The first half of the semester
I was so pre-occupied with my side projects (laundry room and physics lab pi networking)… There was a normalcy bias where I just didn’t believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect me in any tangible way… Up till sometime in late February/early March. This was a really peaceful and enjoyable period of my life. I had space, time, energy, resources (access to fabrication studio, physics laboratory, and carpentry studio), and people around me to see through the project and learn.
I worked mainly on my google cloud platform projects and searching out other summer opportunities having seen 4 other opportunities fall through. (NUS NOC, Tinkerlab with Dr Matthew Chua, Yale-NUS Self-Sourced Internship, Junior year semester abroad, a Summer research project on animal neuroscience…) I felt quite dejected, knowing that perhaps I hadn’t gotten the qualifications or right signals on my CV.
The second half of the semester
(~12 March 2020) was when I got issued with a 3-days social distancing precaution notice from Yale-NUS College because I had been a secondary contact of someone who had contracted COVID-19. This period of downtime was the first wake up call that my life would actually be affected by COVID-19.
Thereafter, I slowed down development on my side projects and actually started trying to concentrate on my studies more. It also made me realize how much I’d missed out on in the first half of the semester. It was extremely difficult juggling studies and side projects simultaneously while doing them well. I am thankful that I had friends (Art and Mat) that told me to say “no” if I felt overwhelmed and to get my priorities in order.
I think I struggled with resilience this time around, feeling as if the whole world was in “fire-fighting” mode, so assignments weren’t that important. That resulted in a drop in discipline and work that I’d planned to do didn’t get completed.
Things that affected my productivity which I never expected to have been affected by included things like the broken aircon back home and the lack of a second monitor. However, this meant the opening of a golden age for spiritual reflection and getting to know God’s word 1 on 1 without the noise of the world. It saddened me that I was still ultimately heavily influenced by material comforts and tools. An upside to it was that access to communities was made easier because of services like Zoom.
I am very grateful for the understanding and immense help that professors and friends extended during this circuit breaker! Like office hours outside of regular hours, voluntary peer tutoring sessions by a senior (T), extensions of deadlines, sharing of last-minute notes by professors.
Towards the last week of May, I had spent about 4 days working on a Telegram bot which resulted in my subsequent assignments bunching up and not being able to get completed. (One snowballed into the other…) HI final paper -> Proof paper 4 (was really difficult, so I submitted this late, prepared to S/U it) -> Intro to Black Holes final project -> HI portfolio -> UBC final paper -> bio lab final paper -> UBC final paper. All came in one after the other, with no real break in between each submission. It was really stressful! 4 days would have made a huge difference. I realized that I won’t ever get things done unless I know what I’m looking for, and I envision what it would look like when it’s done. When it’s all abstract and still within the imaginary, it’s a long way to getting done. Perhaps I could have gotten more help in the space where I didn’t know how to do it and was still thinking about how to do the work. Doing great work requires focus and choosing what to say no to is and was really important!
Classes I took
- Historical immersion (HI): Geometry and the emergence of perspectives
- Understanding Behaviour and Cognition (UBC)
- Biology Laboratory (Aging using Caenorhabditis elegans as model organisms)
- Introduction to Black Holes
I had initially chosen this class because it was a pre-requisite for other MCS courses and it was apparently one of the easier MCS courses (after having felt how tough Intro to CS was). This class taught me about humility, perseverance and that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Every single lesson was challenging, there wasn’t one where I could skip a reading and get away with it, or zone out during a small portion of class and still be able to follow. Hard, but learned loads from it!
- ZFC/set theory makes up a lot of core ideas of what we think of as math today.
- The power set of an empty set is 1, power set of 1 is 2, etc. infinity is made up of power sets of empty sets. To infinity and beyond!
- Overthinking the manipulation of variables is not a good idea. Hence, it’s important to build up intuition from past mistakes to know what went wrong and how I can improve.
- Mathematical expressions can be very confusing because it is scant on words and heavy on symbols.
- I realized that I had underestimated the need to memorize by heart the basic definitions and properties of the concepts being taught. (Relations, Equivalence classes, Cauchy sequences, Bijections, 12 field axioms which all fields obey)… This is a super important skill to have – pinning down concepts and definitions well at the start so that the problem-solving portions will be easier.
- Mathematics can be hard because there is usually a “right”/”most coherent” answer which treads the same path of reasoning. It can also be really fun and exciting because of its problem-solving aspects. It will take time. Advisors and mentors help a lot!
- If anything – it’s okay to get things wrong, refigure what assumptions did not stand, but most importantly know that I have to remedy it. Not knowing I’m wrong could perhaps be a sign that I’m not getting feedback or being ignorant about what I’m doing.
- Staring at symbols on their own made little sense. However, when the importance of proofs and its uniqueness in the grand scale of history made me realize its true intellectual significance and profoundness.
- “Perseverance is the answer, but not the only answer. Ultimately, Love is.” -Dr Jeann Woo. I am reminded of her words of wisdom that were quoted on the cover page of the mathematics textbook 5 years back.
Here’s a great TEDx talk by 3 Blue 1 Brown creator on why we engage with math that really motivated me when I was working on my final proof paper and struggling to understand why did I have to understand all these complex symbols that did not seem to add up. Trying to prove that rational numbers added together or multiplied together will preserve the + and × operators, in so doing proving that rational numbers were that we are able to use with integers (even though we didn’t prove that integers were fields yet). I simply wasn’t understanding the language of abstract mathematics. However, having completed the course, I think it’s about the confidence of being able to try again and approach learning some difficult new concept knowing that I had done analysis of numbers/set theory before. Being comfortable with reading mathematical papers is a big outcome of doing this course, too.
I took this course because, well I have a historical immersion requirement and I thought I was possibly going to be majoring in Mathematical, Computational, Statistical Sciences. I was also tired of writing essays by the second semester of my Sophomore year.
What I learned:
- COVID-19 induced complacency made me underestimate the amount of work required for this course. I have the working pieces (notes from class, a rough record of the weekly practices), how hard would it be to compile everything into a portfolio at the end?
- That thinking led to a bunching up of portfolio entries that had to be done at the end, which
- I felt like this was a very “choose your own learning and battles” course, with varying levels of learning that I could have approached it with.
- It helps that this course went hand in hand with proof. Reading about the sexagesimal system, cuneiform tablets (Plimpton-322), problem, and table texts that the Samarians, Egyptians, and Babylonians used was historic and artistically subtle. The early Egyptian measurement unit (cubit rod) also made me realize how another society might have conceived their world because their starting points were different.
- Learning about Euclid’s Elements and subsequently, non-Euclidean geometry made me realize that so much of our idea of math/logic is built off definitions and if those aren’t strong, then we can’t really prove things well.
- This was also a pretty interesting read about how the universality and continuity of math (as Thales of Miletus had opined) might have been a feature of God’s mysterious works: https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/WhosCounting/story?id=3543453&page=1
I feel like I had neglected this class way too much. There was an immense amount of learning value that was presented in the readings and discussions, but my headspace didn’t seem to prioritise them. I felt that given a limited amount of time, it was much easier to absorb UBC materials and apply them on a test/paper as compared to say Proof, which had a far more rigid final answer. Hence, I diverted much of the time into working on those subjects instead of UBC.
Things I learned:
- Deep long term memories are formed not merely because of mental rehearsal. This is because rehearsal merely reactivates the working memory which is able to handle high amounts of working parts but very bad at retaining the information for the long term. Hence, it was important to reconstruct them, reinterpret them, re-encode them in new environments, conduct random ordered tests to ensure that we are not merely remembering the visual imagery of the words but the semantics and meaning of the words.
- Ebbinghaus’s learning curve – we lose the most amount of memory on the first day, so doing a memory recall test on the first day is most helpful!
- Listing out a list of terminologies and then testing myself on them would have been super helpful if I had done this at the start of the course, instead of the end of the course.
This was one of the wildcard courses for me. COVID-19 affected much of its learning opportunities in the second half of the semester because it was such a hands-on course (wet lab). However, I am super thankful for my group mates (BC and JL). They’ve been super fun and easy to work with. Truly appreciate all the great times we had in the laboratory.
Things I learned:
- Many things in the scientific journals like N….. paint a super simplistic picture of what the pathways/biochemistry of the phenomena in question are like. Recent work in “omics” has redefined the way such research is being conducted and how it might shake up the way we sift through the huge datasets.
- Basic scientific research can be of great fun and value to translational research even if its applications don’t seem immediately obvious.
- The microscopes’ stereoscopic feature is really important for depth perception, especially when trying to do stuff like pick worms off the surface of the petri dish.
- Have fun and be nice while you’re at it, life’s short, you never know what will happen next. The laboratory manager was super super super helpful and nice too, it made the learning so much easier!
- Even if it was a bad day and the experiments didn’t work out, something about the hot chocolate made from the Dolce Gusto machine and the Wang Wang/Calbee chips/cup noodles/Corntos/Oreos made me walk back to campus feeling that it’d all gone well nonetheless. Positive reinforcement with a fixed payoff schedule perhaps? 😂
Introduction to black holes
2 MC course, wild card too. Broadened my understanding of what black holes were. I think it’s really cool realising that there’s like Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, Galactic Filament that links up black holes (nodes) to other nodes, such that dark energy is all around the filament (causing the rapid expansion of the universe) and it all goes to Sagittarius A*, which is at the centre of the Milky Way. How cool is it to realise it all links up?
Things I learned:
- Grad school astronomy textbooks are hard – lengthy with very little basic explanations and a lot of assumed knowledge!!!
- This course requires a fair bit of explanation from someone knowledgeable if not it’s fairly easy to not know what I don’t know and not know what are the questions to be asking because I’m looking in the wrong areas.
- Astronomy and Astrophysics are interchangeable. 😛
Yale-NUS Laundry – laundry.chuayunda.com
- I spent too much time on it, ~ 3 months.
- I was lucky because there were not too many administrative/marketing things that had to be done for this project. Clear pain point and need identified.
- Senior started this project, so I had ropes to learn from.
Telegram Food Channel – https://t.me/singaporefooddirectory
- Low impact, didn’t have a clear sense of its viability although we did know it was doable.
- It came at the wrong timing, clashed with many of my assignment deadlines.
- Should have postponed its developments till after exams?
- A way for me to reflect and consolidate my thoughts and share it with future self and others.
- Built on WordPress, so it isn’t that complex. The GCP backend with NGINX and PHP config files and SWAP can get confusing, though.
- Harold made me feel that the world and reality could really be unpredictable and that life can be taken away just like that. There’s a lot of suffering in this world too. In it, we can find joy and peace in the comfort of God too.
- Brings a lot of joy to be hosting this website, and doesn’t require time on my side to continuously update things. It just works in the background well!
I write my reflections on the semester with a little more certainty, humbled by the learning that hindsight offers. There’s still a lot to learn. So many subfields to delve into in higher education. Most importantly, one of the biggest things I am reminded of this semester is how with the induction or attainment of a new goal, the heart grows restless and unfulfilled once more. Bless God for having seen me through all this work. All the while I was like an ant trying to figure out how all of this will fit into a bigger picture. Surely God has plans for my work to go beyond myself? Is this what He really wants me to be studying and doing?
I aspire to work more in the image of God. Starting from a position of rest, to having dominion, to bearing fruits, then to multiply. If it means sacrificing more on the weekdays, sacrificing on my personal projects, I’d have to start learning how to do so accordingly! as G reminded me, I don’t want to go on Sundays with a messy and hectic heart – bogged down with the feeling of guilt that I hadn’t been able to clear up my work beforehand.
What lies ahead…
- Music and Cognition (Have to rebid for this module)
- Intro to Data Science
- Statistics for Psychology
- Foundations of Neuroscience
- Software Engineering?? (Rethinking this one…)
- Data structures or linear algebra???