For other reviewed modules, please check here.
(Alternate Title: PS3249 – Pretty much what it says on the tin. But this is the tin title! *mindblown*)
This was another one of those mandatory modules for PS that one needed to clear (it was either this, GPS (Governance and Politics in Singapore) or PAS (Public Administration in Singapore). Since I hadn’t done either GPS or PAS and SFP seemed pretty interesting (not to mention critical for any PS student interested in IR), I hopped on this right away.
What I expected
A run-down of Singapore’s diplomatic relations, strategies and well, past/present/future foreign policy. It’s supposed to be focused on Singapore after all – a subject matter which I lacked experience in, so I went in with little expectations of what to, well, expect.
What I got
A very clear and at times creative interpretation of foreign policy theory and practice. Taught by Prof Deepak (who’s incredibly sharp and yet knows how to tactfully defuse situations with er….clueless or misguided students), one briefly looks at the history of Singapore’s independence and how that shaped Singapore’s foreign policy before systematically looking at her relations with neighbouring countries as well as regional and global powers. Some unique aspects of practice are nicely theorized and Prof Deepak substantiates his points very well based on both anecdotal and actual diplomatic excerpts from the Little Red Dot. Having taught this module for a significant period of time, it’s obvious that he’s familiar with the course material from one’s conversations with him, yet he’s kind enough to tactfully guide discussion in tutorials when students don’t quite know what to say or have had their smokescreen pierced through with his insight.
In short, this module offers a very good platform for those that have learnt some IR theories (although it’s not a prerequisite, since the focus is more on application and even then it’s slightly more comparative than general theory-driven) but want to see what it looks like from Singapore’s perspective, which is often lacking in IR theory considerations. Indeed, there is much which the practice of foreign policy can inform theories relating to international relations, and even as someone that has taken many IR modules (relative to mods in other subfields anyway) there is much that I’ve learnt here which weren’t covered in other mods.
[Webcasted?] Nope, only for the one make-up lecture scheduled at an unfortunate time. Aside from that, nope.
[Course Materials?] All PDF readings – yay for saving money!
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Tutorial Participation: 20%. This includes preparing and executing a debate between two groups of three on a particular topic for one week – Prof Deepak uses this to flesh out the other concepts he wishes to touch upon for that tutorial session while ensuring that the obvious points are covered and arrived upon by students themselves instead of having it spoonfed to them. For the amount of work…yea, 20% to 25% sounds about right. Do take note that there are assigned readings occasionally outside of the required lecture readings for these tutorials though – and they are SUPER important to do. Because the debate’s going to be fast and furious (and the discussion thereafter even more so), everyone’s going to be trying to bring in their points and if one doesn’t know what to talk about he’ll gently ask if you have anything to say about it as a cue to, well, let you speak your piece. So prep well and you can generally hold your ground for this segment.
- Essay: 40%. At approx 3k words, this essay was ‘timed’ – i.e. not released at the start of the semester and due within a few weeks. Along with unusual questions or questions requiring in-depth knowledge/research, it was…one of the toughest papers I’ve ever prepared for. Two nights of 3-4am research just to gather all the empirical evidence I needed so I actually had something to write about was not fun, but at least I know I did my best for that paper. At 40% you also can’t afford to screw this up, so try to clear other papers you can before this is released and hit the ground running so you don’t trip and fall down.
- Finals: 40%. 4C2 questions and the PYPs are fairly helpful in this regard to figure out what his style of asking questions is like. At an essay an hour, it’s not too bad, but because it’s less open-ended than say, a question on international ethics, one really needs to have case studies and knowledge of the course’s readings at the back of their hand when they head in for this paper. Otherwise you’ll be grasping at straws trying to build a case as time ticks away for a 40% weightage paper – not fun.
I would say the workload for this module is fairly light – generally two, rarely three, readings per week. Topping out at 80 pages max, it also helps that they are pretty interesting and shed light into less well-known aspects of Singapore’s history/diplomacy. Maybe an hour to an hour and a half is required for lecture prep every week, but including the time taken to do tutorial prep, you’re looking maybe at three and a half hours every two weeks? This excludes the time required for essays of course.
I researched and wrote my ass out for the paper and…didn’t receive a formal grade on it. Like I got an email saying ‘I’m pleased to award this paper a good grade’ from whoever marked it, but I felt a bit too pai seh to ask whether that was an A- or an A. So I’ll just assume it’s an A-. Assuming it was an A- and given that my tutorial participation was about average….I had expected maybe 50% B+ 40% A- 10% A?
Somehow I ended up with an A, which is…pretty surprising, considering the topic I was best prepared for (diplomatic practice) didn’t actually come out for the final’s questions. Neither did my essay seem particularly good, so…yea… “And there, but for the grace of God, goes I…”
Conclusion & Tips
I think of the three mandatory PS modules as being this way: GPS is for those interested in CP, PAS is for those intersted in GPP/PA and SFP is for those interested in IR. So if you’re leaning towards IR like me, definitely do SFP to clear your mandatory module basket. Honestly I’d have done it even if it wasn’t part of that basket because it seems pretty damn essential to any PS/IR student from SG anyway – the fact that the module is really useful, interesting (Prof Deepak loves showing videos and they were widely appreciated/enjoyed by the class) and well taught is a sweet bonus. Neither is it a killer module either in workload or assessments so…go for it!
- It might help (although I hasten to add I did not do this as it occurred to me as an afterthought) to come up with a list of questions for each tutorial’s debate so you have a hand in guiding the discussions which follow. Also read through the required readings that the debate team would be tasked to read, because then you’ll be less clueless and a lot more able to stand at where they’re standing (intellectually speaking, anyway) and engage them/others during the discussion round. The Prof was nice enough to not call me out on my smokescreen when I fluffed him in the first tutorial – I learnt from that awkward moment and always made sure to do my tutorial prep before each tutorial thereafter.
- Consult him at least once (preferably twice) regarding your essay – once if you want to let him know what you’ll be working on, he gives some research suggestions and the second time just as a courtesy update and potential flaws in one’s thinking that may need changing (which may be reflected in changes in the final essay). Similar to many other profs, he doesn’t do reviews of drafts due to it being unfair to other students that don’t write as many drafts and send them in, to mention nothing of the increased workload for him. But he’s willing to probe some areas which one brings up and offer some suggestions as to where one may look, so a consult with him will definitely be fruitful even if one kinda knows what they’ll be doing. Nothing like having the prof call your blind spots out so you don’t end up being penalized for it in the final paper.
- Do your notes well for the finals – you might be wondering how to prepare for the finals given the requirements/suggestions I’ve mentioned above. Well, draw out the case studies of each relationship studied, take note of particular examples which demonstrate whatever’s being discussed most prominently (law of diminishing returns applies here – you don’t need ten examples in your writing but you’re going to need at least one to make your point, and you want to have that at the back of your hand) and commit them to memory so they’re recallable and NOT derivable during the exams. Like yes, sometimes we’re lazy to memorize and we just want to derive from what we know, but this isn’t physics/maths where you can derive from first principles. Sometimes the good examples are obscure, or the examples one recalls have obscure links to the point one’s trying to make, so recalling and not deriving them will help you best when you’re stressed and short on mental bandwidth.