• Katherine Pan

How would you spend your summer vacation? Well, one option is to sign up for a special term AKA summer school. In NUS two special terms are held during summer vacation, with each being 6 weeks long.


Special term I is held from May to June, while special term II is held from June to July. Students will be informed via email when applications for each special term begin. While applying to study for a special term, I did not recall having to fulfill any requirements. Do note that tuition fees for special terms will be charged based on the number of modules taken. This is unlike a normal academic semester, where tuition fees are fixed, and students may take up additional modules at no extra cost.


Why do a Special Term?

Compelling reasons to do a special term include choosing to graduate earlier, wanting to clear academic workload, not being graded on a bell curve, hoping to explore one’s interests, or taking up modules only offered during special terms.


For me, I was behind my recommended schedule and had to overload in the upcoming semester. Being fully aware of how stressful overloading can be, I decided to clear my academic workload by applying for a special term. Hence, I took up special term II in AY20/21. Although summer class intensified my student loans, I saw it as a worthwhile trade for a less hectic student life during the semester. With only a handful of modules offered during special term II, none of them caught my attention. This was until I discovered FASStrack Asia.


FASStrack Asia: The Summer School

Welcome to the NUS summer school that offers FASS modules to university students locally and internationally. Under normal circumstances, international students would fly to Singapore and attend classes at NUS. We would be offered accommodation on campus, attend local field trips with international students, and participate in social nights.


However, my experience was confined to my 15-inch laptop because none of the fun stuff actually happened. Prevailing COVID regulations ensured that classes remained conducted through Zoom, so there was no reason for international students to fly to Singapore. Without the option to stay on campus or take part in social activities, my FASStrack experience was no different from studying normal special term modules. The only difference within my semester was the presence of exchange students from New Zealand and China, who offered alternative voices during class.


Interestingly, FASStrack boasts several unique modules. One of them was GEH1052 – Standard English Across Cultures. It was a linguistic module that teaches students how to analyze language using phonetics, lexis, grammar, and meaning in context. Although it is a GEH, it is not offered during the normal semester and is only conducted under FASStrack.


My Experience

Clearing a single module within 6 weeks may not sound academically demanding, but do not be mistaken. My special term was without doubt one of the most stressful periods of my undergraduate studies. Under FASStrack, I took up NM3234Y - Leadership, Communication, and Organizations as an unrestrictive elective.


To understand why special terms are stressful, let me explain the academic calendar. Within the six weeks, there were only 4 weeks of effective learning. Week 3 was stand-down week while week 6 was examination week. Thus, lecturers must squeeze an entire semester’s worth of content into a month. Within each week, I had to attend 3 classes and each class was 3 hours long.


As the module was mainly based on theoretical knowledge, I did not think the content would be difficult to grasp. Indeed, I was right, but I was constantly kept on my toes as a new theory was introduced in every lesson. Mind you, the previous class could have been just a day ago thus there was hardly time to review what was taught prior. Although lecturers do remove some topics to reduce the amount of content, I still feel that the possibility of informational overload is very real. However, the most challenging aspect of a special term did not arise from comprehending what was taught.


Instead, it was the workload that threw me off. While the lecturers rushed to teach everything within a month, us student also had to complete all submissions within the same month. Imagine cramping an entire semester’s worth of workload and submission into 4 weeks. This was no joke because all essays, presentations, and quizzes had to be completed within the timeframe. I recall having to pull multiple all-nights in my final week to rush 4 submissions that had back-to-back deadlines. For comparison, I never pulled an all-nighter during the semester because I usually finish my tasks on time.

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To do well for a special term, self-discipline is essential to keep up with tight submission deadlines. At the beginning of the term, tutors would go through the timeline of the module. Knowing when each submission is due would be immensely helpful to plan your approach. I recommend scheduling a timetable of when to start on an assignment. This would reduce the stress and the need to juggle multiple submissions that may have back-to-back deadlines.


Should You Do a Special Term?

If you are on the fence on whether you should do summer school, do consider the following questions:


1. Are the additional tuition fees justifiable for the reason you choose to do a special term?

For local students, one module typically costs around $800 to $1,400. Do consider if your reason for choosing a special term is compelling. If you want to clear your academic workload, there are free alternatives. Under the Design Your Own Module program, credit-bearing edX courses can be accessed through Luminus. Up to 8MCs worth of unrestricted elective space can be utilized with NUS reimbursing up to USD600 per student. More information can be found here. https://www.nus.edu.sg/registrar/academic-information-policies/undergraduate-students/design-your-own-module


2. What choices are you giving up?

Summer vacation is a great time to explore different avenues and ventures without school weighing one down. One can do a summer internship, go for student exchanges offered by NUS Global Relations Office, participate in hackathons or international competitions, and take part in student life activities. Do research widely on available options and consider the value of each choice carefully.


3. Can you handle the stress of a special term?

I do think that a special term is not for the faint hearted because of its hectic schedule. If you plan to do two modules during a special term, do consider your ability to work under immense pressure. There would be no time to catch a breather when the ball gets rolling.


Besides the above considerations, one tip is to plan your academic schedule ahead of time. Only a limited number of modules are offered during special terms I and II. Hence, adjustments may have to be made to accommodate whatever modules are available.


Conclusion

My special term allowed me to make good use of my summer by reducing my academic workload and allowed me to gain insights into my topic of interest. If you are considering whether a special term is right for you, I want to say that there is no right or wrong answer. After all, I believe that the value of whatever option we decide on depends on how much we make out of it.

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  • Katherine Pan

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Knowing that I have only two summer vacations left before becoming a corporate slave motivates me to make the most out of it. The highlights of my latest summer vacation were attending two lovely Candlelight concerts and almost drowning in a water park. In general, my summer was productive because I planned for it before vacation began. I managed to work on my personal goals and attended summer school. Unfortunately, not all plans could come to fruition as Singapore also went into lockdown during this period due to the rise in COVID cases. Despite this, I was not letting COVID dampen my summer fun because yo girl is out to live her best life. This virus is not going to stop me from living my roaring 20s in this depressive ‘20s.


This tweet did not age well. (Source)


Candlelight Concert

The ad for Fever’s Candlelight Concert has appeared consistently on my Instagram feed since the start of this year. The thought of watching a musical performance illuminated by candlelight at Singapore’s most iconic venues sounded irresistible to me. The alluring atmosphere sounded magical, and I pictured myself being captivated by the recital in the audience stand. After several months of contemplation, I decided to go for not one, but two candlelight concerts!


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The first was Chopin’s Best Works at Victoria Theatre. Joined by my best friend, we decided to go for Chopin’s Best Works at her recommendation. As a current in-training classical pianist, Chopin was one of her favorite composers. Now, I am no professional musician, nor do I know much about classical music so I just went along with it. My only musical knowledge came from the time I played the flute in the symphonic band in secondary school. I would be lying if I said that I was a good musician because I struggled seriously with rhythm; I could play an entire passage out of time without knowing it.


With the concert held at Victoria Theatre, Churen Li was our pianist and her performance dazzled us. Throughout the recital, I had great joy dissecting the different layers of her playing. It was complex, rich, and intense. According to my friend, the reason was that she managed to successfully and authentically channel Chopin’s interpretation of the pieces. Additionally, she had impressive performance techniques and great showmanship. I even found myself thinking about the different aspects of musicianship during the concert as Churen Li’s performance truly left me awestruck.


The performance was absolutely magnificent. (Source)


Now, I had a 1500 words essay due on the same day as the concert and I was extremely stressed out by it. As I chose to do summer school, I had 4 submissions due in the same week with back-to-back deadlines. I did contemplate skipping the concert due to the immense pressure and tight deadlines I was under. Looking back, I am exceptionally relieved that I did not because the performance was phenomenal.


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The second candlelight concert was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Chamber, The Arts House. Interestingly, The Arts House may be the oldest surviving building in Singapore and it used to house the Parliament of Singapore from 1965 to 1999. This time I was joined by my boyfriend, who suggested that we go for Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Again, I was unfamiliar with Vivaldi’s works but when I heard the beginning of Four Seasons on Youtube, I recognized the piece because it was so iconic. As both of us were not musically trained, we went to the concert to savor the romantic candlelit experience and the pieces played.


My view for the night.


Vocalise String Quartet were the performers for the night, and their recital was pure ecstasy to the ears. As this was my first violin concerti, I did not know what to listen out to. However, I was spellbound throughout the musical piece as my ears were pampered by the delightful playing. I felt that Vivaldi had included numerous elements of suspense into his work. I had great pleasure sitting through the tension and built up in the music for the grand reveal of each season. My boyfriend also noted that Vivaldi’s composition included a distinctive element that makes him stand out from other composers. The performance was so pleasurable that at the end of it, we found ourselves itching to book tickets for another Candlelight concert. It was also the perfect date night activity because the Arts House was located next to the Singapore River, which was perfect for a late-night stroll.


How I Almost Died At Adventure Cove

Adventure Cove had been closed for more than a year until it reopened recently in May 2021. News of its reopening reached me in no time thanks to my boyfriend, and we bought tickets for the first day. It was my second visit to the water park, and just as I remembered it was enjoyable and lots of fun. Well except that this time, I almost drowned on one of the rides.


The incident happened on the first ride we took at the park, which was the Riptide Rocket. The official website describes it as “Like an intense rollercoaster on water. It combines all the powerful climbs, plunging drops, terrifying twists and tight turns to set your adrenaline pumping.” Now, my friends know that I am way too timid to enjoy rollercoasters and would take every opportunity to sit out of one. Nevertheless, I took the ride not knowing that it was a big-dipper and was glad that I was still in one piece at the end. So, how did I almost drown? Well, the ride ends with the raft washing out to a small pool where we would get out. As fate would have it, my raft overturned and flipped me out of it. For context, I cannot swim because I never learned how to. Additionally, the pool was about 1.5 meters deep and standing at 1.6m, the pool was almost as tall as me.


This is how the pool looks like and how the raft should exit the pipe. (Source)


My first thoughts in the water were that I needed oxygen and I would die if I did nothing. I knew that I had to stand up by turning my body around and getting my feet on the ground. At that point in time, my mind was solely focused on obtaining air and I felt there was no sense of anxiousness. After adjusting my body in the water for a few seconds, I managed to break the water surface and felt cold air blowing across my face. Naturally, I opened my mouth to breathe but I had a rude shock when I took a giant gulp of chlorine water instead. Turns out, I was back in the water again because my feet still were not touching the ground. With my time for survival ticking away, fear started to creep into my head. I started to wonder why help was taking so long to come and the possibility of death had started to become very real. With water all around me, all I could hear was deafening silence and my pounding heartbeat. In hopes of survival, I began to thrash wildly in the water.


Moments later, a pair of hands reached out to pull me upright. A sense of relief washed over me when I finally managed to take my first breath out of the water. It turns out that my boyfriend came over to help as soon as he saw me struggle. Without his timely assistance, I would have continued to struggle futilely in the water. As the incident left me distraught, we decided to spend the rest of the day with a float in the lazy pool instead.


Conclusion

Summer is coming to an end with the next semester beginning tomorrow. I will be entering my third year and honestly, progressing into an upperclassman can be daunting. My modules are only going to be more difficult, and I have to begin sourcing for an internship for my second semester. Well, I tell myself that those are problems are future me. Present me is just glad that despite the restrictions and unexpected hurdles I encountered this summer, I was still able to make the best out of it.

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  • Katherine Pan

Year took: AY20/21 Semester 2


We rely on our moral compass to navigate moral dilemmas, and in EG2401A we learn about the moral compass engineers rely on in the workplace. Unique frameworks pertaining to different situations were taught to account for the various complex problems engineers may face throughout their careers. The module is a continual assessment with no final exams. The assessment criteria are as follow:


1) Tutorial Participation – 40%

2) Group Project – 60%

- Project Report

- Project Presentation


Lectures

EG2401A had weekly 2-hours lectures and the module was taught by four lecturers. Lecture content includes ethical theories and methodologies, academic research ethics, professional code of ethics, conflicts of interest, responsibilities in engineering, and intellectual property rights and protection.


I found lectures to be enjoyable because of how interesting and thought-provoking it was. The lecture examples were highly effective in conveying the importance of engineering ethics. Real-life examples such as the space shuttle Challenger disaster and Bhopal disaster were cited to reflect the serious ethical consequences that arise from engineering. These accidents could have been prevented but lapses of judgment led to its unraveling, which serves as a grave reminder of the heavy responsibilities engineers shoulder.


On week 10 Prof Lee held a voluntary review class and I recommend attending it. Besides clarifying our questions regarding the lecture content and the project, Prof Lee gave out additional invaluable tips on how to score better for the project report.


Tutorials

Tutorials were face-to-face classes, and my tutor was Prof Wang. In tutorial 0, attendance was mandatory to assign us to our project groups. For subsequent tutorials attendance was optional, but I suggest attending them as class participation is graded. In every tutorial session, a single group would present their answers to the entire tutorial worksheet, followed by a question-and-answer session with the class.


I would have preferred if multiple groups took part in presenting their answers on different segments of the worksheet instead of having one team present all of it. Firstly, some tutorial worksheets are much longer than others, so it is unfair for some groups due to the increased workload. Secondly, it provides more students the opportunity to speak up about the topic and share their insights instead of listening to the opinions of a single team. However, the format of tutorials differs from tutor to tutor.


Project

In tutorial 0, each group would choose their project topic from a given list containing 9 topics that range from technology, ethical conduct, to safety and environmental concerns. A 2-pages interim report outlining the scope of the project and its progress was to be submitted in recess week, while a 20-pages final report was to be submitted on week 11. In weeks 12 and 13, groups would give a 20-minutes presentation on their project topic.


My team chose to focus on global positioning systems (GPS), location-sensing smart devices, and their technologies. We had to consider different major application developments of such technologies; summarize the ethical dilemmas that were raised in the new technologies and possible solutions with consideration of the present and future.


In writing our report, we used ethical theories to define how ethical dilemmas can arise while using such technologies. We also included ethical problem-solving techniques, which are methodologies to determine whether a set of actions and solutions are the most ethical. Although it was easy to pinpoint possible ethical dilemmas, we faced difficulty finding real-life examples that portrayed the violation of specific ethics we mentioned. It could take me several hours of research just to find a suitable example that effectively illustrates so. Furthermore, we had to scan through countless research papers to propose solutions that tackle both technical and ethical shortcomings, which led to numerous sleepless nights.


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For the group presentation, we were graded under group project while the Q&A segment after each presentation was graded as part of class participation. To score for the Q&A segment, the groups in my class exchanged questions that we would like one another to ask to ensure that we can prepare our answers beforehand.


Conclusion

All in all, I think that EG2401A has a demanding workload for a 2MC module. Instead, it felt like a 4MC module due to the report and presentation. I suggest starting work on the final report as soon as possible as its submission deadline is much earlier than the usual week 13 deadline set by other modules.

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