Junior Seminars

All first-year students resident in the College will read a Junior Seminar. Topics are closely connected to the research or personal interests of a College Fellow and hence diverse in nature. All Junior Seminars have a cross-disciplinary element and are organised around weekly discussions, writing assignments, and making presentations. These modules 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 Timetable for AY17/18 Semester 1

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


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. Catelijne Coopmans

Social Innovation

This seminar is an interdisciplinary course that will engage students in critical dialogue on the topic of social innovation, and introduce them to the design for social innovation approach. It seeks to make students more sensitive about needs of a community and better informed when crafting solutions for more socially just and sustainable environments. Students will be challenged to think about how new technology, innovative strategies and concepts can be harnessed to tackle specific social issues. In the first part of a semester, students are expected to engage in an individual study of social issues and trends in a neighborhood of their choice, followed by a group work on a social innovation proposal in the second part of a semester. Their exploration will meet their backgrounds and interests, so their final solutions can be either socially minded products, services, systems or environments; or campaigns for social change. 

By Dr. Tatjana Todorovic

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

An essential part of being an educated person is an independent desire to know the truth. In seeking the truth, one must often judge a proffered proof. But while in many situations proof is an important precursor to truth, this does not mean that the relationship between proof and truth is thought about in the same way across all disciplines and circumstances. Students in this seminar will explore the link between truth and proof in a diverse range of examples linked to their own interests. For example: Why was Sunny Ang hanged for the murder of his girlfriend, even though she was never found? Is the case for anthropogenic climate change based on science or driven by sociology? The Holy Grail for physicists is a Theory of Everything, but is it possible that that is impossible? By exploring the relationship between truth and proof across contexts, students will develop a deeper understanding of the differences and similarities between various truth-seeking pursuits.

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.

By Ms. Bertha Henson

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.

By Assoc. Prof. Prakash Hande

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.

By Dr. Karen McNamara

Murals: Expressions from/on the Walls

This module introduces students to mural painting historically, theoretically and technically. Students will learn about murals from different cultures and periods to facilitate critical discussions on the roles of art and aesthetics in the everyday life, among communities and across societies. They will cultivate a strong sense of observation and curiosity about their surroundings, particularly the streets of Singapore, and acquire skills in the technical aspects of mural painting, from conceptualising designs to painting a mural. Finally, this module provides students an unusual opportunity for building collaborative and community spirit as they paint their chosen mural together.

By Dr. Margaret Tan

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.

By Dr. Adam Groves

Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Introduction

Sustainability entered our lexicon in 1987 with publication of the United Nationsí Brundtland Report. The U.N. recently identified seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to guide and challenge nations as they develop their economies while supporting social justice and environmental protection. This module delves into the issues associated with these goals and looks at the interactions between the economic, social and environmental spheres when working towards sustainability. Issues we will be exploring include environmental ethics, fairness and justice across world populations and across generations, and sustainability in relation to consumerism, climate change and food security. Students will learn to critically evaluate the idea of sustainable development, articulate the tension between its goals, and translate the idea of sustainable development into lived experience.

From the Fire to the Frying Pan

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 two 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. As these class sessions will take place outside normal classroom hours, students are advised to take the full schedule into consideration before signing up for the course. There will be no classroom instruction on the week with fieldtrip. While the first fieldtrip is mandatory, all students are required to participate in at least two of the three fieldtrips. Vegetarians and vegans are welcome.

Dates of fieldtrips: 
(1) 21st January 2017 (Saturday) No class for week 23-27 January
(2) 1st March 2017 (Wednesday) depending on weather condition. In the event of heavy downpour, the fieldtrip will be postponed to either 2nd (Thursday) or 3rd March (Friday). 
(3) 25th March (Saturday) No class for week 20-24 March

By Dr. Liz Chee

Writing Women

Writing Women meditates on the relationship between women and writing: not just the reduced visibility of women writers, nor merely the mis-representation of women in writing, but the question of what it means, what is it, to write?, alongside how one is supposed to write. And if the mind and body are intertwined, this suggests that writing is a technology that potentially brings forth one’s body. Thus, this seminar opens the possibility that writing is an imaginative challenge to normativity, to authority, to the power of origins: of the potentiality of writing (écriture) as a cry (cri), perhaps even an ethical scream.

[the module image is a painting entitled ‘Salamander’ and was crafted by Yanyun Chen]

By Dr. Jeremy Fernando

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 module, 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.

By Assoc. Prof. Lina Lim

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, socio-cultural 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?

By Ms. Sorelle Henricus

Living and Dying in the Internet Age

Now, more than ever, we live, die and live on through digital technologies such as websites, social networking platforms and gaming environments. But how does this 'digital living and dying' relate to our 'bodily living and dying'? This module considers the implications of Internet technologies for death and after-death through dwelling on three questions from different disciplinary perspectives: (1) How have people thought about and dealt with death and after-death in the past? (2) How have people more recently dealt with death and after-death? (3) How are the dead remembered, curated, immortalised and resuscitated in the age of the Internet?

By Dr. Connor Graham

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.

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 module 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 module will have a specific thematic focus: structures, biotechnologies, or robotics.

By Dr. Kuan Yee Han


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 Assoc. Prof. John Phillips

On Blindness

This seminar attempts to explore the relationality between seeing and knowledge. It begins with a meditation on the phrase "seeing is believing"; and questions the privileging of sight over all the other senses. Through a close reading of various texts, seminar participants will explore the relationality between sight and blindness—are they necessarily antonyms, or are they always already a part of each other? And if they are intimately related, what are the implications on knowledge? Are we all potentially blind to our own insights?

By Dr. Jeremy Fernando

Green Capitalism: A Critical Engagement

How do we know how green companies are? How do managers know? This module 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 module 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.

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.