On 24 September 2020, Georgette Tan (Arts and Social Sciences, ’82), was conferred a lifetime accolade at the virtual Asia-Pacific Superior Achievement in Branding, Reputation & Engagement (SABRE) Awards.
Tan was previously Senior Vice President of Communications at Mastercard, where she managed external and internal communications across the Asia Pacific for over 18 years. She also led Mastercard’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes which focused on education and development programs for children and female empowerment across the region.
“Obviously you go into your careers and do what you do, not because you think you’re going to win an award at the end,” said Tan on receiving the Individual Achievement SABRE Award.
“The role, the job, the satisfaction of a job well done, and the impact you have on the lives of people and your organisation, that's your reward.”
While she was humbled by the recognition, Tan maintained that communications is not an individual role as she also paid tribute to all the people she has worked with throughout her professional journey.
Supporting community involvement
An advocate of giving and volunteering, Tan said it is never too early or too late to start, urging students, young graduates and mid-career professionals alike to actively seek opportunities for community involvement.
At present, Tan is the President of United Women Singapore (UWS), a women’s organisation with a primary mission of advancing gender equality, female empowerment and building the pipeline of future women leaders through education, economic empowerment and advocacy.
Tan also sits on the board of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) and is chair of BoardAgender, an SCWO initiative focused on increasing the number of women in board positions. Additionally, she serves on the Taskforce on Family Violence which is co-chaired by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Tan, who graduated from FASS with a degree in English Language and Literature, made the switch to the non-profit sector after a decades-long career in the communications industry spanning public service and the corporate world, citing the evolving nature of the non-profit landscape as a driving factor.
“You need to have a commercial lens, understand how best to market yourself, how to use social media and understand the power of partnerships, because it is a crowded landscape and you cannot do it alone,” she added.
“I felt I was ready to take all my skill sets and years of corporate training and channel that to the non-profit space.”
Championing female empowerment and anti-violence
Currently as President of UWS, Tan is focusing her energies on accelerating female empowerment and anti-violence efforts through education and advocacy programmes.
According to Tan, more girls and young women should be encouraged to take up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in school and in their careers, so as to pave a way for gender equality in these fields.
“The idea is to level the playing field between the genders and eventually get more women into STEM roles which are male-dominated,” Tan explained. “In that process, with more women in engineering, innovation, sciences and math, we would also see a narrowing, and ultimately eradication, of the gender pay gap that exists today.”
UWS is in its seventh year of running Girls2Pioneers, an outreach programme in schools targeting girls primarily aged 10 to 16 and from disadvantaged backgrounds, encouraging them to pursue STEM in their higher education and careers.
Based on research that UWS had conducted this year, Tan said that a number of findings stood out: firstly, more girls than boys actually find STEM subjects easy; secondly, families tend to support boys more than girls in taking up STEM subjects; and lastly, it is critical for girls to have role models to look up to.
“So it’s not a capability issue, it’s a confidence issue,” Tan stressed.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic providing disruptions to the programme, UWS has been steadfast in moving some of its facets onto digital platforms.
According to the UWS website, over 28,000 girls have benefitted from the programme since its inception in 2014, where they undergo hands-on workshops and camps, as well as go on field trips to corporate offices where they get to interact with female professionals in science, technology and engineering fields.
By the end of the year, UWS plans to launch a mentorship programme where small groups of girls are matched to a mentor from these industries, so that they can gain first-hand insight and guidance and understand the role that these women play at work.
At the same time, UWS champions anti-violence, which has become more pertinent during the COVID-19 pandemic as more families are cooped up at home leading to a rise in domestic violence.
UWS has created GenSafe Workspaces, a programme that helps employers recognise the early signs that their staff or colleagues may be subjected to domestic violence at home, and know how to respond, or which agencies they can refer them to.
Besides working with victims of domestic violence and their immediate support network at work, Tan believes that it is crucial to educate young boys about anti-violence and healthy masculinity.
“The idea is to get (boys) early, to (help them) rethink what masculinity is, value the role women play in the household and society at large, and things like consent and respect. Breaking the cycle of domestic violence starts with the boys,” Tan said.
Applying corporate skills for the community
Looking back on her time at the National University of Singapore, Tan admitted she has slight regrets for not taking up any leadership roles then, but said that she made many good friends and memories during her undergraduate days here.
Urging students to break out of their comfort zones, Tan shared her piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid, don't hold yourself back, get involved, do diverse things. It’s only when you try out new things that you realise what you're really good at or what your true passion point is.”
With the changing outlook of the non-profit sector, Tan reiterated that there are many ways to get involved.
“A lot of people now go into skills-based volunteering and make use of their corporate abilities,” she explained. “You can be a great web designer, marketeer, communications practitioner, auditor, HR person, or digital specialist. The non-profit sector needs all these corporate skill sets.”
Meet Gautam, an awardee of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Dean’s PhD Fellowship. The FASS Dean PhD fellowship is one of the highest honors awarded to the top few incoming PhD FASS Students, with a cap of maximum three recipients annually. Recipients of the FASS Dean’s PhD Fellowship will attain an extra year worth of funding in addition to the NUS Research Scholarship. In this feature, Gautam will be sharing more about himself and his research project.
As a teenager I searched novels for sentences that felt true, and later grew fond of stringing together moments in my writing. Before starting my PhD at NUS, I was working on a creative writing MA at NTU. The MA thesis traced my prodigal-son journey to the US, hiding hurt of migrating from small-city India to Singapore as a tween. Where that story was a chance to travel past dysfunctional bits of the global as I came to terms with Singapore, the PhD allows me to ask more methodically what may replace that which I have critiqued.
My research then is focused on ways of reframing Indian Ocean histories of migration and environmental transformation to allow for alternate terms of belonging in global cities like Singapore, Bangalore, and Dubai. Having grown up a Malayali migrant into the Tamil-majority Indian-diaspora experience in Singapore, I focus specifically on these two South Asian language-diasporas and their attempts to make Malaya and the Persian Gulf home over the last century. I look for historical commonalities between post-nineties migrants like myself, and the pre-Cold-War generations I moved into, hoping to find terms which may persuade the latter to more systematically extend generosities to future migrants.
With the Tamil and Malayali diasporas, I am particularly fascinated by how their movement and terms of stay in the last century have been shaped by the oil-driven industrialization of ex-colonies. And how these patterns of industrialization and emissions will likely shape future movement (forced and voluntary) out of monsoon-fed coastal regions of South India, vulnerable to climate disasters, toward global nodes. In the narration of these movements, I see English as a key language of translation between two diasporas and three regions, navigating patterns of industrialization shaped by Cold War policies and the dance between British and American interests in the Indian Ocean. I also hope the study of two diasporas may create a framework that can be applied more broadly from Philippines to Myanmar to Egypt.
Within the discipline, my proposed essay collection adapts Amitav Ghosh’s explorations of the histories of climate change, migration, and global capital, from a predominantly Bengali standpoint to a South Indian context. Archival material from a Ghosh-inspired historian’s work, Crossing the Bay of Bengal, connecting South India and Malaya, form the basis for the creative strands. While the essay form extends Ghosh’s discussions within The Great Derangement about the suitability of different literary forms when tackling climate change. My project also tries to insert itself into the gap Rob Nixon highlights between traditions of postcolonial ecocriticism and North American environmental writing.
Undertaking this project at NUS is a rare chance to be close enough to issues to change my mind. To be able to fly Scoot to Madurai, take a bus up to Penang, spend weekends at regional archives, learn Tamil, work closely with local experts on these themes, and build relationships that can shape knowledge. NUS’s joint-programme with King’s College also provides an opportunity to work with creative nonfiction faculty and access the colonial archives in London. At a time, when research on Asia is often written out of faraway universities, when Anglophone writing from the peripheries is often studied separately from regional language literatures, and writers are increasingly reliant on the university for jobs, the time and freedom the NUS PhD allows to pursue a question in this region through a hybrid critical-creative thesis, is precious.
(Contributed by Gautam)
We are pleased to announce that Professor Edwin Thumboo’s poetry collection, A Gathering of Themes (Ethos Books, 2019), has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize 2020! Professor Thumboo is one of Singapore’s foremost pioneer poets. After more than a decade since his last anthology, Still Travelling (Ethos Books, 2008), he brings to us a new work that features 109 poems, covering a wide range of topics including love, religion, history and nationhood. In time his words fly. ‘A special moment’. We wish Professor Thumboo all the best! The virtual awards ceremony is on 27 August 2020, 8pm. You can tune in to the ceremony on Facebook! Find out more about the shortlisted titles here: https://bookcouncil.sg/singapore-literature-prize/shortlists/category/poetry-English Get A Gathering of Themes here: https://www.ethosbooks.com.sg/products/a-gathering-of-themes Read about the collection here: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/arts/edwin-thumboo-releases-new-poetry-collection-at-age-85
The 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology has been awarded to Professor Wang Gungwu, University Professor at NUS Arts and Social Sciences and one of the world's foremost experts on the Chinese diaspora.
Announced on 20 June 2020 by the Tang Prize Foundation, this prestigious award was conferred on Prof Wang in recognition of his trailblazing and dissecting insights on the history of the Chinese world order, overseas Chinese, and Chinese migratory experience.
As a leading scholar on Sino-Southeast Asian historical relations, Prof Wang developed a unique approach to understanding China by scrutinising its long and complex relationship with its southern neighbours. His erudition and critical discernment have significantly enriched the explanation of China’s changing place in the world, traditionally developed from an internalist perspective or in relation to the West.
Prof Wang said, “It is a great honour to be awarded the Tang Prize in Sinology. When I was a student, Sinology was part of Oriental Studies and associated with classical studies, guoxue (国学) in China, Hanxue (汉学) in Japan and Europe. It was centred on ancient philology as the foundation for the study of literature, philosophy and history. The four previous awardees, Yu Ying-shih at Princeton, Ted de Bary at Columbia, Shiba Yoshinobu at Tokyo and Stephen Owen at Harvard, started with the study of classical Chinese. Yu and de Bary went on to enrich our knowledge of intellectual history while Shiba did the same for social and economic history. Although Owen is best known for his contributions to literature, his work on literary theory has illuminated key features of the historical imagination.”
“I am a historian who believes that China’s present cannot be separated from her total past. Living all my life outside China, I am fascinated by the way China had fallen and risen several times. Each time that happened had made a difference to the course of world history. For us to understand why that could happen requires us to go beyond the humanities to the social sciences. I am gratified that modern Sinology now recognises the centrality of shi (史) in Chinese civilisation,” he added.
One of Asia’s most important intellectuals
Prof Wang Gungwu has been University Professor at NUS Arts and Social Sciences since 2007, and Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University since 1988. He is Foreign Honorary Member of the History Division of the American Academy of Arts and Science and former President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Prof Wang received his BA and MA from University of Malaya (UM) in Singapore, and PhD at SOAS, London.
Spending much of his life immersed in different cultures gives Prof Wang diverse personae as a scholar. He is an “insider” in the academic tradition of Chinese Confucianism and British elite education, and an “outsider” in the interpretation of China’s perception of the world. His original approach to understanding China from the southern perspective is in part a natural choice given his personal experience. This same experience provided him with abundant inspiration in his formative years as he matured into an authoritative voice in the analysis of China’s worldview.
Besides being an outstanding scholar, Prof Wang has been an inspiring educator since he embarked on an academic career first at UM and subsequently at the Australian National University, before making his mark as Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong from 1986 to 1995, Chairman of the Institute of East Asian Political Economy from 1996 to 1997, and Director of the NUS East Asian Institute from 1997 to 2007.
At 89 years old, Prof Wang is still very prolific as a scholar. “I am writing on Chinese hopes and fears following China’s opening and reforms, focusing on the period after the People’s Republic of China’s entry into the United Nations in October 1971,” he shared.
And when asked how COVID-19 has impacted him, Prof Wang said, “COVID-19 has moved me away from my routines and made me parcel my life more carefully and take into account how much time I might have to get my work completed.”
The biannual Tang Prize consists of four categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology and Rule of Law. It aims to promote the interaction and cooperation between cultural and technological research so as to find a 21st century path to the sustainable development of the world.
This article was first published on 22 June 2020 in NUS News at https://news.nus.edu.sg/highlights/eminent-nus-historian-professor-wang-gungwu-receives-prestigious-tang-prize.
The Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be awarding the Edwin Thumboo Prize 2020 to four pre-university students for their outstanding literary work.
Named after one of Singapore’s most prominent poets and scholars, the Edwin Thumboo Prize, aims to promote excellence in the study of Literature at the pre-university level by recognising outstanding literary works by A-level and International Baccalaureate (IB) students of English Literature in Singapore. It is administered by the Department with support from the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Prize, established in 2019, is funded by generous donors, including patrons of the arts and former winners of the Angus Ross Prize.
The winner of the Edwin Thumboo Prize 2020 is Ms Loh Su Jean from Raffles Institution, who will receive a monetary award of $200.
Her essay on Shakespeare evinced a thorough and dedicated pursuit of scholarly knowledge and individual insight. The panel praised her exceptional work, which embodied both intellectual capacity and depth. Ms Loh demonstrated similar poise and discernment during her interview when she had to analyse and compare two unseen poems – one of which was by a Singapore poet. She navigated poetic complexity with immense conviction, rigour and detail, and presented an insightful reading of the poems.
When informed of the results, Ms Loh said, “I owe this to each and every one of my literature teachers, who showed me how to look at the world with inspiration and discover its beauty in the written word. To my mother, who read to me before I could: thank you for filling my childhood with books, libraries, and a love for stories. None of this would be possible without you.”
Three Merit Prizes will also be awarded to Ms Chu Shuai Wu Freyja from Dunman High School, Mr Ng Zheng Yang from Anglo Chinese Junior College, and Ms Silvia Suseno from Nanyang Junior College. They will receive monetary awards of $100 each.
The winners of the Edwin Thumboo Prize were selected through a rigorous selection process. In 2019, government pre-university institutions were invited to nominate one candidate each. The competition attracted entries from 13 institutions.
Each institution had to submit recommendations for their nominated candidates. The candidates were also required to submit a piece of academic writing on a literary text or topic.
Candidates were assessed by a selection panel, comprising representatives from NUS and MOE, as well as former prize-winners. The selection panel for this year’s Prize included Dr Susan Ang from the Department and the 1997 Angus Ross Prize Winner, Mr Aaron Maniam. In identifying the winners, the selection panel looked particularly for an excellent grasp of the written word, and a sensitivity to its significance as a creative endeavour.
Associate Professor Michelle Lazar, Head of the NUS Department of English Language and Literature, was impressed with the quality of the entries and expressed the Department’s gratitude to the donors who initiated and donated to the Edwin Thumboo Prize. She said, “We are very encouraged by the number of nominations received this year, the diverse topics of the submissions – ranging from Shakespeare to Bob Dylan – and the sophistication of writing and analysis of many of the entries. We are grateful to our partners in education from MOE and the pre-university institutions for working with us to promote the study of and love for literature.”
About Professor Edwin Thumboo
Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo is one of Singapore’s pioneering poets. An accomplished literary practitioner and critic, he dedicated his life to the composition and study of English Literature. His work is studied in schools, both locally and abroad, and featured in public places in Singapore. At NUS, Professor Thumboo had served as Head of the Department of English Language and Literature, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Director of the NUS Centre for the Arts. He has also received numerous awards, including the Book Award for Poetry in English (1978, 1980 and 1994), Southeast Asia Write Award (1979), The Cultural Medallion (March 1980), ASEAN Cultural and Communication Award for Literature (August 1987), Public Service Star (August 1991), the Meritorious Service Medal (2006), and Distinguished Service Award (2008).
North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) Annual Conference 2019 Undergraduate Research Event
A mid-term overseas excursion involving almost sixty hours of travel can be no mere flight of fancy. From 17 to 19 October 2019, I was very privileged to be at the North American Victorian Studies Association’s (NAVSA) annual conference in Columbus, Ohio. I was there with the support of the English Language and Literature department at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and under the mentorship of Professor Kevin A. Morrison from Henan University, whom I met during a module on Victorian Literature and Culture that he had conducted as a Visiting Professor to NUS. Dr Morrison had nominated me to present a project at NAVSA 2019’s Undergraduate Research Event. Months of research following my acceptance into the programme, which found me stealing time from my vacation and coursework to read anything from Victorian lyric poetry to nineteenth-century animal welfare brochures, eventually yielded the theme of this project: “Rethinking Victorian Anthropocentricism: The Avian Poetics of Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and the Rossettis.”
Part of the research programme for undergraduates at NAVSA 2019 included a workshop. This was an opportunity for us to pitch our projects to one another, to refine our arguments against our peers’ evaluation. We also shared insights and experiences related to the challenges of preparing for the upcoming presentation. We spoke at length, for instance, about the difficulty of handling the specific genre we were assigned to work with: the academic poster. To compress reams of research into a mere five hundred words or so plus a handful of images was infinitely more demanding than a five thousand-word paper might have been. Yet the prevailing realisation was that such limitation could only be the impetus for radical creativity. Brevity boasts its own poetry. What was truly inspiring in the work of my peers was its sheer felicity and acumen: everybody was bold, open and in earnest about what they were sharing. I was deeply impressed, for example, by Hannah Calderazzo’s presentation titled “Unfeminine Legacies from Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White to Victoria Cross’s Six Chapters of a Man’s Life,” which skilfully and imaginatively unpacked the transactions between nineteenth-century sensation fiction and classical tragedy. Hannah was extremely well-read and fluent in her knowledge of the period. Like every other participant at the conference, she was deeply in possession of her own niche, and proudly, unapologetically so.
In many ways it was the people who made the occasion. This was especially true during the undergraduate poster session, held on the third and final day of the conference. Our posters were arranged along corridors adjacent to seminar rooms in the Hilton Columbus Downtown where the conference was being hosted. Interested participants could approach individual presenters to talk about their projects. Here, I was quite overwhelmed by the encouraging feedback I received. Dr Maha Jafri from Sewanee, for example, summoned such tremendous energy to engage with my readings of Hardy, Meredith and the Rossettis; she also shared valuable information about where I might look up archives related to the work of Meredith (a writer whose work, we both agreed, suffers its own somewhat maligned, critically underappreciated dogmatic brilliance). I also got to test my interpretations of poems by Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti against the expertise of Professor Elizabeth K. Helsinger, whose work I had read when conducting my own research. Part of the difficulty of establishing an ecological reading of the Rossettis concerns how one might evaluate the theological preoccupations of their work. In simple terms, it’s difficult to say precisely that when, for instance, Christina Rossetti in “A Birthday” writes “My heart is like a singing bird / Whose nest is in a water’d shoot,” she is being as aware of the bird itself as she is with its symbolic properties. It was therefore immensely motivating to hear Professor Helsinger say, in agreement with my own intuitions, that, “Yes, I do think she sees the bird.” The poster session resonated, in sum, both effectively and affectively; it built my confidence and helped me sharpen my own critical perceptions.
I’ll finish this post with a thought that returns me home. Many of my fondest memories of NAVSA 2019, strangely enough, don’t come from Columbus at all. These include: the enthusiastic and unconditional support of my family; endless matrices of email correspondence with Dr Morrison on the details of the project, which he tirelessly and meticulously guided me through; Professor Lazar and Professor Sankaran’s warm encouragement before my trip; Dr Susan Ang’s illuminating discussions on Hopkins, Keats and Shelley; Ms Angeline Ang’s kindness and patience in guiding me through the administrative work of requesting conference funds; expedient emails from CLB containing articles requested via DDS that were essential in helping me define and refine my project; Dr Jennifer McDonell’s expert feedback on my ideas and poster design; Dr Michael Hollington’s hugely supportive response to my queries about his own work on Dickens and to my project; talks with Stasha Wong on environmentalism, animals and various things ecological; philosophical gymnastics with Tan Wei Lin on dialogism and Derrida; discussions with Joycelyn Lee Yuet Zhen on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Sudden Light,” phonemes and the IPA chart. It’s this community of people back to whom I must trace the roots of the sweetness of my experience of NAVSA 2019, and so I do, with great wonder and gratitude.
Submitted by 3rd-year undergraduate Justin Goh.