Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The FAQ itself is non-exhaustive. If you have any burning questions not listed here or are interested to find out more, feel free to contact us! Hover over the questions to see the answers. On mobile/tablet, tap on the questions to see the answers.
introduction to sps
What is SPS?
The Special Programme in Science (SPS) is an academic programme under the faculty of science NUS, encompassing multidisciplinary research, active peer-learning, and student mentorship. SPS hopes to develop scientific reasoning and independent study skills in students. Students are introduced to some of the broad areas of contemporary scientific concerns through an interdisciplinary approach, a key hallmark of the programme. Opportunities are also abound for students to participate in scientific investigations and embark on independent studies of advanced topics which are at the forefront of modern scientific endeavours. Moreover, SPS provides students with a wide network of seniors who are scientists, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. Our SPS Alumni boast credentials of being postgraduates or full-time academics in reputable institutions across the world, such as MIT, Max-Planck Institute, NUS, Oxford, Cambridge, McGill, Carnegie-Mellon, NTU and Stanford.
What can I gain from SPS?
SPS aims to promote scientific discourse across all disciplines of Science. The hope is for every student to graduate with the skills and knowledge to gain an appreciation for research outside their major specialisation. To this end, students will enrol in the unique Integrated Science Curriculum, comprising six cross-disciplinary courses. Through group projects and small-group seminar classes, students will build scientific communication and teamwork skills that will come in useful in their further education or future workplace. At SPS, every group project is designed to stimulate your creative thinking and further your learning.In order to facilitate discussion, students enjoy access to SPS facilities, such as our own discussion area, seminar room, library and two well-equipped teaching laboratories.
Is SPS all about science and research?
It is true that SPS is a programme with a focus in science and research. However, the daily buzz in the SPS room not only revolves around these. We have fun too! You can join other members for a meal at the common table, play some board/card games or have a casual chat. Events such as fireside chats with SPS alumni, steamboats and movie nights are just some of the fun activities planned for us by the SPS committee. Run by current students, the SPS committee aims to foster closer ties amongst members of the community through various events. After the two years, many students emerge from the programme equipped with not only strong foundations in science and research, but also friends they will hold dear for a lifetime.
How's the SPS community like?
SPS is a tight-knit community of people who are passionate about science. Since this programme started in 1996, we have many alumni that are in academia, industry and around the globe! Don't be surprise if you realise a professor you are working under is an SPS alumnus! The SPS community sticks with you even after graduation and is a good way to make connections with people in the field you are interested in.
Is SPS a minor?
The SPS programme is not a minor and has its own unique set of benefits.
Will graduating from SPS be reflected on my transcript?
Graduating from SPS is a commendable achievement in and of itself, and will be reflected on your transcript. SPS graduates do receive an official completion certificates that acknowledge their completion of the SPS programme. Furthermore, the projects done during SPS and their results are themselves a testimonial that you can feature in your CVs.
How do I know if I am suited for SPS?
SPS is designed with two foci in mind: providing students with the soft and hard skills required for research, and developing competencies and interest in interdisciplinary sciences. In recent years, computational thinking has become an essential tool in the sciences. To equip students with this skill, SPS courses are designed to emphasise the applications of computational thinking in scientific analysis and data visualisation. SPS courses allow for more freedom of exploration than regular science courses and hence, SPS students should expect to read extensively and ask questions. If you are particularly interested in the interplay between the various fields of science, then SPS is the place for you.
Is SPS a replacement for an additional major or a minor if I am passionate about more than one branch of Science?
SPS exposes students to a host of different science disciplines without the need for prior knowledge in these fields. The knowledge you will learn will be broad-based but sufficient for you to gain an appreciation of most scientific research. A benefit of SPS is that you are exposed to many different disciplines of Science compared to just one if you take an extra major/minor. However, since SPS courses cover multiple branches of Science in their content, the depth gone into each branch will consequently be less in comparison to a minor or major where all the courses would be focused on that single branch. Furthermore, the diverse backgrounds of the students in terms of their majors and exploratory-style of learning means that each SPS course involves the application of concepts from different branches in a single course as students learn to share the perspectives of different majors and pick up knowledge from each other to tackle interdisciplinary problems. If in-depth knowledge of a single branch of Science is what you are looking for, an additional minor or major may be the better option for you.
Is SPS suitable for students outside of Life Sciences, Chemistry and Physics?
Definitely! SPS courses are geared towards inculcating the ability to solve problems with an interdisciplinary approach and learning the key skills required for research. These abilities and skills are applicable to all Science students. Furthermore, data analysis is a common thread between all majors and where students from other majors such as Mathematics, Data Science and Analytics and Statistics often show off their skills in SPS courses, contributing to peer learning. We have had many students from the other eligible majors complete the programme successfully.
APPLYING to sps
How do I apply for SPS?
Application for SPS opens once every year between mid-June and early-August. Interested applicants can submit an online application on the Application Portal. You may also sign-up on the main page of the website to get a reminder on when the applications for the academic year open.
Can I apply for SPS if I'm not matriculating in the coming academic year?
If you are matriculating in a future academic year, please wait until that year to apply for SPS. On the other hand, if you have just finished Year 1 of university and you have completed all of the Year 1 SPS courses (i.e. SP2271, SP2274 and SP2273), you are also eligible to apply for SPS.
Which majors can apply for SPS?
Applications are only open to freshmen enrolled within the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) who are matriculating in the coming academic year. Hence, the following majors can apply for SPS:
Students who are reading cross-disciplinary programmes (e.g. Environmental Studies, Data Science and Economics) are also eligible to apply. However, these students may face timetable clashes with core courses in Year 2. If you are in doubt about your eligibility for SPS, you can contact us to clarify.
I intend to apply to/have successfully applied for other academic programs (Eg. UTCP, NUSC, double major programmes or double degree programmes). Is it advisable for me to apply for SPS?
NUS offers a plethora of opportunities, and SPS is only one of many. More often than not, students wish to join multiple academic programmes which have piqued their interests. It is certainly possible for one to complete more than one academic programme and pursue their many interests, along with SPS, although one should expect that it would be challenging to hold onto multiple commitments. We do have many success stories of SPS alumni and current members who have overcome the challenges and packed their undergraduate years with a variety of academic programs and experiences, including extracurricular commitments such as varsity and external sports clubs. That being said, students who intend to undertake more than one programme are advised to give their decision careful thought, taking into consideration their interests, commitment levels and suitability. If you would like to chat with seniors who have completed multiple programmes concurrently, contact us and we can link you up with them.
Is there an entry requirement for SPS? How are the students selected?
Beyond the fact that students have to be from CHS, there are no strict entry requirements. In SPS, we are not simply looking for students with stellar academic records. We would like students who have a strong passion for science and research. That being said, SPS opens you to the world of research but does not necessitate that you pursue research as a career. Nor does it require that you come equipped with research experience. Beyond a passion for Science, students who also possess grit, are not afraid to fail and learn, and wish to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, are desired. All freshmen are encouraged to apply, regardless of academic and research background. Let SPS give you an opportunity, and give SPS a shot. Students are also selected based on their interest in cross-disciplinary scientific research and their ability to engage in team projects. We hope to select students with a strong passion for scientific research to contribute to scientific discussions.
What is the average number of students accepted into SPS each year?
The number of students accepted into SPS each year depends largely on the number of applications. On average, the size of the incoming batch is between 40-50 students with a wide variety of majors.
The SPS application results are only released after the course registration exercise has begun. How should I go about planning my timetable?
You should plan your timetable with the assumption that you have been accepted into SPS. Each student is required to take a minimum of 18 MCs every semester and the common practice is to enroll in five courses each semester. As the first two courses (SP2271 and SP2274) are open to all CHS students, it is possible to take these courses regardless of the outcome of your application to SPS.
In the event that you are not able to register for BOTH SP2271 and SP2274 due to CourseReg issues, please email SCI CourseReg Enquiry (firstname.lastname@example.org) using your NUS email (Exxxxxxx@u.nus.edu) to drop your pre-allocated CHS courses. If you are still facing issues, SPS Staff Mentors can also assist in solving potential clashes in your timetable and dropping courses, if necessary.
sps curriculum and workload
How many courses am I expected to read under SPS? Must I read all the courses to graduate from the programme?
There are a total of six tailored-made courses under SPS that progressively expose students to different fields of science and independent study. These courses are to be completed within two years and you will have to read all six to graduate from SPS. For more information, refer to the SPS workflow.
How are the courses under SPS like? Is the teaching style similar to courses outside of SPS?
The process of research teems with victories and obstacles. SPS courses offer a microcosm of such a journey. At the core of SPS’ teaching philosophy is the idea that learning is a process of both successes and failures. Lecturers do not grade you based on the number of times you are right, but on the journey that you have taken to complete the project regardless of the outcome. SPS courses adopt an interactive learning environment, where students are encouraged to ask questions and learn from the lecturers, mentors and their peers. Crucially, learning is made interesting with frequent experiments and field trips on occasion. SPS is also a place where lecturers are open to learning from their students and teaching their students beyond what is expected. The emphasis of SPS courses is not on the quantity of the content. Rather, the lecturers strive to help students achieve a firm understanding of the content and enable them to apply what they have learnt in various fields. As such, there are few written examinations throughout the two years. In most courses, you are given the freedom to propose, design and conduct your own investigations. You would then be graded on your understanding, analysis and presentation of the topic. This is done through academic poster presentations, oral presentations, report writing and viva voce.
I have no background in certain science subjects. Will I still be able to cope without the necessary subject background?
Yes! In SPS we focus on collaborative learning rather than memorising and regurgitating the lecture content. You will have your peers and mentors to guide you throughout. Bulk of the grading criteria is on group work, hence, you won't be alone. Interest and effect is more important than any prior knowledge to score well. Always keep an open mind to learn and you will do just fine!
How are the courses counted towards graduation? Do SPS students do extra courses?
Students are to complete 13 courses to fulfil the Common Curriculum requirements of the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS). Four SPS courses are course options for the fulfilment of the Common Curriculum requirements. The remaining two SPS courses count towards Unrestricted Electives (UEs). The exact mapping of the SPS courses is as follows:Hence, SPS need not take on additional courses compared to an average non-SPS student given the mapping to CHS requirements and the utilisation of UE space.
Are the SPS courses to be read on a letter-grading basis? Which courses can I exercise the S/U option?
All SPS courses are read on a letter-grading basis. You may exercise the S/U option for courses without prerequisites, i.e. SP2271, SP2273 and SP2274.
What if I experience timetable clashes?
SPS is made up of diverse groups of individuals, all pursuing different majors and specialisations. Timetable clashes are not unexpected. Hence, there will usually be more than one session for small group seminar classes. For clashes with lectures, fret not, as alternative timings can be proposed. The timetable for SPS courses is usually deconflicted with the core courses (year 1-2) for the respective science majors.
However, in the case of timetable clashes that cannot be ironed out, there have also been students who choose to defer one of the thematic courses due to timetable clashes. This would entail waiting for the next academic year to enroll in the particular course with the next batch of SPS students, and would delay graduation from SPS by a year. Thus, we do not encourage deferment of SPS courses and this is subject to approval. To avoid such situations, students should pay close attention to the requirements of the programmes they wish to undertake and plan their courses in advance.
What if I cannot complete SPS?
It is our hope that everyone who enrols into SPS will eventually complete the two-year programme. Nonetheless, there are students who realise that SPS might not be suitable for them at some point during the two years. Students can choose to withdraw from SPS at the end of a semester. SPS courses that are completed and passed will still be counted towards the CHS Core Curriculum requirements or as UEs.
NUS stipulates that incoming students can only take a maximum of 20 MCs in Y1S1. This restriction makes it difficult for me to join SPS. Is there a way to circumvent this?
Enrollment into SPS would mean that this 20 MCs cap is not applicable to you. In the event that you are not able to register for BOTH SP2271 and SP2274 due to CourseReg issues, please email SCI CourseReg Enquiry (email@example.com) using your NUS email (Exxxxxxx@u.nus.edu) to drop your pre-allocated CHS courses. SPS Staff Mentors will assist you in enrolling into SPS courses, even if you have already exceeded the 20 MCs limit. However, one should be cautious about overloading as the workload may be too heavy for some individuals to handle.
As an SPS student, will I need to read more than 20 MCs each semester?
No! Science students reading SPS as their only academic programme will not be required to read more than 20 MCs each semester. If you are reading another academic programme (such as UTCP, RVRC, NUSC and/or a minor/double major programme) concurrently with SPS, you might have to read more than 20 MCs per semester during your first two years of undergraduate studies. With good planning, most SPS students are able to complete SPS, together with other academic programme(s). Usually, these individuals read an average of 20 to 26 MCs per semester in their first two years. If you would like to chat with seniors who have completed multiple programmes concurrently, contact us and we can link you up with them.
I am an RVRC student thinking of applying to SPS. Am I eligible, and if so, will I still need to take SP2271, since I am exempted from taking the CHS Common Curriculum Writing course?
RVRC students are welcome to apply to SPS. As you will be reading RVX Critique & Expression, it is not mandatory for you to read a CHS Common Curriculum Writing course for the purpose of fulfilling CHS requirements. However, you will still need to take SP2271 Introduction to Scientific Literature in order to fulfill SPS requirements. Hence, if you do join SPS, SP2271 will be counted as a UE for you.
What is the difference between UROPS and SP3172, which are both research project courses?
What happens at the end of two years in SPS? Is it compulsory to sign up for the mentorship programme?
At the end of Year 2, you would have had a good understanding of the content of the SPS courses. The mentorship programme is a chance for you to guide your juniors along their SPS journey. There are many things to be learnt in the process, such as science communication and leadership skills. The mentorship programme begins in your third year and can extend beyond your undergraduate years. The mentorship programme is not compulsory.
What does an SPS mentor do?
Formally, an SPS mentor assists in the teaching and administration of the six SPS courses. This could include duties such as teaching, facilitating discussions, curriculum planning, grading and giving feedback. Informally, mentors also play an important role in supporting new SPS students and helping to maintain a thriving SPS community.
What is the workload like as a mentor?
Mentors are free to pick and choose the SPS courses they want to mentor, including the number. As such, there is flexibility in managing the workload. The workload and the type of work differs between courses. Furthermore, mentors often work in teams, allowing them to support each other during crunch periods in the semester where assignments or midterms are abound. Proper planning and a good understanding of the workloads for the courses ensures little trouble with the mentor workload.
Can I still go on the Student Exchange Programme while being an SPS mentor?
Yes. SPS students usually opt to go for the Student Exchange Programme (SEP) in Year 3, after completing their first two years in SPS. If you wish to further your time in SPS and contribute to the programme, you can join the SPS mentorship programme and still embark on SEP.