Category Archives: School

Dissertation Adventures

I am currently sitting in the library at 5.45pm, unfortunately a tad too early for my intended printing adventures. I arrived in the library shortly after 10.30pm last night and even then, I had to wait for a couple more hours before the library was empty enough to mess around with the printers and pull the paper trays in and out to the annoyance of everyone seated near the huge laser printers. I have read thestudentroom enough these days to know that our dissertation is nothing more than a piece of assignment that we look back on one year into the future and feel embarrassed about, but to me the dissertation brought together all I have learnt in these three years about independent learning. The entire piece of assignment originated from our own research interests, and the directions towards which our research methods flowed were all decisions that we had the autonomy to make. After more than a year from my initial intentions to work on this topic, I am finally printing my dissertation. Similar to how I would always remember H1 Project Work to be a part of my life, I think the dissertation journey would be immensely rewarding to look back on.

How I chose my topic

After having obtained 54/55 for my Methods in Physical Geography course last year, I started getting afraid about my initial decisions to do Physical Geography. I do not aspire to be the top of my course, but 54/55 is clearly a shitty mark. Singaporean scholar? No way. I started beating myself up over my academic choices. Do I actually understand the point of fieldwork? Did I even learn anything on the trip to Mallorca? Am I bad at analysing field samples? Why did I choose the more Science-y track when I am not gifted in this at all? These questions made me fear the choice of my dissertation topic, because I feared putting so much effort into something that would not reap rewards (i.e. higher than the 68s and 69s that I have been getting…). We were encouraged to attend a dissertation workshop, which of course I did attend, and where most of the seniors cited how important it was to “enjoy what you were doing” and “choose a topic that interests you”. Ben Page once gave me some advice on choosing a topic, that it was important to think about what made you special, and areas in which you would have an advantage in. I started having a lot of ideas for a Human Geography topic mostly arising from my personal interests in Korea and China, but those were not helping because I was no longer on the Human Geography track. I still had absolutely no idea what I could do pertaining to Physical Geography, especially since I thought that originality counted for a lot. I thought about doing something related to hydrology because that was one of the most interesting (and practicable) field areas today, but it was so over-done, there were students working on that same topic every year in a different locality with a different software and different climate change projections. I also could not imagine having to sit down in front of the computer even as a form of ‘fieldwork’, because data collection involved getting figures on precipitation inputs and evapotranspiration for example. It was honestly difficult as well, and I was not confident of coming up with outputs that could parallel the amazing work by seniors who got published. I was thinking of doing on something on ecology too, but I was not well-acquainted with native and invasive species in Singapore.

Approximately 2-3 weeks before the deadline of the dissertation outline form, I chanced upon a Mothership article on Facebook, and this caught my interest. I had honestly not known of the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio river restoration programme prior to this, and river restoration was something that I was quite drawn to, because I had learnt it since JC. The initial misleading article published by Today also showed the inadequacy in geographical knowledge by many Singaporeans because we were living in an urban heartland, as it had noted that the floodwaters “swelled the banks”. River-floodplain systems perform this very purpose, to hold floodwaters rather than the artificial quick channelisation of stormwaters downstream to an area where it is designated for flood control, and I found this interesting. I consulted some papers and decided on looking at water chemistry and ecological impacts, and for this field area I consulted my Ecology professor Dr. Jan A. He suggested the use of bioindicators such as dragonflies and mayflies to look at ecological conditions, on top of collecting water chemistry parameters. I was initially apprehensive because of the fact that I was afraid of insects, but I approached that research topic keenly because it sounded plausible, and I liked how the fieldwork could be completely conducted by myself.

I submitted my dissertation outline form, with the title “Assessing the ecological impacts of river restoration: case study of Kallang River in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park (Singapore)”, and requested for Jan as my dissertation supervisor. I intended to conduct dragonfly surveys in both an unrestored and a restored section of the Kallang River, as well as a natural area to see how similar or different dragonfly populations are in these 3 areas. I got lucky, and I got my first choice supervisor! The subsequent submission of the dissertation proposal had me emailing a lot of people to make fieldwork a little easier for me when I eventually went home to conduct fieldwork, such as representatives from PUB and NParks, and professional odonatologists in Singapore. The UCL Geography department also allowed me to bring the fieldwork equipment home together with Fumi, and for that I was very very thankful. Most people were very helpful in this entire process, although it was quite a hassle to apply for research permits because of the bureaucracy within the statutory boards. I remember Jan mentioned during one of the meetings that he was very shocked that Singapore was so strict on their research permits, and I was too, especially how I would perceive for the application process to be earlier for a local. I had to submit proposals after proposals, risk assessments after risk assessments, and I also had to mail the original signed documents to the office. I guess it may be a good thing, that it only goes to show how well-managed and maintained our nature reserves are? Also because I was not too familiar with the ecology language, I got 68 (omfg again?) for my dissertation proposal. But I was thankful for corrections and mistakes made earlier in the dissertation proposal, because it helped me narrow my field research a lot more.

Fieldwork in Singapore

I forgot how immensely exhausting fieldwork was, especially in the hot sunny Singapore where we had to cope with sweltering under the hot sun. OBike was a saviour during this period, because I could cycle for free up and down the length of the Kallang River to do fieldwork on both the unrestored and restored section. For a few consecutive days, I took the hour-long ride to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to collect water samples, and carry out my dragonfly surveys alone. In the nature reserves (and Coney Island), there were also a lot of mosquito bites to deal with while hunting for those elusive dragonflies, and these made me extremely irritable during the whole fieldwork process. Furthermore, although dragonfly abundance counts were high in the parks, they were shockingly lacking within the nature reserves, and these were research findings that definitely could not contribute to my analyses. HT was in Life Sciences back when he was in NUS, and he too agreed that these findings were not going to be helpful to my dissertation. I started fearing for the choice of my dissertation topic again, because the data I would be able to collect would not be enough. I tried heading to different parts of the nature reserve, but I never managed to find a water body that was teeming with dragonflies as I would have expected in nature reserves. With insufficient data from insufficient homework done prior to the fieldwork process, I decided that there was nothing I could do to make the dragonflies appear miraculously, and I would head back to UK to seek for more advice. Moreover, I overestimated my ability to conduct fieldwork in Singapore because I was held back from my desire to obtain COC by the end of my second VA. Since I struggled to get my COC throughout July and August as frequently documented, I extended my VA slightly and that meant even less time for my fieldwork when I was already running out of time. It also meant that I could not submit my dissertation progress report on time. I was not able to conduct the monthly visits to the parks as agreed in the contract with my dissertation supervisor, and that meant I could not do checks on the vegetation growth and monthly species surveys to see if anything changed. I was left with a short 2 weeks for fieldwork, and during then I was also rushing my Master’s application for the Schwarzman programme (which I got bitterly rejected from late last year).

During this period, I would like to thank Yujie who helped me calibrate my pH meter, Aloysius who lent me his camera, and Bowei for coming along for one of my field surveys. I would most importantly like to thank HT who ferried me from venue to venue, who drove me to Temasek Club on very smelly sunny days with tons of mosquito bites to take a comforting cold shower, and most of all, for having had similar research interests back when he was at school. He seemed to be more interested than I was at times, excitedly videoing spiders spinning their preys when we were at an area for a dragonfly lookout.

Booting down to 1.0 unit and back to 1.5 unit

I headed back to UK and rushed to submit my dissertation progress report that was already handed in late relative to the rest of the cohort. I was very lost at this point in time with the direction of my dissertation, because I clearly knew that my data was insufficient especially with regard to the protected areas, yet I did not know what to do. In my first meeting with my supervisor after summer, he recommended that I drop to the 1.0 unit dissertation because he was worried that my data would disallow me from reaching a depth of analysis to reach the word count of 12,000 words, and I have to admit, I was very very very upset. To provide some context, all students are registered under the 1.5 unit dissertation (a weighting of 3 out of 8 modules), and are expected to tailor their research plans for that. Usually, only students who have extenuating circumstances are allowed to drop to the 1.0 unit dissertation, because it may have been challenging to conduct fieldwork during summer for some people. I now belonged to that category, maybe because of my summer commitments, but mostly because of having done insufficient homework on the difficulty of conducting species surveys in Singapore. I knew that my data was lacking, I knew that he meant well for me, and I knew that this was a good move for my grades, but I could not help but feel extremely beaten and upset. True enough, all that effort beforehand had culminated in a regret for my dissertation topic, because the fieldwork was unpractical. I started wondering why I did not embark on other topics, the topics that I initially shunned because the data collection process only involves sitting in front of the computer, because fieldwork clearly proved too difficult for me.

I decided to chin up and work hard anyway, and started to accept that I would have to be happy with a Second Upper Class degree because the dissertation was a great chance to boost my grades, and I had currently just aborted that opportunity. Until one day I happened to chance upon the ‘Dragonflies of Singapore’ Facebook group, and I realised how this presented a golden opportunity for data collection similar to what we have learnt about OpenSource information. I would later learn that the proper term for this is called ‘Citizen Science’, where voluntary information from enthusiasts are merged with knowledge from professionals and experts. I collated species sightings from the group, and ended up with a species list much longer than what I had initially gotten. It also presented an opportunity to collect data from many other parks and water bodies all across Singapore, and I realised this was something I could capitalise on. After a week of gathering data and information, I spoke to my supervisor, who was shocked at the unending list of species. One session later, I saw the potential of a more critical analysis to my data, and sheepishly asked for permission to do the 1.5 unit dissertation. I was putting way too much effort into something that was only worth the weight of two modules! He initially said that it might not be possible given how we were expected to confirm modules earlier this academic year, but advised me to speak to the departmental tutor. And so I did.

I think this whole process showed me how much you can ‘make things happen’ as long as you wish to, a phrase that was often used back when I was in MIDS Wing. The most ridiculous requests, like securing early, the cancellation of bunk checks, are truly all possible as long as you dare to seek and ask. I arranged a session with the departmental tutor, and ended up waiting outside his office in queue. Thank god he was an amazing guy, and all he said was ‘as long as you are willing, of course we are more than happy to support you, the dissertation is all about you!’, or something along the lines of that. I emailed Geog Office after that, and was quickly booted up to the 1.5 unit dissertation. Here, I would like to document the email exchanges between my professors and I.

The first email I sent to the departmental tutor to ask whether it was possible, but the email went ignored. Carl is an amazing professor and therefore I believe that he probably missed my email accidentally amidst the mass of emails that get to him everyday. He must have been very busy. I refused to abort my idea even though my dissertation supervisor said that it might not be possible at this (late) stage, especially as UCL responded to students’ feedback to release the examination timetables earlier which necessitated us to confirm our modules quite early in the academic year. I decided to drop in during his office hours then.

and these were all the e-mail exchanges that followed in chronological order. I was extremely surprised at the efficiency of the Geog Office this time, and was also extremely thankful for the prompt email responses by Jan even though he must receive many many many e-mails every single day.

All the work after that

Since November, and the approval of my upgrade to a 1.5 unit module, I have been doing work non-stop on my dissertation. In November and December I led a relatively disciplined lifestyle with regard to academic work: I would do work for my GEOG3057 blog every Monday, work for my GEOG3038 every Thursday, and dissertation on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Saturday I would work on my Master’s applications, although this fell short most of the time because I always felt a psychological need to ‘reward’ myself from all the earlier days of work. I enjoyed those days in the library because I never felt like I was dragging myself to do work – the March deadline meant that I was doing work at my own pace. I allowed myself to do things very very slowly as long as there were improvements and advancements day-to-day, and this allowed me to enjoy the dissertation process very much.

Here are some of the notable things that look extremely simple but required a lot of effort on my part:

1. Learning all the R Studio vegan, ape and betapair packages. I cannot believe I actually created a phylogenetic tree by myself. I remember telling Jan that I was intending to use the phylogenetic alpha-diversity indices, and how he said he was worried about that because I did not have taxonomic information. I told him I did, and I had already created a taxonomic tree in R. He was extremely surprised, in a good way, and I will remember this meeting to be one of great motivational boost to me.
2. Relearning MATLAB from my nightmare in Year 2 and producing all the box plots and bar graphs for my dissertation. For one simple-looking box plot, I had up to 100 commands, to specifically adjust the colours, width, borders, error bars, tick marks, axes labels, and subplot positioning.
3. Relearning CANOCO from Year 2 (not that much of a nightmare) and struggling to edit the diagrams each time. I had to move the labels one by one to ensure that they did not overlap each other and confuse. It was also a challenge to interpret the diagrams because there were much more elements compared to what I had learnt in the previous academic year, and I thank Anson for lending me his personal copy on a book for these statistical analyses.
4. Struggling to understand the taxonomic mathematical formulas published in papers. I have to thank Bowei for this, because the literal loss in contact with Maths meant that I no longer understood any mathematical notations, with one being double summation.
5. Spending days after days after days poring over the same Excel sheet with all the species data. Compilation of data was difficult because it was important to tailor them to the format required by the specific software required. At this stage I have forgotten quite a lot of the problems I met along the way, but it was most difficult feeding data into R Studio as the functions never seemed to work (Error: Error: Error: Error:). I also realised I messed up on one occasion when I indicated one location wrongly as an urban park instead of a nature park. I had to redo every single analysis, and I had to do this again when my professor advised me to re-order my sites for more order.

After all that analysis, came the writing. I had an entire month dedicated to writing, re-reading most of the papers I had once glanced over in my dissertation proposal. I think I felt happiest when I finished the final sub-section of my Discussion and the Conclusion section on the same day. By that stage, I thought I was more or less done with the ‘difficult’ parts, and now all that was left was proper referencing, formatting, and correction of the mistakes that I had inadvertently made in my unfiltered writing. I made it in time for my first draft, and by then, I knew that not many changes could be made anymore. I no longer had the time for an additional data analysis, I no longer had the freedom of time to re-order analyses and come up with any stray ideas.


The year has passed very fast with the frequent library visits, and today, I am here waiting to print out my dissertation. Because of the shift in focus, my dissertation topic has been changed to ‘Using Odonata to assess the impacts of river restoration in Singpaore’s Kallang River’. My research goals and objectives have deviated very much from the original submission of my proposal, but this was what we were told to be prepared for, and I am glad that my research has headed in this direction. I have put in a lot of effort in this compared to the rest of all my modules, and I do hope for a good outcome, especially after all the cumbersome administrative trouble that I had to go through, and that I had to make others go through. I know I will be upset eventually if I do not get a First Class mark for this assignment and thereafter this blog post will never come, therefore I would like to document the dissertation journey first. At this point, I think I enjoyed this whole process, and I cannot wait to submit it after the library clears out enough for me to print my dissertation in full tonight.

Here, I would like to express my gratitude most to Jan. He has been readily responding to my emails, even though at the start it might appear that I was an unmotivated individual who could not care less about carrying out academic work over summer. He has been keeping up with me more than I have kept up with him, constantly asking for weekly and at most fortnightly meetings to check on my progress, and I know I have to be very thankful for his approach because it has forced me to constantly make progress on my work before seeing him every week. Most of all, I am extremely appreciative of how he constantly reaffirms my intentions, and for constantly giving me that motivation boost that I was making good progress, because it motivated me to continue working harder. In the future, I think I will look back at my final year and remember the dissertation process as something that was extremely rewarding and enjoyable. I also count my blessings that I had the privilege to be stressed and worried over academic work, because that meant that I had no other pressing worries like financial inability, illness or serious personal issues. I would therefore hope for this blog post to serve as a memory to always look back and laugh on.

The dragonfly that gets featured on my dissertation title page, the Neurothemis fluctuans, the most common dragonfly in Singapore, and also the first dragonfly I sighted at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park on the first day of fieldwork. Taken with Aloysius’s camera.

Edit (14/03/18):

And finally, it is in 🙂

I thought it was going to be crowded at the library for printing and Map Room for binding from Friday, which would not be ideal especially since I wanted to use my own 100gsm paper to enhance the appearance of coloured figures on my dissertation. I had to remove all the 80gsm paper from the 5 paper trays, load my own and in this process hold everyone up, and so I decided to act two days earlier. Even so I had to wait until late night (as seen) to make sure that no one accidentally printed on my paper. In the end Nick says I am the first one to submit… truly kiasu.

I know there are still a lot of mistakes and slight improvements to be made, as with any assignment, but this will be the cut off point for myself. Now to get over the coursework inertia to start on others…


Cute professor :(

Today I had a great seminar for the Global Environmental Change module. It was basically about microplastics, macroplastics, the scale of the problem, how we can assess the scale of the problem, and the best solutions to overcome these problems… that was the general gist of the seminar. The professor, let’s refer to him as NR, made a drawing of beaches, rivers, sewage treatment works… it was quite nicely done which would have meant that he put quite a lot of thought into it – the drawing was effectively a mind map summarising all the possible inputs and outputs of plastic waste. He handed these around for us to scribble on it – our notes and our ideas. At the end of the seminar it seemed that no one intended to keep these drawings anyway, so one girl went around collecting all of them. I thought she was going to pass it back to him for the next seminar, and was thinking to myself how kind she was for preparing the class for the next seminar. No, on the way out, she folded it and… THREW IT AWAY IN FRONT OF HIM.


How is NR going to feel when he realises that his field drawings/notes simply become garbage? How did he feel at that point in time when he saw her throwing it away? I felt so so so so bad for my professor who led the seminar at that point in time. He was patiently trying to make this whole topic of plastics more engaging and interesting to a bunch of young adults in their 20s who cannot care less about the world, yet this is what happens to his hard work. It becomes waste immediately after the seminar?! I felt so terrible at that point in time, I should have been the one collecting them, and I should at least pass it back to him so that it can be reused as teaching material.

Time to study, had to get this off my chest because I felt so bad. 😦

Start of dissertation process

So I just want to quickly document how lucky I got today before I go to sleep!!! I have had met a few logistical issues with my dissertation process without even starting the process proper. Basically my dissertation title is “Assessing the ecological benefits of river restoration: case study of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore”, and in this project I will document dragonfly diversity and population in the park itself as well as collect water samples. You can message me privately if you are keen about what I am actually doing, but in this blog entry I will write about issues I faced that I had not anticipated ahead of time, what a disgrace.

1. Insect net

I easily wrote it into my dissertation proposal to use an “insect net” to catch insects if they are too far to be identified by close-focus binoculars, and to identify them before releasing them into the park. The problem is, I never knew what a proper insect net was. Until I met Jiawei for her insect collection day, when she had a 1m deep insect net that was provided to her by the NUS lab. Mine was probably 15cm deep, the kind you use to catch fishes in the aquarium. To make it clearer as to why I was holding such a loser net, it was $2 from Daiso…

So I tried looking online for commercial sources. I emailed her lab technician to ask if there are spares that I may buy directly from the lab (too much to ask to borrow it since I was not a NUS student), but I was turned away and instead redirected to a link where the lab bought the net for the students enrolled in the Entomology module.

A month delivery from USA? I would be in London by then…

So I DIY-ed my own net as seen in the picture… joining together two collecting nets that I too, obtained from Daiso for $2. I honestly am not going to know how useful this is until I use it tomorrow, but it definitely is much longer and more effective in theory, follows through my hand movements well and let’s hope the dragonflies won’t escape as easily as they did when I did my first site visit about 4 days ago!

2. Camera

I wrote to photograph the dragonflies for identification after returning from the field, because honestly I am no expert at identification. My digital camera failed so badly when I tried to zoom in on the insects which were perched on the leaves.

Aloysius is the saviour of the day. Thanks for lending me your DSLR, and I will make sure to wipe it well every single day after fieldwork.

3. Dragonfly identification

How? Seriously, how am I going to look at a dragonfly and tell that this is a Gynacantha basiguttata? Or a Raphismia bispina?

I could not find the reference books that were used in Singapore dragonfly studies, particularly Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by Orr (2005). I tried requesting for the book online via Sciencedirect but I had gotten a reply directly from the author that it was no longer in print, and that they are looking to publish a newer version. Now how do I get around to these dragonfly references?

I have since borrowed two books from Central Public Library, because this was the only place searched online potentially holding something that was of relevance, in particular a book titled “Dragonflies of Singapore” as seen in the picture. It seems promising and I hope it helps me very much with my identification from this point, although I have not started on fieldwork proper yet. I may also have problems differentiating a female and a male…

4. Buffer solution

My pH of all my water samples reflected 6.80, 6.81, 6.81, which seemed like a major booboo to me. My tap water reflected 6.80 too. I decided that there was a huge problem with the calibration and sought to obtain buffer solutions to calibrate the pH meter. Now the problem is, where do I obtain these buffer solutions since I flew the equipment in directly from the UCL Geography lab?

I tried to seek help from RVHS, because I suppose it would have been easier to obtain favours from teachers who taught me directly. Unfortunately RVHS did not stock up on these buffer solutions (see screenshot of conversation below), and it was honestly unsurprising to me because I haven’t seen it when I was in school anyway. Regardless I was really thankful that Ms Lim actually went to find out about it for me, given that it has been 2 years since I last contacted her, maybe during graduation… or on A Levels results day.

I then desperately sought help from my NUS friends, despite getting turned away for the insect net. I asked Yu Jie and Sarah who were most likely in Science modules with lab work, but to my dismay both of them had not seen these buffer solutions before too. Until…

If you look at the time stamp, you can see how coincidental this whole thing was — in the afternoon, she had no idea what I was talking about. In the evening, she happened to have a freshwater lab, where they introduced the buffer solutions for them to measure soil pH!!! It is so crazy coincidental, it’s almost like striking lottery. I ran out of my house, took a cab down and arrived at NUS within 10 minutes. I was so so excited because it represented the one and only opportunity I might ever have to do my calibration for my pH meter. After running around the lab when the lab class was ongoing, I managed to seek permission from the lab technician who allowed me to use their buffer solutions!!!

I was so so so thankful.

Later I find out that I made a very big and stupid mistake when it came to using the pH meter, but nevertheless I got the pH calibration done and I was so so so happy. It really made my day. Please ask me privately if you want to know what embarrassing mistake I did this time. HAHAHAHA.

So tomorrow I will be commencing on Day 1 of fieldwork and I am truly not excited because of the potential cock-ups. I really hope that this will be a good project, and that I will have much to talk about in my 12000 word dissertation after this. I also hope that I will be more hardworking these few weeks and work harder on what I am seeking out to achieve, other than my dissertation. Hehe.

End of my second academic year

It is my last night in London.

I have counted down since forever to my eventual return on the 26th of May, which happens to be tomorrow. When HT and I first separated we texted each other, and one of those messages from him was “259 days more!” I cried as I read his handwritten letter and re-read that message. How unrealistic it was, I told myself. How were we going to last? How many couples have I seen breaking up? What makes the both of us think that “our love is different” compared to the many others who thought the same way when they initially parted? I was so cynical and I honestly do not think my worries were unfounded. On some nights in London I really constantly questioned myself why. It seemed easier emotionally last academic year when I was single. I am however really glad that my “emotional mechanism” is able to shut those thoughts out as soon as they are formed, and despite some reunion jitters I really cannot wait to see HT in 3D again after 6 months.

Today I wore short sleeves out having been blessed with an amazing sunny weather, temperatures reaching up to 28 degrees in the afternoon. I saw a glimpse of London in summer — the streets littered with people wearing sleeveless dresses and holding Starbucks frappucinos, green spaces filled with people with picnic mats holding their sandwich lunches and… simply the increased density of people on the streets even though it is only Thursday. I never got to experience these sights last year and I am indeed really lucky because I do not think I will ever get a chance to experience London summer in full, given that I will always be back in Singapore for VA.

Now that it’s still 9.15pm and sunny I have concluded that today has been an absolutely perfect day. Today I sent off my 7 boxes early in the morning and now I face an empty room and kitchen… it looked similar to what I saw when I first arrived in this room. The rate at which time passes scares me very very much. I remember posting on what you would call a “private Instagram” (which has now disappeared) a perspective of London from Goodge Street when I first arrived for the second time and commenting how scarily unfamiliar the familiar London was. Or the scarily familiar unfamiliar London. It was 7am on a Sunday morning when I wheeled my luggage out of the tube station and saw how cloudy and gloomy the morning was. I thought back on my Sunday mornings at home and I remembered my noisy family, my irritating siblings and the sunny hot weather in Singapore. It was painful to stomach the fact that I would be here alone for 9 months again, especially when I was painfully separated from HT during what I would also call our honeymoon period. I also remember my first night here when my dining/study table was in a different position of the room, when I set off the smoke alarm from cooking instant noodles from a tiny pot (resulting in water spilling all over the induction hob), when I slept on unfamiliar sheets and when I had nothing in this new home to call my own. I managed to Skype HT when he was sailing, and despite not being able to see his face I went to sleep with great ease. It was nice that he tried doing that to help me settle down better.

Slightly more than 8 months have passed since then and I have done many many things. I have not accomplished as much academically as I would like to, and I say this only because I know I can achieve better. I have however, enjoyed myself a lot more this year. I ate a lot better, made an effort to actively seek for entertainment and did many more things that I enjoyed. I ventured to areas even off-London (eg. New Malden) just to have a legit Korean BBQ meal and good bingsu. I went to 梁静茹’s concert, although it may have been more perfect if I managed to obtain tickets for Jay Chou’s concert. Notable trips are Bristol with RV, Thursley Common for a field trip, Mallorca for a field trip, Lake District and Paris with HT, Switzerland with Weixuan and Edina, the UCLSS Ski Trip at the French Alps, Durham to meet Xinci, Italy with my siblings, Amsterdam with Dilys and Weixuan, and lastly the killer Seven Sisters hike with Dilys and Weixuan as of late. I watched Wicked and Phantom of the Opera again, I watched The Kite Runner, and I also watched The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time before their final stage in June. Wicked costed ÂŁ29.50 this time because I queued in the morning for day seats which led me to a seat all the way at the front; the last time I paid ÂŁ17.50 I was sitting at the last row of the musical! Seats are important in keeping me awake and stall seats really provide the best musical experience. I am increasingly of the opinion that money saving habits can only kick in successfully with familiarity, how would I have understood the concept of day seats in the past? I snuck into the UCL Korean Culture Society and attended weekly intermediate Korean lessons every Wednesday and Friday. Despite the attendance declining from the start I never dreaded the 6pm lessons when I often had to leave home the second time in the day for school, and especially enjoyed it more towards the end when the teachers started recognising us. I hope to improve enough over summer to find myself in the advanced language class next academic year.

I have lived very well this year although my bank account has certainly been bleeding more than last year. I remain thankful to the scholarship and the organisation for this financial independence. Last year I used to tell people that I did not have much friends in London, but this statement does not hold anymore. I really had an active social life, a social life that would not have been possible if my phone were to be spoilt like what happened last year. I forged stronger friendships and saw myself laughing a lot more this year. I made it a point to enjoy London for what it has to offer, the food, the sights and simply the way of life. I am liking London more and more as I approach the possible end of my three years here and it saddens me that the dream I had worked and put in everything for may come to an abrupt end soon. Although I think I Skype rather regularly I never thought it took away time from my personal life, I tried to make it a point to lead less of a virtual life especially if we were to “have a lifetime ahead”, as quoted from HT.

I am excited to leave the house for the airport 5 hours in advance tomorrow, to wheel my luggage and struggle to carry it up and down flights of stairs on the tube. It says a lot about the girl I have grown to become; I think I can say with confidence that she is a better version of myself. Other than growing to be even more independent I think I have grown to be more empathetic, kinder and more sensitive. On this note, I will continue to figure out and actively work on my character flaws. This summer I also hope to obtain my COC, because it would say a lot about my lack of attitude/aptitude if I still do not. I also want to work hard on my dissertation because an excellent dissertation project would show how much I have learnt this year from the endless coursework submissions, repeated data collection/analysis/discussion, and show the markers how capable I am of independent learning. Next academic year too, I hope to actively work on my academic weaknesses. I still believe that everything is a choice, and I hope to strive harder to make that active choice for academic excellence.

After tonight I would have no more “sleeps in London” until late September, so goodbye Collingwood House. See you after summer 🙂


I miss you terribly terribly terribly much all of a sudden. I know we are left with only 20 days but it doesn’t seem to get by any easier 😦 20 more days more and I can run into your arms to cry and laugh again. Honestly quite sick of myself thinking about you too……… can’t wait to be physically reunited again.

You have been such a blessing.

Still quite sour from my terribly done examination paper from Tuesday. I guess it sucked more because I knew I enjoyed the module. Maybe the most, out of the 8 this year. We really learnt beyond the scope of what a Geography student is really exposed to and the professors were so good. I suppose when you enjoy something you really want to do well in it.

I fear doing badly in the rest of the papers and subsequently using my grades as a determinant as to how much I enjoyed the module. So before I take the rest of the examinations and receive my potentially terrible grades back I am going to have to remind myself that the best decision I made this year was to take a majority of Physical Geography modules. I came into UCL with a preference for Human Geography modules, because that was exactly where my interest lied when I was in JC.  But I ended up slanting towards Physical Geography because despite my sub-par performance for the Environmental Change module last year I thought it was the only one that stretched me way beyond my comfort zone. There has been no regret at all ever since, despite the fact that I go to class and sit alone now.

I loved the field trips this year. I loved all the professors and how keen they were in making us identify species on the field, and how they excitedly demonstrated all the coring techniques while rowing around on a sea boat.

I loved the modules and I enjoyed completing every single coursework simply I learnt so much each time. I started off with lots of hate for STELLA because it was so complicated, but after getting through the initiation and familiarisation with the software I was so amazed by its outputs. Everything we had done in our coursework was in direct relevance to climate change projection and modelling that I had always mentioned about in my essays in passing, even in JC. I disliked Hydrology when I was in JC simply because it was pure memory work and so crazily intense — this academic year I have had the honour of being taught by Julian and Richard, both leading academics in the field of groundwater abstraction, subsidence and of course, climate change impacts on water resources. When they were doing their PhDs with crazily beautifully constructed diagrams and location maps I wasn’t even born yet. Their papers are always so well-written and I am continually impressed by the originality and detail that goes into each scientific paper they compose individually. On a separate note I loved the diatom and ostracods practical session by Viv and it felt like I was brought back to secondary school when I placed ostracods on a glass test slide to examine and identify it through a microscope. Except that this was extremely relevant to the field on palaeoclimatology, especially as we were concurrently working on the statistics coursework for diatom reconstruction of acidification values.

I also managed to learn a bit of Environmental Biology when I memorised details about homozygotes and heterozygotes and their differing fitness levels, and the evidence of sympatric speciation through an examination of the molecular phylogenetics within the Monostroma latissimum species. Before I left for studies this academic year HT once asked me whether I knew what Drosophila was. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw this very term flipping through the Ecology textbook that our module was based on.

I have really enjoyed how the year has put together subjects that I studied for in the past — especially in greater relation to Chemistry within the Hydrology module. I want to remind myself that I truly enjoyed what I learnt this year and I will not define my growth academically by the numbers I see eventually.


I was in a very pensive mood yesterday after the examinations and all I wanted was to get away from that examination hall seating a few hundreds of people. I was so down, so upset and so afraid.


70+ First class mark. If you are a real Singaporean you’d be trying hard to be here.

60-69 Second upper class mark (2:1)

50-59 Second lower class mark (2:2)

I’d received unsatisfactory grades throughout the course of my entire degree. I remember them. I guess no one really reads my blog so hopefully it won’t become discussed in my course like what happened to other people in high school…

In my first year, my first ever assignment received an overall mark 55. Then a 62. Then a 72… hey are things becoming better now? Then a 64. Ouch.

I stopped aiming. Only two modules were graded anyway, and most of the examination modules were not. Overall I got 2 Firsts for my 8 modules, 5 2:1s and a last 2:2. I even laughed about the last one — I got 25 for an essay because I was writing a “right answer to the wrong question”. Who the hell gets 25/100 for an essay?!

There were tons of coursework submissions this year. 4 due on the 10th of January, 1 due on the 8th of Feb, 1 due on the 3rd of March, 1 due on the 22nd of March, 1 due on the 24th of March, and 1 due on the 24th of April.

For the January batch of coursework, I had gotten 68, 67, 66 and 54.

December to January was difficult. It was lots of learning of softwares in greater depth: R, ArcMap, MatLab, STELLA, all of which I had zero clue about.

During the whole December break I was also travelling excessively, and prior to the 3-week break, HT was here. I really had no time for coursework and I saw those as my priorities. Getting marks in the range of 66-68 was therefore quite pleasant for me, I would (and could) just work harder during the exam.

 54 was definitely my fault, I left myself with 24 hours for that coursework. When I submitted it through Turnitin at 11am I knew I was thoroughly screwed — my figures weren’t composed properly, I had hardly come up with proper location maps, and I hadn’t even linked my Discussion section to my Results section. I am just glad I passed for my horrendous submission, I was mostly upset because this was 90% and there was no way I was salvaging it. I also had some sort of coursework fatigue from having finished 3 prior to this and I was sick and tired of learning and using a new software. It requires time for familiarisation as well and I had no time for that this time.

I moved on from those 4 coursework assignments… to embark the 5 in Term 3. The results are coming back. I received 75. Then 80. Then 72 even when I pasted two of the same figures by mistake in my work… are things getting better? Am I on my way? I must be getting the hang of things now! I tried to read so much more beyond the recommended literature to get beyond the band of 66-68. Maybe they really want originality. I really am improving! I worked out my marks and coursework percentages here and there and found out that to possibly secure a first class eventually, I would have to play safe and get at least 5 to 6 modules with a First this year. I was not confident of getting a First for my dissertation in my final year — I know it won’t be that easy.

But yesterday I received a mark of 67 and I felt like I was going back to square one all over again. Another bye to a possible first-class mark. No, eventually there had been no improvement. Yesterday, too, I had not gotten lucky with the questions for a module I thought I could bag a First for. I told myself: I only needed one good essay and one mediocre essay to get a 70 overall. I prepared for 5 topics, and only one worked in my favour. How unlucky was I? Really unlucky. Most people prepared only 4, or less if you are not bothered about this exam. Essentially, I prepared a mediocre essay and another piece of shit, because the wording for the question I prepared for was really convoluted as well. Examiners probably saw that it would be a popular question. I felt like crying midway through writing my second essay. I was cooking up shit and I knew I was giving more marks away with every line I was writing.

I feel sad from the weight of my personal expectations. I don’t want to feel burdened over every unsatisfactory grade or terrible examination. I cannot be like this my whole life, there are so many more examinations I have to take and so many tests I must put myself through. How can I ever be happy this way?

“The part of me that only thinks being the best is acceptable needs to take a chill pill and realize that if I give something my best effort and end up with an average result that is perfectly fine and will only lead to a happier and healthier me. I will keep trying to do my best, but if an exam or a lacrosse game does not go as well as I had hoped, I am not going to ruminate on my mistakes. I will learn to use the bad as a life experience and move on. I will find peace in realizing that being average is okay, but I will take pride in knowing I will never lead an average life. I have long ago stopped expecting perfection from those around me, and now far more importantly, I will stop demanding perfection from myself.”

I will continue to strive, but I will stop being bitter about myself. I will remind myself that the leader(s) I respect the most had less than stellar academic achievements, but was/were extremely hardworking and charismatic. These “idols” of mine might even stab me if I told them about my woes.

I feel much better today after the lousy morning and terrible examination yesterday. I knew I was not going to do further studying after the shitty afternoon paper yesterday, and all I wanted to do was to go home and lie on my bed and Skype. We ended up watching a movie, and after that I slept at 10.30pm. Which means HT stayed up all the way till 5.30am to accompany me to save my shitty day. Thank you very much, so much love for you smiling to sleep last night :’) Thank you for never dissing my opinions even though you are less concerned about results and grades than anyone else. In my darkest of days I am glad you are always there, even though you are not physically present. I know I am in a much better position than people sleeping beside a familiar stranger, and I will be thankful for that. I try to steer clear of talking about HT too much because I think I should lead a proper life myself, but today I am so glad to have a boyfriend. Hehehehehehehe.

Mallorca, Spain


I blogged previously about dreading the trip and everything that comes along with it, but I must say my worries were pretty much unfounded because the field work trip was amazing. Much more than Sitges and Barcelona last year, for both the balance of workload and the time off to ourselves. The people doing Physical Geography were much keen and nicer too.

Of course, although the trip revolved around coastal and wetland work that may put someone off, it was also more enjoyable this time given that we got to choose our preferred projects. The groups we formed were much smaller, and we had much more personal engagements with the professors who would otherwise be busy on a typical working day. It sounds really nerdy but you are truly more keen to learn when you surround yourself with like-minded people, and really enthusiastic professors who would kneel and squat by you to help you out with your difficulties.

I am honestly truly having withdrawals from the trip. I miss the lab, I miss the wetland that I would never return to again because it requires a research permit, I miss the daily breakfast and dinner buffets at the hotel. Free flow of smoked salmon, steamed salmon, squid, sliced roast pork/duck, nutella crepes, seafood paella, fresh tuna, assorted cakes, sorbets and ice cream… oh god I can really go on and on. I gained at least 2kg from the trip no matter which time of the day I weigh myself and I must say I have absolutely no regrets binging and over-eating on the trip because the food was that excellent — it is worth a month of eating low-calorie food just to keep the scales down. 🙂

Academic work


This picture shows the wetland: it was extremely inaccessible. We had to get a car, park somewhere and walk for about 10 minutes through undisturbed wildlife, carrying the extremely heavy dhingy (in my opinion).

Here are photos of us on the boat where we worked on our lake bathymetry (underwater equivalent of topography) research project! Here I am holding the wading rod for measuring the water depths hehe.

Carrying the dhingy on my back because I decided to act hero, thank god it did not aggravate my back injury even though I am seen here arching my back an neck in the most injury-prone angle ever.


At the lab where we were most of the time, working on our presentations, MatLab, ArcGIS, sorting and sieving through our sediment samples and measuring the turbidity of water samples we collected.


Because they were the highlight of the trip, I must say. Here’s the limited dinner spread and one of my most well-taken servings of food, because I often take multiple plates with the food all over the place hahahaha. I must be a nightmare of a customer because they have to do so much washing.


Here’s my favourite:

Missing my free flow crepes (I had it every single morning!), sugar and cinnamon churros and the most well done omelettes.

My final pictures of the trip, which really shows how beautiful the place was.

I look forward to the next Physical Geography trip in Year 3, let’s hope these trips get better as the years pass. I think this one’s hard to beat though, because the professors and technicians that came along were excellent. JRT has really got to be my favourite lecturer now, he has officially championed the place of favourite lecturer in my heart after RT hahahaha. Very coincidentally, both of them are doing the same module, that I have thankfully taken after a long deliberation. Yes.

Here’s to salad, cereal and milk (only) for the next 12 hours — because after these 12 hours, I would probably be permanently smiling at the fact that HT will be right beside me. I’ve been excitedly counting down the hours to his arrival because his plane has taken off from Singapore, and I am finding it difficult to focus on any proper work. Let’s hope this will not affect my work attitude adversely, but even if it does… I make my own choices. Reciprocation is important and I honestly have nothing more to be thankful about. What more than for all the sacrifices you made, and me being a knowing party with my slight understanding of how difficult it is to take (such a long) leave. All the arguments you got yourself into and trouble just to make this visit happen, just to honour your word that you would visit me at least once a year to make this LDR work. It will be a right choice; you are the right choice.