The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore’s flagship university, is widely respected as a leading institution of higher learning. The department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, ChBE (I’m enrolled for PhD in ChBE only) attained World QS Rank 6 in the recent rankings! Infact it has consistently remained amongst Top 10 in the world on QS scale of Ranks. But ChBE is not the only option for Biotechnology/Biology background students to enrol for higher studies in NUS. Following are the departments one can get into at NUS for a Masters or PhD (with Biotech/Biology background):
1. Department of Biological Sciences
2. Department of Biochemistry
3. Department of Pharmacy
4. Department of Biomedical Engineering
5. Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Now, let me answer (or atleast help you people in deciphering) the very basic question: How to get into NUS??
I. COMPETITIVE EXAM (s)
Qualifying GATE BT is one of the best bets for getting into NUS for Indian students. Whereas getting admission in IITs requires a very high GATE percentile (above 95 percentile), getting into NUS requires a very modest percentile of 90 only! And, as per my experience, 90 percentile is really very easy to obtain in GATE exam (your rank often stand in 1500-2200 when you get 90 percentile or around) .
You might have some questions in your mind, about the qualifying exams; here are the answers to those obvious questions: (These answers are directly taken from NUS website, so you can trust them blindly 🙂 )
Do I sit for the GRE general or Subject test?
You should sit for the General Test
What is the approximate cut mark in GRE and TOEFL (IBT), should I get to have a fare chance in your institution?
We accept either GRE or GATE (Indian applicants only) scores. The minimum requirement for GATE is 90 percentile. Under the new format the minimum score for GRE should be Verbal Ability: 500 , Quantitative Ability: 700 and Analytical Writing: 3.5. We convert the Analytical Writing score to a scale upon 800 (ie. x/6 * 800) and total the scores for the three components- the sum total should be at least 1800.
The minimum TOEFL score for the IBT is 85. We can also accept IELTS results, for which the minimum score is 6. However, if your university course was taught in English, or English is your native language, you do not need to sit for the TOEFL or IELTS test. Most Indian applicants would therefore be exempted.
A*Star Graduate Scholarship (AGS)
AGS is a collaboration between A*STAR Graduate Academy (A*GA) and NGS. It comprises a four-year PhD study tenable at NUS and the PhD degree is awarded by NUS.
It’s for the candidates who are Permanent Residents or nationals of ASEAN countries and are expected to take up Singapore citizenship.
- Singaporeans and other nationals intending to take up Singapore Citizenship.
- Applicants must satisfy criteria for and seek admission into NUS PhD programme.
- Applicants must have obtained at least a Second Upper Class Honours Degree or its equivalent in relevant disciplines.
- Applicants must have good ‘O’ and ‘A’ level track records. Polytechnic students with a Diploma with Merit will also be considered.
- Applicants with a strong interest in a research career are preferred.
- Applicants may submit GRE scores (if available) to be included in the overall assessment of their scholarship application.
Full details can be found over here.
II. TALK TO FACULTY
Before getting into the application process, it’s strongly recommended that one browses through the faculty profile of the department he is interested in and contacts the faculty member (under whom he/she wishes to do PhD). Express your research interest and the will to do PhD under the faculty (through e-mail). If possible, do propose a project in the email. If the faculty expresses his/her interest, then you can mention the same in your application form and this will almost ensure you a PhD position in NUS (this is the roadmap that I followed and currently I’m pursuing PhD at National University of Singapore). Following are the links to the details of the faculty members of various departments:
- Faculty List of Department of Biomedical Engineering
- Faculty List of Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
- Faculty List of Department of Biological Sciences
- Faculty List of Department of Pharmacy
- Faculty List of Department of Biochemistry
III. GET A STRONG LOR (LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION)
While you should emphasize on getting a strong letter of recommendation from some well renowned/recognized scientist (could be someone from the institute you pursued your internship or someone known in CSIR/IITs or even some recognized scientist of your own institute), but make sure that one of the recommenders must be from the institute you have studied (don’t use all LORs from the scientists out of your institute; atleast one LOR should be from the faculty of your own institute).
IV. ATTEND SOME WORKSHOP/CONFERENCE
Your extra-curricular profile plays an important role in deciding the fate of your “interview”. Candidates with poster presentation experience and publications in their kitty, tend to be preferred for the admission as opposed to those who lack such experience. So, it’s recommended that you should try to participate and present (a poster atleast, which is easy to get qualified for) in some conference/workshop to strengthen your resume and hence the application.
V. CHOOSE THE INTAKE BATCH WISELY
Though it’s might sound trivial, I have a belief that the January intake batches can be relatively easier to crack as compared to the Aug-Sep Batches. Reason is very straightforward-almost every student in India (and abroad) finishes his/her degree in June-July months. So, most of them tend to apply for the September batches for immediate commencement of their higher study. This tends to burgeon the competition level for September intakes as compared to the relatively less targeted January intakes of NUS. So, my personal suggestion would be that apply for January intake and prepare well till that time 🙂
VI. APPLY IN TIME
Donot delay your application! That in my view is an extremely important deciding point for a ‘quality application’. If you are going to start preparing for the application process (getting LORs etc) quite late, then most probably you might end up with poor quality LORs and wrongly filled forms, topped with anxiety of delivering the form in time! So, try to start filing your application as soon as possible without lingering.
VII. BE AWARE OF THE INTERVIEW FACTS
Interview for PhD is quite easy to crack (if you can contain your anxiety). There are some well defined and easy questions that are asked almost every time; and those who can answer with true grit and confidence, often make it to PhD at NUS. Following are some of the questions you should expect from the interview panel:
1. So, Mr./Ms. XYZ please tell us about yourself.
2. Can you tell something about your University/Institute?
3. We can see that you have worked on this project (your internship), tell us about your project and why you chose that?
4. Tell us about your research interest.
5. Why are you interested in NUS, when IITs are already there in India?
6. What if we don’t have a project matching your research interest? Would you still like to join us?
The way you answer these questions is going to decide whether you’ll reach NUS or not 🙂
But before the interview, there is a small test on English comprehension, writing and Aptitude (a small weight-age is given to that part as well, apart from interview). But that part shouldn’t worry you much, as long as you are sound in English 🙂
VIII. CAN YOU AFFORD YOUR OWN EXPENSES?
If you can afford your own expenses at NUS (don’t need any scholarship) then do mention the same in your application form (it will really boost your chances of selection even if your profile is not that strong. Scholarship based positions are often open for best in class candidates, but if for some reasons, you don’t owe an exceptional profile, but can spend the money to support your education (in the event of unavailability of scholarship position), then you can boost your chances of selection by ticking the check box that you would like to be considered for the position even if a scholarship isn’t available to support your education at NUS.
These were some of the tips which I deem important for consideration. For any other doubt/query, feel free to leave a question in comments section.
All the Best!
PhD, Systems Biology (Computational Biology)
National University of Singapore