Studying Psychology in Singapore

Becky Wong
National University of Singapore

Although a relatively new field to the Asian region, psychology is a popular major in Singapore, particularly among social science undergraduates. Contrary to common misconception, studying psychology in Singapore is not a "soft" option; it involves rigorous grounding in fundamental theories and methods in the field, particularly in the first two years. The three-year course structure of psychology programs in Singapore is essentially congruent with the topics studied by psychology undergraduates at universities in the Western Hemisphere. In the first and second year, undergraduate psychology majors in Singapore typically take courses on child development, abnormal psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and brain and behavior. The psychology program at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is led by a research-oriented faculty; thus, exacting statistical training in the methodological skills needed to carry out scientific research is made compulsory for all psychology majors.

Third year undergraduates are given more flexibility to select from a broad range of advanced-level electives in contemporary psychology that include issues pertinent to the Asian region. These electives in turn reflect the extensive expertise of international and local faculty members. Students are also given the option to undertake independent research projects with supervision by a faculty member. The modes of instruction typically include lectures, small class discussions, and laboratories. Undergraduates are given the rest of the time to prepare for tests and projects and write term papers and practical reports, all of which contribute (along with written examinations) to their final degree classification. Degree classification is the grading system used in the United Kingdom.  Students are awarded with first class, upper-second class, lower-second class, and third class honors.  In a nutshell, psychology undergraduates receive a Western-style education, but with an Asian flavor.

What is particularly exciting about studying psychology in Singapore is being in the heart of psychological research on bilingualism. As a multicultural and multilingual society, there is a rich variety of spoken vernaculars in Singapore, and faculty members have capitalized on this phenomenon to contribute significant research to the field of bilingualism and language-related cognitive processes. Thus, psychology students get to learn more about the field firsthand from their lecturers, who are major players in the research sphere. In addition, students are occasionally given the opportunity to be involved in such research. Examples of student collaborations include Rickard-Liow, Poon and Yeong (2008).

The thriving research field takes advantage of Singapore's position as a leading scientific and biomedical hub. This is reflected in interdisciplinary collaborations between the medical and psychology sectors. What this entails for psychology undergraduates is opportunities to observe such work even before embarking on their graduate studies. This also means that student researchers have ample access to cutting edge technology in psychology laboratories.

The life of a psychology undergraduate in Singapore buzzes with activity. The NUS Central Library heaves with heavy tomes and has been deemed to have the "best collection of psychology books and journals in the region" (Elliott, 1999; cited in Singh & Kaur, 2002). Given the well-equipped libraries, coupled with the competitive academic culture of many Eastern Hemisphere countries, it is no wonder that psychology undergraduates spend copious amounts of time working hard on campus during the week. Most undergraduates enjoy taking the weekend off to engage in the two national pastimes of hunting for good bargains and gastronomic delights (although I am sure my health psychology professor will have something to say about such indulgent coping mechanisms!).

While there are numerous merits of learning psychology in Singapore, there are also academic advantages to be gleaned from studying the field at an overseas institution. Universities in Singapore have close links with top global institutions overseas, such that psychology undergraduates can apply to spend a semester overseas on exchange (to the extent that their application is supported by a nomination from a faculty member). Now, what could be better than having the best of both worlds?

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