Undergraduates can go direct to PhD with new SUTD programme

Only 20 out of the 500-strong incoming cohort will be offered the Singapore University of Technology and Design Honours and Research Programme from May 2019, when the first school term begins.
Only 20 out of the 500-strong incoming cohort will be offered the Singapore University of Technology and Design Honours and Research Programme from May 2019, when the first school term begins.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new programme will allow the brightest students here to do research on top of their regular academic load, and upon graduation, jump straight into their PhD.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) said the programme is selective - only 20 out of the 500-strong incoming cohort will be offered the SUTD Honours and Research Programme (Sharp) from May 2019, when the first school term begins.

In a media briefing on Thursday (Jan 10), the university said students have to score at least two H2 As in Mathematics and a Science subject in the A levels, or the equivalent for other qualifications, to be considered.

The programme is open to both engineering and architecture students. SUTD said it is looking to double the Sharp intake in future years.

Each student will receive a $15,000 grant, half of which is directly for their research project and the other half for conferences and such.

An SUTD spokesman said Sharp students could do about 10 hours of research each week.

A faculty member will provide one-to-one research supervision and mentorship, but the students can apply for internships at both local and overseas research institutes as well.

By the end of the 3½-year programme, the students will need to have completed research projects and a research thesis.

The regular undergraduate programme is also 3½ years long.

There is also an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme for other students, but the Sharp programme is more structured, the SUTD spokesman added.

SUTD president Chong Tow Chong said: "Sharp aims to equip students with deep critical thinking and problem-solving skills that help them think out of the box, to come up with original solutions or ideas."

Students in the programme will graduate with a bachelor's degree in either engineering or science, and have the option of applying to take up a direct PhD in engineering or architecture, or masters in engineering (research).

They must maintain a core GPA of 3.5 out of 5 at the end of their first year to stay in the programme, among other criteria.

The university has received about 50 applications since it started accepting them in December last year. Applications close in March this year.

Mr Ethan Leng, 19, an engineering science student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic who will be graduating this May, recently received an acceptance letter to enrol in the Sharp programme in 2021, after he completes his national service.

"This programme will give me a head start - I will get to start exploring research fields earlier and decide on a specialisation earlier," he said, adding that he is likely to take up the offer.

He specialised in electrical engineering during his poly days and is interested in doing research in the field of electronics.

On Thursday, Professor Chong also announced changes in the engineering degree programmes which are meant to create more flexibility for the university's minor programmes, of which there are currently seven on offer.

The university will now give engineering undergraduates more freedom to choose electives that they can take as minors.

With this, students no longer need to overload, or take at least two additional courses, to secure their minor.

The university said it will also be expanding its grade-free system in a bid to place less emphasis on examinations.

One academic year in SUTD spans three terms, and students typically take four courses per term.

Currently, first-year students' grades for courses taken in their first term do not count towards their GPA.

From May 2019, first-year students can choose two additional courses to have their grades dropped over the second and third term.

Said Prof Chong: "We want to give incoming students greater flexibility and ease in pursuing their interests and broaden their knowledge and hands-on experiences... while de-emphasising the focus on academic grades."