Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More Money or Interest?

Received an email a while back and now I'm posting this. 

Good evening,

How are you doing? Alvin Poh Leong Ann here... My apology for the late reply and for all the trouble caused. Yes, I do have a rough idea of it now. Recently I was away very often. I had attended several orientations organized by the Engineering Faculty and the NUS MSL. I’m glad I have read your blog. It gave a better insight of the Physics programme in NUS.

As mentioned earlier, I intended to further my studies in Physics however I’m offered to study Electrical Engineering instead. I would like to inquire, are there many differences between them? Are there more research and academic enhancement programmes such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in Science (UROPS) and Special Programme in Science (SPS) for students who opt to do a Science degree? I have read about the SPS. Is it a recommended programme for research students? Engineering students wouldn’t be able to join, right?  I come to realize the Summer Programmes for NUS Science Students include many research orientated places in the prestigious university around the world, isn’t it?

I’m offered to do EE with a scholarship. I’m uncertain whether the switching of courses is allowed. I do understand that taking a double major is different. However, do you think is advisable? I inquired about it through a senior during my orientation. He did mention in such cases, students will have to overload each semester with more modules.

My main interest lies in the field of energy, particle and nuclear physics. When I was young, I aspire to be part of CERN research team despite the fact that it is quite farfetched. Anyhow, I’m uncertain of how to even get there. Being in EE, do I lack a lot academically? Will it be a disadvantage for me? It is most appealing to me that the Centre of Quantum Technology is affiliated to NUS. However, does it only involve Physics students in NUS?

Besides, are you graduating soon? Will you be doing your graduate studies? Will you be around in NUS?

I’m glad to meet you. Recent years not many students from Malacca High School are studying in NUS. You have been very helpful. Thank you very much!

Have a nice day! =)
My reply:

 Cool. Good that you've known MSL.

First off I would like to say that even Engineering Science studies nothing close to what we pure science students do, much less Electrical Engineering. From what limited experiences I had in USP about EE is that it mainly focuses on manipulation of electrical fields, wiring, etc...go google it. It's a bit boring to me. And nowhere close to the field of energy, particle and nuclear physics. So a double major is not a replacement for a pure major in Physics.

Only thing that you might get closer to Physics is to do the France Double Degree Program. It's extremely prestigious and hard. Full of pure maths and then physics and you'll have to learn them in France. It's open to Physics, Maths and Engin students. You'll spend your Saturdays studying with these people, and mainly become a study machine. For 1 and a half year from sem 2 onwards. Then 2 years in France and back for masters. But I'm not sure if you're going to study the same thing as a pure Physics student over there.

Secondly, SPS is not something to overlook here. It's only for Science students, it's tough, it's designed for research students and although I haven't described it fully in my blog yet, it's the main thing in Uni that I am glad to have and never regretted. In fact, I'm in SPS room writing to you right now. Summer Programmes, ya, lots of cool places to go to. See my Imperial experiences. I do believe there's a similar programme for Engin students, focusing on Engin stuffs. Go find out.

Third, Scholarship. Now the money factor comes in.
If you're an idealist, you'll switch to Science, no matter what it cost and will follow your passion to the end.
If you're a realist, then here's the deal: if you're so desperate for Physics as to want to turn down this Scholarship, you'll have to have loans. Assuming you'll already have Tuition Grant, so locked in Singapore for 3 year after graduating. Tuition Fee Loan, Study Loan, Student Assistant Loan. Amongst the 3 of them, you'll cover the tuition fees, Accommodation and might need a bit of money for food and others. (I don't buy books or printer, so I save from there.) The occasional Summer trips, Global Programmes, Summer Programmes, you'll either have to find the ones that gives you net money (i.e. you work there), or you'll have to ask from your parents. (about $900 for most of them, once a year.) Or you can just do a part time job. It's not that hard to work and study at the same time. There's demo lab, and SPS Mentor (year 3 and 4 only), and Physics lab (year 4 only), and others. Or summer internship etc....
And most of all, after graduating, the interest will start to count and you'll have to pay all the loans back. To make it comfortable, you'll have to pay more than 3 years. That's what I'm in now. But it's ok for me, I'll just continue paying it using my PhD. Scholarship, when I get it. You'll be poorer than most of your peers, but if you're pursuing further studies... then there's not much difference anyway, you'll stay poor until you graduate from PhD.
Overall, this is not a small factor to discount. It's your life: compromise your passion for money, or money for passion. Your choice. Your parents and family will prefer if you chose the first one. My style is the second one.
Fourth, there's no way in NUS, even in Engineering Science that you'll get a good exposure to the field of energy, particle and nuclear physics if you choose Engin. Ok you can always self study or take the France thing. Ok, just ask my friends over there. You can take mostly Physics over there, including things like energy, mostly about nuclear, environment friendly energy and management stuff. But it's not guaranteed that you'll get into a School. It's hard to get in and it's harder than SPS. And you've to be super intelligent with good CAP in your first sem to get invited to the programme. And super hardworking for the next 1 and a half years.

Fifth, to get to CERN, they need technicians and physicists too. So as an EE you can go there too! Just visit their website, build up your profile, etc, apply there....Just that you might have to do maintenance stuffs more than the real Science. But there's no guarantee that you'll make a better Physicists too, cause research is not really as cool as in Iron Man 2. To do what Tony Stark can do, go Engin. Research in CERN mostly involves analyzing whole chunks of data, not as exciting as they show in the movies. In EE, you know you can't do theoretical Physics then (see the unless above). But if you do theoretical Physics, you don't need to go to CERN, you can do it anywhere. CQT works with people from Computer Science too, to get a different perspective. If you go for Physics major, you'll most likely end up here, at least for a short while. I'm going to be here for 3 years.

That's about all. I really can't decide for you, so I hope I made this email not too bias either way. You'll have to decide for yourself and try not to get influenced by the tone of the email but rather consider the facts and make the choice that your heart tells you to make. Or your logical mind. You see, I'm still mixing up the tones here.

I later found out that his Scholarship allows him to change the faculty if he wants, but he prefers Engin, and not a fan of too many maths he sees in Physics. So he's doing Engin now. 

But anyway, food for thought. What's your choice? More Money or Interest?

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