Insights from an Insider: Joel Chin, Social Sciences School Valedictorian 2019

By the SMU Social Media Team

As a student in Raffles Junior College taking the subject combination of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Economics, Joel Chin was well aware that he was not as academically-inclined as many of his peers. “I scraped through my A-levels without a single A,” says the recipient of the DBS Bank School Valedictorian Award in Social Sciences 2019. “My highest grade was a B for Economics.”

However, this period of his education did give him valuable insights into the types of subjects that interested him, and the teaching styles he found engaging. He had done better in Economics because it was his favourite subject. “It was my first foray into the social sciences, and I liked how it provided a theoretical framework for understanding human behaviour,” Joel explains.

He decided to further his exploration in this area of study, and enrolled in SMU’s School of Social Sciences. During his time at the university, PSYC208 Evolutionary Psychology—which examines psychological structure through an evolutionary lens—became his favourite module. “I was taught by Associate Professor Norman Li, and the class sought to explain the causes behind many of the phenomena we experience in daily life. The subject was so interesting to me that I chose to do my senior thesis on it.”



Joel had chosen SMU because he was drawn to the university’s interactive pedagogy and seminar-style lessons. “A lecture system is not an ideal learning environment for me as it feels very impersonal,” he explains. “SMU’s small class sizes and a high faculty-to-student ratio was a perfect fit. The participative pedagogy sharpened my critical thinking skills, and I found it really riveting when the professors encouraged questions and debate during the seminars.”

Since graduating from SMU in 2019, he has become a first-year student in the Duke-NUS Medical School’s Doctor of Medicine programme.

“I am sure my psychology major will help me become a better doctor or whichever other path I may embark on in the future. You see, the social sciences teach us how to deal with people. Technical know-how is only really picked up on the job. But whether you are a lawyer, financial analyst or business leader, you always, and will always, deal with people.”

Joel describes his time at SMU as “the turning point in my academic journey”. His education in the social sciences at SMU helped to hone his ability to analyse issues from different multi-disciplinary perspectives, which he believes will be very important to his future career as a doctor. “To be a good doctor, it goes without saying that one must be competent in the hard sciences. However, it is becoming increasingly clear how important the social sciences are as well. My journey in SMU has allowed me to gain a better appreciation of the underlying social institutions and structures that affect our daily lives. With this information, I hope to be able to do what is best for my future patients.”

Outside of the classroom, Joel plunged into SMU’s vibrant campus life, and made good use of the university’s platforms for giving students a broader outlook. As part of the Singapore Universities Student Exchange Programme, he spent the first semester of his third year at the National University of Singapore. He then spent his second semester at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, under the International Student Exchange Programme. For his co-curricular activities, Joel took part in the SMU Eurhythmix and SMU Stereometa student clubs, and held the post of Event Director on the Arts and Cultural Fraternity’s 13th Management Committee.

As a member of the organising committee for Arts Camp, he even met the love of his life, who was on the same committee. That was undoubtedly the “number one highlight” of his SMU days, says Joel. “She has been and still is my greatest pillar of support, and I would not be where I am without her. Be it when I was feeling alone in Seoul, or during stressful times such as when I was preparing for my medical school admissions, she was always there for me.”

His community service with non-profit organisation HealthServe while he was an SMU student also made a great impact on him. “I worked one-on-one with migrant workers struggling to obtain work-injury compensation. Part of the work was about lending them a listening ear and accompanying them through this process,” Joel recalls. One day, a migrant worker visited him a day before his flight back to India. “He told me he was very grateful for my help, and that he would not have received his compensation otherwise. It was a truly humbling moment, as I realised the full extent of the impact of my work. Moments like these affirmed my passion for community service, and my decision to serve the community.”

For SMU students, he has this piece of advice: “Never settle. Be willing to explore the path less travelled, and stay true to yourself. Work hard for what you want, make use of the abundant resources that SMU has to offer. No matter what others tell you, you can achieve the things you want to achieve in life.”


Received your SMU Admissions offer? Common acceptance closes 24 May 2020. Accept your offer today.