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Monday, May 31, 2010

How to Get First Class Honours in Economics at NUS

How to Get First Class Honours in Economics at NUS

I am so, so, so very glad that I got my first class honours and can finally graduate from NUS. It has been a very good experience in terms of meeting many interesting people, going on student exchange, and all the things that I have learnt there - German, economics, history, USP modules, and relationships. For those of you who happened to be passing by and were looking for the keywords "how to get first class honours at NUS", I tricked you into coming here. But since you're here, there are some words of wisdom... right after I do the thank yous.

There are so many people I want to thank for my good academic results and to name all of them would make this post both long and boring. So I will just focus on two of them. One of them trained me long and hard in writing, thinking, analysing and being an all rounded scholar, and I am eternally grateful. For it wasn't just about the content that I learnt - the discipline and tenacity that I absorbed were also instrumental qualities in my academic journey. If there are any pearls of wisdom I can pass on to my students and to future generations of NUS students, it is that discipline and tenacity are crucial traits, among others. Thank you, my discipline master - dad.

The other one doesn't know any economics or history - maybe a little bit of economics. She remembers vaguely doing the damn subject in JC. She can't recall even the most basic concepts of it, and as for history - she's a scientist and has no idea what history is about. Historical facts, argumentation, debate, reasons or verbal legerdermain are not her cup of tea. Yet she has been instrumental in my first class degree. She helped me check my datasets when I collected reams of data. She stood by my side when I had to spend long hours at the computers. Thank you, Bunny, for always being there for me when I needed encouragement and support. Moral support is as important as physical or direct or actual support.

How does one get a first class honours in Economics at NUS?

Hahahahaha! I've absolutely no idea. But here are some things that I did, and those can maybe inspire you.

1. You have to be willing to work long and hard. I mean long hours and hard work. Long hours: I spent almost five to twelve hours in the Central Library every day - on top of lectures and tutorials. Hard work: for instance, for Econometrics - a bane of existence for most undergraduates unless they're math majors - I did the entire textbook... at least thrice. I got an A+, did I mention?

2. You need to get help for mathematics and statistics. Unless you're a math major or a stats major, it is very likely that you're in my position - you know some math and some stats, but you can't seem to prove the Stolper-Samuelson theorem or Rybczynski theorem. I mean, even though I did the module and once knew how to do to the Rybczynski theorem by heart, it was thanks to getting good help from my trusty friend, Roastbird. He helped me out also for Econometrics 2 - a killer module. Get help from real mathematicians or real statisticians! We're economists.

I have to point out that before I entered university, I studied mathematical economics on my own and therefore am not a typical, average student to begin with. However, studying mathematical economics and learning to use the Lagrangian multiplier in constrained maximisation, etc..., only allows you to be the usual, standard, run-of-the-mill student at NUS. In other words, knowing mathematics makes you the average guy only. No first class. I kid you not.

3. You need to get friends. This is related to point 2, but point 2 is about the importance of mathematics and statistics and how your A level math or whatever isn't going to give you any advantage. Friends on the other hand... help you with tutorials, help you with lectures, lend you materials, give you heads-up... what else can I say? Get economics friends! Quod erat demonstrandum.

4. You need to get a good supervisor, and start working early on your thesis. This is because in NUS you need to get an A- or better for your thesis to get first class honours, on top of a sterling CAP. These are self evident arguments above, so I won't explain further. Finding a good supervisor and a good thesis topic are all topics that can take up entire posts or even entire blogs!

5. You need luck. I am entitled to hindsight bias, and thus can say platitudes that "see, I told you all along", "I'm an economics genius", "I'm a scholar", or my all time favourite (and many of my friends either hear this from my mouth or label me as such) "I'm a genius". Hahaha! How nice if that were true. However, if you're reading this post, I'll have to be really honest with you and say that luck plays a small but significant role.

It was luck that I found a substitute topic for my behavioural economics thesis on reference points.

It was luck that when I ran econometric models, they turned out well after all and I found loss aversion, the result that I was looking for.

It was also luck that despite me not being able to solve the mathematical problems inherent in my research methodology, I still got a first class as the examiners were willing to see beyond the mathematics. It was a challenging yet interesting topic, after all. It was a hard fought battle but luck was on my side.

I have to mention this: I can't find the site, but there was once a girl called Audrey (Lin? I believe) who wrote about her getting first class honours at NUS. She had a hard last semester, doing all sorts of hard modules on top of the thesis, and then eventually she got her degree. She seemed to have a harder time than me (I completed the USP in year 4 sem 1.) However, she attributed it to God helping her (in addition to thanking her family). I think that was humble and correct of her. She has her head on properly. When it comes to research, hard work is important but luck plays a significant role.

Anyways I've to conclude now. Dinner beckons. Thanks to all my friends and your kind support! However, if you're an undergraduate at NUS seeking for that elusive first class at NUS, good luck to you and do keep my advice in mind. We old birds know how hard it is, and respect you if you're willing to give your degree your best shot. Consider it a tournament. Consider the degree valuable. After all, I myself did enjoy my research before getting my honours. All the best!

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