One Year Left

July 21, 2021

What an interesting year...

The following is a brief account on the first half of my three years of university. With 1 more year left to go, it felt like a good time to look back and reflect on the experience thus far.

To be frank, the first semester of university overwhelmed me. It wasn’t as smooth sailing as I had anticipated. I did extremely poorly for my midterms. It was a legitimate blow, since I did so poorly to the point where the best I can achieve at the end is with B+/B. This spurred me on to study harder in my second semester. I had made the choice of not utilizing my SUs on the modules with B, and while that decision indeed motivated me to study harder, it had made my initial CAP quite low, thus denying me the possibility of overloading in my second semester.

My first semester showed me that university modules, specifically for computing and engineering, are not so straightforward. A certain amount of consistency must be placed to ensure a decent grade attained. Towards the end of the semester, I started to learn that our TAs and Professors are more than willing to assist us when we are behind or confused. This was something which I had utilized quite late in the first semester. The independent nature of university made it difficult for me to realize when I needed more help, and I had to learn the hard way to know that.

In my second semester of school, I had decided to join more CCAs and to join a second major in Innovation and Design (IDP). I had decided to focus entirely on my studies in my second semester, in order to pull up my grades. In the end, I did manage to do so. The cost was that I was rather unhappy at the end of the semester. I felt that despite working so hard, I did feel any different from raising my CAP. The stress of maintaining grades and the pressure to work even harder in my modules was still present.

I would have to admit my journey wasn’t completely smooth. I was never that A+ student acing every examination. I made the choice to learn as much as I can from the modules offered, knowing that sometimes I may not really score that well in them but I feel like I would gain the most from it.

Things started turning around when I explored different opportunities available to me in my second year. I had to fundamentally shift my mindset, since I had 2 main goals in my second year. First, I wanted to maintain my studies at an acceptable level. Second, I wanted to take on more interesting projects just to see what’s available, and how far I am able to stretch myself beyond just academics.

With that in mind, I started to take part in more CCAs and external projects. I wouldn't say that it was an easy experience, trying to put myself out there into additional projects on top of managing school work. What I encountered was that working within a team environment is extremely different from that of solo projects. People dynamics come into play, and it takes some effort to get used to. I did my best to be as professional and possible, and made many mistakes in the process despite my best efforts.

I joined the NUS Investment Society under the Quantitative Finance Department in the first semester of my second year. This was my first time exploring something new. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to be able to get in since I thought I had messed up the interview. Being able to join such a large CCA and benefit from the weekly sharing sessions showcased to me how important the willingness to ask for what you want. It also showed me that there is no harm in trying to take part in internships since the only investment that we need to make is the time involved in researching and applying for those positions.

Towards the middle of the semester, I had joined a hackathon competition conducted by ComfortDelgro. This was quite an experience, since it gave me a chance to work with my peers who are determined to give the best idea possible. We didn’t set out to win the competition, we just focused on producing the best idea possible by giving constructive criticism to each of our ideas & suggestions. It was a pleasant experience working with such a dynamic team, even though we may face some difficulties along the way. Working with this team made me realize that to produce good solutions, I must be willing to accept that the ideas that I suggest are not perfect, and that I have to be open to accepting criticism from others. It taught me that I have to separate my ego from my ideas, so that I will view criticism objectively instead of personally.

My experience in taking IDP modules was also eye opening, since it showed me the importance of backing our claims with research and evidence. Granted, I have only completed 2 modules thus far which are EG2311 & EG2201A. I am currently in the process of completing EG3301R, a year long module which involves a design project. In trying to apply design thinking to innovate and solve real world problems, it made me realize that good solutions only come after finding meaningful problems to solve. Getting inspiration to find the right problems to solve takes some time, and when you apply certain principles it makes the process easier. Within IDP, the courses are structured in a way such that the situation is presented to you, just that more effort is needed to practice the critical thinking skills needed to identify the right problems to solve and to form the best creative solution.

In November 2019, I joined the Developer's Student Club under the NUS Chapter. I worked as a software developer under their External Team A project for that year. This experience was colourful, since it taught me that clear communication is key. Having the technical skills to complete a project is one thing, but an equally important skill would be the ability to adapt to rapid changes. Team dynamics play an important role to the success and longevity of a project. Clear and honest communication between team members is key in ensuring that the project is steered in the right direction.

What I realized from participating in such clubs and external competitions was that the key things which kept me motivated were 2 factors, one being willing to accept failure and second is the enjoyment you get out of such activities. If I am willing to try something new despite not being very good at it, and still somehow managed to have fun from the experience, it would benefit me regardless of the outcome.

Dealing with internships was something I only found myself being very motivated to do so after joining Investment Society, since from their weekly meetings they placed great emphasis on resume making and interview tips. The big secret is to just apply for internship positions, and to not be afraid of getting rejected. This spurred me to apply to NUS Information Technology, where I had started out as a Winter Intern in December 2019, and had been interning there ever since on a part-time basis and throughout the Summer of 2020.

I am fairly certain that everyone will have their own opinion of what their university life should look like. This is just me recounting my experiences up to this point, and thus far I feel that it was worthwhile. I look forward to the coming years, and hope that I will be part of even more interesting projects.