Masters of their Own Destiny

By A/P Ludwig Tan
Dean, School of Humanities and Behavioural Science

Choosing whether to study for a master’s degree is seldom an easy decision. After all, if your bachelor’s degree already equips you to do your job, would it make sense to spend more time and money pursuing another degree?

As Dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences (SHBS), I was delighted to speak with some alumni to find out what made them rise to the challenge of studying for a master’s.

For SUSS research associate Kua Wui Sing, the decision to apply for the Master of Social Science Research (MRESS) programme was a pragmatic one. As an entry-level researcher supporting a project, he felt he needed to learn more in order to do his job better.

The [MRESS] was new, but the curriculum fitted my needs at that time like a glove

SUSS Research Associate Kua Wui Sing

Similiarly, SUSS associate faculty Starion Lim signed up for the MRESS programme as it encompasses theoretical and practical knowledge for further research pursuit in his areas of interest, which include positive psychology and well-being. For some Master of Applied Linguistics (MATSL) alumni, the familiarity of SUSS was a draw.

I was excited to see that my alma mater had a master’s programme aligned with my interests in the English language and teaching.

SUSS Writing Coach Angela Yeo

When I came across the MATSL programme, I felt it ticked the right boxes because I was already familiar with SUSS’s teaching style and the flexibility it offered working adults. I was also confident that the material covered would be of high quality.

Farhana Hossain, Immigration Officer at High Commission

During my time teaching in an international school, all my students came from various countries such as China, India, Korea and Myanmar. Throughout my years of teaching these foreign students, I saw many of them struggling to grasp the English language. It always gave me an urge to understand more about teaching English as a second or foreign language.

Cynthia Loh, Tutor

Teaching English in the classroom has become more challenging because of the increasing diversity of learners in public schools. Hence, I was keen to gain a better understanding of the process of second-language acquisition and practical social, cognitive and motivational strategies that could help me plan effective language lessons for bilingual learners.

Desmond Chan, English Tutor at Indigo Enrichment Centre

Our alumni found the MRESS and MATSL programmes to be an eye-opening and intellectually stimulating experience.

My classmates were educators from different sectors of our education landscape: they included pre-school teachers, educators in institutes of higher learning, assistant teachers, tutors to EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language) students, and retirees from the pioneer generation. This diverse mix afforded immensely rich and exciting discussions that enabled me to comprehend from first-hand accounts how language learning has evolved throughout the years, the advantages and disadvantages of language learning pedagogy employed then and now, and views on literacy in each sector of the educational landscape.

Dashni d/o Ravindran, Curriculum Planning Officer at Ministry of Education

I am privileged to have been taught by some of the finest lecturers and professors in the linguistics field in Singapore. We had a broad and all-encompassing selection of courses to choose from, which allowed us to gain insights into the different areas of linguistics, English and TESOL.

Gurjeitpahl Kaur Bajjaj, English Teacher

I am privileged to have been taught by some of the finest lecturers and professors in the linguistics field in Singapore. We had a broad and all-encompassing selection of courses to choose from, which allowed us to gain insights into the different areas of linguistics, English and TESOL.

Gurjeitpahl Kaur Bajjaj, English Teacher

Shafinaz Salleh Omar, a sales support executive with the publisher Marshall Cavendish, felt that the small class sizes contributed to better communication between her classmates and their tutors. Moreover, she felt that the MATSL programme enhanced her understanding of the use of English as a teaching and communication tool and gave her insights into effective teaching methods in EFL and ESL contexts.

The MRESS programme was also an enriching experience for Starion, who found the assignments not only interesting but also valuable in honing his technical skills as a researcher. For Wui Sing, the self-directed approach of the programme was a plus. “I felt like I was doing something practical and purposeful. The mental space we were invited to explore was never limited. The most mundane research tasks had meaning, just like how a veteran cook would look at steaming rice,” he explains.

Although the assignments were challenging, we bonded through working on them. Somehow, we found ways to have a lot of fun while managing the rigour of the programme, such as going out for a hearty meal together after we had submitted our group assignments.

Yong Mei Fong, Teacher

Somewhat more eventfully, as part of an assignment, Shafinaz and her group partner sat in a criminal appeal hearing for drug importation and witnessed a tense debate between defence lawyers, prosecutors and appeal judges. Back in class, their presentation overran as they were emotionally affected by what they had witnessed in court. Studying for the MRESS was also a rollercoaster of emotions for Wui Sing, who recalls that “[i]n a memorable span of 2 days, I experienced my worst and best moments back-to-back – the day before I defended my thesis, and the day I walked out of the final session without failing, respectively”.

Besides gaining theoretical and practical knowledge about their disciplines, studying at SUSS proved to be a voyage of self-discovery for our alumni. Starion believes that SUSS has made him a more confident and emphatic person, and better able to relate to people he is working with.

Prior to commencing [the MATSL] programme, I counted myself lucky that I even completed my degree on a part-time basis. Through this master’s programme, I realised the potential in me I never thought I had”. Indeed, our alumni also gained skills that transcended the disciplines in which they were trained.

Victoria Jay Ong, Adjunct English Lecturer at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)

As Desmond observes, “Besides improving my teaching pedagogy, the rigour in the MATSL course helped me become more analytical in approaching questions and made me a more effective communicator in academic discourse. These are valuable skills that are applicable to many professions – and having to balance work and studies also helped me improve my time management skills.”

Equally importantly, the MRESS and MATSL programmes have helped our alumni derive greater satisfaction from their work and perform better at the workplace. Dashni feels she is now better able to create interesting content to facilitate the development of language skills and promotion of reading in schools, while Cynthia finds that she can support the language learning needs of foreign students more effectively and help them gain confidence in their use of English language.

Likewise, Desmond is now more structured in his teaching and more sensitive to how the social environment and classroom discourse can have a significant impact on English learning. Among other things, Shafinaz finds she is now better at designing book programmes, writing book reviews and working with graphic designers to produce effective posters.

Armed with their MRESS degrees, Wui Sing and Starion are now teaching at their alma mater: Wui Sing teaches a research methods course at SUSS, while Starion teaches psychology courses. In addition, Starion has presented his research papers at prestigious international conferences and is currently preparing a journal article for publication. What advice do our graduates have for applicants considering our graduate programmes?

Keep an open mind and embrace the challenges. You will be surprised by what you are capable of.

SUSS Associate Faculty and Writing Coach Sharon Lee

Likewise, Starion advises, “Suspend any preconceived judgements towards a subject because you will be surprised by how much you can learn with a receptive mindset.” To get the best out of your studies, Wui Sing advises, “I believe a more pro-active style towards learning – for example, reading widely and ahead of lessons – would help greatly in stress and time management.” In similar vein, Gurjeitpahl advises, “Time management is key. Work hard and persevere, clear all your doubts on time, participate actively in class, and go the extra mile in your studies. Every effort will pay off!”

Special thanks to the following alumni for sharing their experiences.

Mr Kua Wui Sing

Class of 2019
Master of Social Science Research

Mr Lim Junhan Starion

Class of 2013, BSc (Hons) Psychology
Class of 2019, Master of Applied Research in Social Sciences

Mdm Yeo Lay Hwa Victoria Angela

Class of 2014, BA English Language and Literature
Class of 2017, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics

Ms Farhana Hossain

Class of 2009, BA (Hons) English Language and Literature
Class of 2019, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics

Ms Dashni D/O Ravindran

Class of 2014, BSc Mathematics
Class of 2017, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics

Ms Gurjeitpahl Kaur Bajjaj

Class of 2019, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics

Ms Sharon Lee | Mr Desmond Tan

Far Left: Ms Sharon Lee
Class of 2016, BA (Hons) English Language and Literature;
Class of 2018 Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics
Far Right: Mr Desmond Tan
Class of 2018, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics

Other alumni who shared their experiences:

  1. Ms Cynthia Loh, Class of 2019, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics
  2. Ms Yong Mei Fong, Class of 2018, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics (TESOL)
  3. Ms Victoria Jay Ong
    Class of 2016, BA English Language and Literature,
    Class of 2019, Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics

The Master of Social Science Research (MRESS) programme emphasises the use of social science knowledge and the application of research to address evolving social science issues, and equips students with vital research and analytical skills. There are two intakes a year, in the January and July semesters.

The Master of Applied Linguistics (TESOL) (MATSL) programme provides a sound theoretical foundation and practical skills for a career in English language teaching, management in TESOL or other related work in various educational contexts in Singapore or overseas. It caters to the professional development needs of those currently working or planning to work as language teachers, and those planning to switch to a career related to language education.

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