Category Archives: Learning and Research at HKU

Second Exchange! Coming Summer Semester at Cambridge!!

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Disclaimer: This post is produced right off the confirmation that the writer received regarding his summer abroad application. A great deal of excitement and exclamation marks, uncommon in the writer’s style of writing, would be evident in this piece. Reader’s discretion is advised!

 

I never expected that HKU would nominate me for a second exchange. The reason why I call it a second exchange is because unlike other summer programmes, the one at Cambridge probably lasts the longest- for eight weeks during which I can not only take two courses from my field of study but also work on producing a dissertation under the supervision of a Cambridge professor! That means, including my twenty-two weeks at UCLA, by the end of next summer I would have in fact spent more than two semesters on exchange. Well, these justifications are for the most skeptic individuals who think summer programmes don’t count as exchange. What’s more important is that I am going to Cambridge!!!

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 4.29.24 PMI don’t know why reading the confirmation email on my nomination immediately reminded me of my humble upbringing. Growing up in a middle-class family in India and going to definitely not the top [read famous!] schools in town, life back there in Delhi was pretty mediocre- eat, sleep, pray and read; however, the past three years’ have been as exciting as the second half of the movie Deer Hunter (1978) lol! Leaving home at eighteen and from there so many interesting set pieces, one more exciting than the other, imprinted on the roll film of my identity. In my prayers, I always ask God do I deserve so many of such happy moments from going to Thailand to teach English to spending half a year in LA and now this opportunity to read at Cambridge!

 

Well, this post is not only about me and my feelings but also intends to be informational in nature. I highly encourage both current and prospective students to HKU to check out the summer exchange programmes that HKU has to offer at http://www.aal.hku.hk/summerinstitute/ because there are some great universities like Cambridge, Columbia and Stanford on list who have semester-equivalent programmes during summer. Some of my friends also transfer the units earned from taking some courses at the host institute during summer back to HKU. Although I don’t really require to do so (courtesy to the units gained from doing 10 courses at UCLA!) yet I hope I will be able to pool the units earned for the course on Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind as an elective for Cognitive Science. Such opportunities are for those who would like to have a productive summer and to me what better way to describe my plan for the upcoming summer- going to Cambridge for a semester <3

Idiosyncrasies of Academic Writing

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Sometimes I wonder why it’s so challenging to preserve a structure, a narrative, to the flow of ideas in our academic papers. Why do we resist ourselves so much from drifting away into experimental prose while discussing, for instance, the implicature and not the explicit implication of affect states on unethical behavior? Is there no way to consciously drop certain rules of academic writing to produce a rich sophisticated text like that of Ulysses in scientific literature? Being someone who cherishes the resources that English affords me in terms of writing stylish and engaging text, I raise serious concern not with the stress of writing things that are worthwhile to be on print but instead with the way how we, as writers, are confirming to a phenomenon which I name poverty of perception.

This blog won’t be the right place to unpack what I mean by poverty of perception, however, I find idiosyncrasies of academic writing is a topic that, down the ladder, we all as University students grapple with. The nature of my attitude towards academic writing must not be mistaken as one that of whining or absolute despise but instead my concern is very fundamental as to how language use is constrained and off-putting in academic papers. Topics that I, as a student of human nature, wish to know more about, whether its computational modelling of hemispheric asymmetry in visual processing or lexical processing in the human brain, no matter which disciplinary perspective I adopt to fully understand a cognitive process, there always comes a point where it just becomes unbearable to follow not what or why but instead how the researchers are, for instance, manipulating the weights in the neural network or transcribing the brain activation levels to stark statistical figures represented in their research papers. How can I learn how did the researchers’ methodology of manipulating and recording the variables under scrutiny produce the results of their study? Mere reporting of statistical tests and significance of values obtained from such tests don’t calm an inquisitive mind. It’s the procedures from data collection to analysis that inspires a reader of scientific literature. After knowing the finding, it’s the question of how you arrived at this conclusion which is the most exciting and in fact the driving force of all subsequent scientific endeavors. Yet the part that’s supposed to be most lucidly described ends up being the most incomprehensible to the vast majority of readers including researchers working in the same discipline. The writers are partially to be blamed for adopting jargons and technical language in the methodology section of their paper, however, the greater problem lies in the culture of accepted practices and norms in the field of academic writing that fosters in us, from our first term paper at University, a restrictive outlook on the scope and readership of research papers and this is what I refer to as poverty of perception.

Maybe this is the right spot to loop back to my halt stage and let you, readers, to evaluate the issue I raise in my argument and dwell upon its merits and weaknesses. And for those who are equally concerned about the opaqueness in academic papers, there is an interesting take on this issue by Steven Pinker here-

Freshmen Dilemma #18: How come you are doing a Double Major?

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Recently I have been getting this question from several incoming freshmen for which I don’t necessarily have enough time to answer them individually at UCLA while juggling seven courses in one quarter, therefore I thought of sharing how I happen to be doing a double major in Psychology and Cognitive Science. For those who are not thinking of doing a major or minor in the aforementioned disciplines you are more than welcome to leave us at this juncture and maybe join us again in my next article where I will brag about my Trans-Canadian journey that happened during the spring break :p! But for those who chose to stay and read further, let’s take a deep dive into some details, fully comprehended only by Psyc majors!

So, initially I thought of majoring in Psychology with a minor in Cognitive Science (choice to minor in Economics is another story, I will discuss in some other article) and also study Spanish as my fourth language (or probably fifth if I count in my limited proficiency in French!) but unfortunately studying Spanish came to a halt after my first semester when I submitted my application for exchange (during the second semester of my sophomore year) to Universities like Columbia, Toronto and of course UCLA (technically its UCEAP!) and decided to redirect my academic interest into studying advanced courses in Psychology so that by the time of my exchange I will be able to start doing lab courses in order to gain research experience. As a self-proclaimed rational decision maker, I can justify the choice I made last year and I don’t think the opportunity cost of not learning Spanish would be more than what I gain currently from my exposure to different labs and research projects that I am involved in (anyway I just got an A in my Spanish speaking test, in which, after hours of learning and practice, I really felt I deserved an A+).

Still I hadn’t made the switch to declaring Cognitive Science as my second major but then I realized that each 4 unit course that I study at UCLA only accounts for 5 HKU credits. Left with more units to study even if I am officially finished studying a HKU equivalent course here at UCLA, I decided to make the big move, which is actually just doing some basic change in settings in your online student portal! By the end of my exchange I will be done with all my core courses in Psychology and even some courses from my second major so for the remaining two years at HKU I can focus on my second concentration along with working on my thesis, which actually helps my profile since I intend to do PhD in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience that deals with cognition, brain and behavior.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Now, I assume, the background is clear so let’s move on to the logistics. So in order to major in Psychology (no matter as your first or second major) you need to complete 96 units of credits which more or less involve studying 15-16 courses with around 10-12 courses from the Psyc Dept. and the rest from other disciplines under the Faculty of Social Sciences. To give you a concrete example, let’s take my case into review, so by the end of my exchange I will be done with 90 units and I would have to complete one more lab course as part of my capstone experience (although I have finished two lab courses in Cog and Dev Psyc  here at UCLA, but I am transferring the units gained as part of the Global Citizenship credits (12 units in total which involves off-campus learning that you can gain either by studying some courses that are equivalent to 12 HKU units while on exchange or by doing an internship during the semester or during summer). It’s not necessary for anyone who is majoring in Psychology to write a thesis which is a 12-unit year-round course, if you have satisfied the 96 units as seen in Figure 1 (to zoom in click on the image once). But for students like me who want to go to Grad school, it’s a good option to start working on research from Undergraduate level itself. Two important things before I move on to explain the logistics of taking Psyc as a minor are that, first of all, majoring in Psyc requires a lot of stats so if you are not up for it then better drop the plan of majoring in it (a lot of freshmen who initially want to major in Psychology forego their plan after doing the Introductory Stats course offered by Psyc Dept.- PSYC1004, there is an advanced course too in Stats which is a must for all Psyc majors) and there is another off-campus learning called Social Innovation (12 units) which you must satisfy in order to major in Psychology by either doing an internship during the semester or during summer (I already finished it last summer with MOEI by conducting a psychological experiment on my students along with teaching them English, it’s a really intensive yet one of the best courses I ever had at HKU!).

Psyc as a minor is fairly much simpler and extremely flexible since now you just need to study 36 units of Psyc courses i.e. study 6 Psychology courses. It’s basically designed to give students a flavor of what we study in various streams of Psychology. I think Figure 1 and 2 are self-explanatory in this regard.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Moving on to Cog Sci as a major, first of all, let me tell you that you are allowed to double count up to 24 units if you are doing a second major which shares certain courses with your first major and it’s an advantage for me since I just have to complete 48 units of courses instead of 72 to major in Cog Sci. This is because I can double count 2 pre-requisite courses that I already did from other disciplines for my first major along with Bio and Cog Psyc that are two of the numerous electives offered in Cog Sci that I already studied for my first major. For remaining 48 units I need to take 2 introductory courses (aw once again, I thought was done with them in my first year :p) and also study 3 compulsory courses in Cog Sci that include Foundations and Seminars in Cog Sci along with a research project in Cog Sci. These are the only three courses that are exclusive to Cog Sci discipline since all the other electives come from the dept. of Psychology, Computer Science, Linguistics and Philosophy. Therefore there is great flexibility in terms of choosing which particular stream to focus in Cog Sci. A computer science major who wants to do a major or minor in Cog Sci can just focus on doing electives from the Artificial Intelligence stream while a Philosophy major can focus on the Philosophy of Mind stream. As for me, I am specializing in Brain and Cognition coz that relates back to my research interest.

Similar like doing Psyc as a minor, when Cog Sci is taken as a minor, you just need to 36 units of credits which include the two core courses (Foundations and Seminars in Cog Sci) while the rest you can choose from the courses offered by the 4 departments that jointly handle this discipline.

I assure you, this is by far the best summary you can find anywhere of the degree regulation book from my faculty; maybe I should seek part-time employment at my Department’s general office to offer clarifications to students with major/minor issues in Psyc Dept! Btw This doesn’t mean that I knew everything from the start but talking with my mentor and officials (a special mention to Hayson Chan- the most patient and helpful guy at my faculty office- I trouble him so much with my constantly updating application for credit transfer!), spending some time finding the right resources online and always being curious to explore the area of my interest helped me a lot to get a clear sense of this issue and also share the info with my peers and address it to readers like you who are interested  to become a Psycho!!! So get into the habit of searching for relevant info both off and online, it will help you a lot in the long run- that’s the greatest takeaway message for those who stayed with us even if they still have no plans of doing a major or minor in Psyc or Cog Sci, lol!!

For more info on each course offered by Psyc dept. you can play around this website- http://www.psychology.hku.hk/index.php?rpath=home and yeah you also get to see my pic on the homepage taken during last year’s Award Ceremony, too much media exposure and I seem to love it :p!!

A classic article for a classic question.

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Article by Shubhra Jain.

After completing my first semester of exchange in HKU and also spending a Christmas in Hong Kong, I decided to take a trip home for the holidays, back to the UK. As advised, I was in much anticipation for the reverse culture shock. But, it wasn’t the reverse culture shock that I needed to look out for. In fact, considering my main home area to be in London, a city quite similar to Hong Kong, I was barely shocked at all.

 

There is another thing that I wish I had been warned about, however. As I sat down at a family gathering, or a meal with friends or even the brief pass by of the acquaintance, I had to prepare myself to answer perhaps the most classically overused, post-travel question in the history of conversation starters. “Shubhra! How was Hong Kong?”

 

My naturally receptive answers to such a broad question were indeed the dullest and most standard replies “good,” “such a great experience,” “amazing” or “I loved it.” Sometimes I would change it up adding “well, have you been to Hong Kong” in a desperate attempt to turn the conversation into a different topic which didn’t involve me giving an uninteresting display of emotion about my time. The fact was that whilst I had anticipated such a question and had so many images about what I should talk about in my head, the buzz and clutter of experiences meant it was a bit of a struggle reformulating the entire 4- month experience into a short, read-the-back-of-the-book-to-see-if-you’re-interested type summary. But I kind of regret it, and right now, so I am not hung up with a shitty answer again, I will do the HKU in a nutshell.

 

University life at HKU takes some preparation both mentally and physically. Especially for me, who had lived first year on the notorious UK fresher’s atmosphere, it was a big change, to say the least. I had taken 3 modules from the Economics faculty, apparently infamous for GPA tanking (confirmed), Mandarin class and I had an internship secured with a social start up. It wasn’t easy. In fact, whilst I say I enjoyed it, if I recall correctly, I was stressed out. Being an exchange student but having the looming pressure of second year at HKU counting towards my total GPA meant I ended up being caught in between two vastly contrasting lifestyles; full on study mode on the one hand but let-me-plan-a-trip-to-Japan on the other. I soon figured where most of my mind was actually focused and in an attempt for a less painful future it was on a whirl of macro problem sets, 9am starts and some mandarin characters. Basically, my life was insanely school.

 

You’re probably thinking at this point “poor thing, she’s an exchange student as well.” But in reality it was quite the opposite. I felt a kind of glory in fact. Being immersed in this kind of student experience felt fulfilling to me- the adrenaline rush of having a hundred things to do at once and not having time to think about sleep because even when you’re sleeping you’re constantly thinking (do you get that)? I love that. In addition, after the semester exams had ended, I felt an added sense of achievement. I survived sem 1 at HKU! Whilst I was indeed exhausted, there was nothing I wanted more than to do it all again.

 

So HKU didn’t mentally scar me. It mentally propelled me. It taught me a couple of lessons which I thought I knew but clearly didn’t. 1) work hard, no work harder than hard and harder still. 2) no matter how hard you work, most mainlander Chinese work harder than you. 3) Be inspired. I met some great people from various different places and this really heightened the experience. But the university itself inspired me too; the depths of the library quarters, the numerous on campus eateries, the dedication of the student body and the endless opportunities to learn what you want to learn. These were some of the most exciting parts of being at HKU and left me with a greatly positive experience. So in the end “I loved it.” Bring on semester 2.

Shubhra celebrating Diwali with the South Asian Society at HKU.

Shubhra celebrating Diwali with the South Asian Society at HKU.

 

Shubhra is an exchange student in Year 2 from Queen Mary University, London. She majors in Economics and would like to live in HK someday.

Towards UCLA!

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Listening to Sia’s Drink to get Drunk at the airport and realizing that there is still an hour to kill before boarding on a 15 hr journey to Dallas, Texas followed by another 3 hr pull back finally to LA, all the tricks on Christmas eve, I am agitated on the inside about the immense jet lag that awaits me yet at the same time feeling peppy on the outside for the challenge just like how Sia’s songs in her album Healing is Difficult turn out to be; maybe her lyrics and the beats are having a profound influence on my current state of mind. Anyway let it strike me or maybe evade me when I set foot on the American soil.

Ready to board!

So, post my last feature on how’s a day for me at HKU, I made sure that all my days since the end of my first semester were filled with joy, fun and of course craziness by hanging out with my besties. Shopping for the bitting cold of NYC (yeah, my new year is gonna be at the Big Apple!), trying out new restaurants, long convos and yup farewell gatherings. Well, a special mention goes to the amount of time I spent packing my stuff; almost took me 2 days to get sorted out with it, phew, but I am done and I am glad coz I never thought I could be this organized.

Now moving on to my host university, UCLA, feeling so excited as well as equally nervous (duality in Sia’s songs hit me again as a metaphor, haha) of being selected to study primarily Psychology (along with a course each in Anthropology and Philosophy) at such a prestigious University which I placed as my first choice for exchange and lo, bull’s eye, got it! I must admit, not sure whether is it coz I am an exchange student, the staff at UCLA who work out the course enrollment are really so so helpful that I was automatically enrolled to the courses of my choice. Those planning for exchange, I can share with you the advantage of studying at any of the UCs except for UCB during the second semester is that you can study more courses during your exchange to satisfy your degree requirements coz these Uni have two terms divided over the course of 6 months, from Jan to June, where if you want you can study upto 9 courses, well that’s what I am doing coz the nerd in me won’t dare to miss any opportunity provided in terms of academics at such a top-class University but definitely our perspectives will differ (although not mine and my mentor’s!). Besides academics, being a cinephile, visiting Hollywood seems to be another dream coming true! So many things on my bucket list but won’t reveal it here until I fulfill all of them.
Oh, its boarding time and before it snakes out I must sign off, for the next few months its gonna be me reporting from UCLA! Festive greetings and happy holidays to all of you!

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