MT 2018 report and plans for 2019

Tue Jan 01 2019


In this post, I'll first report on new things that have happened since my last annual review. These are: I completed my internship at IMDA, finished MT 2018 (Microeconomics and Political Sociology), and am on a month-long trip to the US. I'll take stock of my personal development since the last annual review. Finally, I'll lay out plans for the New Year and set some New Year's resolutions.


Month What I did
Jul 18 IMDA internship, Algorithms self-study
Aug 18 IMDA internship, Algorithms self-study
Sep 18 IMDA internship, Algorithms self-study
Oct 18 MT 2018: Micro, PolSoc, applied for internships
Nov 18 MT 2018
Dec 18 Trip to the US: Boston, Colby, LA, Roseville, SF

Overview of last year

In a departure from my previous posts, I want to give special attention to the failures in my life. I generally maintain a healthy optimism about my life and my future prospects. But I think it's important to highlight my failures, both for myself and for readers of this blog: firstly, because I want to be honest about why I failed, identify areas of improvement, and chronicle whether I've been able to learn from my mistakes and apply these lessons to future situations; secondly, because it strikes me as dishonest to talk selectively about my successes and not about my failures. I'm going to place the things that I failed at front-and-center before talking about anything else.

Things that went badly

Did badly for prelims

With a 73/69/52 (Philosophy/Politics/Economics), I failed to get the 200 required for a Distinction in the Prelims.

This was due to very poor performance in the Economics prelims. Largely due to poor question selection. I had prepared extensively for the prelims, doing all the past-year papers that were available to me on Weblearn, and consulting with my graduate mentors. I was well prepared for the exam. Unfortunately, I chose the first question which involved a kinked demand curve, did not realise it was kinked, and thus completely bungled the entire question, which had knock-on effects on the rest of the paper.

My choosing the wrong question can be boiled down to hubris. Generally, questions on demand tend to involve very little explanation and writing. The alternative was to do a question on downstream monopoly, where the analysis is easy but you have to write quite a lot. I chose the question on demand because I was aiming to get a 80 on that question. But this strategy was high-variance and I failed.

It would have been much smarter to take the lower-variance question, particularly in such a high-stakes exam. This is a lesson well learned, thankfully in Prelims rather than in FHS.

Despite my poor performance in Econs, I am very happy with my performance in Philosophy and Politics. In Philosophy I placed in the 99th percentile with a score of 73. Two people outscored me with a score of 75. This was due to my extensive preparation on Logic, in particular the Natural Deduction section, which allowed me to score a 77 on question 4 (just shy of a perfect score), and an overall score of 76 in the logic section.

I also wrote a First-class essay (72) on moral responsibility ("Moral responsibility solely depends on what actually happened, not on what could have happened"), in which I gave an argument delineating being physically free to perform an action vs being mentally free, and argued that Frankfurt's "higher order volition" account gives us a good starting point to ascribe moral responsibility. I wrote a competent essay (69) on Mill's conception of higher and lower pleasures, in which I gave an argument I had thought about extensively about the arbitariness (and circularity) of trying to define higher and lower pleasures.

In Politics I placed in the 86th percentile with a score of 69, which I am also happy with. I wrote First-class essays (73) on paternalism ("Is it permissible for the state to make pleasurable drugs illegal?")---where I used Berlin's conception of positive and negative freedoms, then Dworkin's defense of paternalism on the grounds that taking addictive drugs restricts one's positive liberties---and party attachments ("Why are party attachments in decline") (dealignment due to industrialisation and cognitive mobilisation). I wrote a competent (68) essay on democracy ("Does a country require anything more than competitive elections to be democratic?") (yes, but it depends). However, I scored a 62 for "Should civic engagement be discouraged?", which is surprising, as I thought that essay was well-written.

Overall, I prepared enough for my Prelims, and was let down not by inadequate preparation but by hubris leading to poor question selection. I will be more humble in the future, preferring low-variance questions especially in my next exam, which will be make-or-break..

Rejected from big companies for technical internships

As part of my plan to get a software engineering internship, I sent in my resume to all the usual suspects and got nothing but rejection.

This is a bit problematic as I don't know which one of the (many) things is blocking me. It could be my nationality (not a US citizen: require visa sponsorship), my choice of degree or my resume.

Failed my first technical interview

Due to the fact that I didn't practice enough and was rusty. I got the algorithm right away, just couldn't implement it confidently. A persistent problem is that while in Oxford, I don't have much time to practice my coding.

Long-distance relationship difficulties

This was caused by my not replying promptly to messages, partially because I sometimes miss out messages and partially because I try not to look at my phone when doing work. I can improve on this by being more overtly interested in my partner's life and replying more promptly.

Didn't put enough effort into Microeconomics

Zheng Hong had a decent term. He was understandably very busy (preparing for his thesis in Pol. Soc.) and did not spend as much time on micro as I would have liked him to.

That said, it was apparent in the tutes that he has a good grasp of most of the material. If he gives himself enough time to revise, he should do well. Just remember one thing: understanding the material is one thing. Knowing what is being asked and knowing how to respond to (exam) questsions well is another. Please look at past exams and specimen papers. Practice on those. Get feedback from grad mentors.

He is very creative on the essay writing front. That sometimes works really well, but it can also sometimes work against him if his approach happens to be too complicated (or possibly wrong). E.g. I'm thinking of the insurance market essay in which he attempted an analytical solution to the problem --- but it would have been much easier to approach it graphically.

  • Effort: Not specified
  • Achievement: Not specified
  • Estimate of Term's work: Not specified

Things that went well

IMDA internship

As part of the terms of my scholarship contract I am obligated to do two eight-week internships with IMDA. I managed to compress them both into one summer.

I absolutely loved this internship. It was largely self-directed. I was able to explore the different types of blockchain, implement an instance of a Hyperledger blockchain, then build a fully-automated, 60cm by 120cm diorama (with a model train, trees/water/rocks/doodads, a Raspberry Pi and a DigitalOcean server) that showed a "real-world" application of the blockchain. [1]

Algorithms self-study

I worked through the Coursera Algorithms Specialisation taught by Tim Roughgarden from Stanford.

The Algorithms specialisation was great: thanks to Professor Roughgarden, I learned many "greatest hits" such as quicksort, Dijkstra's, Knapsack, 2SAT and TSP. The "algorithmic toolbox" techniques such as divide-and-conquer, dynamic programming, reducing-to-graph-search and heuristic approaches to NP-complete problems were also incredibly enlightening. I uploaded my solutions to the problems on Github.

This was the hardest course I have taken on Coursera. If I were to rank the courses I have taken by difficulty, it would be as follows:

  1. Algorithms Specialisation
  2. N2T II
  3. Machine Learning
  4. Rest of the courses

I also worked through Competitive Programmer's Core Skills offered by St Petersburg's, which was good for me as it solidified my understanding of the algorithms learned in Tim Roughgarden's course.

Political Sociology

ZhengHong has performed at the highest possible level in this module. His coverage and understanding of the materials, his committed attitude, his constant improvement on the econometric side of the paper, and the quality of his written work were First class. ZhengHong is planning to write a thesis on quantitative political science topic, so the effort he made in Pol Soc will be very helpful later on. Two things concern me, though, at this point. First, the level of nuance and sophistication that ZhengHong is able to show in his tutorial essays will be difficult to replicate in an exam setting. He will need to practice exam writing under timed conditions (at home and in Collections), and learn how to be more selective in his arguments and critical engagement with the literature. Second, I hear from Economics that the extra effort he put into Pol Soc came at the cost of investing in Microeconomics. Zhenghong should remember that all papers need to be mastered in order to get a First, and that, as he very well knows, technical papers are not necessarily always the most straightforward.

  • Effort: Excellent
  • Achievement: Excellent
  • Estimate of Term's work: 1

I spent a lot of time on reading and crafting the essays in Political Sociology, and thus did very well in the module. However, I didn't spend enough time revising the material: I only really revised four topics out of eight. The four topics I revised were:

  1. Class
  2. Attitudes towards welfare
  3. Turnout
  4. Media

I'm not sure when would be a good time to start revising the other topics since this term I have Theopol and Macro to do. Maybe they'll have to wait until next year.

Planning for the next year

Values & Purpose

"Your deeper, underlying, fundamental values and wants. Your philosophy of life. Your sense of purpose, vision and meaning."

  • What do I want out of life?
  • How do I want the world to be different?
  • What is my philosophy of life?
  • What are my fundamental values?
  • What do I truly value?

No comments here.

Contribution & Impact

"How you give value to the world, make a difference, and have a positive impact."

  • How am I giving value to the world? How much value?
  • How much money did I give away in the past year?

I am currently not in a place to give much value to the world as a whole, but I hope to make the lives of those close to me better.

Location & Tangibles

"Your physical presence in the world. Where you are in the world. Your living situation. Your stuff. What you own and why. Your material sufficiency. Your mobility."

My physical presence in the world is constrained by my circumstance. But Oxford is an absolutely wonderful place to be in.

My living situation is good. I'm happy to be living with Oskar and Rayhan but I hope that they will be spending more time in their rooms instead of being at Richard's.

I don't own much stuff, but a lot of cooking stuff. Cooking is something I derive lots of joy from.

Money & Finances

In 2018, IMDA gave me a $29,000 living allowance and in 2017, IMDA gave me a $9,400 living allowance and a $2,800 one-time settling allowance. This is pegged to PSC rates so I basically get ~14k per 6 months.

At the moment, I have no money in my Singapore bank account, but 6000 pounds in my GBP account. This is meant for the following three terms: HT 2019, TT 2019 and MT 2019.

I have not allocated any money for the vacation terms: I suspect I'll spend a lot of money during some vacations, and very little during the others. Not sure how much to allocate for vacations.

I have 30 days of vac res.

This vacation, I've spent 2000 pounds on my month-long US trip.

I have been able to save 15,000 SGD in total: these constitute my life savings. This money has been put into VOO (Vanguard's S&P 500 ETF) and will remain for the next few decades.

This year I'll receive another ~28,000 SGD. I'm not sure what percentage of this allowance I should save, and what percentage I should spend. Maybe 8000 SGD for vacations (Easter, summer and winter break), and save 20,000 SGD.

Career & Work

Scholarship is going well, internship finished.

Now need to find a summer internship but that hasn't been going so well as mentioned.

Health & Fitness

This year hasn't been good for that.

No good because I got a girlfriend, then prepared for Prelims, then IMDA internship, then moving to Hollywell 59: all disrupted the habit of going to the gym. Habits are very important here so it's important to start cultivating automatic habits. My sleep schedule is not good. It tends to dri ft later and later due to akrasia and hyperbolic discounting.

The biggest thing I can do to fix all these problems is to fix a wake time every day to go to the gym. This will simultaneously solve my sleep schedule problems and my not-going to the gym problems.

Education & Skill Development

I didn't go to lectures as much as I'd liked to this Michaelmas. I will go to the Macro lectures in Hilary.

Did well by starting a flashcard habit for PolSoc.

Can do better by starting a flashcard habit for Micro.

Next term also do flashcards for TheoPol and Macro.

Coding skill development: virtually none. What can I do about this? How can I study computer science while doing my degree full-time? Doing one problem of Leetcode every day is a start, but I haven't been able to stick to it---ever!

Social Life & Relationships

I am learning a lot about how to be a better, kinder, and more selfless person in my relationship with Judy. There are certain

Being in Hollywell 59 generally being lazy. Not good---meet more people in Hilary

Emotions & Well-being

I am generally rather optimistic about my prospects, and am quite happy with my relationships.

Character & Identity

  • Self-discipline: not ideal. Procrastination, laziness, passivity.

Productivity & Organisation

It was a good idea to do flashcards for PolSoc---it helped very much during my revision.

Productivity suffered this term. I need to cultivate good working habits; I have such a nice room but never do any work in it. I need to make my room a good place to do work.

This year, I'll look into Pomodoro timers as a means of tracking and ensuring my productivity. I am going to make a list of daily habits, which I'll make sure I track with some sort of app. Something like this:

Things to do every day

  1. Flash cards (throughout the day)
  2. Go to the gym
  3. Do two pomodoros' worth of Macro
  4. Do two pomodoros' worth of Theopol
  5. Cook dinner
  6. Call girlfriend
  7. Do one pomodoro's worth of leetcode or whatever
  8. Do one pomodoro's worth of job searching/resume pimping

Adventure & Creativity

OXCAR I am very bad. Need to learn how to sight read and how to sing intervals.

Interval training---never kept up the habit. How can I inculcate that properly into my daily routine?

Start practicing piano?

Do I want to do ballroom dancing with Rosanna?


Strong gains in:

  • Money and Finances,
  • Social Life and Relationships

Some progress in:

  • Education and Skill Development
  • Productivity and Organisation
  • Career and Work
  • Adventure and Creativity

Lack of significant progress, or regress, in:

  • Health and Fitness

I'm happy with my progress in most respects. This is good! I am happy and have an optimistic attitude towards the future and what it may bring. I love everything about living in Oxford as a student. In Oxford I can enjoy the magnificent buildings, experience the joy of learning new things and gaining new knowledge, improve my experience and skill in cooking, and sing and play with my friends.

The main things I want to achieve are:

  1. Secure a summer internship at a job that I enjoy
  2. Keep learning to become a better person through my relationship
  3. Cultivate productive and healthy daily habits to make doing deep work easy.
  4. Use my skills and time to improve the mood and well-being of the friends around me.

  1. I pledge to write up a blog post about this internship project by 31st January 2019. ↩︎