Uni semester 2 starts!… but it’s NOT what we imagined it to be.

Hey guys, semester two of university (October trimester) has begun! It is Saturday today, the weekend of week 3 of my second semester. We are welcoming week 4 in. Based on our course plan arranged by our lecturers, the pace will really pick up only by week 4.

So for now there is not much coursework related things to tell you yet, because believe it or not, coursework and assignments are to me what make the semester super interesting. But here’s a breakdown of the 4 courses I am taking this semester.

The courses are arranged in ascending order of my interest, which means the last course is my favourite and the absolute most interesting.

Math:

The topics are very statistical, very dry. Fortunately, we had some basics in these topics such as probability during our high school years (SPM & form 4 / form 5), but it is still supremely dry and most of us dislike this course. However, we are all still in our foundation year and cannot choose courses as we like yet. These are compulsory courses to get into the science degree of our choice (I am from the science stream). It’s full of numbers, and the questions are an entire paragraph of word-dance.

English (Communication Skills):

This course is not so much English as a class on basic communication. It teaches basic public speaking skills, how to overcome apprehension of speaking in front of a large crowd, how to organize the content of your speech, etc.

Much like the English course I took in my first semester, I always find English fun because of the ample research opportunities. My teammates and I researched and presented on the topic of Medical Errors for my first semester, and I learnt so much about the topic I could almost recite an array of medical mishaps to you off the top of my head, and the stories behind each error made, and the impacts those errors had on patients, their immediate relatives, and the medical community. We also greatly improved on our software skills, such as converting files from word or html to pdf, vice versa.

It is one of the most enriching courses I have ever taken. For this semester (2nd sem), our first assignment is an individual presentation unlike the first semester. I have chosen the topic “Covid-19: How has the pandemic benefited us?” to touch on a positive outlook on the advantages reaped from this global crisis. A topic like that I think is interesting, since it provokes thought with its unconventional point of view. I will be presenting on the topic in about two weeks time.

Chemistry (Inorganic Chem):

Inorganic Chemistry’s first chapter – the basics – was slightly difficult to wrap my head around at first. The other chapters follow a very specific pattern: for this whole semester, we are basically learning the Periodic table, its elements, and the properties of those elements. In fact, the chapters are literally named:

  • Group 1 metals.
  • s-block elements.
  • Aluminium.
  • Oxygen, Sulphur and Their Compounds.

“Don’t stress yourself for this semester, ” said my lecturer. “It’s a stress-free topic for Inorganic Chemistry this sem.”

Indeed, but that’s because she’s (probably) comparing it to Organic Chemistry, which we must take in Semester 3, which is way more difficult, will long compound names to memorize.

So, with such a typical pattern to follow, the topics for inorganic chem are not too difficult. This is all except for the first chapter, which was the basics of electronic configurations, and the various components of electron orbitals, which I had some difficulty distinguishing between at first.

But I managed to understand it in the end. So I hope the rest of Inorg Chem will be smooth sailing.

Biology (Modern Biology):

And finally – MODERN BIOLOGY! My absolute favourite! It’s a stark difference compared to the Biology course we took in first semester, which was about Cell Biology. We had had a lot of basics in Cell Biology already since high school. Modern Biology takes DNA, a genetic molecule we only touched upon lightly in high school, and expanding it into a SIX topic long conversation. Mod Bio is basically about Biotechnology and Genetics, the absolute basics in a contemporary topic very closely related to the Covid-19 virus. Knowing that DNA codes for all life on the planet, my interest in this topic is elevated by tenfold. Biology inevitably involves a ton of memorization, though, and sometimes I procrastinate the time away just thinking of the effort required to make my flashcards (I use an online flashcard app to study Biology, but that also means I would need to set aside time to make the cards).

I keep trying to remind myself not to waste all the time away, though. More time would mean I could browse the Internet, checking out even more interesting information on the topic and expanding my knowledge beyond my lecture syllabus. I’ve been watching NASA’s Youtube live streaming of the latest update on a sea altimeter monitoring satellite – Sentinel 6, that would be able to view internal waves and measure them by the centimeter, and plot a World map of the entire ocean that covers our planet. It’s launch is due on But I’m always rather lazy, when I see the pile of work to get done. I always try to remind myself of just what more I can do if I were just to focus and get work out of the way.

But I also don’t want to see studies as a chore to get rid of so that I can do other things. My goal is to make studies a fun thing too, and it’s important, because my studies will be what my career would partly be about. For now, I’m still struggling with that a bit, since my love for certain courses doesn’t quite seem to top my occasional laziness to carry out long-haul efforts.

The next few weeks are going to get busy already, with mini exams, my presentation, lab reports (there’s one due in 3 days time!), and other coursework. That’s all for now! I’ll definitely fill you in with updates halfway through the semester perhaps, to give you a quick glimpse in the midst of the fun chaos of learning, because you blink an eye and I’m gone again until the end of the semester. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Survival Comes First: This is how Malaysia’s education system should be improved.

Survival comes first.

This phrase above is one many of you have heard of. I believe Malaysia’s education system should be improved based on these three defining words.

Lately, our government has been coming up with many changes in the KSSM syllabus, which, although fortunately has nothing to do with me as I have just started university, is having a great impact on my younger brother. He is quite unluckily studying Form 4 this year – the year subject to much excited experimentation ever since he was in his primary school years. This batch were always freshmen when it came to their studies; they would struggle to familiarize themselves with the new implementations, and whoops, new changes to your syllabus again, sorry about that. You’ve just got to deal with it.

For my SPM last year, the second last year of the old syllabus KBSM (I am two years older than my brother), already had had a few unnecessary subjects. I took 10 subjects, which includes Mandarin in my case. But there were a few subjects such as Moral, Sejarah (history), and certain elements in the Malay and Chinese subjects such as KOMSAS and “ancient Chinese” (Malay and Chinese literature) that… when I have ascended to university and look back at, now, I find it difficult to understand why we ever had to study those subjects. Now, there is apparently a new addition to the KSSM syllabus, which is the translation of classical Malay to modern Malay.

Sure, it’s important to learn good morals and values. Indeed, education about the body is imperative. Yes, learning languages and its evolution is always useful, may even be interesting. True, if history is not taught and remembered, how will we learn from past mistakes? How can we effectively culture in our children curiosity about the future if we have zero knowledge of the past?

However, as I do more reading and exploration in this unique time of Covid-19, I see less and less purpose in keeping ourselves learned scholars of ancient text and reading textbook graphics on how to do gymnastics with balls and ribbons. Is it more important that we memorize our riddled past until we can recite it off the tops of our heads, or that we learn what will help us survive now?

What are our priorities now, right NOW?

~~~

You are taking a walk with your child and they are going to step into a hole that might twist their ankle badly. It’s happening now! Any moment now! One more inch! Will you warn your child of the hole and how to avoid it in the future, or begin telling the story of when their great-grandfather stepped into a similar hole many decades ago?

Your child steps into the hole and sprains their ankle. You chastise them furiously. Next time, read more stories about your great-grandfather! You demand, and thrust a great book into their hands filled with his ancestor’s mishaps. A heavy book, too big for the child to see where they are going.

“And of course,” you go on, ignoring your exhausted young son or daughter, weighed down by the enormous book, “it will also be highly useful if you could learn ancient Greek, the language your great-grandfather happened to be using when calling for a lady nearby, when he cried for her help, to get him out of the hole he fell into – “

Your child steps into another hole and breaks their leg.

~~~

This is why, chase the future first before you pursue the past. It’s difficult to live without past memories, but impossible to survive without future plans.

It is now the hype of our era, with Covid-19 impeding life activities, the worst global warming in the last five years, and far too many of the trouble human beings bring upon themselves are due to not knowing or not realizing basic things. Yet our politicians now bite and snap at each other while the children of our future cramp their tired minds with our ancestors glories and mistakes.

Instead, teach our new generation how to avoid the online and phone call scams that are so easy to fall for. Teach them how to fight for their own entitlements, and the rights of others. Educate them on the importance of personal and medical insurance. Allow them ample opportunity for observations of anything and everything (of good nature), and let them take away the lessons. Teach them the perils of the “real life out there”. If the situation leaves us no choice but be “quanranteens” in primary and secondary school education until our syllabus finally becomes what really matters at university, by which time most of our youth is lost, then show us what real life is, in the confines of your home. Instead of implying that “real life” is a curtain that only opens when we leave high school or even beyond university, tear down the drapes and guide us in imagining real life. It is, in fact, the very age of global digitalization.

Answer our questions on why things happen. When your child, teenage son / daughter, or young student asks questions, don’t brush them aside. Understanding why is the key to improving tolerance of strange environments, tolerance of people who look and sound different, tolerance of complex issues that are difficult to solve. It is also the key to setting curiosity and motivation on fire.

Most of all, teach our new generation how to make their own choices. The right choices. And they will be able to do that, based on their understanding of why it is the right or wrong thing to do.

We will then automatically culture good moral values, exercise more for our own health and learn from past mistakes based on critical judgment.

Humans need not and should not be constantly only told what to do – it may very well have the opposite effect. They need to be taught how to know what to do.

Although this write up is also an object of my frustration with the education system, but here is the real message I want you to take away: learning anything of good nature is beneficial, to some extent. However, it is not about which are the correct subjects to learn, but about which subjects are more important.

Especially in this very moment, we don’t have time for marginally useful things. We need the cure, now.

Survival comes first.

~Rachel Tan Hui Xin, 11 September 2020.

What it’s really like studying SCIENCE in my university!

“Let me tell you about the four main categories in science,” said our Biology lecturer, on our very first lecture of the semester in university. I could not see my coursemates, but I could feel everyone’s ears perk up. Whoever heard of four categories of science? We’ve only ever heard of three.

“First, math is the most fundamental,” she says. “Then what is the most basic science after that?” “Chemistry,” someone tried. “No, it’s physics,” said our teacher. True. I suspected that was why doctors are commonly physiciansย in the US, because the word physic originally referred to both the practice of medicine AND to natural science (Merriam-Webster, 2020). “Then the next would be, Chemistry, and then Biology,” she finished. “Then Physics is derived from Math, Chemistry is derived from Math AND Physics, and Biology has elements of all of the above.”

Wow.

One thing I have discovered as in the first few weeks of studying foundation in science at university is: every one of these scientific categories has elements of another category. Math is most fundamental, and therefore only seems to relate to nothing, when you study it on its own. But when you get to the “more derived” subjects, you will see all the interconnected relations between the sciences: there is differentiation (math) in Physics, there are complicated molecular structure of chemical compounds (chemistry) in Biology, and there are logarithms (math), gas laws (physics) and enzymatic graphs (Biology) in Chemistry.

It truly is really interesting, when you see the bigger picture come together. You see the purpose of why things happen; why you are studying math when it seems to be just about numbers. Seeing the patterns and interconnections gave me a new insight into the subjects we had been studying ever since high school; and I wondered why we weren’t exposed to this earlier.

But here’s the really cool thing. I am not sure about other universities. Personally, I am certain not many universities must have this weird concept in their foundation in science syllabus: in our recent Physics exam just two days ago, a white blood cell and a Bacteria (Biology) are racing toward Point A at the speed of 20ฮผm/s and 50ฮผm/s respectively. Calculate the relative velocity of WBC to the liquid…. I laughed, as I read through the question on my digital exam paper, in my room. Maybe exams and studies have dulled the minds of people, and they don’t play as much as I do, and they might find me too peculiar for their tastes. But little things make me laugh, and that does not compromise my intelligence. I think that was a very lighthearted element to include in an exam, a strange rojak, as we like to say here in Malaysia (rojak = a mixture of random foods, used to mean a mixture of random things / languages spoken together, etc).

It’s cool.

Many of my lecturers are really good teachers. They bring across the topic to us clearly, they are prepared for what we might not understand, possibly due to their years of experience, or credentials in the field. They teach us the why of things, which is the whole point of studying science, and a great way to pique our interest.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to study foundation in science at my university. It gives me a fresh insight into science. Although I have been more of a quiet person in my primary and secondary school years, I hope to grab this last stage of education – tertiary education – with both hands, and learn and discover as much as I possibly can.

~Rachel Tan Hui Xin, 20 July 2020.


References:

Meriam-Webster. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/why-is-a-medical-expert-called-a-physician

The start of week 7: Assignment Rush

I have been really busy this week, so you’d either be delighted or disappointed that I will go straight down to the details. Honestly, this will be a test of my writing abilities. Less backspacing, less thinking… this blog post is going to be like a spontaneous presentation.

Let’s begin.

It is now 1.15pm.

In the past week I have completed two reports, one for physics and one for physical chemistry, the first one graded and the second one not, yet vital for our understanding of the topics nevertheless. We also had two exams in the past week, therefore I had to push these two reports until the last minute to study for the courses we were going to be tested on. I ended up starting AND completing BOTH reports on Friday itself! (Went to bed at 2am that night… despite having exams the next day. Phew.) As for exams, I was pretty nervous, thinking of all the possible issues I might come across that a real life test would otherwise not have – poor internet connection, trouble with submission of answer sheet, clumsiness with using online softwares such as microsoft word, etc. But I have since managed to sit for two online exams without much issues. I have since then become more confident about taking the online assessments, and the procedures involved.

Last Saturday was really exhausting for me, considering I’d stayed up till two in the morning to complete two reports the night before, with a graded exam on Biology, a mock Math test, and a two hour replacement class for Physical Chemistry waiting for me in just a few hours time. It is Monday now and I still do not have the time to rest. After the hectic full day of Saturdays exams, I spent the first half of my Sunday revising one topic on Chemistry, and the other half of the day completing my first ever fully cited scientific poster, according to the APA format.

I was very proud of the poster, as I had used a special software called Canva to create it. There are very nice templates there, though quite limited. As usual, there is the “pay to upgrade to premium” catch. Still, one thing is different about Canva: they categorize their templates not in terms of colour or pattern, but in terms of what the context or event in which they think these templates are suitable for, such as for school, work, presentations, poster, etc. These each have their respective subcategories as well, such as scientific poster, advertisement poster etc. These helped me a lot in designing my very first scientific poster in university, and despite the dreary ordeal of citing all my references, playing with the templates and design made this assignment a lot more fun for me. I managed to enjoy myself as I worked.

A screenshot of the Canva homepage

I completed my poster on Sunday night, one day before the deadline. (It is Monday today.) This is because I am planning ahead! We have a physics exam tomorrow on Tuesday, a math exam on Saturday, and a Chemistry full report and formal cited English essay, both to be handed up next week (and both of which I have not started on). The most immediate goal would now be the Physics exam tomorrow (Tuesday), which will cover four topics. Don’t forget that I still had to attend three lecture classes today, until 4pm. With not much choice, I only have less than half a day to study for Physics. (And now EVEN LESS! Because I’m blogging, of all things to do! ๐Ÿ˜› But I know one day I would want to look back at this, so here I am, documenting history.) Then I’ll sit for the exam tomorrow, throw it all aside, and start on the three other goals coming at me.

For now, miraculously, I am actually still able to enjoy the rush.

I am going to work super hard, develop new ways to be make more efficient use of my time, and discover and explore the ways that best suit my personal learning style, so that these things stay fun and do not overwhelm me instead.

I have a lot more to share with you about e-learning, things that I am sure will pique your curiosity. There have been lots of funny moments during online classes, interesting things I have discovered about myself and the best way in which I learn and absorb information…. and lots, lots more. Do not fear, it will not all be assignment DUMPS like this blogpost! However, if I am supremely busy all the time, it might be so. Let’s see.

It is now 6.45pm. I am a bit hungry, so I went to eat two of my favourite chocolate biscuits. By the way, if you enjoyed reading this, do help me spread word about this blog, I’ll appreciate it so much!

Now, it is nearly 7pm, dangerously late. I cannot be doing this all the time! ๐Ÿ˜› I have got to study for my Physics exam now. Every grade I get will contribute to whether I get into my medical degree or not. Wish me luck, and bye for now!

First graded exam at university! (and end of Week 5)

We’re at the end of week 5 now. It is Friday, 3rd of July 2020.

University coursework and assignments are piling up. We are going to have a few minor exams, but minor they may be, they are going to be GRADED.

I am going to sit for my first ever graded exam for Chemistry in university next Wednesday, at 6.30pm – 8pm!

(Yes, you heard that right. And we will still have 3 lecture classes in the morning before that. I will be so exhausted by then. I have never in my life done and exam at 6.30pm.)

Then, I will also have biology, physics and math exams in the following weeks.

I cannot afford to flunk these exams, not when I am aiming for a CGPA of 3.5 for the entire foundation year to get into MBBS (medical degree). I shall be sure to work hard, and do well all the way. To tell the truth, I am lagging behind a bit in catching up with my assignments, and everyday the pile grows larger and more difficult to handle.

Somehow, I must find a way to coordinate all my assignments and revision such that I can keep up daily with my work.

As for online learning, I am beginning to recognize my disembodied coursemates by voice, which is funny. I am also becoming more familiar with some of the names in the online meetings – names of my coursemates, who don’t talk during class, so unfortunately I’m sad to not be able to get to know them! Our time will come… next year, probably.

Our university has announced classes on campus will resume only next year, even though the Malaysian government has very recently declared that primary and secondary school students will be going back soon, universities will be allowed to reopen soon, and even cinemas and theme parks will reopen their doors soon. But our university has declared online classes for the May and October trimesters. We’ll have to wait. ๐Ÿ˜ฅ

(*28th of January, 2021 update: With the COVID situation now, it seems my 3rd semester (January trimester) will be online, too. Looks like my entire foundation year will be online. But I don’t mind, I think online lectures are quite an experience as well. )

I will be working very hard on time management and understanding certain topics for the next few weeks.

When I’ve established a organized system for my learning and I have gained control, I will come here and announce it here!

Being able to keep up would also mean I have finally gotten my university life in order, and that would allow things to feel steadier.

That’s all for now. Wish me luck for my exams! :b

~Rachel Tan HX, Blog author, 3 July 2020.