Tembusu at the University of Western Australia: an interview with Purnima Balraju on her residential exchange programme at UWA

Treehouse interviews Purnima about her experience in the Undergraduate Learning and Teaching Research Internship Scheme (ULTRIS) at the University of Western Australia, which allows second and third year students from all faculties to focus on research about teaching and learning. After a series of preparatory workshops, participants embark on a research project that culminates in a paper and presentation at an academic conference. This residential exchange programme is an exclusive partnership between UWA, College of Alice & Peter Tan and Tembusu College.

Why go to UWA?

It was a unique opportunity where I could be on an exchange programme whilst continuing to pay only NUS tuition and the residential fees at Tembusu. In this way, I quite literally swapped classrooms and lives with a student from UWA’s University Hall: a UWA student gets to come to Tembusu College and I get to go to UWA’s University Hall. This allowed me to have the full experience of an exchange programme — alongside learning to research during ULTRIS — without additional financial burdens.


What is ULTRIS and how was your experience of the programme?

It is an Australian initiative, which gives undergraduates the opportunity to add to the existing knowledge and make a difference. Participants of the programme were of vastly different backgrounds and alongside established researches attempt to wrestle with a particular theme (this year’s being the Internationalisation of Higher Education). It is a privilege to be able to participate in ULTRIS through this residential exchange programme.

Like all proper research, it is a long process involving a lot of trial and error. Thankfully there were many workshops for guidance, and my supervisors were there to help at every step of the way. As always, it was hardest in the beginning, and I was struggling to pick a topic that was both relevant to the theme and to me. After much reflection and thought, one that was close to my heart dawned on me: the value of international teachers teaching Singapore Studies modules in NUS.

Writing the report was my favourite part of the process. Although an extensive amount of time was put into it, it was very rewarding.

Tell us a little more about your supervisors.

I was lucky to have two of them.

From NUS, I had Tembusu’s own Kelvin Pang, who guided me through the development of a research proposal and the project itself. Everything that I know about mechanics of research, I learned from Kelvin. Without his supervision, it would have been difficult — perhaps impossible — to not only grasp certain concepts of research but also to have applied them to the topic at hand.

Sally Sandover was my supervisor from UWA. She is the best! Even though she is one busy lady — which might be an epic understatement in itself — she will make the time to answer your queries, edit your 20 page report, and lend you the support and encouragement you need to work through your project. My friends and I see Sally as our ‘Mother Hen’. She is understanding and is always there to take care of us. =)

So, what happens to your project after you’ve completed your research?

Present it!

One must not forget that ULTRIS is not a regular class on research. One is there to do research — and part of that entails sharing it, discussing it, sending it out into the world.

As part of the programme, I had the chance to present at both the International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) and the Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research (ACUR).

At both conferences, I had a fantastic time learning about other students’ research. One, which stands out, involved a project investigating depression among veterinarians in Australia, an oft-neglected topic that is crucial: after all, who takes care of those who care for others. For my part, I did a poster presentation — where the challenge was to condense my data and findings into an A3 poster.

Apart from that, I was also chosen to present my poster in the Parliament of Australia — which involved a group of 20 of us pitching their research projects to some members of parliament and university professors.

Surely, you also did other things besides work on your project no?

Not really.

I did manage to do extensive fieldwork — and have the requisite forms that say so 🙂 — which brought me all around Western Australia, save perhaps Broome. After all, you haven’t experienced Australia until you’ve gone camping in the outback.


Purnima and her friends in the outback

Would you do it again?

In a heartbeat.

For it was through ULTRIS, that I discovered that I actually like doing research.

Moreover, one comes to university to discover one’s potential, and oftentimes, that entails going beyond your comfort zone. It was a really challenging programme, with many potential unknowns, but if you have an open, and curious mind, I’d say go for it.


Purnima and her research topic


Photos by Purnima Balraju