedule, or guideline would really help.

I know when I raise this issue to professors, some of them would respond with “You’re so privileged already, what more do you want?”. But that’s besides the point, you can always find someone who is worse off to compare yourself to. What we really need is change; something to shake up the old and weary beast that is engineering. In the startup culture (which is centered around engineering, mind you), everything changes and moves fast, and that is something I think we need to incorporate into the engineering mindset in Singapore. After all, the ability to adapt will definitely serve us well in the future.