Page 1







David Chappell ’18

Maria Ivanenko


Nur Qistina


Zachary Mahon ’17

Jared Yeo ’17

Feroz Khan ’18

Jay Lusk ’18

Nyang Bing Lin ’18

CENDANA Seow Yongzhi

Tee Zhuo

Ami Firdaus ’17 story Scott Currie, May Tay | reporting Yonatan Gazit, Chan Li Ting, Lai Ying Tong photos used with permission from respective inividuals and YNC Photography


n Feb. 6, Yale-NUS College welcomed its first ever Student Government, as eleven student representatives were elected after a month-long election process. In the elections, 254 students representing 78% of the student body voted, marking the end of an 18-month-long effort to create a Student Government. A constitution drafted and ratified over the past semester set the basic framework for the Student Government. The elected body consists of eleven members with equal votes who are either representatives of their class, residential college, or representativesat-large. According to the Yale-NUS Student Constitution document, the primary powers of the Student Government will lie in recognizing student organizations and organizing collegewide events. College administrators celebrated the formation of the Student Government. President Pericles Lewis noted the importance of having students take ownership of more college-wide events through a Student Government. Dean of Students Kyle Farley said it is key that the elected body is seen as representing the voices of the students. Chris O’Connell, Manager of Student Life, concurred: “Having a conduit for student ideas and perspectives only strengthens the YaleNUS community.” Of the students who were interviewed, some were heartened by the fruitful conclusion

to the elections. “The process made me see that ... many of us still care about Student Government,” said Ami Firdaus ’17, who was elected as the Cendana College representative. Jolanda Nava ’17, who was part of the Elections Committee, saw the Student Government as a good long-term move that deals with the unsustainability of having individual students directly approach the administration for all issues. Not everyone thinks this way. Timothy Lim ’17 is concerned that the Student Government will become “largely symbolic and ceremonial”, noting that while the Student Government is “broadly representative”, its powers are “minimal at best”. Others highlighted the poor turnout at Saturday’s election forum, where candidates made their speeches, as signs of a largely apathetic student body. “Generally, there’s a feeling of inertia and disinterest,” Tu Linh Nguyen ’17 said. Assistant Professor of Philosophy Andrew Bailey noted that “there exists already collective movement on things that [students] care about”, and wondered if the Student Government will become “an extra layer of bureaucracy” instead. The journey toward an elected Student Government was hardly smooth sailing. One of the issues over the campaigning period of three weeks was the use of social media. Article X of the election guidelines states that “Campaigning together is not allowed”, yet there were incidents when several candidates

appeared to be in breach in their use of social media. Due to the lack of specificity in the guidelines, it was unclear how violations in general would be determined or dealt with. The guidelines also did not address the involvement of non-candidates in campaigns. When interviewed, Nava said that the elections committee had tried to run the election in the “spirit of fairness and correctness” as far as possible. The newly minted Student Government is the first successful outcome of multiple attempts in the past to foster its creation. These include the formation of interim student advisory boards such as the Dean of Students Advisory Committee and Elected Student Committee, which facilitated a Constitutional Convention in February 2014. Moving forward, the Student Government will have to work closely with other groups consisting of student representatives. Elm College has formed its own residential college advisory council, while Saga College’s is in the works. Additionally, the Student Government will have to work with the Student Organization Review Board on funding for student organisations. The constitution does not allow the Student Government to allocate funding to student organisations. The current constitution includes a sunset clause that mandates a review of the constitutional model. It will take effect in November 2015, after a two-semester term.

10 Feb, 2015 | 1




resident Pericles Lewis held a Town Hall with students on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 5, to talk about Yale-NUS College’s plans moving forward and to answer questions from students. He spent a majority of the talk on the Self Study Committee. Chaired by Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn, the committee will spend the next four to six months preparing a comprehensive review of the Common Curriculum, Mr. Lewis said. A Visiting Committee, consisting of faculty from Yale and NUS, will review the report and provide outside feedback. The college will then implement changes to the Common Curriculum for Academic Year 2016/2017, affecting primarily the classes of 2019 and 2020. Mr. Lewis highlighted three levels of student input throughout the process. The first involves sending all students a survey about the Common Curriculum. The second, creating a student committee to help advise the Self Study Committee during their review. The third and final level will include focus groups involving students, which will target specific aspects of the curriculum. Such interest in student involvement is appreciated by those like Cheryl Nazik Cosslett ’18. “I’m very optimistic about [the Common Curriculum review] and now it is really up to the students whether we want to use that chance to give input or not, because I really feel that the opportunities are here,” she said. During the Town Hall, Mr. Lewis also informed the audience that by the summer of 2015, the Residential College buildings for Saga and Elm will be finished. Cendana’s building will be completed before the start of Academic Year 2015/2016. Mr. Lewis spent the second half of the meeting responding to students’ questions. These varied from commentary on the Common Curriculum to concerns over balancing respect and free speech within a community, issues with facilities at the new campus, and Yale-NUS elective options. At 9 pm, an hour after the meeting started, Mr. Lewis called the Town Hall to a close.

AN INTERVIEW WITH YALE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE DEAN ROBERT ALPERN story Spandana Bhattacharya, Regina Marie Lee photo Yale School of Medicine Staff Photographer Terry Dagradi


ith advising sessions already underway, pre-medical students at Yale-NUS College are actively planning their course loads for applications to medical schools. As Dean of the Yale School of Medicine, Robert Alpern has strong views on the undergraduate education necessary for a pre-med student. He recently chaired a committee that reviewed the requirements for admission to medical schools, and the scientific foundation necessary for students. In an interview with The Octant’s Editorat-Large Spandana Bhattacharya, Mr. Alpern explained the value of a liberal arts curriculum for pre-med. “I strongly believe that a physician is not only a practitioner of medicine but a scholar of medicine. The majority of healthcare will not be delivered by a physician—it will be delivered by physician assistants, nurses. The physician scholar should be the leader of the program, setting the future, defining how medicine is practiced, continuously thinking about whether it should change and for that should have a scholarly education similar to any Ph.D. Then a four year liberal arts education is critical,” he said. As a chemistry major himself, Mr. Alpern cited the profound effect of his study of physical chemistry in college on his career. Yet, there is still ongoing debate as to what kinds of scientific knowledge are important for pre-med students. On this, Mr. Alpern thinks “at least a year of the biological sciences” and a broad chemistry and physics course is necessary. The challenge comes when dealing with subfields in chemistry and math. He explained, “Biochemistry would be much more useful to a physician than a second semester of organic chemistry … Most people would say a practicing physician doesn’t need calculus. But a lot of areas of scientific research do need calculus, so if you don’t take it, you have shut the door in a lot of areas of basic research, so I am torn. But one of the things that most medical schools have not required, which possibly all physicians do need, is statistics.” He admitted that it was hard to balance developing competencies in the sciences with acquiring a broad liberal arts education. Increasing the science course load would affect

Robert Alpern, Yale School of Medicine Dean.

how many electives students can take. “I think people should get to experience those parts of college. Whether they make you more scholarly or not as a physician, they make you a better person, and that’s part of being a physician,” he said. Explaining the medical school admissions process, Mr. Alpern emphasized the importance of competency, compassion, leadership and excellence. He added, “What I tell advisees is that rather than checking off every box, excel at something.” He related his personal experience in college: “I never volunteered at a clinic before going to medical school. I did a lot of research in college and I think I am a compassionate person, but I never got into the clinic. But in those days it wasn’t so regimented, and now it would probably be dangerous not to do everything, but I still think that as you check off all your boxes for the box-checking of people, you should try to excel at something.” For students hoping to do pre-med, Mr. Alpern advised, “Enjoy life. If you talk to people who made it to medical school and ask them who they hated the most in college, it was other pre-med [students]. It’s best if you try to be the best you can be, without competing with others.”

Check out this week’s shared article from the Yale Daily News at theoctant.org. Above: President Lewis addressing the College during the Town Hall.

2 | 10 Feb, 2015


TENNIS: BUILDING GRADUALLY story Josh Ragbir | photo used with permission from Pratyush More


ashioned on the room door of tennis cocaptain Lee Koon Min ’18 is a poster that boldly states ‘Varsity Tennis: Recruiting Now’—a last grasp at a solution to the team’s most pressing concern—numbers. The Yale-NUS College Tennis team, coached by Associate Dean of Students Kim

Above: Yale-NUS tennis hopes to lay the correct foundations for future semesters.

Cheah, currently consists of Lee, co-captain Hannah Yeo ’18, Liam Rahman ’17, Alex Pont ’18, Julianne Thomson ’18, Pratyush More ’18, Holly Apsley ’18 and Tamara Burgos ’18. This puts their roster at eight, barely enough to field a full team in the upcoming Inter-Collegiate Games. “Our biggest priority at the moment is to recruit enough genuinely interested players,” Lee said. Yet in a school of just more than 300 busy students, finding genuinely committed players is no easy task. Yeo said that while there may be ways to circumvent the dwindling numbers— like holding joint training sessions with other teams—the time commitment required of players cannot be avoided. “It’s very easy to slip into the mentality that tennis is just something you do once a week, casually,” she said. “When tennis conflicts with something less casual, tennis is probably going to lose out.” The team hopes to iron out some of their problems this semester and lay the foundations for the future. Before the Class of 2019 matriculates, which may increase their


numbers, Yeo is looking to improve the team’s efficiency and chemistry. Her ideas begin with training. While increasing the frequency of tennis-specific trainings may not be possible, Yeo thinks that the issue of intensity can be addressed. Both captains have communicated to the coach, Ms. Cheah, their desire to make trainings more physically gruelling and their willingness to be held accountable for gameplay mistakes, both in training and on the court. Both captains also hope that the administration can play a role in creating more efficient communication structures and networks so that Yale-NUS is not left out of the loop. Yeo cited the National University of Singapore tennis team’s connections and explained that “tournament organizers know NUS and email their captains directly, who then text the players in advance—it’s simple and efficient—two things we’re really missing.” The team will face off against the College of Alice and Peter Tan, Tembusu College, Cinnamon College (USP) and Ridge View Residential College on Feb. 14.

Check out Hamid’s review of Red Rabbit White Rabbit at theoctant.org.

review Theodore Lai | photo RUG Limited


ndrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS certainly delivered the cheerful band of feline critters it promises in its title. Inspired by T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the beloved production opened its second run in Singapore last month at the Marina Bay Sands Theater, boasting an all-British cast. One should be cautioned, however, to enter the theater as a child and leave one’s intellect at the door. Cats is intricately designed and performed, but its shallow plot and convoluted dance sequences may strike many as vapid. The play opened with an enchanting atmosphere conjured by a beautiful full moon in the middle of a night sky. Twinkling lights adorned the set to simulate stars, and a melancholic blue glow created a charmingly romantic atmosphere. The first act introduced the trope of Jellicle cats, who gather once a year to hold the ceremony of song and dance known as the Jellicle Ball. The head patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, leads the procession to decide who amongst them is worthy to be reborn on the Heaviside Layer, which the play uses as an allusion to heaven. Webber’s musical score beautifully captured much of the characters’ personalities. The clandestine mystery cat Macavity was given a jazzy bass line reminiscent of Henry Mancini’s theme

from “The Pink Panther”. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, a mischievous pair of feline troublemakers, playfully teased the audience as a cheeky piano line accompanied their impish escapades. Grizabella, perhaps the most relatable character in the musical, sadly crooned the famous pop standard “Memory” to mark the end of each act. It is therefore disappointing that the praiseworthy elements of Cats end up betraying its success as a musical. The biggest hairball that Cats coughs up is its inability to properly pull itself together. The psychedelic lighting drew too much attention away from the characters, and the choreography grew stale long before the first act came to a close. Too many characters were fighting for attention, and I grew tired as feline after feline was rolled out in a crude mechanical fashion. The novelty present at the beginning gradually faded when I realized that this would constitute the remainder of the evening. Most painful was the disappointing rendition of “Memory”. The classic smash hit failed to capture the poignancy that brought audiences to tears when it debuted in 1981. When given the stage, the glassy-eyed Grizabella fought to impress rather than inspire. The performance was more a plea for acceptance than a nostalgic

Above: The CD cover for the musical Cats.

reminiscence of the past. If one keeps in mind Cats’s conception as a revue, its lack of complexity can be forgiven. What little storyline presented exists only to string together the music and dance choreography. We must then judge Cats for what it is: a visual and auditory spectacle that manages to land on its feet despite its crowded string of characters and convoluted artistic direction.

10 Feb, 2015 | 3


SHAKY FOUNDATIONS column Xie Yihao | cartoon Rachel Johanna Lim


he first semester of Foundations of Science (FoS) was not terribly successful. The second semester so far shows no sign of improvement. While faculty members rolled out a new batch of short courses, replaced the Langkawi study-trip with more optional local activities, and fine-tuned the components of the final grade, FoS is still failing to meet students’ expectations. The faculty must realize that substituting and improving content of the course solve no problems. The superstructure of the entire FoS curriculum needs a major overhaul: Foundations of Science must be restructured to independent semester-long courses with individual grades and fewer supplementary activities. The current FoS curriculum is structurally identical to last semester. This semester, students are required to finish two sevenweek modules with exams and projects, three book readings, one capstone project at the end and a handful of course-wide activities such as movies, museum trips and talks. There are a total of twelve short courses offered in Academic Year 2014/2015. They range from Climate Change and Sustainability, which have a clear social and practical emphasis, to Novel Traits and Habitable Planets, which focus more on technical aspects. Many students will agree that this curriculum model has been performing badly thus far. It has generated enormous problems that undermine quality of learning and student experience. Shortcomings include discontinuous and superficial learning experiences, disproportionately demanding amounts of coursework, poorly planned and coordinated assignment deadlines and inconsistent grading standards. Dividing one semester into segments precludes continuous in-depth exploration into a single scientific issue. A student in the Coral Reefs course who was interviewed on the condition of anonymity pointed out that “there is so much to learn and so much jargon to use unsystematically in such a short amount of time� under the current model. Given the diverse nature of courses, moving from the first

short course to the next may feel like going to a separate and unassociated module altogether. While more students get to experience more units, this structure inevitably makes learning superficial, disjunct and unsatisfying. Some professors try to compensate for the lack of time and insufficient understanding of the subject matter by increasing the workload for students, sometimes assigning over a hundred pages of readings every seminar. Hasty skimming of the materials then becomes a strategic necessity for students who have to cope with increasing pressure from their electives and major modules. The demanding amount of coursework is complicated by uncoordinated and disorganized cohort-wide activities. When six courses are happening alongside supplementary course-wide activities, deadlines often clash to create a surge in the number of assignments in a short period. The student in the Coral Reefs course counted the number of hours spent on the course in one particular week: 14. Supplementary assignments, continual journals, class


preparation readings and course-specific assignments add up to the staggering number, the student explained. Fourteen hours is almost twice the the time normally required for a 5 Modular Credit course. Students will then have to choose whether to sacrifice their electives and major modules or Foundations of Science. Yet another contradiction in the current model of FoS is incoherence in grading policies. In spite of apparent divergences in pedagogies, content and classroom policies, the FoS faculty attempts to merge the fragmented experiences by assigning a conglomerate grade for Foundations of Science as one module. But without universal grading instructions and policies, students in certain courses where professors are more strict will surely be disadvantaged. The same level of effort is often not translated to comparable results. How then can these grades be effective performance indicators? These shortcomings are, in essence, inherent in the current structure of Foundations of Science. Changing the content of short courses or organizing trips to exotic locations makes no difference; the inconsistencies, contradictions and impediments will only be resolved if we abolish the present structure, and make a few fundamental changes: 1) Extend every short course to onesemester long independent modules 2) Reduce the number of cohort-wide activities and related assignments 3) Internalize common learning objectives into individual course curricula 4) Assign a separate grade for every course, not subsumed under Foundations of Science Science courses targeted at non-science majors are an important component of the Common Curriculum. The integrity of the entire Common Curriculum will be compromised if a major science course like FoS remains dysfunctional. The Foundations of Science faculty members will have to take bolder steps to redesign the course structure for it to actually work.

Send your letter to the editors (maximum word count 150) to general@theoctant.org by 5 pm on Friday for the chance to have it published here next week.

CHECK OUT MORE AT: theoctant.org | facebook.com/yncoctant | @yncoctant

4 | 10 Feb, 2015

Profile for The Octant


Volume III Issue 4


Volume III Issue 4

Profile for theoctant