Our reflections of the entire attachment can be found here!
All in all, these 4 weeks of WOW! attachment has been a great learning experience for me, and I believe this is the same for everyone else. Throughout the course of this 4 weeks, not only did I have fun while exploring and learning more about the more common plant, animal and even fungi species found locally, I also gained many skills that I'm sure will continue to stay with me even after the end of WOW! attachment. These skills that I have gained, are skills that cannot be taught and learned in a classroom setting, and it is only through the true execution and experience of things that I am able to learn so many new things.
Content and/or skill I learnt the most of:
Content I gained the most of is knowledge of the different species. In order to complete the project, I had to read up on the many Science Centre Guidebooks to learn more about the common plant, animal and maybe even fungi species in Singapore. At the starting part of the project, Zihan and I also went around Singapore to visit the various parks and nature reserves to try to spot the species for ourselves.
The skill I learnt the most of, or to be exact, used the most during this 4 weeks is the use of Microsoft Excel. Even though Microsoft Excel may seem easy to use for some people, it certainly was quite a challenge for me at first. This was one of the first few times I had to use Microsoft Excel, so it took me some time to get used to the layout of the program. There were also some functions in Excel that I did not know about, and it was only after this attachment that I learnt about all these functions.
Most interesting observation of people at work in attachment organisation:
For me, I worked in the Level 4 office of Science Centre Singapore for most of the attachment. Despite going to Science Centre quite a number of times before, I have never been to the office section of Science Centre Singapore as it is out of bounds to normal visitors. Hence, the experience was quite interesting for me. Along with this, I have actually never ever been to a proper office before so this makes the experience even more exciting for me.
At the Science Centre Singapore office, the most interesting observation I made was that the working staff were generally quite free to do whatever they liked in the office. I have always expected offices to have a really strict set of rules for all staff to abide by, for example, no listening to music while working, no eating, etc. However at Science Centre, people were free to decorate their own working areas, and the staff were allowed to even turn on the radio to listen to music. We were also allowed to bring in food and drinks for breakfast or after lunch, etc.
Important traits necessary to do well and enjoy work:
I feel that the most important trait needed for one to enjoy work is to be passionate about one’s job. From Dr Andrew, we can see his passion for his job through the vast knowledge that he has about all the different species.
Another important trait needed to do well and enjoy work, I feel, is to build a good rapport with colleagues!
The attachment was filled with numerous experiences and can be split into 4 distinct parts. The first part is the introduction phase where we were exposed to the various requirements and expectations at the end of the attachment. The 2nd part is the exploration portion: we brainstorm on how we could get the most of the attachment and contribute to the best of our abilities. In this portion, we made targets for the entire attachment. The 3rd part is the action part. We went out to various places, and took pictures. The processing of the images is under this portion as well. The 4th part is the consolidation portion. This portion represents not only the merging of the documents into one spreadsheet but also the consolidation of our learning at Science Centre Singapore and the reflections on the various interactions and learning pointers we had received during the entire course of this attachment.
During the introduction phase, we were exposed to the various specifications that Dr Andrew had sent to the developers. It was a clear indication as to the things that we had to do as part of our contribution to the application. Though it was a clear cut assignment, we were still able to plan along the way and attempt to make full use of the opportunity. I thought that it simply good luck that Gloria and I shared similar thoughts about the project or attachment: we both wanted to contribute to the attachment to the best of abilities. Though the opportunities to slack off and simply submit a slipshod work at the end were aplenty, it was not considered as an option to us. We both simply wanted to help to contribute to the project and make the project succeed. In a sense, we wanted the project to work out as much as our mentors wanted it to succeed; even though we were simply temporary staff. We were introduced to our mentors and we discussed our interpretation of the task. The mentors were helpful and patient in guiding us and explaining to us things that we did not quite understand. They were eager to receive and hear our comments about certain areas as well. Perhaps it was due to the fact that they did not had a second opinion on the project from the time that it was formed and we represented, in a sense, the outlook or the opinion of the average user. That might not be entirely true as Gloria and I are both biology students and had prior knowledge as to the various the methods of classification. However, we still had unique point of views and showed to them what the possible questions to the project might be like. We might have seen what the entire application or the program will be about and what it would most likely do however, we might still have questions as to the feasibility as well as whether the application would even serve its purpose in the very first place.
In this phase, we comprehended the objectives of our project but at the same time, we were involved in the application too. It was essential that we understood the purpose of the application and how it would be used and who the target audiences are. The project requires us to create an electronic list of entries. This electronic list would be used to create a database of organisms which would in turn be used for an IPhone application. The application would be developed by another external company. We simply had to create the initial database on which the application would be based on. The program would also be done online, on the computer, besides the iphone application. To choose this list of entries, there are certain limitations. Firstly, it must be entries within the guidebooks that Science Centre has published. Science Centre has published a lot of guidebooks and a wide range of organisms were covered thus it was sufficient for our use. The next limitation is tied to the purpose of the application. The purpose of the application is to allow the average user to be able to recognize and identify organisms that they have met. This can be done either by simply searching using attributes given or taking a picture of the organism and matching it with a entry already inside the field guide (the name of the database of the application). With this purpose in mind, we had to ensure that the initial database of entries are entries that is commonly seen by the average person. The entries are thus limited in a sense that they have to be the common organisms seen by the average user. This list would require details on the entry level as well as the database level. On the entry level, the common name, the scientific name and a short description of the entry needs to be present. Photos of the entry need to be available as well, to allow the user to be able to recognize the entry the next time he/she sees it or to be able to match the entry to that whose picture he/she just took. Each entry should have link to websites that might give more information on that entry, allowing users with more interest in the entry to be able to find out more about it. On the database level, the entries need to be arranged in two different manners. This is so as there a two different option of searching through the field guide. The first method is through browsing based on the various categories and the second method is to select features of the organisms and thus arrive at the entry found in the database. Therefore, for the first method, a hierarchy chart needs to be created. This means that the entries all have to be grouped into certain categories. Such a chart is similar to the dichotomous key used in Biology except that it could have more than two options at each layer. For the second method, attributes would need to be defined. Each entry would then have its own value for each of the attributes. The entire database, when inputted into excel, would have multiple columns: common name, scientific name, description, name of the guidebook it was taken from, attribute values, hyperlinks to the photos, and hyperlinks to online resources.
Once we were clear of the various objectives and the purpose of the various “pieces” in for the database, we started thinking on way we could meet those objectives. This is the 2nd phase of our attachment, the exploration portion. We had to think of how best we could choose the species and enter those species. There were so many guidebooks, how are we going to browse through all of them and still pick out the significant ones? How are we about to measure the significance of the species? What is the yardstick for us to determine or decide if the entry is an entry worthy of a place in our database? Such questions were necessary for there were simply too many entries in the guidebooks and there were limitations as mentioned above. In this stage, we bounced ideas off each other, trying to find out which is the best gauge or yardstick. It was apparent here that our previous working relationship during the Temasek Academy Student’s Council Internship Program (TASCIP) was an advantage. We knew each other and have worked closely when we were part of the executive committee in TASCIP thus this “storming” session was a smooth and easy process. We did not have to try and get used to each other methods of brainstorming but we fell in sync and instinctively knew what each other meant when they mentioned something. It was a distinct advantage and a bonus for the project for such a relationship allowed a great deal of flexibility and heightens the effectiveness and efficiency of Gloria and myself. We reach a consensus that we should start browsing the guidebooks and the entries that stood out or entries that we remembered would be the entries that are significant enough. We then planned trips to parks and Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve to see organisms which the average user would most likely require the help of the field guide. We did not go to the areas where there might be a lot of organisms but rather went to the areas where people would go very often. This ensured that our objectives will be met and so that we would not deviate too far from our aims.
After the plans were made, we moved on to execute them, doing what we planned to do. This is thus the 3rd phase of our attachment; the action part. We browse through the various guidebooks looking for entries that caught our eyes. We explored our neighborhood and around the college for entries that fit our purposes. From there on, we went to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve to document a different type of entries, entries living in mangroves and freshwater sources. Following that, we went to the parks in Pasir Ris and at East Coast, keeping watch for entries that were common and significant enough to be included. In between these trips, we had review sessions with our mentors as well as between ourselves, to assess our current methods and to give ourselves time to reflect on the various methods that we have chosen to identify the entries and to include them into the list. In this phase, we also met with the developers together with our mentors. Though our project concentrated mainly on the creation of the database, we still needed to be aware of the way the application would be created. The application would form the basis of how the database would be created and the application might need to make certain modifications to allow all of the data in the database to be fully utilized. The developers also assigned some limitations to the application: each entry would only have 4-5 attributes values. That is grossly insufficient for certain entries would have up to 8 attributes values, for example the olive-backed sunbird would have attributes values for colours yellow, blue, black, for method of movement, flying, for habitat, urban areas, forest vegetation, for outer covering, feathers, for type of organism, bird. That’s a total of 8 values. For plants, the attribute values would be even more for it is required for the entry to account for the colours of the flowers and the fruits and the type of stem as well. Thus, it was important for us to meet with the developers for they are designing the program that would be used to harness the database that we are creating and they might also require certain information that we have to provide as part of our database. Through the meeting with the developers, it was apparent that our mentors had fully visulise the entire program and know what each portion needed to look like. My first look at the visuals for the application was without any complain, I thought the program was almost perfect. It was only after I started scrutizing all of the various pages of the visuals did I come up with certain points that were vaguely unclear to me. Dr Andrew had sent an email pointing out even more flaws in the visuals; much more than what I have came up with. It reminded me that experience in a certain field is required for that would instinctively tell one when an error has been made or look out for certain areas where errors could have been made.
The 3 phases took 3 weeks with the 3rd phase the longest among the first 3 phases. The last phase or the consolidation phase spanned over the rest of the attachment period. We had a rough list of entries and the documenting of the entries had to start. First, we had to scan the entries from the guidebooks. With the images, using an image recognition software, we would process the images from the guidebooks and thus it would allow us to select the text from the images and copy them directly into the excel spreadsheet. The images could also be extracted and enhanced using photoshop. The other elements of the final product like the attributes, hierarchy table, hyperlinks to the photos and the hyperlinks to external resources had to be done separately. Gloria and I then spilt up the jobs. I would scan the documents and after processing the images with the image recognizing software, I would send the documents over to her. She would be copying and pasting the entries information like the common name, scientific name and the description into an excel spreadsheet. I would then be processing the images to the images that we would be using for the application. Once the initial scanning was done, I starting entering the hyperlinks to the photos one by one, Gloria started making the description of the entries similar. This was required for the various entries came from different guidebooks and different ways of expressing the information was used thus, Gloria needed to standardized otherwise some entries would be phased in a totally different way from other entries and some entries would have much more information than some other entries. That could not be allowed to happen for all of the entries might have belonged to different guidebook but now they all belong to one single field book thus should have similar descriptions. I started on the attributes and the hierarchy table once I was done with the hyperlinks. Once Gloria finished making the descriptions similar, I merged all the spreadsheets together, the spreadsheet with the descriptions, the spreadsheet with the hierarchy table, the spreadsheet with the attribute values and the spreadsheet with the photo hyperlinks. While I was merging the spreadsheet, Gloria started searching for the hyperlinks to external resources and once she was done with that, I merged it together with mine and the final product was done. We had split up the roles to allow both of us to handle the part that we were best suited for. I was more inclined towards technology and could pick up how the various softwares worked very easily; I was also much faster with handling many things at once. Gloria was able to deal with the standardizing of the language much easier than I could. I was also much more organized in terms of thought and visualizing how each of the catergories should be like and therefore more suited to do the hierarchy table and the attributes. Besides, the standardization of the description was not an easy task and Gloria readily took up the job without any complain so, I had to do my part for the project as well. It was interesting to observe how we completed the task by splitting the roles so readily and easily. We did not have to compete to do things but merely tried to help out each other as we did our parts to complete the entire task. I think that it was due the mentality of both of us. We both wanted to complete the task to the best of our ability thus worked towards that goal; anything that needed to be done was done by the person who did not have anything to do presently or by the person who is able to do it most effectively.
Gloria and I did not hesitate to voice our opinions to each other and state if we thought that a certain action was done wrongly or if the action could be replaced by another action that would be more effectively. That level of frankness or truthfulness was very useful to allow us to work together seamlessly. This is a quality that teams had to reach to allow them to operate at the optimum level. This level of truthfulness is reflective of the level of trust one has in the other. I trusted Gloria to pull her weight in the project and do her part diligently and promptly. In turn, Gloria trusted that I would edit the photos or do the hierarchy properly and with a high level amount of effort. This mutual trust ensured that we did not need to look over our shoulders most of the time to check if the other person is doing his/her part properly and allowed us to concentrate fully on the various parts that we are assigned to do. This quality was an advantage in this project and helped us as well as Science Centre a great deal. This experience allowed Gloria and I to find out more about how we could together and raised our working relations and effectiveness to yet another level.
WOW! had given me the opportunity to find out more about myself; how trust in people to do the right things can go a long way in motivating them to do their best and increase the effectivness of myself and the team. It also allowed me to have an insight to the other ways companies worked and how relations between the person offering service and the person that wanted the service had to be courteous, no matter what the circumstances are, the one who loses his temper or cool would ultimately be the one who loses. Through WOW!, I understood how fragile the bond between the college and the external organization providing TA3 students the opportunity for an attachment are. If Gloria and I had made a bad impression by simply slacking off and not doing our best, there is no way our mentors would want to get the help of more students to work with them on a project. The hassle would have been too great, having to constantly check on the students and constantly correct them on areas that they needed to do or what they had done wrongly. Ultimately, they would have decided that they are better off doing it on their own. Our actions during the attachment might have been our best but that is what is expected of us. We might have done all that we could but nothing less is expected of us. It is therefore very important that TA3s do their best in the attachment and allow the future batches of TA3s a chance to continue having such opportunities. I am sure through my actions during the attachment, there would be one more opening for the next batch of TA3s to fill; for that, I am proud of my achievements during the attachment with Science Centre Singapore.