Today’s April Fool’s Day, but today is the day I decided to write this letter, a letter to jot down a small part that happened in my life. I just came back from TLL from one of professor’s lab with another NO. You might think that’s tragic or nothing, but that’s another NO I can put into my collection. I spent my first year in NUS, settling onto this grey and lonely island and got a low CAP. You see, the thing in NUS is, if you are interested in that module – but you did badly there – sorry, please don’t touch that module. But first year, as I said, carefree, happy, adventourous – and weird, I venture across disciplinaries, taking combinations of modules that landed me in a deep mud. Not that you will do badly – just that, you didn’t do as well as others. So, this CAP thing come into your record and you will have loads of people saying , “Nevermind, keep working hard and pull up the CAP”. But the reality is, it is not as easy as pulling tug-of-war. The moment your first year ends, more or less, you can determine what class you are in. I won’t say there are no exceptions but how many people can be that exception? So, no matter how much better you try to be, you generally can’t expect your result to turn from all Cs to all As, at least, you need to go through Bs. So, here is the issue, I would like to learn something inside a lab – not a practical lab, I wish to make experiments where success and failure is 50 – 50, where your hypothesis is really a hypothesis. So, there is this project named UROPs, a project NUS claimed to allowed most of its student to upgrade their skills in research. But, to enter that project, you need your CAP to be at least 3.0. So, although I improved my result, but the pulling factor is not strong enough to pull the whole CAP over 3.0. Therefore, I was categorized as the NO category in NUS. When you apply SEP, they say NO; when you apply UROPs, they say NO; when you want to do internship, they say NO; when you want to go honours, they say NO; when you go to find job, they probably will say NO too!
Here, I would like to share a really messy policy. So, when you have low CAP, you can’t go SEP, you can’t do UROPs and then, due to the CAP system, it’s unlikely you go to honours. Then when you go out to search for job, the employer will say first, you have low CAP; second, you have no research experience; third, you have no nice resume – and you will be answering inside, “But when my CAP was low in first year, they ask me to study; When I pulled a bit better in second year, they say concentrate on study and forget about SEP; When I improved a bit more in third year, they say keep up the work to qualify for honours and forget about UROPs. Then I realize I reached the end of third year, the qualification to honours year is 3.5 and if your CAP too low, no point continuing. And the they will tell you it’s okay – graduate and find your experience in the work field. Then here I landed with employer who says my resume is not good enough.”
This is not frustration, this is reality, when you are inside the category – you know how it feels. If I have a word for NUS, that will be: Thanks for your ‘policy’.
But anyway, that professor had a nice talk with me but was so sorry because of the policy. But I do want to thank him for giving me a chance to have a session with his lab student, where a phD student actually explained the lab work and processes, showed me around the lab and even offered me to visit the TLL lab (which I was so unluckily need time to go for the next lesson). It is a good learning process, although it was more of a 纸上谈兵 kind of learning.
Although the NOs I have collected might have piled up like a mountain, but I do meet with chance and luck. It’s another professor, the name will be protected for privacy purposes and her graduate student. My email was replied with meeting her and discussed about what I can learn in lab. After the chat, she gave me advices on studying hard as well and also ask me to wait for 2 to 3 weeks for her to find someone to teach me. You see, if I am going to learn in lab, not under some big-name programme like UROPs, it’s quite difficult as it will concern her own research and funds. I thought, the percentage of finding a willing professor to take this risk will be near zero. But after 2 weeks, I sent another email and she asked for another meeting. And this time, she told me a good news. She not only is willing to let me learn something, but also help out in her lab. Indeed, she actually found someone to teach me stuff and it was her graduate student (name protected for privacy as well). In fact, the graduate student was also one of them who said she should give me a chance! Although she said that I won’t be doing a project of my own but more on simple stuff in her lab, but I am honoured!!! This means, I am getting a chance to learn and is helping out in a tiny little part of a big research of hers, isn’t that wonderful? But deep inside, I really thank these two person who gave me my first step. In future, I will always remember, when I have no CAP to be compared with others, when I have nothing academic to be trusted on, when no other professors who are willing to take the risk of accepting a student like me, these two great people, are the ones who trusted my passion and trusted the instinct of Science where CAP can’t explain all. They gave me my first step and during vacation, I must try my best to learn and contribute to the research so that the opportunity is not wasted.