From Student To Programme Head
Dr Zhang Jianlin (right) pictured with Professor Roy Chandler (Cardiff University) and Assistant Director, Higher Education 1 (SIM GE), Ms Sylvia Yeo.
Life’s satisfaction comes from motivating students to excel and discover their potential. This is the teaching credo of Dr Zhang Jianlin (PhD Economics), Senior Lecturer at SIM Global Education (SIM GE) since year 2002. His passion for teaching has enabled him to go from student to Head of Programme for University of London International Programmes at SIM GE.
The China national’s own life too has been a learning journey of excellence since arriving in Singapore from Fujian, in late-1994 with the goal of improving his English and furthering his education.
In 1998, after some online research and recommendations from friends, he enrolled in a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Management course at SIM-University of London programme.
“I chose SIM because my friends in Singapore told me it was a recognised institution with brand recognition,” says Dr Zhang.
Strong Grounding In Economics
The rigorous course gave him a strong grounding in economics, management and finance. Dr Zhang graduated in 2001 with First Class Honours. As he was the only student in the course with this academic achievement, he was offered a full scholarship by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to pursue a Master of Science in Accounting and Finance in London.
During his Master’s programme, he was talent-scouted by Professor Diane Reyniers of the Department of Management, to teach economics to undergraduates for a year.
He returned to Singapore and worked in SIM while doing a PhD in Economics at the National University of Singapore. He received his doctorate in 2009.
Where Passion Meets Purpose
Dr Zhang, 42, says he was fascinated by UOL’s approach and philosophy in the management and teaching of Economics and related subjects. His own field of interest is Behavioural Economics (the study of economic decision-making with input from cognitive and emotional factors, and other psychological considerations).
When he was a student, his curiosity led him to ask lots of questions. He gained a great deal of satisfaction learning from his lecturers at SIM GE and the visiting lecturers from the UK.
“Now as senior lecturer, I derive even more satisfaction from sharing my experience, and motivating as well as helping students to excel in demanding degree courses.
“Students today have short concentration spans. During a three-hour lecture session, I walk around the lecture theatre and ask questions to engage them and keep them alert, or involve them in short mental exercises. If the students’ minds cannot be engaged during the lecture, they will soon reach for their iPads and iPhones,” he says.
Dr Zhang’s passion and dedication was recognised at SIM GE and he was was promoted to Head of Programme in 2013. He currently leads a team of full-time and associate lecturers who teach UOL programmes. Despite his busy schedule and huge commitment to oversee 7,000 UOL students across various degrees and foundation studies, he still continues to teach subjects related to economics and finance. Evidently, his passion for teaching continues to burn strong as he sometimes finds himself waking up at night to take note of new ideas that come to him.
“I used to struggle with studying the UOL programme 18 years ago as a student. I am now given the responsibility to help students excel in this prestigious academic programme. It makes me enormously proud when I see more and more students graduate with First Class Honours degrees in recent years. Not a day goes by without me thinking of ways to help my students learn better.”
Dr Zhang (right) with a student who he taught and mentored. She recently gained admission into the University of Oxford.
Making The Right Choice
Dr Zhang advises Poly graduates who plan to enrol in Bachelor programmes to ensure that the course they pursue is rigorous and recognised by prospective employers. He believes they should also pick courses that teach social and life skills and develop the potential of individuals.
“Students coming to private schools must be prepared for independent thinking. They should also be curious and not be afraid to ask questions, even challenge the lecturer's views occasionally,” he adds.
Besides teaching, Dr Zhang is also active in research work. He conducts scientific research in economics and is particularly interested in using laboratory and field experiments to understand behavioural economics. His research findings have been presented in many major economic conferences including the Econometric Society World Congress, one of the most prestigious economic conferences in the world.
Most recently his scientific research was published in the leading internationally refereed journal in economic science, Experimental Economics. Students taught by Dr Zhang are often fascinated by his passion to bring experiments into classrooms to shed light on abstract economic theories and concepts. He shares: “I challenge my students with my research problems and research findings. Through scientific research and publications, I hope to portray to my students that knowledge is not static; it evolves and changes every day. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that learning should take place with a critical and creative mindset. Coincidently, being creative and critical is also an important learning aspect of the UOL programme.”
— Some parts first published in The New Paper, Oct 19, 2011, revised and updated on Dec 13, 2016