Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Final Reflection

I still vividly remember the self-introduction session during the first ever class for ES2007S. Though it honestly felt silly to me, I realized it took a fair bit of courage to come up with something catchy yet try to minimize embarrassing myself as much as possible. In a sense, I was facing my fear of embarrassment and dealing with it because I had to. Perhaps due to this short session, some of our reservations diminished and this seemed to have facilitated the rest of the course as none of us seemed to have much trouble speaking up in class. And so my course in Professional Communication started.

Shortly after, we all divided ourselves into groups and soon we worked on peer teaching, as well as individual work such as writing personal statements, cover letters and resumes, where everyone reviewed each others’ work. I find this method of learning really useful, as we all had the chance to learn from each other. Before taking up this module, I had no idea what I needed to prepare for job applications and I am really thankful that the module taught me exactly what to prepare for, and how to prepare reasonably good ones (cover letters, resume, etc.).

Finally, we worked on doing up a proposal, which was the project that took up the bulk of the course (or so it seemed). The experience was a first for me, as I have never been involved in drawing up proposals, and I am happy that I actually learnt a lot from this assignment. I learnt the useful skill of writing minutes, and even though the whole process of putting the proposal together was “grueling”, I learnt a lot about cooperation and a fair deal about the art of maintaining good working relationships. As tedious as the whole process had been, it was enjoyable and at the end of the day, I am satisfied with the final product of the proposal. J

Overall, the module was effective and crucial skills necessary in the real world were aptly taught. This module definitely serves its function as a platform for preparing us for work in the real world. I felt that the pace of the class was good, and that everyone was respectful of each other and had no problem communicating our ideas across in class. Most of all, I felt that the lesson on the 7 Cs was one of the most useful part of the course as the 7Cs really constitute the core objectives of effective communication.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Chris for her guidance and kind understanding, as well as my group mates, Huushun and Yuzi for their patience and cooperation :) It was also a bonus to have made new friends through this module!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Post-presentation Reflection

Finally, after weeks of hard work on the proposal, we presented the final product on Monday, 2 November. Though it did not start off exactly well (my laptop could not project the page onto the screen), I felt that the presentation turned out well; my group members and I did a good job!

However, this is not to say that our presentation was perfect. Reflecting on my own part in the presentation, I feel that there is more that I could have done. First and foremost, I imagined how my body posture must have been and realized I should have made sure I carried myself better; instead of placing my left hand on the table which might have made me look sloppy, I should have stood upright. In addition, I might not have projected my voice loud enough as I realized I was comfortable with my volume and I reckon this volume is not sufficient for easy listening for my classmates as well as Chris who sat in as audience, as I not naturally one with a loud voice. Furthermore, I am also guilty of having left out certain things I planned to say, mostly due to some “stage fright”.

Weaknesses aside, I feel that generally, my presentation was reasonably well delivered. I would like to believe that for most part of my presentation, I managed to hide my “stage fright” well and that I managed to give clear delivery of my slides such that my audience could follow what I was trying to bring across to them. Also, I felt that the pace of my presentation was just about right, and eye contact was almost constantly maintained with my audience. Last but not least, I was particularly proud of myself for having used the pointer as I felt that I used the laser pointer to direct my audience to the statistics of the many charts well! Using it made me feel as if I was a lecturer, and that gave me a considerable amount of adrenaline rush; it was also my first time presenting with a laser pointer, so I was really excited!

All in all, the presentation would have been much better if I had been better prepared for it. Honestly, I did not manage to set aside enough time to prepare for the presentation, though an earlier run-through with my group helped considerably. However, I am proud of the work my group and I have done for the presentation (and of course, the proposal). We have definitely improved much from the last peer teaching presentation, so kudos to all of us!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Open Topic: The Many Faces of Communication

I believe all of us have been in situations where we needed to “put on different masks” in order to ensure effective communication or to avoid conflicts. I have come to realize how this is truly an important skill especially when the people you are interacting with are of different status or come from different cultures and background.

One of my experiences which demonstrated the importance of this ability to switch between different communication methods with different people would be my work experience as a Customer Service Officer (CSO) at a local gym, Fitness First Singapore Pte Ltd (Fitness First for short). I was based at the club at One George Street (OGS) when I was 18 and fresh out of “A” levels, and at the club at Paragon when I was 21 and having my summer break. In both my experience as CSO with Fitness First, I was the only Chinese and the rest were mostly Malays with only one Indian having once been a colleague of mine for a few weeks during the time when I was 18.

When I was at OGS, I got entangled into work politics even though I was only a part-timer. Thinking back, it seemed that some of my colleagues did not like my apparent “atas” attitude (“atas” means high-class in Malay). In actual fact, I simply had no clue how I should behave in front of my colleagues who were pretty much very culturally different from me. All of them smoked while I have always been a non-smoker. Then, I was very much a school girl who went by the book and did not know how things worked in the real world.

On the other hand, though the situation at Paragon was similar to that at OGS then (at Paragon, all my colleagues were Malays), work at Paragon was much more pleasant. I would attribute that to the fact that I tried to blend into their work culture by following what they did, but at the same time not compromising my personality. I followed them when they went for “smoking breaks”; it seemed very much approved and they seemed happy to invite me for such activities after that, I spoke with some Malay accent thinking it would make them feel accepted and not challenged; it seemed to work and they even tried to bring me into their conversations by speaking more English when I was around.

I am pretty sure all of us have behaved in different ways when dealing with different situations, and it is both interesting and insightful especially when we look back and realize the consequences of our actions and perhaps, our “inactions” as well.

One may say, doesn’t this lead to being multi-faceted and perhaps being hypocritical? It may actually not be so. As I remember from my course in Social Psychology, every one of us has many different selves which make up one complete self, hence allowing us to properly function and to adopt different selves to adapt to ever-changing situations. It is inherent in every one of us to be multi-faceted and even so, we are able to present our true self. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Intercultural Observation

In this blog post about intercultural communication, I will talk about one of the more impressionable experiences I had during the seminar programme in Tokyo that I was involved in, as that is probably the only time I witnessed intercultural conflict.

The setting was the seminar classes, which was conducted in the form of group discussions and each group had a fixed topic related to efficient energy use for environmental sustainability to work on. In the conflict scenario that I got to hear from Hailey*, a good friend that I made from the seminar who was also in the group with the conflict, some of her groupmates were unhappy with their groupmate, Rose*, and a conflict arose.

I shall start with a brief introduction of the main characters. Hailey was a Vietnamese who is also a good friend of mine that I made during the seminar. Rose was of Iraqi blood but grew up and studied in the US. Mark* and Dave* were both Americans who take their work very seriously.

One day while we were all left to be in our own groups to work on our project, I noticed that Rose looked upset yet it seemed she was trying to put up a brave front. After lessons ended, Hailey told me that Rose had earlier stomped off, saying, “Since you guys don’t care about what I say, I will go”. Apparently the two most vocal members of the group, Mark and Dave, had openly downplayed her contributions and made it obvious that she was not making constructive contributions to the group discussion, and it had upset her.

According to Hailey, Rose appeared unwilling to commit to the project and did not seem serious about her work as she was often unprepared for the discussions. Besides that, she speaks with a slur, wears thick, gothic-style makeup and rants about her Japanese boyfriends whom she met while working as a hostess at a Japanese bar.

Honestly, I had a mix of emotions when I heard about the unpleasant event. Even though I felt sorry for Rose that her opinions were not highly regarded by Mark and Dave, I felt that this actually came as no surprise to me, as I had ever worked with her on a pairwork previously. Having had first-hand experience of how she did her work, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that she did not regard what we all were doing in the seminar as important. Quoting Rose, “There’s no need to be so serious. This isn’t graded anyway.”

If I were to attempt to interpret Mark and Dave’s actions, I would think that they treated Rose with such hostility mainly because of her work attitude. Ever-prepared for discussions, Mark and Dave would always have facts and figures at their fingertips to support their points. On the other hand, Rose would make suggestions and claims without justification. I would believe that Mark and Dave came from a culture that emphasizes high work efficiency and reliability, whereas for Rose, it seemed very likely that she came from a culture that apparently did not emphasize on those work attitudes. Furthermore, as she comes across as liberal and speaks with a slur, this could have added to the impression that she was most likely not as academically capable as the rest of the students in the seminar.

To have a better understanding of Mark and Dave’s actions, I grabbed a chance to talk to them about the conflict. Indeed, they felt that she was being irresponsible and uncooperative, and “wasting everyone’s time”. Unfortunately, I did not manage to speak to Rose about it as I did not feel comfortable enough to broach the subject to her. However, as far as I know, Rose lost both her parents at a very tender age and since then had been working to support herself. I would think that perhaps because of that, she was more easily influenced by liberal cultures and hence behaved differently from the rest of us.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Personal Statement (for the post of Research Assistant, in correspondence with my cover letter)

I am a fresh graduate with a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Life Sciences (Concentration in Biology), from the National University of Singapore. I am in essence someone who is passionate about the natural environment; as such I have been very much involved in ecological work in my research whilst in my undergraduate years, as well as in my volunteer involvements.

During my 3rd year of study, I undertook the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in Science (UROPS) where I did research on the relationship between healthy seagrass beds and the abundance of seastars, particularly, the knobbly seastars on Cyrene reef. The entire research process was especially enjoyable for me as I love doing fieldwork, getting out of the laboratory to hit the natural habitats and study the organisms in their natural environment. Being particularly fascinated by the knobbly seastars, I carried on with the research when I was in my Honours year. Working alongside Professor Chou Loke Ming (Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore), I have picked up much relevant skills as well as gained valuable insights into the field of marine biology. The research project definitely fueled my passion for the natural environment.

Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I undertook modules such as Fundamentals of Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry, which equipped me with laboratory skills such as performing Liquid Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry. Upon graduation from NUS, I was familiar with procedures in a laboratory with regards to safety as well as operation and maintenance of laboratory equipments.

During the summer break in my 2nd year of study, I had the rare opportunity to participate in the Waseda Global Honours College (GHC) Programme held in Waseda University, Tokyo. One of the key objectives was to gather students and professors from 8 universities worldwide, where they come from different disciplines and cultural backgrounds to discuss topics related to Environmental Sustainability. Though the programme lasted only a mere 3 weeks, I believe I learnt much more than I would in the same duration of time if I were back home in Singapore. For one, I became much more disciplined and efficient in doing work, and I have more confidence in my ability to deliver work that is of reasonable calibre. This is due to the fact that my peers and I had to work under tight deadlines while making sure work had to be of a standard that was acceptable to the professors, who were also our mentors in the programme.

Personally, I have always enjoyed interaction with people from different backgrounds and cultures, as there is always much to learn from every different encounter. Through my work experience with Fitness First Singapore Pte Ltd especially, I got the chance to interact with people of varying age and backgrounds. Also, the Waseda GHC Programme gave me the opportunity to interact with both students and professors of diverse personalities and from different backgrounds. These experiences have certainly honed my interpersonal skills as well as forged great friendships.

Work aside, I volunteer with Team Seagrass and Toddycats, both of which are non-governmental groups with environmental conservation as their primary concern. The little contributions I may have made to Singapore’s environment through involvement in these volunteering activities have further rooted my passion for the natural environment and I believe that this has influenced my friends in some way or other. I believe that with increased public awareness, more people will be aware of the vulnerability of Singapore’s biodiversity, and in general, the whole natural environment as a whole, in view of the changing climate conditions the world is facing. It is my hope that more of the general public would join in the fight against climate change, which is currently one of the most pressing environmental issues.

My undergraduate years have been truly fruitful as I saw tremendous self-development and growth, and was given many opportunities to fuel my passion for the natural environment. I am an advocate of life-long learning, and very much hope to develop myself in the field of ecology.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cover Letter - Research Assistant

Here is my cover letter with interest to apply for the position of Research Assistant at the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI). This is written under the hopeful scenario that I have graduated in 2011 from Lifesciences major with Honours. I will be most appreciative if you guys can comment on possible inadequacies of it. My personal information has been changed for privacy, but the information of TMSI is real as it is a real local institute. Cheers!

Phong Chun Fong
Blk 701 Bukit Rambai St 70
#01-00 Singapore 700701
9123 4567

3 September 2011

Dr Michael Holmes
Deputy Director
Management Department
Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI)
14 Kent Ridge Road
Singapore 119223

Dear Dr Holmes

Application for the Post of Research Assistant

I am writing in response to the opening of the post of research assistant in the Marine Environment Department, as advertised on the website http://www.tmsi.nus.edu.sg on 2 September 2011. With my academic qualifications and relevant skills, as well as passion for the marine environment, I believe I will be able to contribute to the development of the institute.

I am a fresh graduate with a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Life Sciences (Concentration in Biology), from the National University of Singapore. Marine Biology has always been my area of interest and hence I did marine biology-related research when I undertook the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in Science (UROPS) which I brought forward to my Honours research as well. I am also proficient in hypothesis testing using biostatistical methods such as the paired t-test and one sample z-test, and familiar with laboratory techniques. That aside, I am an active volunteer with non-governmental pro-environment groups such as Team Seagrass and the Toddycats.

Besides being a meticulous and pro-active worker who has experience and a genuine interest in research of marine biology, I am also one who enjoys working in a team.

It is regionally and internationally recognized that TMSI is a centre of excellence for research and development in tropical marine science. TMSI also actively collaborates with academic, government and industrial sectors to achieve integrated marine science. As such I sincerely hope to be able to further develop my passion in this dynamic institute, and I believe that I will be able to contribute to the advancement of the institute with my skills and experience.

I have attached my resume for your kind reference and it would be my utmost pleasure to attend an interview with you at a convenient time. Please feel free to contact me via 9123 4567 or avril_kylie@hotmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you.

Warm regards,
Phong Chun Fong

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The art of resolving interpersonal conflicts

Where there's people, there's politics. Personally, I have heard this phrase too many times. Having worked in the customer service line in a couple of different companies, I cannot agree more with that phrase.

It is true that conflicts arise when there are interactions between people; as we have all learnt previously, ineffective communication results in warped interpretations of intended meanings, which leads to unhappy feelings and hence affects relations.

Of course, politics is not the only cause of interpersonal conflicts. Conflicting interests and general miscommunication between loved ones or friends, for example, can also lead to disputes or even heated arguments or fights. And what it takes to spark off a conflict may just be a word or gesture. Moreover, different people have different ways of dealing with conflicts and disagreements, which makes resolution of interpersonal conflicts difficult.

Personally, I am not one to get into direct confrontations with people I am not close to. This means that for example, I hardly get into sticky situations with my classmates or colleagues unless my limit is reached, which is really rare. However, I am guilty of "abusing" my roomie, who is my younger sister.

In times of stress especially, I tend to vent my frustrations on my younger sister which causes strain on our relationship for awhile. However, for us, the anger dies down after a day or two, and then we are back to very good terms again. For example, sometimes when I am stressed up, I would snap at her for simply talking on the phone while I am doing work. For myself, I know it is wrong to do that but my prideful personality forbades me to "bow down" and apologise to her. So I end up upsetting her when it wasn't her fault in the first place. On her part, I believe she knows my character, and so I noticed that she would leave me alone and stay out of my way when I am frustrated or stressed up, and when it's all over everything would just fall back into place again. I do wonder if this is the case for alot of people, as it could be human nature for one to take for granted people whom one is especially close to and know very well.

One may argue that siblings tend to know each other well enough to know how to handle conflicts that arise between themselves, but I would say that conflicts take alot of different forms and vary in level of seriousness. And because conflicts may eventually "make" or "break" a relationship, each and every conflict should be properly handled.

The skill of resolving interpersonal conflicts is therefore an art that is not easily grasped and definitely not easily practised. I believe it takes a reasonable level of EQ (emotional quotient) and experience for someone to be able to handle interpersonal conflicts in a reasonably apt manner. As for the former, one would most likely agree on the uncontrollability of it, since each individual's EQ level is pretty much determined upon birth. As for the latter, one could actually improve on his or her capability to handle interpersonal conflicts by working or interacting more with people, who are the perpetrators of interpersonal conflicts. This would help one to realise what goes in this world, and what doesn't, and hence develop interactive skills that works to resolve interpersonal conflicts.

Resolving interpersonal conflicts is truly an art worth learning. People tend to show their true colours in times of conflict, and knowledge of how different people deals with conflicts would help one evaluate or manage his or her interpersonal relationships or even relations with colleagues in the workplace.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why ES2007S? - Motivations and Expectations

"The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives", says Anthony Robbins (an American adviser to leaders).

Based on my interpretation, it means that how and what we communicate with others on an everyday basis goes a long way and eventually effects how fulfilling we would deem our own lives to be. I totally agree with that. It is not about using sophisticated, hefty language but about using simple words that bring ideas and intentions across clearly; and it is not about flaunting what we know in our conversations but instead about exchanging views which are relevant and apt to the conversations. Basically, effective communication promises a rewarding life.

Last December, I went on a community service trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia where I had the chance to experience a totally different culture and environment from Singapore. What impressed upon me the most was how body language is very likely the most powerful language that exists in this world. With just a simple smile, two strangers who just seconds ago were studying each other could reach a mutual understanding that both parties were harmless and that they were "friends", and with simple sign language, thoughts could be put across amazingly effectively as well. This showed me clearly that there exists universal standards that people all over the world have reached a consensus about, and really touched me because Singaporeans are in almost all aspects different from Cambodians, yet these universal standards still apply.

Human relations and interactions have always been one of my interests, especially those that involve communication between people of diverse backgrounds, whether in their fields of study or in their cultural upbringing. In fact, it is not just an interest, but something close to my heart. In my years of growing up, I find that having meaning in what I do is what keeps me going. And this cannot be achieved if I am not able to effectively communicate with people I come into contact with, because that is the channel through which one may reach a better understanding of the other party. One may wonder, so what has this kind of communication got to do with professional communication? I would say, of course it does; we are dealing with people afterall, whether it is orally (as in during job interviews, meetings etc) or via written works on paper. It is because of this desire to be able to understand what links different people together which in turn allows for effective communication that drives my enthusiasm and interest in this module.

And with this, I shall end my first ever serious blog entry (I am not one to blog about my feelings so this is my virgin attempt; it took me really long to get started because I had to get past a serious phase of inertia, simply because I was fretting over how to begin writing this..). I am definitely looking forward to future sessions of this module!