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 Tan Jin Hui, Max, one of the incoming Headmentors who kindly shared his 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?

Max: I very much considered SPS my major throughout the first two years of my university life which I enjoyed very much. After completing the programme, I decided to become a mentor to not only learn how to teach, but to get a better appreciation of what I actually learnt during the programme. In fact, what I found most interesting was that I gained a full and thorough understanding of what was being taught when it was my turn to teach it. In that sense, as often quoted by Dr Chammika1: "You don't really understand something until you can explain it simply".

Qn: After going through the phase of a Junior Mentor2 and now as a Headmentor, how has your mentorship journey been thus far?

Max: I see being an SPS mentor somewhat as SPS 2.0. However, instead of learning content, you are actually learning how to simplify and explain concepts that once baffled you. In that regard, I enjoy the process of thinking how to better explain concepts and when I can, try to bring these concepts to life by having live demonstrations. In general, being an SPS mentor can be quite time-taxing as it is very much like taking the module again.

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

Max: The mentor-mentee system in SPS is very unique in the sense that we get a mentor to mentee ratio of about 1:1. It is almost as though you have a private TA that you can call upon at any time; try finding that anywhere else. I think the most important aspect of the mentor-mentee system is that the mentors are often times not very much older than the mentees, which could allow for mentees to be much more comfortable in asking questions. In that regard, the importance of the system is to cultivate the courage to ask questions, no matter how basic it might appear to be.

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

Max: I think the best experience so far is that feeling of "OMG, THAT’S WHAT DR ZHI HAN3 WAS TRYING TO TEACH" one minute before I was to teach the topic. Some concepts that I did not fully comprehend when first exposed to them were suddenly much clearer to me when I played around with the concepts in my mind during my attempts to convey them via teaching. This experience happened multiple times, most notably when teaching "The Universe". It was then I realized that SPS also taught me to think on my feet as the pressure was there to know what I was teaching. I think the most challenging issue is still trying to get students to ask questions or to be more proactive during class time. To my future students: PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS. I get more stressed if you don't ask questions.

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

Max: As a mentor, you will find yourself having a sort of "split personality". I found myself thinking "As Max, I wouldn’t do this, but as a mentor, I would.' pretty often. This is often an indicator that you are learning/maturing and you should embrace such experiences. Also, I would like to encourage mentors to further break down the invisible wall that might make mentees feel apart from their mentors. Go out for lunch with your mentees, share gossip and most effectively, share your experiences of interacting with others, both good and bad; this can allow your mentees to not put you on a pedestal and makes your job much easier. Students who want to be mentors should first be proactive during their classes and exhibit reliability and responsibility expected of mentors. They should not be haughty or posture but instead be willing to learn and be receptive of criticisms. Naturally, as an SPS student, you need to have mental fortitude for failure and always have a future-seeking attitude.

[1]: The SPS staff mentor who teaches the Atoms To Molecules SPS module.
[2]: See sps.nus.edu.sg/people/mentorship-in-sps.md for mentor terminology
[3]: The SPS staff mentor who teaches the Universe SPS module