Securing an Honours Thesis for NUS Psychology: Challenges and Recommendations

Hey, everyone! I’m back yet again; this time, I’m jumping back into writing about NUS. As you might or might not know, I am currently a third-year student majoring in psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS for short). And for those of you unaware of the psychology program and the role of an honour’s thesis, let me explain.

Honours Thesis: What Is It?

In NUS psychology, several modules allow you to practise your research skills. Some of these are mandatory, and some are not. Let’s go through them.

First, the mandatory modules include Statistics I, Statistics II, and a lab module. Statistics I (or PL2131 on NUSMods) teaches more basic statistics tests, and the report you write up is not a full one, meaning that it does not have the introduction and methods section. You are merely given data and are tasked with picking the most appropriate statistical test to answer the given questions. Overall, there is a results, conclusion and discussion section. However, I will highlight that different professors have different requirements — I had to submit a report, but I have heard that some professors do not request this. Regardless, Statistics I provides a solid overall foundation.

In Statistics II (PL2132), you learn more complex statistical tests and are tasked with writing a full report (abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusion, discussion). You will also have to use a more challenging statistical technique as part of the module requirements. You will do everything (writing the report, carrying out the experiment on your peers and doing the data analysis) in one semester.

The lab module is similar to Statistics II, except you are not required to use such complex data analysis for the project. Additionally, there are multiple lab modules, each offering a research opportunity in a different psychology field. For example, there is a lab in early childhood development or a lab in speech and language processes. The full list can be found on the NUS psychology courses website. I took the lab in learning sciences (PL3281F) under Professor Pan, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in cognitive psychology and learning. Professor Pan is a great instructor who is highly experienced in his field.

Aside from that, there are also optional modules for undergraduates that you can choose to pursue if you wish to further your research experience. One such example is the Honours Thesis (PL4401). The Honours Thesis is no longer mandatory for students after the AY2021 cohort, and you can graduate without it. However, the consensus is that an Honours Thesis is a large advantage for those looking to further pursue psychology. It is particularly relevant for students who wish to pursue a research career, but it can also be an advantage for students who apply to jobs in the public sector, as they often like students with strong research and statistical skills. And if you are looking to practise, particularly in clinical psych, showing evidence of research in a clinical population is a gateway to entering the highly competitive field.

So, what exactly is an Honours Thesis, and how is it different from the other research modules? Well, the short answer is that other research modules only require one semester, while the Honours Thesis requires a full year. This also naturally implies is that the demands for an Honours Thesis are significantly greater than the demands of a general research module.

For an Honours Thesis, you work alone (unlike in previous modules, where you do research in a group), and are expected to do practically everything. That includes coming up with the idea, creating the materials and stimulus, setting up the experiment, proctoring the experiment, doing the data analysis, and writing the full report. Additionally, unlike the research modules, there is no fixed number of participants. Normally, in research modules, the other people in your lab make up your participant pool. However, this is not an option for the Honours Thesis, and you will likely have to formally register in the SONA system to get undergraduates. There are also additional administrative matters, such as getting IRB (i.e. ethics) approval before even starting the experiment.

What Are The Challenges?

There are two main challenges in securing an Honours Thesis: maintaining your grades and finding a supervisor. Note that, for an Honours Thesis, there are certain requirements, one being grade-related. The requirements are on the website under PL4401, but I will explain some of the terms. GPA is the grade you get in university, but SJGPA is specific to your subject. For example, let’s say in your first semester you take one psychology module and four random CHS modules, and you get an A- in the psych module and a B+ in everything else. Your overall GPA will be 4.1, but your SJGPA is 4.5 (an A- is 4.5). To check your GPA, you can use this GPA calculator.

Secondly, you need to secure a supervisor. This can pose a challenge, particularly if you are interested in clinical psychology. There are only so many supervisors available, and practically every student is fighting for a place. For example, for my cohort, I have heard that clinical supervisors are no longer admitting any supervisees for an Honours Thesis.

My Personal Recommendations

My best advice is to know the field you are interested in, and to do your best to make connections with the professor teaching the module. For example, if you care about developmental psychology, do your best to talk to the TAs and professor, and take research modules related to developmental psychology. If you don’t know what you want, that’s still alright.

For both of these scenarios, I recommend that you schedule your research project (particularly a lab module) in the semester before an Honours Thesis. This way, at least there is a professor that remembers you and that you can follow-up with for an Honours Thesis. That is the most convenient and easiest method for securing a Thesis supervisor, and I highly recommend you do your best to schedule this.

Aside from that, do your best to maintain connections to either TAs or professors at an early period so you can always have a backup. For TAs, you can always ask them for advice for an Honours Thesis. And for professors, you can always try to re-contact them so they can be your supervisor. But, of course, the more recent the relationship, the better.

And that’s all from me! Hope this helped and see you all next time!

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