If you listen very, very closely amidst the general hurrah of our upcoming SG50 celebrations, you might detect a strange, dread-filled buzzing. Hear it? No? That’s the collective groan of thousands of Singaporean undergraduates as we dust off our books (and minds), and prepare to face a new academic year.
Whether you’re a seasoned senior ready to return to the daily grind or, like me, a blur sotong freshie bidding goodbye to your eight-month-long freedom, it’s easy to lose sight of what university is all about. After all, it’s where we get to meet amazing people, pick up lifechanging lessons — and occasionally, take up unconventional, “impractical” modules out of sheer intellectual curiosity.
There’s really no end to the learning opportunities you can explore, so to get you started, we’ve put together some of the quirkiest modules that local undergrads can take to fill up those General Education or Unrestricted Electives requirements this semester.
For those who just want to be happy
1. EE8066: Happiness 101
If you’re the kind of person who responds with “happy” when people ask you what you want to be, NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering has the perfect course for you. According to their module outline, Happiness 101 is designed to teach students how to “increase their ‘positivity ratio’ as a means toward higher levels of creativity, motivation, health and overall success” and to practise “mind-body techniques that help enhance physical and mental health”.
While it’s kind of baffling as to why the School of EEE decided to branch out into positive self-help (does this mean electrical engineers are unusually happy or unhappy?), the course essentially promises to give us insight into the basics of a happy life — something that’s always worth thinking about.
Similar modules include NTU Philosophy’s HY2015 — Happiness and SMU Psychology’s PSYC111 — Subjective Well-Being, although the latter does add a disclaimer: the course “does not aim to make students happier”.
2. HG8006: The Grammar of Comedy
In most lectures, laughing would probably get you kicked out, so this module offered by the NTU Department of Linguistics might be just the thing to help you release all that pent-up school stress.
In The Grammar of Comedy, students apply linguistic analysis to understand what makes humor funny to us, and the elements that form different types of humour. Given how humour seems as natural as breathing and yet impossible to explain, this intriguing module promises to challenge not only your critical thinking skills, but the true extent of your ‘lame Singlish joke‘ repertoire.
For the explorers and starry-eyed
3. GEH1042: The Search For Life On Other Worlds
Which of us hasn’t fantasized about what strange life forms might lurk in that great vacuum we call outer space? This programme offered by NUS’ Department of Biochemistry is all about aliens, contemplating everything from scientists’ efforts to find life on other planets to the very definition of life itself. That childhood dream of becoming an astronaut might sadly never come true, but if you’re still fascinated with space, this module is perfect to spark your imagination.
4. EE8086: Astronomy — Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology
Of course, apart from aliens, space is filled with many other mysteries — black holes, dwarf stars and solar winds, anyone? If you’d like to gain a better understanding of the beautiful specks of light that throng our night skies, Astronomy — Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology as offered by the NTU School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering is a pretty good bet.
Be prepared to fight for a spot in the course — what with the romantic stargazing sessions that supplement each lecture, it’s no surprise that this elective has become hugely popular since it was launched in 2006.
5. GEH1013: Pirates, Oceans and the Maritime World
Nothing screams adventure more than those swashbucklers of the high seas, so this module about pirates is guaranteed to be far from boring. Offered by the NUS Department of History, the course spans the long and storied history of pirates as they roamed, looted, and raided their way from the 15th century to the 21st. Finally, you can put all the pirate-speak you practised to good use — although be prepared to have your illusions shattered when you realise it wasn’t all “Ahoy, me mateys!” and hunting down buried treasure.
For the lovestruck
6. HL8021: Fictions of Love: Film and Literature
If ever you need an excuse to watch and re-watch your favourite romance movies — preferably with a tub of ice-cream and a box of tissues on standby — this module is it. From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, this English Literature course by NTU studies some of literature’s most famous lovers as presented in film, plays and novels.
Rest assured that it isn’t all mushy notions of how love makes the world go round — the module also grapples with many timeless conflicts between love and the harsher realities of life, such as ambition, class divisions and tragedy.
For the budding Sherlocks and sci-fi lovers
7. GEH1005: Crime Fiction in English and Chinese
CSI fans, this one’s for you. In an ingenious take on two beloved literary traditions, this module by NUS Chinese Studies compares and contrasts some of our favourite heroes and works from English and Chinese detective fiction — Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s terrifying And Then There Were None, Judge Dee, and of course, the CSI series. Through these, it considers weighty issues about wrongdoing and justice, with particular regard to what crime can tell us about the workings of society. Don’t forget your trench coat!
Those in NTU can also consider the CM8002: Forensic Science module offered by their Chemistry division, which provides a comprehensive study of how forensic science can be applied to solve crimes. You’ll be learning about things like fingerprinting, time of death and DNA identification methods — yep, for once real life is just like the movies.
8. BS8003: Science Or Fiction? — Biology in Popular Media
As box-office hits like Jurassic World have proven, we love watching sci-fi to get a glimpse of what the future might hold. More often than not, though, the scientific mumbo-jumbo that drives the plot can be, shall we say, a little…far-fetched.
If you’ve ever wanted to untangle the science from the fiction, the NTU School of Biological Sciences is more than happy to oblige — this module introduces us to concepts like genetics and evolution without sounding too intimidating.
For the horror junkies
9. EN2204: Reading the Horror Film
Nerves of steel are probably a prerequisite for this course — if you’re the kind who remains unfazed by horror flicks while everyone around you is whimpering in terror, check out this module by NUS’ English Literature department. Reading the Horror Film is exactly what it sounds like — a no-holds-barred examination of all the techniques film producers use to make us scream. Beyond the cheap thrills, the program also takes students through complex themes implicit in these films, such as sexuality and gender.
10. HL8028: Monsters in Literature and Film
Similarly, this module isn’t for the faint of heart — as the NTU English Literature course instructor Joshua Lam puts it, much of the required content “will include violence, sex, horror, and things that are just plain gross”. The course outline reads like a laundry list of your worst nightmares, with everything from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to HP Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu serving as fodder for thorny issues such as morality and the nature of evil. At least you can rest assured that there’ll never be a dull moment in this class.