Special Programme in Science (SPS)

Mentors Appreciation Night 2018

Special Programme in Science had its annual Mentors Appreciation Night on 19 May 2018, Saturday at the Yusof Ishak House Student Lounge. It was a great evening filled with performances, games and a great deal of laughter. Prof Liou gave an opening speech highlighting the efforts of the mentors and the many changes that SPS and the Science Faculty can look forward to in the near future.

Speech by Prof Liou

Roy, Samuel, Sarah and Yong Sheng performed 4 songs in total including one entitled “Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay, that tied in with the theme of the night: “Dazzling Sirius; To the brightest stars in our night sky”.

Rendition of “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” by Samuel and Sarah

The “Guess the Mentor” game was a wonderful opportunity for the mentees to satisfy their curiosity about how the mentors looked like when they were younger.

The “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” game saw 4 teams play in 3 knockout rounds. It came to a nail-biting final round with Fang Ru and Qin Hui pulling ahead with 1 extra correct word than Dr Robert and Max.

Dr Chammika channeling the spirit of Michael Jackson

As is tradition, MAN 2018 also saw the introduction of the new Headmentors for the upcoming academic year.

Our incoming Headmentors: Divya, Max and Gabriel (on computer), with Prof Liou

Prof Liou presented the outgoing Headmentors with customized mugs. Each mentor in attendance got a special SPS Mentor Mug and a Thank You card in appreciation of their efforts over the past academic year.

The custom Mug and Thank You card

For more insight into the time-tested tradition of the mentorship system in SPS, we got in touch with two senior mentors, Mavis Loberas and Liew Hai Xiang, who kindly shared with us their views and experiences.

Qn: We would like to bring it back to where it first all got started. So, what were your initial motivations for becoming a mentor?

Mavis: It’s actually quite funny but the two years in the SPS programme were quite possibly my most challenging in university. You would think that having experienced such difficulties would actually turn people away from being an SPS mentor – at least, that was what I believed until the very end of my last semester as an SPS student. After finishing the programme, there was this urge to give back to the SPS community. After all, SPS will not be where it is if it were not for the support of the mentors who return to the programme to help facilitate it. Also, the great experiences that I have had with my own mentors that I interacted with motivated me to pass on the same experience to incoming and current SPS students. Doing so, hopefully they would want to become mentors too!

Hai Xiang: When I was taking the SPS modules, I had mentors who helped me to understand difficult concepts, fostered my interest in the subject matter, and suggested ways in which I could improve and expand on my ideas. I wanted to be a mentor in order to give back to the SPS community and try to inspire my mentees the way my mentors inspired me.

Qn: How is it like being a SPS mentor?

Mavis: You actually get to enjoy the modules without stressing over them ;) All jokes aside, you gain a lot of insight on what goes on behind the scenes for each module, and you get to learn a lot of new things especially when you take up a SP2171 or SP317211 group! However, what I enjoy the most is interacting with my mentees, knowing that you have gone through the same things as them and that because of these experiences, you can pass knowledge on to guide them.

Hai Xiang: It is challenging, in the sense that one has to know the subject matter well and be able to explain the concepts concisely while clearing up misconceptions or wrong assumptions. However, personally I find it very fulfilling because it is always interesting to encourage mentees to explore a concept and see how they put their own twist on the concept. As a mentor, I have definitely encountered many intriguing ideas from my mentees!

Qn: The mentoring system is a crucial and historical component of SPS. What do you think are its advantages and why is it important?

Mavis: This mentor-mentee system is essential and I can see it benefiting both sides. Mentors have gone through the programme, and can pass on what they have learned and their own experiences to their mentees. Mentees can also teach mentors in a way they might not even realise, in which their interactions with their mentor, either through questions or other actions teaches the mentor on how to respond accordingly. At the end of the day, it is not just academic skills that you cultivate, but you also have the personal growth that comes with such interactions.

Hai Xiang: In my opinion, mentees benefit from being able to clarify any difficulties about the subject matter and discuss their ideas with the mentors. On the other hand, mentors get the chance to help teach the mentees and pass on their understanding of the concepts and their experience in learning the modules, making SPS lessons much more enjoyable and engaging. Mentors also stay with the mentees throughout the duration of the SPS modules, so there is time to build good rapport between mentors and mentees.

Qn: What do you think has been the best experience of your mentorship journey? The most challenging experience?

Mavis: When I see my mentees succeed, knowing that as a mentor, you have helped (in some way) to their success is very rewarding. More importantly, I like to see that my mentees are enjoying themselves, even if something is frustrating them.

The most memorable experience I have had as a mentor is when I first became one. I was approached by a SP2171 group that did a project on biochemistry which was a topic I was not all too familiar with. This is always very intimidating to sit in meetings where the other mentors for the group seem to be more well-versed with the knowledge and know exactly what they have to say. Eventually, I overcame that, and I came around to actually contribute to these discussions whilst learning a couple of new things along the way!

Hai Xiang: I find it difficult to think of a specific experience that was the best or the most challenging, instead I feel that the mentoring journey itself is challenging but fun, perhaps some periods are more hectic for both mentors and mentees (Week 13!) but, all in all, I never regretted my decision to be a mentor and I look forward to being an SPS mentor in the coming semesters!

Qn: What advice would you give to students who would want to become SPS mentors in the future?

Mavis: Do not be afraid to make mistakes, and it is okay if you feel that you are lacking knowledge in something. Even if you completed the programme as a student, coming back as a mentor offers you a different perspective into the learning and you will also learn a lot of soft skills especially in terms of how to interact with different people.

Hai Xiang: Approach mentoring with an open mind. It is a learning experience for both the mentors and mentees!

[1]: SP2171 and SP3172 are SPS modules that aim to have students prepare for and pursue a scientific research project. See sps.nus.edu.sg/academics/prospective-students.md for more details.