When Leow Shuen Ling tells her friends or relatives she’s doing a double degree in Chemistry and Political Science, they tend to do a double take.
“The usual reaction is a confused expression when they realise it’s not a double major,” she says with a laugh. “By now, I fully anticipate this everywhere I go.”
Yet, for someone who loved both science and the arts growing up, the NUS College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) presents a unique opportunity. After all, the two subjects satisfy her curiosity in very different ways.
“For Chemistry, I enjoy learning about the micro-level processes. It’s like completing a puzzle when you piece together a scientific explanation for some phenomenon.”
“I also remember one of my teachers explaining fireworks to me, how each colour in the night sky is a different chemical reaction,” she recalls. “That is something which has stayed with me for a long time.”
As for Political Science, her interest in the subject began with history lessons in school. She recalls being enthralled by historical events like the 1911 Xinhai Revolution and the 1917 Russian Revolution.
“I love the fluid and free-rein argumentation, which you get less of when studying science,” she observes. “In school, the history classes gave us many opportunities for self-discovery.”
For Shuen Ling, the real decision was between History or Political Science at CHS. While she liked history for the concreteness of its sources and records, political science also held a strong appeal for her as she was fascinated by the workings of international bodies like the UN and ASEAN. While at River Valley High School, she had participated in Model United Nations (MUN) events, including being Director of River Valley MUN for two years. The MUN is an academic simulation of the United Nations, where students play the role of delegates and attempt to solve real-world issues.
Shuen Ling (first row, fourth from left) with her peers in the River Valley MUN Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Committee in 2019
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Shuen Ling admits. “I think I vacillated between the two options up until the academic declaration.”
Eventually, she settled on Political Science because it would aid her ambitions to join the foreign service. At the same time, the flexible curriculum at CHS would afford her plenty of liberty to explore subjects beyond the scope of her double degree.
As an avid, longtime theatre fan, Shuen Ling also found herself joining the University Scholars Programme (USP) USProductions as a stage manager. In December last year, she helped to stage a production titled “Oh! You are new!”, inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
Shuen Ling (second from right) at the curtain call for “Oh! You are new!”
Although it is not her first time either onstage or backstage, she relishes the newfound creative freedom afforded by doing drama in NUS.
“In junior college, the coaches and teachers would control and direct us,” she explains. “Now we have free rein to manage the whole process, so it feels much more fulfilling.”
With her friends, she also jokingly started a fitness group called the Body Improvement Club. What began as an inside joke during the NUS orientation programme quickly turned into a gathering for fitness enthusiasts, who would organise “workout jios”, or invitations to work out, for students to exercise together.
Shuen Ling (middle) with her friends on a night run
Although she is still adapting to the rigours of university-level academic work, Shuen Ling is already looking forward to the next stage of her journey at CHS. Her to-do list is impressively wide-ranging, from taking interesting modules to planning exchange semesters abroad.
To bring herself a step closer to a career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), she hopes to go on exchange sometime in her second or third year, and in fact already has a school and course in mind, the International Relations department at King’s College London.
After that, she hopes to follow up the experience with an internship with MFA and, possibly, a few modules in Pharmaceutical or Medicinal Chemistry — just to satisfy a curiosity inspired by her Chemistry teacher during junior college.
Shuen Ling’s advice to incoming NUS students is simple: Don’t rule out possibilities, and, instead, go somewhere which gives you a chance to explore. After all, with the speed of change and technology advancement today, there’s no saying what the world would be like in a few years.
“I’m doing a Computer Science module next semester and I’m absolutely terrified,” she says with a laugh.
“But that’s the point of interdisciplinary study. It’s challenging and it forces you out of your comfort zone!”