Junior Seminars

All first-year student residents in the College read a Junior Seminar. Topics are closely connected to the research or personal interests of a College Fellow and hence are diverse in nature. All Junior Seminars have a cross-disciplinary element and are organised around weekly discussions, writing assignments, and making presentations. These courses will be taken on a pass / fail basis, and there is no final exam.

Every semester a diverse selection of Junior Seminars will be available.

View Seminar Timetable for AY23/24 Semester 1


Crime and Punishment

Understanding crime is important for those who, through the machinery of the state, would seek to impose punishment upon the criminal. This course gives students the opportunity to consider the nature of crime and punishment from a number of perspectives in philosophy, criminology and fiction. They will examine the justifications for deeming behaviour criminal, the causes of this behaviour, as well as the divergent legal responses to it across time and cultures and with changes in technology. Through the use of case studies, students will test their intuitions about when the imposition of punishment is morally acceptable.

By Dr Michael Grainger

C.S.I. 101: Truth From Evidence

Made popular by TV dramas such as Law and Order and C.S.I., forensics uses science to aid in law enforcement and crime solving. In this interdisciplinary course, students will be engaged in understanding and discussing the value of various analyses conducted to deduce truth from evidence. Online activities will be paired with active discussions on the history, use and value of forensic analysis. Finally, the credibility of forensic evidence will be discussed, and societal expectations regarding the “glamorous and exciting” job of the forensic criminologist in CSI compared with the “messy and morbid” nature of forensics in real life.


The Darwinian Revolution

The scientific developments of the 19th century from geology to palaeontology, culminating in the theory of evolution by natural selection are arguably the greatest transformations in our understanding of the natural world in human history. Much of the science of the following century has been further refinements and elaborations of these earlier foundations. Yet most of these developments remain totally unknown or misunderstood by most people. Surely, therefore, an understanding of these issues is essential knowledge for any educated person today.

By Dr John van Wyhe


Disasters are catastrophic breakdowns in the relations between nature, technology, and society. They reveal aspects of these relations that are much less visible in "normal" circumstances. In this Junior Seminar, we explore questions such as: what are disasters, what causes them, and how do we know when they begin or end? What kinds of knowledge count when communities prepare for disasters or make recovery plans? By examining the historical, environmental, and cultural contexts of specific catastrophes and their aftermaths, such as Fukushima or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, we ponder what disasters can teach us about (re-)constructing more just, resilient and sustainable societies.

Emotions and Society

Everybody feels. Our feelings drive us to do and are indicators of the state of our minds. In this course, we take a broad look at human emotions across cultures. We ask: what functions do emotions serve? Do gender differences exist? Are emotions and rationality at odds? How do society and technology affect how we feel, our perception of what we ought to feel, and what feelings we are willing to express? What is the relationship between the feeling mind and the body? What is the role of emotion in artificial intelligence?

By Mr Shamraz Anver


In this junior seminar, students will examine the significance of various kinds of false appearances such as counterfeits, forgeries, hoaxes, and liars, together with attempts to expose them – sometimes with the help of sophisticated technologies. By critically examining what it means to designate an object, practice or person as ‘fake’, and how different kinds of fakes are judged as more or less problematic, students will develop the capacity to think critically and relationally about deep-seated human desires for ‘truth’ and ‘value’.

By Dr Eric Kerr

From the Fire to the Frying Pan: Cooking and Eating in Human Culture(s)

Cooking has evolved in unexpected ways throughout human history and has always been one of the most important markers of human culture(s). By engaging scholarship from various disciplines (but particularly anthropology), this course explores major themes that inform the way humans prepare food across different cultures and time periods. We will particularly concentrate on the prominent example of fish. Fieldtrips will be made to one of Singapore’s fishing ports and fish farms, and students will learn to apply ethnographic methods to the Singapore context. Students will also get to cook fish based on specific themes. Vegetarians and vegans are welcome.

**Fieldtrips are included as part of the course. More details on the dates will be available later**

Green Capitalism: A Critical Engagement

How do we know how green companies are? How do managers know? This course is about information and knowledge as social phenomena. Nature does not tell us how green companies are; the information that shows us ‘green capitalism’ as a solution and a reality is constructed by humans. This course is about how environmental managers know and do 'greening', and about the problems of such knowing and doing. The focus is not on engaging in green capitalism, but on engaging with it, critically. More broadly, you will pick up skills for dealing with uncertainty, uncommon ground and contradictions.

By Dr Hah Sixian

Humanising Technology

The late Steve Jobs, former CEO of the Apple company, has been credited with ‘humanising technology’: recognising that technology design needs to be sensitive to human characteristics. In this Junior Seminar, students will be exploring various ways of thinking about the relationship between the ‘technical’ and the ‘human’. What can these tell us about the organization of social life, and how (if at all) do they contribute to the design of ‘better’ technologies? A central role will be reserved for ethnographic studies of technology‐in‐use – an academic approach that has gained traction with industry over the past decades. Students will also acquire hands‐on experience of this approach by studying technology‐in‐use among friends, in the home, in the College/University, or workplace.


In this junior seminar, students will explore the role of images in several key contexts, including painting, photography, science, mathematics, television, cinema and the internet. Students will develop habits of critical response by studying texts from philosophy, psychology, semiotics, and literature that deal directly with images and theories of the image. Students will learn to distinguish between kinds of image.and develop an understanding of the history of images, their influence on our lives and our interaction with them. Some attention will be given to special topics, such as the invention of the camera and the establishment of 19th century science.


By Associate Professor John Phillips, Dr Jeanine Lim

Living and Dying in the Internet Age

Now, more than ever, we live, die and live on through Internet technologies such as Web sites, social networking platforms and gaming environments. But how does this ‘living, dying and living on’ through the Internet relate to our ‘bodily living, dying and living on’? Using different disciplinary perspectives, this course will dwell on two questions: (1) How do we make sense of life, death and after-death in the Internet era? (2) How can we respond, through new ways of thinking, practices, policy or design, to the new challenges and questions associated with life, death and after-death today?

By Dr Connor Graham

Murals: Expressions from/on the Walls

This course introduces students to mural painting historically, theoretically and technically. Students will learn of murals from different cultures and periods to facilitate critical discussions on the roles of art, artists and aesthetics vis‐à‐vis notions of everyday life, public space and community. They will cultivate a strong sense of observation and curiosity about their surroundings, reporting on murals from antiquity, and of Singapore or their home countries. They will also acquire skills in the technical aspects of mural painting, from conceptualising designs to painting a mural. Finally, this course provides students an unusual opportunity for building collaborative and community spirit as they paint their chosen mural together.

By Dr Margaret Tan

Proof: What's truth got to do with it?

An essential part of an educated person is an independent desire to know the truth. In seeking the truth, one must often judge a proffered proof. This seminar will discuss the relationship between Truth and Proof in biology, ecology, history, justice, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, physics, religion, statistics, etc. This helps the student see both the hard, objective formulation of the two concepts in the sciences, as well as their soft, subjective abstraction in the humanities.

By Professor Tay Yong Chiang

Quality Journalism and Critical Reading

News reports that purport to have marshalled facts and opinion on current issues are often taken at face value: they are consumed without question. How can we discern quality journalism from the less worthy instances of the craft? This seminar, led by an experienced journalist, is organised around the critical exploration of key aspects of journalistic writing: the questions behind the story, the use of numbers and the organisation of the message or argument. By dissecting media coverage of current issues, students will bolster their skills as critical readers and communicators.



Working from the position that skin belongs as much to the person as to the society in which they live, this seminar reflects on how much our identity and our sense of self is produced by the interaction between biological, cultural, political, and economic, forces that play out through and on the skin. Thus, skin is a playground — at the very same time that it is a battle field — where identity is constantly reshaped through interaction of words, categories, values, body techniques and emotions.

By Dr Céline Coderey

Social Innovation

This freshman seminar will engage students in critical dialogue on the topic of social innovation. Drawing upon examples of innovation across various disciplines, students will examine sources of and processes that drive innovation, and reflect upon the organization and governance of innovation. Building on this knowledge, students will be challenged to think about how new technology, strategies, concepts, and ideas can be harnessed to solve social problems Substantial time will be devoted to understanding and debating issues pertaining to social innovation.


Lifeforms on Earth interact with each other and their surroundings to form an inter-dependent, self-regulating complex system that perpetuates the conditions for the survival of all living things. Anthropogenic perturbations, however, may risk an irreversible upset to the balance of this system. Preventing this will thus require humanity to operate sustainably, within the limits of the natural world. For this course, we shall explore the extent of human impacts and their implications for the continuation of life on Earth. Thereafter, we shall consider potential solutions that support development that promotes the well-being of present and future generations.

The Nuclear Imagination

The public’s perception of nuclear power sharply deteriorated because of the 2011 Fukushima reactor core meltdown and several other prior accidents. However, given the urgent need to fight climate change and the current global energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the case for nuclear power is becoming ever stronger. Considering the associated risks, what role should radiation play in society? In this course, we will adopt an interdisciplinary approach to examine the history of nuclear radiation, appreciate the science and technology behind nuclear power, and consider the ethical and social implications of a nuclear future.

By Dr Rafi Rashid

Courses Offered in the Past

Engineering Marvels

From the pyramids to the Three Gorges Dam, from nano drug-delivery systems to autonomous robots, the world contains many engineering feats that make you wonder “How did they do that?”. This course helps students develop basic insights into the workings of selected engineering applications. Coupled to this is an investigation of the engineering marvel ‘in context’. What problems or issues does it address? What are its costs and consequences – both intended and unintended? What are the ethical and political dimensions of this? Each run of the course will have a specific thematic focus, such as big structures, biotechnologies, or robotics.

Last Offered in AY15/16 Semester 2

By Dr Kuan Yee Han

Ignorance and Uncertainty

In this junior seminar, we examine ignorance and uncertainty as an essential part of modern life. They take many forms, such as ignorance in science, hope and the optimistic future, ignorance and state power, and the spiritual unknown. Ignorance and uncertainty provide an unexpected vantage point to explore the role of modern knowledge in our society. By critically examining the 'play' of ignorance and uncertainty for central features of modern life, students will build skills such as critical thinking, questioning assumptions, and forming a nuanced and balanced approach to the expectations we place on knowledge.

Last Offered in AY15/16 Semester 2

Radiation and Society

Reports of radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan, following the earthquake/tsunami disaster in 2011, have triggered concern and even panic among members of the general public. In this seminar, we adopt a multi‐disciplinary approach to debates and controversies about radiation and nuclear technology. Key topics include: (1) the science behind radiation effects, and the way in which policymakers and others grapple with scientific uncertainties; (2) the challenges of expert‐lay communication about radiation risk, both after nuclear disaster and relating to consumer technologies; (3) the broader context that shapes debates over nuclear power in Japan and elsewhere.

Last Offered in AY21/22 Semester 1

Science Fiction Movies in the East and West

What is a science fiction (SF) movie? How did SF movies and developments in science and technology influence each other during the twentieth century? What is the use of SF movies for societies? And why are SF movies much more popular in some countries than in others? By watching and analysing classic and contemporary SF movies from the US, the Soviet Union, Japan, China, and other countries, we will search for answers to these questions. Special emphasis will be given to analysing how historical, political, and cultural environments in different countries have influenced the production and acceptance of SF movies.

Last Offered in AY18/19 Semester 2

The Bio-tech Future: Sci-Fi Film and Society

From the earliest films in the late 19th century to contemporary Hollywood blockbusters, science and technology have long played a role in how the future has been envisioned. In this seminar students will study a range of popular science fiction films and examine how the futures portrayed in these films are a creative, ociocultural response to the techno‐scientific milieu of their production. Students will consider how film challenges us to re‐examine concepts of scientific progress and technological advancement by asking questions such as: what is monstrous about sci‐fi monsters, and what is biology in the age of the machine?

Last Offered in AY16/17 Semester 2

The Social Lives of Drugs

This junior seminar explores the relationship between drugs and culture. Drugs are powerful because of their material and symbolic value, their power to alter bodies and minds, and their ability to both harm and heal. By examining the social lives of drugs, from production to consumption, students will build the skills to critically ask how drugs affect lives across different societies. Besides the question how a plant, food, or substance becomes constituted as a drug in the first place, topics to be explored include the use of human subjects in clinical drug trials, the ‘pharmaceuticalization’ of health, and licit/illicit drugs.

Last Offered in AY17/18 Semester 1

Ways of Knowing: Poetry and Science

This junior seminar explores the relationship between poetry and science spanning the Romantic to the late Modern periods, approximately the late eighteenth through the mid twentieth century. Students will investigate the history of science and poetry as mutually supportive. Emphasis will placed on the distinct ways poetic and scientific minds imagine, experience, and develop knowledge about the natural world and the human who inhabits it.

Last Offered in AY16/17 Semester 2

The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.