Saturday, December 30, 2006


This probably comes 3 months too late for Teachers' Day (in Singapore). But I dedicate the last post of 2006 to my ex-teachers. For without them, I won't be in where I am today.

Funny, I don't think I have changed that much since then. I am still learning a lot from my peers.

May the New Year bring forth more challenges and rewards.

Two-Body Problem revisited

loiseaurebelle quotes from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has family, colleagues and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood.


In Prague she was dependent on Tomas only when it came to the heart; here she was dependent on him for everything. What would happen to her here if he abandoned her? Would she have to live her whole life in fear of losing him?

lr: This, I think, is the reason why your friends' gfs won't want to move.

tk: My ex's reason, other than her bond, was similar - what do u want me to do in the USA?

Edit (Jan 4): Kevin's case.

Kitchen vs. Lab; Men and Women as friends

From Ms.PhD:

Top ten reasons why I like my kitchen better than my advisor's lab

1. I decide what equipment there is.

2. The equipment is always available.

3. I can go almost any time of the year, with my own money, and get any supplies or additional equipment I want or need.

4. There is a dishwasher.

5. I don't have to repeat experiments. Whether they worked or not. Unless I feel like it. And even then, only when I feel like it, and not because they didn't turn out looking pretty enough.

6. I decide who is there with me.

7. If there is something I want to do that I've never done before, there are probably instructions somewhere on the internet.

8. It is not a competition.

9. If I bring my experiments to other places for people to evaluate, nobody asks, "Whose kitchen did you make this in?" before they decide whether or not they like what I've done.

10. I can cook if I feel like it, and if I don't feel like it, that's okay. We can always eat out.

and Gilbert Koh:

Men and Women Can't Be Friends

Now when I was a kid I watched a movie
called "When Harry met Sally" which I suppose
must be some kind of classic by now.
I think it was Harry who said to Sally, or
maybe it was Sally who said to Harry,
that men and women can't be friends
because sex gets in the way.
It's sad that this is true, because right now
as I sit and talk to you, I'm wondering
what you look like in the nude.
Because you look really sexy today.
My girlfriend would hit me if she knew,
and your boyfriend would hit me if he knew.
You would hit me too if you knew,
or maybe you'd be flattered.
But anyway the point is I can't stop wondering
what you look like in the nude.
I'm not going to kiss you or hug you or
touch your breasts or anything like that.
But I really can't or won't stop wondering
what you look like in the nude.
And maybe this is why men and women
can't ever be friends.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Elia's entry reminded me of this poem I first came across in a glossy Brown University Undergraduate Admisssions booklet almost a decade ago.

By Constantine P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Maybe that is why we still keep up with events back home despite having gotten out. We are the Singaporean Diaspora, and we know the downside of caring too much.

2007's Resolutions

1. Believe in love. It seems to be getting harder as one grows older. Especially in a circle like mine. The sex ratio has improved somewhat in one year, but you don't shit where you eat, do you?

Under the glow of the lamps, i sat beside a very young teenage couple - the girl was in her school uniform, she had bubble tea as well in her hand, an arm around her waist and a nose in her hair. In her bedroom, she probably have a photo of themselves, him looking down at her and she staring back at him, heart shaped objects flitting in the air above her head. Above his might have been question marks and a thought bubble that went 'yea right'. But that's the thing about first crushes, you don't question it at all. You don't second guess it. You don't doubt it. You don't get cynical about it. You don't tell yourself to take it slow. Basically, you don't bring baggage to it. You let it play out just the way you instinctively believe it must be done and live the regrets later. One might have sighed and smiled at that picture of puppy love, i'm sorry but i felt only revulsion and a touch of sadness.

Unfortunately we are no longer 18 (or 16?).

2. Outline the draft of my dissertation. Plenty of work remain undone, but it is good to set the broad direction of how I want my research to go.

3. Pass my Ph.D penultimate year review. I am expecting hell from one of my committee members.

4. Start networking with potential employers proper: company representatives and National Lab Lead Researchers. There are two conferences I will want to attend this coming year, and there is no better place (and time) to showcase my work.

Other news:

This is the season of getting hitched. I have 4 friends getting married this month, and I know of 4 more (so far) for next year. The army regulars seem to be doing well; with 2 of them expecting Major rank next year. Plus several others enrolled in MBA schools scattered around the Northeast.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Je ne veux pas travailler

As I was telling loiseaurebelle yesterday, I spent the weekend listening and humming this song repeatedly. It is an earworm I tell you, despite me not understanding the lyrics. It reminds me of the happy, pre-Depression dance halls of the 1920s.

The title is quite fitting for what I am experiencing now in school. (Duh, it's the winter break.)


And so I have translated the song... bear in mind that I haven't
really kept in touch with French for a long time, and some of the
nuances of the language probably escaped me. I also translated mostly
for meaning, and paid little attention to style.

I Don't Want to Work
Pink Martini.

My room is in the shape of a cage
The arms of the sun pass through the window
The hunters are at my door
Like little soldiers
Who want to take me away

I don't want to work
I don't want to have lunch
I only want to forget
And so I smoke

I've already smelled the perfume of love
A million roses
Doesn't fill enough
Now there's only one flower
In my circle
And it's making me sick


I don't trust it
The life that wants to kill me
It's magnificent
To be nice to people
But I never knew what it is like


I don't trust it
The life that wants to kill me
It's magnificent
To be nice to people
But I never knew what it is like

As you can see, the song pretty much makes no sense, and juxtaposed with the happy, jaunty melody, it makes even less sense. Not to mention the images in the video... It's quite an accurate reflection of the attitudes of the 1920s, if you ask me: the darker side to the decadence of that era.

I found another translation. While I agree the song as a whole is nonsense, the individual verses are not. Could very well represent the themes of some of my previous blog entries.

On a side note, my favorite work of fiction is Alice. No prizes for guessing why.

A music video which makes no sense.

No iron-rice bowl for scholars; Income Gap and Social Fabric

Two notable news pieces over the weekend. Archived here for future reference. For the first article, Mr Wang said something similar a year ago.

Dec 16, 2006
Don’t knock us, our rice bowls are not iron
Military and civil service high-fliers nearing or past their tenures struggle to keep up in corporate world

By Ho Ai Li & Susan Long

A WELL-KNOWN chief executive of a global company here tells how he receives persistent calls from former scholars who have graduated from Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College.

Some are military officers about to hit 45. Others are from the Government’s elite administrative service, in their 50s and nearing the end of 10-year tenures.

Some are so desperate to ’sell’ themselves that they ask what time he will be in the gym so they can run on the treadmill next to him and make their pitch.

‘It’s very sad,’ observed the CEO, who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity. ‘In Singapore, above 45, you cannot be looking for a job. The job must be looking for you.’

Things are getting tougher for military or civil service high-fliers nearing or past their shelf life. Previously, most were absorbed by government-linked companies (GLCs) or statutory boards when it was time to leave.

But these days, GLCs - which are becoming more bottom-line-driven and moving from passive asset management to aggressive overseas expansion - prefer to hire those who can hit the ground running from Day One. These would be people with experience in global banking, financial services, mergers and acquisitions, leisure entertainment and customer relations.

Unfortunately, those leaving the military and civil service lack that global perspective and struggle to keep up, say corporate observers and recruiters.

According to human resources consultancy Hewitt Associates country head Na Boon Chong: ‘The challenge has moved from managing a large organisation to helping guide the company through significant industry changes. The latter requires depth of specific industry experience, which retiring civil servants or military officers often lack.’

Finding them a job in the private sector is also a problem. Singapore’s contract manufacturing industry is shrinking and the growth of home-grown companies with pockets deep enough to hire such high-calibre candidates is just not able to keep pace with the conveyor belt of government scholars today. Each year, the public sector gives out about 250 scholarships.

What aggravates matters, said executive headhunter Richard Hoon, is that former military men can be too used to the regimented life.

‘Maybe only one out of 100 can adapt to the corporate world. The rest have to work hard and undergo personal coaching to be ‘demilitarised’,’ he said.

‘They have a certain bravado, talk in a certain way and have a certain mindset that’s not attractive to employers. They used to be officers, always managing others. But stripped of their uniform, they’re just ordinary people with a difficult transition to make.’

Many also lack the soft skills so necessary in the business world.

Outplacement specialist Paul Heng said: ‘Stories are plentiful about ex-civil servants and army officers who behave as if they are still sitting in their ivory towers, giving orders to the troops. Some are downright patronising.

‘They need to inspire confidence in interviewers that, not only can they do the job, but they can also assimilate into the company culture and work well with others.’

The ‘cultural re-adaptation’ process can take months, even years. As such, this group now competes with the droves of other over-40, out-of-work managers looking for work.

Some complain that while the Government exhorts industry to hire older workers, it is not quite walking the talk itself.

In 1998, the career span of military officers was reduced from 27 to 23 years, meaning that those who joined after 1998 would retire at about 42, instead of about 45 previously.

Since 2000, the Administrative Service has ruled that those appointed to Public Service Leadership jobs will have only 10 years’ tenure for each position, such as permanent secretaries, deputy secretaries or chief executives of major statutory boards.

The rationale is to maintain a steady turnover, help the organisation avoid becoming too settled in its ways, and encourage young and capable officers to remain in service and strive for top posts.

What that means, a fast-rising administrative officer said, is that you have to actively work towards your next tenure during your current one.

‘If you get promoted to permanent secretary too early, or something goes wrong, you miss a step and can’t get to the next level. The conveyor belt of scholars relentlessly moves on and pushes you out. And there you are - yet another out-of-job older worker,’ said the officer, who is in his 30s.

His own exit plan? He is banking on regional demand for senior civil servants with deep policy expertise and operational experience.

At 37, another government scholar who is now doing well sometimes worries whether he will be able to survive on the outside in his mid-40s.

‘Honestly, a lot of us have no idea what we can do outside,’ he said. ‘Our rice bowl is not iron or as glamorous as people think it is.

‘I know people think we have it made and are so well-trained that we can easily be absorbed into industry. But it’s a misperception that needs to be corrected because there’s obviously a mismatch between what the public sees and what our potential employers see.’

With the clock ticking away, he has begun finding out how he can get into financial advisory work. He is also managing his expectations downwards and keeping his commitments spare, by not upgrading from his Housing Board flat.

Also cautious is a former government scholarship holder and Cambridge graduate now working as a researcher.

At 45, and having seen the corporate carnage that claimed some of his 40-something peers, he is considering starting a cafe or getting trained to be a masseur.

‘In your 40s and 50s, more than at any other time, you need financial stability. Yet, it’s the age when you’re the most vulnerable,’ he said. ‘There’s a heartless bottom-line economic calculation going on and companies are quite happy to cut you loose.

‘The slippery slope to unemployment can start suddenly. It can be one year, one bad move down the road. The tragedy for scholars is that they have always been on an ascending path. The thought of levelling off or falling down is scary.’

But there are stories of courageous and successful transitions too, like that of lieutenant-colonel-turned-entrepreneur Nicholas Koh, 46.

The former deputy head of naval logistics (platform systems) and navy scholar had the option of staying on till 47, but chose to ‘bite the bullet early’.

In 2002, at 42, he took a smaller gratuity package and left to join ST Engineering as vice-president of defence business.

‘I wanted to get out early and start gaining valuable corporate experience to build my future while I still had energy,’ said the father of two teenagers. ‘I didn’t want to get too used to a comfortable life.’

In 2003, he quit the job that paid around $150,000 a year, took a painful pay cut and set up Victory Knights Management Consultancy.

‘It was my baptism of fire. I decided to fight for it out there. No point looking for short-term havens,’ he said.

His firm administers a marine technology master’s programme offered by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Last year, it also ventured into Oman, where it helps to incubate environmental technology and property development companies.

‘Out there in the commercial world, it’s war. Generals and colonels who are able to fight a war should be able to fight for themselves. If they can’t, they don’t deserve their former rank and status,’ he declared.

‘Public funds have been used to groom them in the past, so they should come out into society and create new ways to contribute back to Singapore’s economy.’


Monday December 18, 3:04 PM Reuters
Income gap tears at Singapore social fabric
By Geert De Clercq

SINGAPORE, Dec 18 (Reuters) - When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she'd give him a piece of her mind.

She called him "one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country" on her own blog and signed off with "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim -- an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's constituency -- told a Singapore newspaper that "her basic point is reasonable", the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

"Coming from an MP in the prime minister's constituency, these comments really were political dynamite," political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters.

"If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground," he added.

Singapore is Asia's second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

Singapore's Gini index -- which measures inequality of income distribution among households -- of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

"Yes, the gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages," National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.


Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidised and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

Last month, Singapore's first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

"We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers' Party, has called for a 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system'. I think that is an even dirtier five words," he said in a speech on Nov. 13.

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to "tilt the balance in favour of the lower-income groups".

While Lee's ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament -- where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats -- the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers' Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

"They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don't do anything about the income gap," Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more "workfare" schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers' pay.

On May 1 -- five days before the election -- the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.


Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger's comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that's out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about "elite envy", the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $$10,000 ($6,500) a month, while such families make up just 13 per cent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical website, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

"The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes," he said.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In the army, we'll love them white horse kings...

Don't we all love to hear more white horse stories? Especially when the horse is 'super-white'.

Found this on a blog, written several months ago. I can't vouch for its authenticity, obviously. And the date's wrong if he was referring to this year, for 7th July fell on a Friday. The vocation (Signals) was right though.

On the 7th of July, a thursday, we, sergeants-to-be and future commanders in the SAF, did saikang. We shifted huge steel lockers, tables, cleaned windows and bed frames, arranged chairs in the "entertainment room", swept the floors and took out the trash. All this on the Officer-Cadet-Trainee(OCT) floor. And not just for the OCTs, who are of the same age as us by the way, but for a particular OCT who was going over to Signals the next day. An OCT with a...particularly powerful father. I don't think i need to mention his name, do i?

It wasn't just the sergeants-to-be who had to do all this work. Every operator had to do their part, and there were warrant officers, people who've spent over 20 years as commanders in the Army, shifting beds around and going around unscrewing our locker door handles 'cos the OCTs did not have enough of them. Unscrewing door handles. An officer doing construction-worker-style stuff for no bonus pay. We even had to make sure the OCT's lockers had enough hooks to place their precious jockey-caps and berets...when almost all the beds in OUR own bunks have no hooks at all. (Not to mention the fact that our big mirror has been taken well as our own bloody toilet door!!!)

It wasn't just yesterday. Word of the young prince's imminent arrival had spread over a month ago, and renovation work had begun since then. The particular floor was given a new coat of paint, mosquito nets were installed in the OCTs' bunks and new rust-free fans were installed. 10 fans to a room. In contrast, the sergeants and operators have 4 fans to a room, all rusty. And no way to block out insects that often fly in.

What makes me so pissed is that this normally wouldn't have been done for officers-to-be at all. Only for THIS particular batch for you-know-what-reason. As a senior officer whispered to us, normally there wouldn't any renovation at all, and no effort to wipe out the rat population before the OCTs arrived. Our OC apologised to us, as making sergeants-to-be do saikang wasn't his directive (although his sergeant probably couldn't refuse the officer who had sent him off to find man-power). "You know how it is", our OC told us. After all, what if that OCT had complained to his dad during dinner that the bunk conditions were horrible? Yes, what if?

Everybody i've talked to don't like what's happening, don't like this obvious show of favouritism and pulling strings, but most of them, including senior officers, also believe that there isn't really much choice. "Bo bian mah, he's his father's son after all." This's what disgusts me the most. WHY should it be "bo bian"?? Why should it be obvious to people that he should receive better treatment than the rest of us? Why are there so many people just craning their necks and taking all this crap simply because he obviously cannot be touched, that the world is unfair and "we have no choice"??

Is this something like our own Singaporean facination with our former colonial masters?? Is this favouritism for the supposedly more noble so inbred in our bones that we do it without thinking and even acknowledge it as a normal frame of mind?

It's really sad that you can be treated like a king simply for having the right parents. It's something like people getting treated better for HAVING lots of money, although they don't spend any more than the next guy. This particular OCT doesn't give SAF head honchos ANYTHING; he's just a normal 18 year old with normal grades like the rest of us (i don't know if he even plans to go into politics), but he still gets to have an easier life in BMT, OCS, and gets to go to an easy course in Signals and succeed in the army while doing less and having less hardships than everyone else. Simply because he has a father who MIGHT give the head honchos SOMETHING, however unlikely. It's not gonna help, you the future he'd have a really myopic view on the hardships of NS life, which wouldn't be good for Singapore if he DID go into politics.

Other people have to sweat blood to get their officer rank. But he doesn't. And in the future, everyone except for those who were there when he was in NS would think he had gone through one of the toughest courses in NS. Whatever job he applies for, he'd be able to show off that rank to a lot of "Wow, he's such a talented person!" People will think that he had experienced hardship during his NS life. When he hadn't, actually. And that's really unfair.

I don't bear too much of a grudge to this particular OCT though, he probably doesn't have much of a choice except to accept the good treatment. His dad too; there's a good chance he doesn't even know what's going on. I definitely don't blame the poor warrant officers who had to make us do saikang as well. Rather, the blame lies with someone higher up, who just loves to lick other people's boots and get promoted.

But what can i say? As my friend says, the world is dark after all, and i'm just a corporal.

*Title of this post taken from oikono's comment to my earlier post.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

College education Grad School is expensive

I just checked my student invoice statement. Tuition and fees I incurred since my first year of the PhD program is ~US$100,000, and still counting rising.

That is more than twice the cost of my undergraduate education.

(Figures exclude miscellaneous expenses such as housing rent and food - the two most important out-of-lab costs for grad students.)

On the other hand, a sizable number of alumni (fresh PhD graduates) from this department made that amount with one year's of work in industry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Earlier this year, I was lucky to be able to see close up two of the three Japanese carrier aircraft types that took to the skies above Hawaii to destroy the US Pacific Fleet.

九七式艦上攻撃機 (This is a rebuilt prototype; The front part of the plane, i.e the engine and the cowling, was not the original from Nakajima. No complete example survived the war intact.)

零式艦上戦闘機 (The famous "Zero" fighter. This is probably an earlier model - Model 21. Note one of the two 20mm cannon gun barrels protruding from the left wing.)

For some reason, the third member of the IJNAF's unholy trinity was not available for display.

ニイタカヤマノボレ一二○八 (攀登新高山一二○八)

Technorati: Pearl Harbor, Zero, Kate

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What American accent do you have?; How to be a teacher

Some of these online quizzes are so silly (and a complete waste of one's time). But still, the sucker in me couldn't help but click. I quite like the answer it gave me. Heh Heh.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South

The Inland North

The West

North Central


The Northeast


What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes


Swiss Miss take on the teaching profession. They should have the university professors (not from the School of Education) understand these too. Because frankly, many can't teach well.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Message To West Point

By Bill Moyers. A long but recommended read.

This too.

A PhD Homemaker Wannabe

It is rare for a girl (of my generation) to dream of becoming a housewife after her PhD. All the more so when you look at her academic background. Naturally the first term the cynical me came up was "tai-tai". Followed by her swift kick to my legs for my not-so-positive remarks. Duh.

Now if everyone thinks like her, then the "two-body problem" will be a non-issue.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stinger against Blackhawks


I need one, no, several of them against blackhawks.

In summary - Now that I am quite far into Grad School, my folks are going to the extent of checking up on my research and telling/asking me to fit that into a*star/nus/ntu hiring. Amazing, isn't it?

Related entries: I, II, III, IV.

It should be obvious to all I have no intention of going back permanently. Why can't they see things from my perspective? Must it come to blows? And playing the filial piety card?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Who do you learn from in school? Peers or Teachers?

I asked the above question to myself after reading these two posts from current teachers.

I guess I was lucky to have been hanging out with some exceptional class/schoolmates during my time in secondary/JC. Probably the most important thing that we all shared was the passion in the subjects we liked. My peers were my greatest teachers. Esp in JC - when we started asking questions that the tutors had difficulty answering. We ended up searching for the answers ourselves. (And mind you, the internet was still in its infancy in Singapore - google/wikipedia/online databases didn't exist then for the masses; so we had to do it the hard copy way).

Some of my previous entries on this topic are here, here, here and here. Fox's take too (although I was not in the GEP).

If a student is unmotivated in school, can a teacher ('good' or otherwise) do anything? I have never been to a neighborhood school, so pardon me if I appear ignorant about the difficulties students in such schools face. I do know a little somewhat after reading oikono's entry.

Technorati: Singapore, education

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Can one ever let go completely?

I had a dream this morning. In it, I was passing by my ex's house and just at that moment, she was walking out with a throng of folks in her wedding gown. There was this bridal car parked in front and a guy dressed in a western suit was waiting beside it. What happened after that was fuzzy, but I woke up crying.

There was too much shared history between us.

RJC library card


A friend invited me to his place for dinner last night in an attempt to introduce one of his (single) female friends to me. I turned it down to watch a volleyball game. We won, and now stand a good chance of advancing to the post-season NCAA tournament.



The Fall colors are beautiful.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Why PPE is (not) relevant to the GST issue in Singapore

Just had a long discussion with l'oiseau rebelle on the topic of the raise in GST. I asked her the question: "So what do you think of PPE's relevance to this issue?"

Too tired to paraphrase our MSN chat, so here is the (modified) relevant bit:

LR: as i said, they deserve the nobel prize for econ for figuring out how to raise sales taxes to help the poor
tk: and they fail PPE, considering they have many alum of oxford's PPE. Many blogs only try to reason on the side of economics, without factoring the other two
LR: you can write a post factoring in the other two
tk: nah, I am only a closet economist
LR: haha, let me help you in simple terms then. Politically, whatever the pap does, they'll still be in power. No discussion
LR: many singaporeans actually care about that?
tk: so that leaves econs...
LR: yup, there you have it.

I once considered applying for the PPE program, so the first thing that came to my mind was its relevance in Singapore's context. Not very, I would say. Ethics, what ethics?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Asians and Elite Colleges

Glad this issue is now hitting the (U.S) national headlines.


School Standards Are Probed

Even as Enrollment Increases;
A Bias Claim at Princeton
November 11, 2006; Page A1

Though Asian-Americans constitute only about 4.5% of the U.S. population, they typically account for anywhere from 10% to 30% of students at many of the nation's elite colleges.

Even so, based on their outstanding grades and test scores, Asian-Americans increasingly say their enrollment should be much higher -- a contention backed by a growing body of evidence.

Whether elite colleges give Asian-American students a fair shake is becoming a big concern in college-admissions offices. Federal civil-rights officials are investigating charges by a top Chinese-American student that he was rejected by Princeton University last spring because of his race and national origin.

Meanwhile, voter attacks on admissions preferences for other minority groups -- as well as research indicating colleges give less weight to high test scores of Asian-American applicants -- may push schools to boost Asian enrollment. Tuesday, Michigan voters approved a ballot measure striking down admissions preferences for African-Americans and Hispanics. The move is expected to benefit Asian applicants to state universities there -- as similar initiatives have done in California and Washington.

Monday, November 06, 2006

2006 Bonuses in the Financial Industry

Made my eyes pop and my grad student allowance look like...pittance. Guess you both are doing quite well. Heh.

Maybe I should just quit science and join the money chase...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Lee Wei Ling's take on biomedical research in Singapore

Posted here for archiving purposes; Lee Wei Ling is LKY's daughter.

Taken from Sammyboy's forums:

Nov 4, 2006

What ails biomedical research in Singapore

By Lee Wei Ling, For The Straits Times

BILLIONS of dollars have been poured into our biomedical research drive and more billions are to follow. How can these monies be best utilised?

The strategy of attracting foreign stars and then letting them decide for themselves what areas of research to engage in has its problems. It would be difficult to persuade many of the very best foreign researchers, at the peak of their careers, to leave their homes in the West where they have their own research team and funding.

It is an approach where success depends too much on chance, and the areas of research would be very diverse, depending entirely on the researcher we are able to persuade to come to Singapore. If the present approach is followed without modification, a coherent body of research and success in a series of related fields is unlikely to develop.

In my view, a more rational approach will be to identify niche areas unique to the Singapore population or where we already have a competitive advantage. Examples include hepatitis B, primary cancer of the liver, stomach cancer, systemic lupus erythematosus (more often known as SLE or lupus) and other autoimmune disease (where the body's immune system attacks the body's own organs), and the pattern of strokes and head injury.

In point of fact, Novartis has just won approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for a new drug called Telbivudine that can be used to treat chronic hepatitis B. The clinical trial for this drug was a large multi-centre study, in which Singapore was involved but wasn't the lead investigator.

Whoever it was in Novartis who initiated the trial certainly understood 'niche'. With 5 per cent of ethnic Chinese being hepatitis B carriers, this niche translates into millions upon millions of patients. This is what I mean by niche areas versus the shotgun approach we have adopted in Singapore.

Again, head injury is common worldwide and a major cause of loss of life and cause of permanent disability. However, it is not a glamorous research topic and only 10 major centres worldwide are doing serious research in it.

At the National Neuroscience Institute, we have a good track record of head injury research and a comprehensive programme from molecular to bedside, from the acute stage to rehabilitation. We should target our research on these areas where not only is it relevant to Singaporeans, but we also have an advantage over foreign countries with much more advance research facilities.

We should learn from our experiences and recognise the big picture that this little red dot cannot compete for talent (or output) with giants in all areas of biomedical research.

Our strategy must be to encourage local researchers and provide for greater interaction between them and foreign researchers. Much more can be done to address the needs of local researchers and make them feel that they are an integral component of our biomedical drive. Some small steps have begun in this direction but too few and too small.

We should be more focused in finding our niches, then attract the appropriate foreign talents while nurturing our own talents at the same time. Once in a while, a foreign researcher may come with his own agenda. The Simon Shorvon saga is a good illustration. He abused the Singapore system by random manipulation of the patients' medication without seeking their proper and informed consent.

Simon Shorvon tried his utmost to rapidly complete this unauthorised part of his research where he treated Singaporeans as subjects from a Third World country who can be easily manipulated. What he was doing was very dangerous to the patients. He was unable to complete his research here, because he was exposed.

He and some others subsequently collaborated with Duke University in a similar field but only on the genetics of metabolism of anti-epileptic drugs with appropriate patient consent. Significantly, the part of the research with random manipulation of the Parkinson's patients' medication appears not to have been done.

Another area where we could improve is to form a lead agency to coordinate and identify areas for which Singapore research can truly excel without duplication and wastage of resources. This would create focus within our national strategy to leapfrog onto the world stage of medical and scientific excellence.

The current state of affairs emphasises funding in multiple areas for which there is no coordination and perhaps even outright competition between different groups doing very similar research. One could argue that this is also the case in the US and other advanced countries. However, that does not make it right or appropriate for all countries. Smaller countries with limited resources have to be more focused on how those resources are used.

The competition is for the sake of being the first to make the discovery, to revel in the fame and glory, to benefit financially from any patent that may follow the discovery. The competition is not for the benefit of patient care. The advanced countries can afford the wastage but this little red dot cannot.

An important issue is whether Singapore can produce enough researchers in the life sciences.

According to one newspaper article, it was in 2002, when the National University of Singapore had barely begun producing its own life science graduates, that Mr Philip Yeo, chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), famously rattled those undergraduates when he said they would be qualified only to wash test tubes.

Four years on, armed with bachelor's degrees, some of these graduates are learning the truth of his words the hard way. Many from the first cohort have ended up in junior research positions or manufacturing and sales jobs in the industry - positions that do not require a life sciences degree. Others find themselves completely out of the field.

According to the industry's annual reviews compiled by A*Star and the Economic Development Board's biomedical science group, an average of 1,000 new jobs were created annually for the past five years. Last year, there were 10,200 manufacturing jobs in the industry, almost doubling the 5,700 jobs created in the then-fledgling sector in 2001. By last year, EDB had targeted the number of such jobs to hit 15,000.

But the booming figures mask a Catch-22 situation: The current shortage of PhD holders in the biomedical sciences cluster is hampering Singapore's bid to attract multinational companies to move their high-end research projects here. Without a PhD, most of Singapore's life sciences graduates are qualified to work only as research assistants.

The coming Graduate Medical School will not solve this problem. It will produce doctors chosen from graduate students who apply. The cut-off score of MCATS (a test used to weed out or select medical students, the medical equivalent of SAT) is higher than that for Duke University itself. But that does not surprise me. Singaporeans are exam smart. Many of our Raffles Junior College students achieve near-perfect SAT scores.

The crucial question in my view is whether the four-year curriculum with one year dedicated to research can produce good researchers. Certainly they will not have the research experience of PhDs and their clinical skills will probably not be as good as those of our current NUS medical students who have three years of clinical experience.

One could argue that they will all be doing translational research, where their background in clinical medicine allows them to know what is relevant in translational research. (Translational research is that which brings the findings from the laboratory to the patient. If drug X works in controlling epilepsy in lab rats, translational research investigates if drug X will reduce seizures in epileptic patients.)

But I worry that we may end up producing half-baked clinicians and half-baked researchers after what is a very expensive experiment. Even in the US, Duke is the only medical school with such a programme. It is reported to have the highest number of students pursuing a career in research in biomedical sciences after graduation. Many of them have gone on to lead and drive R&D in the life sciences.

However, Duke draws from a much bigger talent pool. I am not sure if the graduates of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore will be capable of the same.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

Singapore is extremely welcoming if...

"you are highly educated, foreign, and white." - PJ.

Mirrors a discussion I had with a friend (He's a white American) several days ago. We were talking about academic job opportunities (ie faculty openings) and he was saying something about NUS (and A*star) luring some of the big names in a related field, and that they are actively recruiting here. And why he is considering a move there too and asking me more about the country.

"Seems like a good place to go to." He said. I tried hard to keep a straight face. I guess it will be for him. But not for me.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

On Education and Military Service

Found a link on Mankiw's blog, the economic truth behind U.S Sen. John F. Kerry's remarks:

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." - John Kerry, Oct 30, 2006.

Princeton economist Uwe E. Reinhardt: University of Rochester economics professor Steven E. Landsburg made the case for the volunteer army in his textbook "Price Theory and Applications." Under a military draft, he writes, "the Selective Service Board will draft young people who are potentially brilliant brain surgeons, inventors and economists -- young people with high opportunity costs of entering the service -- and will leave undrafted some young people with much lower opportunity costs. The social loss is avoided under a voluntary system, in which precisely those with the lowest costs will volunteer."

Only slightly more crudely put, the central idea underlying this theorem of what economists call "social welfare economics" is that if a nation must use human bodies to stop bullets and shrapnel, it ought to use relatively "low-cost" bodies -- that is, predominantly those who would otherwise not have produced much gross domestic product, the main component of what economists call "social opportunity costs." On this rationale, economists certify the all-volunteer army as efficient and thus good.

...There is ample evidence that the elite now running America has grasped the economists' dictum. To be sure, the officer corps is drawn from the ranks of college graduates, and a tiny minority of college graduates do heed that call. On the other hand, it is well known that to fill the ranks of enlisted soldiers, sailors and Marines, the Pentagon draws heavily on the bottom half of the nation's income distribution, favoring in its hunt for recruits schools in low-income neighborhoods. Certainly few if any of Kerry's elitist critics on the right, all of them self-professed patriots, have served their country in uniform, let alone in battle; nor have many of their offspring.

Replace "America" with "Singapore", and add in terms like "white horses" as well...and you can see why I was (still am, actually) angry with the system.

Technorati: Singapore, NS

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

May you have a night of ghostly and ghastly fun...:)


Sunday, October 29, 2006

On Alumni giving

Today's Straits Times reported:

AN APPEAL to National University of Singapore (NUS) alumni for funds to help its needy students has fallen on deaf ears.

Only 1,452 alumni, or one in 100 graduates, responded to the university's first call for donations last year.

The amount raised - $966,709 - fell far short of the more than $2 million the university wanted, to fund bursaries for an estimated 1,500 undergraduates.

Not surprising, given the fact that (local undergraduate) students are given the short shrift during their 3 or 4 year stay in the university. If you treat them like dirt, do you think they will care about you once they graduate?

Rehashing an old issue - the same thing was also raised last year. Perhaps they have run out of news to report; now is the time to scold Singaporeans for being ingrates?

The picture ST painted of US universities' alumni giving is skewed anyway, especially with many of the top schools now launching multi-billion dollar fund raising campaigns.

A longstanding reality of fund raising has been the idea that 80 percent of funds come from the wealthiest 20 percent of donors. Over the last decade, more fund raisers have talked about 90 percent of the funds coming from the wealthiest 10 percent of donors. With these mega-campaigns, and in fund raising generally, the ratios may be changing again.

“We just did a study of 27 universities, and I think we are moving to 97 percent coming from 1 or 2 percent of donors,” said Jerold Panas, a fund-raising consultant and author of Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.

So, NUS' figures may be just about right if they are benchmarking themselves against their American counterparts.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Support for Higher Education - Differences Between Singapore and America

Some thoughts after re-reading Mr Wang's post:

(On the effects of globalisation)

...the American worker may be displaced, but America knows that it is not his fault. And America knows that the American worker must not be left to die. America knows that the American worker needs help.

In Singapore, my sense is that the government is more likely to tell you: "Get out of my elite uncaring face". Not in those exact words, surely they would be more diplomatic, but the spirit of it would be largely the same. Yes?


Point is very simple.

It's not so much:

"there, there, it's not your fault"


"you're losing out, you better do something about it"

... but

"you're in trouble, we know it, and we will help you"


"you're losing out, you better do something about it".

I have yet to truly step out into the working world, but I can already see the differences in the way universities in both countries treat those having the most difficulty (and needy) in paying for college (or university studies).

I watched C-Span on Tuesday; it featured CollegeBoard's annual review of (U.S) college costs and financial aid.

Costs are going up, and federal aid in the form of Pell grants is going down. But some of the most established private and state universities have started their own inititatives to ensure that the poorest students are not denied access to college due to rising financial costs and without the need to borrow.

Examples include the Carolina Covenant, Access Virginia, Michigan's M-Pact, Washington's Husky Promise, plus the the likes of HYPM etc.

What do I see in the local (public) universities (NUS/NTU)?

They basically tell you to take a loan, while reserving the bulk of their scholarships for foreigners.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Class War (in the US) - Rich vs Super Rich

Fortune article cited in two economists' blogs.

The widening chasm between rich and poor may well threaten our democracy. ...America's income gap is arguably less likely to spark a retro fight between proletarians and capitalists than a war between what I call the "lower upper class" and the ultrarich.

...the hopes and dreams of today's educated class are based on the idea that market capitalism is a meritocracy. The unreachable success of the superrich shreds those dreams.

Lower uppers are doctors, accountants, engineers, lawyers. At companies they're mostly executives above the rank of VP but below the CEO. Their comrades include well-fed members of the media (and even Fortune columnists who earn their living as consultants).

Lower uppers are professionals who by dint of schooling, hard work and luck are living better than 99 percent of the humans who have ever walked the planet. They're also people who can't help but notice how many folks with credentials like theirs are living in Gatsby-esque splendor they'll never enjoy.

This stings. If people no smarter or better than you are making ten or 50 or 100 million dollars in a single year while you're working yourself ragged to earn a million or two - or, God forbid, $400,000 - then something must be wrong.

Similar to something I experienced (while hanging out) with some of Singapore's scholar 'elites'. Some bemoaned being sent to 'less prestigious' (aka cheaper, and usually public) colleges while their peers got the full ride to the Ivies. And all were under the same bond length.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The "Elite" Views

2005 - Chua Zheng Zhan

2006 - Wee Shu Min

Lee Hsien Loong' Speech at RJC's Opening Ceremony in April (on a side note, I wonder why he was also the GOH at DHS's 50th Anniversary Celebration):

The Raffles family of schools - including Raffles Institution (RI), Raffles Girls´ School (RGS) and Raffles Junior College (RJC) - have a rich history and tradition spanning almost two centuries. Your founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, was deeply committed to the cause of education. He envisioned a premier educational institution with "spirit and soul", which would make Singapore a centre of learning.


But RJC´s mission is not just to produce brilliant students who can compete with the best in the world. More importantly, RJC must also nurture a leadership team for Singapore - students who are committed to Singapore and their fellow Singaporeans, because they have benefited from the system, and have a genuine desire to give back to society and make a difference in the lives of others. Previous generations of Rafflesians have done so, and helped Singapore to develop and grow over the years. We must now create the same ethos and mindset in a new generation of outstanding Singaporeans, a generation for whom more than ever, the whole world is their oyster.

Rhetoric, or reality? (Yeah, two is a horribly small sample size.)

Edit: You might also want to read this.

:Technorati: RJC, elite, Wee Shu Min

Friday, October 20, 2006

Marriage and Grad School

Getting hitched helps with your time to graduation too.


Continuing on with Kelvin's analogy (straight couples); if women are like universities, then men can be compared to college applicants.

The most desirable women - ivy schools with too many qualified applicants. Can afford to cherry pick.

The most desirable men - valedictorians with impressive academic and extracurricular results. Basically a shoo-in to any school they apply to.

On the bottom end of the scale:

Some women can be compared to community colleges: basically accept anyone who apply to them.

Men - the 'C' students. Although if his background/family is like the Bush family, he can still get into the Ivies (like Yale).

Monday, October 16, 2006

诚 信 勇 忠 - 德明50周年校庆

Held last weekend (Oct 14). Well, for obvious reasons I couldn't show up. Would have been good to see some of my former teachers.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Class of XCVI

I am so going to strangle the next person who comes up to me (online) and announces that he/she is going to get married.

Feel just like the old times, you know - on the GCE results day when you saw your classmate(s) going up to the stage because he/she had X number of distinctions more than you and was/were thus the darling(s) of the school/college. But you still had to smile (otherwise people say you sour grapes).

Or how during NSF days you saw your classmates disrupting for their university studies (to prestigious colleges like MIT, Cornell, Michigan, Penn, Oxford, Cambridge etc ) while you were still stuck in camp doing COS duties/signing extras/being pushed around by half-fucked SAF regulars.

Yup, just like those days. Except this time you can hide your true feelings (i.e envy and jealousy) because the other person is informing you through online media like the MSN or email or friendster. And it is so easy to just type out "congratulations!" (when you don't actually mean it) and say "sorry, I won't be able to attend your wedding because I am out of country/in a different state."

Date: Friday, October 13, 2006
Message: How are you? I will be getting married in Dec this year. Will you be in Singapore?

The cold weather's not helping too. 40F. Makes me grouchy. Oh, plus my failure in asking her out she turning down my invitation to go out. Sorry, when it comes to love, I am selfish. Hate to see happy couples around me when my social life is so fucked up.

Orientation theme
They are bankers, fast-tracked civil servants, teachers, consultants, lawyers, soldiers...and a grad student.

Guess I won't show up for the upcoming 10th year reunion. F's wedding day is a good time for the gathering. XZ is already sending out emails asking for an opportune time to meet.


I don't really care about the rest. Except one, who has yet to declare her date. It took me an awful lot to get over the break-up, but somehow there is this nagging feeling a part of my heart is still with her.

What will I do? How will I feel?

Technorati: love, marriage, couple,

U.S. Doctoral Education in the 20th Century

A rather comprehensive report (on both Science & Engineering and non-S&E disciplines) released by the National Science Foundation this week.

Highlights include:

* Of the more than 1.35 million doctorates awarded by universities in the United States between 1920 and 1999, 62 percent were in science and engineering fields — but more were given out in education than in any other single discipline in every year from 1962 on.

* Although men received 73 percent of the doctorates throughout the century, the proportion earned by women rose from 15 percent in the early 1920s to 41 percent by century’s end. Among other demographic changes: The proportion of Ph.D.s earned by members of minority groups rose to 14 percent in the period from 1995-99, up from 6 percent in 1975-79. And foreign nationals earned almost one of every three doctorates granted by American universities by the late 1990s, up from one in four just a decade earlier.

* Fifty baccalaureate institutions produced more than a third of the people who went on to earn doctorates between 1920 and 1999. Of those 50 institutions, Oberlin College was the only one that does not itself award doctorates. (Oberlin ranked 35th.) Community colleges played an increasing role in the doctoral pipeline, the report found: More than 11 percent of all U.S. citizens awarded doctorates in 1995–99 had attended two-year colleges, up from about 10 percent in the late 1970s. But the overall proportion of doctorate earners who had attended a community college actually fell to 8 percent from 9 percent, seemingly because of the significant increase in the number of foreigners in the pool of doctorate earners.

* Ph.D. recipients have increasingly had to go into debt to earn their degrees. By 1999, for the first time, more than 50 percent of graduating doctorate earners had accumulated education debt, and the proportion who said they owed more than $20,000 had climbed to 20 percent, up from less than 7 percent a decade earlier.

* That finding may be related to another striking result: The median time it took to complete a Ph.D. (after receipt of a bachelor’s degree) increased from 7 years in 1920-24 to almost 11 years in 1995-99.

More interesting bits in the "historical background" section:

...U.S. doctoral education was in disarray at the turn of the (20th) century. American students were still flocking to European universities for graduate study, and American universities were viewed with little respect by European universities.

The problem was that, unlike in Europe, higher education in America was decentralized and largely unregulated; diploma mills proliferated, and even shaky institutions could call themselves "universities" and award Ph.D.s. Some institutions, for example, allowed Ph.D. candidates to pursue courses without showing up on campus and to take exams at home under supervision of a proctor. The lack of standards and consistency was hurting the reputations of the more demanding U.S. universities. (Speicher 2000)

Now the best and brightest from around the world would want to come to the US for their graduate study.

On a side note, the 2006 Nobels in Science and Econs were all snapped up by American PhDs. The Peace Prize went to a US-trained economist as well.

Technorati: NSF, Science

Monday, October 09, 2006

What I learnt this weekend

Quick roundup:

1. My younger cousin is getting married and the date has been fixed for May next year. I wrote about her elder sister earlier. Naturally, the party on the other end of the line was asking me "when is my turn?" I have no answer.

2. Getting married/settling down in Singapore is expensive. Makes it worse if the bride's mother is insisting on reserving 20 wedding tables just for her side of the family. Then there is the HDB flat which almost everyone I know who got married will 'buy' and go into debt for the next x number of years. Guess they aren't this lucky.

Technorati: love, marriage, couple, cousin

Life Sciences Hub, or Hype?

This has finally made it to the papers. On Today, 9 Oct 2006:

The Life Science Conundrum

After the hype, grads now realise that there’s no place for them in the

Loh Chee Kong

IN 2002, when Singapore universities had barely begun producing their own life sciences graduates, Mr Philip Yeo, chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), famously rattled those unndergraduates when he said that they would only be qualified to wash test tubes.

But four years on, armed with their Bachelor’s degree, some of these graduates are learning the truth of his words the hard way. Many from the first cohort have ended up in junior research positions or manufacturing
and sales jobs in the industry - positions that do not require a life sciences degree. Others find themselves completely out of the field.

Said Edmund Lim, 27, who graduated two years ago, and now works as a property agent: “One of my classmates is working illegally in Australia, peddling psychotropic drugs to clubbers. Many of my classmates have gone into teaching. Others are in pharmaceutical or equipment sales.”

Another life sciences graduate, who declined to be named, found a job recently at a tuition centre, after failing to land research-related positions for over a year despite numerous job applications.

Already an established base for pharmaceutical manufacturing, Singapore has been trying, in the past five ears, to move beyond manufacturing to more high-end research that is “value-added”.

According to the industry’s annual reviews compiled by A*Star and the Economic Development Board’s Biomedical Sciences Group (EDB BMSG), an average of a thousand new jobs were created annually for the past five years. Last year, there were 10,200 manufacturing jobs in the industry, almost doubling the 5,700 jobs created in the then-fledgling sector in 2001. By 2015, EDB targets the number of such jobs to hit 15,000.

But the booming figures mask a Catch-22 situation: The current shortage of PhD holders in the biomedical sciences cluster is hampering Singapore’s bid to attract multinational companies to move their high-end research projects here. Without a PhD, most of Singapore’s life sciences graduates are only qualified to work as research assistants.

And both graduates and diploma holders vie for these positions that could pay less than $2,000 a month. In the industry’s manufacturing sector, life sciences graduates compete against their peers from other general sciences and engineering disciplines. They face even stiffer competition in the sales sector, where paper qualifications take on less significance.

A*Star’s Biomedical Research Council oversees and coordinates public sector biomedical research and development activities. On the surplus of life sciences graduates, its executive director Dr Beh Swan Gin told Today: “It is not a situation that can be easily communicated, as there are many factors involved. Simply put, a PhD is essential for progress as a researcher. And there are still not enough Singaporeans pursuing PhD studies.”

Adding that the local universities should not pander to the students’ demand for the subject, Dr Beh said: “The job market of today and tomorrow, is the market the universities should focus on. The manufacturing and commercial jobs have always been there, albeit there are more of these now. NUS (National University of Singapore) and NTU (Nanyang Technological University) should get better data on the demand for life science graduates at the Bachelor’s degree level.”

In 2001, NUS’ Science Faculty rolled out an integrated life sciences curriculum and NTU started its School of Biological Sciences (SBS) a year later. Meanwhile, the polytechnics also introduced more life sciences courses. Thousands of students jumped on the bandwagon, with demand outstripping the supply of places in these courses.

Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS’ Dean of Science - who believes that it could take another five years for the industry to establish itself - acknowledged that his school’s intake of life sciences undergraduates was “a bit too high”.

“When we started offering a major in life sciences in 2001, 550 students took up the programme. For the subsequent intakes, the number stabilised at about 450. But we would be more comfortable with about a hundred less,” said Prof Tan, who added that many students were “unrealistic” about their job prospects.

Said Prof Tan: “A lot of students were probably all hyped up to look for R&D jobs. And when they can’t get such jobs, they could be disappointed. If they want to do research, they should further their studies.”

Nonetheless, some headhunters, like Kelly Services’ Lita Nithiyanandan, predict that it is “only a matter of time” before these “highly valued” graduates find willing employers. Said Ms Nithiyanandan: “As most of these multinational life sciences companies have recently set up or moved their R&D centres to Singapore, they require senior and experienced research professionals at this stage to streamline operations and get compounds approved fast for clinical trials. Once these centres are more established they will definitely need fresh graduates for researching new compounds.”

She added: “Overall, Singapore’s biomedical scene is evolving as a mature hub for Asia Pacific. This would create opportunities across the board for skill sets through the value chain from fresh graduates to mid-level research and analysts to high-end PhD professionals.”

There aren't that many (industry) jobs at the PhD level in the bio sector too. The research's hot, and many (US) professors can get the funding they need. But that doesn't translate into jobs for the doctoral graduates in the US. Many will end up doing post-docs for many years.

I should know - looking at my PhD friends in the (pure) life science majors. The ones having the best and most offers are the Mechanical, Chemical and Electrical engineers.

(Exclude mgt consulting and i-banking.)

More: mollymeek and sgentrepreneurs.

Fools rush in where angels fear to thread.

Technorati: life science jobs

Thursday, October 05, 2006

More on Mckinsey and the fight for talent

From: (recruiter)
Subject: Reminder about McKinsey's Application Deadline: THIS Sunday, October 8th

Dear (university) students,

Thank you for your interest in McKinsey and Company and for attending our presentation a couple weeks ago. We very much enjoyed meeting all of you, and hope we were able to provide you a better sense of who we are and the type of work we do.

Just a reminder about our upcoming application deadline: this Sunday, October 8th. Again, please refer to our website ( to learn more about McKinsey and to submit your application, if you have not already done so.

As someone who was sitting in your shoes three years ago, I would very much encourage you to continue through this application process if you think consulting is a possible career path. By going through the interview process, I really got a much better sense of whether consulting and McKinsey was the right career move for me. And I have to say, I have not looked back for a second in the past two years that I've been with McKinsey!

I also thought I'd pass along a few interesting articles from the McKinsey Quarterly, which contains articles and scholarship by McKinsey consultants on business, non-profit/public and other industries and functions, and general economic topics. With free registration, you can view these articles and some other content online.

This first article, "When Social Issues Become Strategic," argues that executives need to recognize and act upon the role of business in upholding the social contract:

This second article, "US Hospitals for the 21st Century," discusses some of the key issues facing US hospital systems and future shifts that are needed, and is related to the example engagement I discussed at the presentation:

This third article, "21st Century Organization" calls into question current corporate organizational models that don't meet the needs of the growing professional workforce that adds value through intagibles such as brands and networks:

Following our campus presentation, we received thoughtful follow-up questions from many of you. I noticed these questions clustered around a few common themes. So, since it seems you have similar questions on your mind, I decided to share my responses broadly. These thoughts are not meant to be comprehensive or overly detailed. I’m simply passing on a few facts to give you additional insight on McKinsey. If you still have questions, I would be happy to have a conversation with you. Thank you for your interest in McKinsey and for taking the time to get to know us.

Flexibility and work/life balance: McKinsey is committed to helping consultants find a lifestyle balance that works for them and leads to a fully rewarding, sustainable career
-We have formal mechanisms in place to help manage the lifestyle of our teams.
1. At the beginning of a study, most teams hold a “Team Learning” to understand everyone’s personal and professional needs and working preferences. This helps the team form norms that accommodate team member’s lifestyle (e.g. start meetings at 9 AM so people can take their kids to school).
2. Periodically during a study, associates anonymously rate their excitement, satisfaction, and lifestyle in a “Team Barometer”. The team’s responses affect how the team leaders are evaluated and highlight problems quickly so they can be addressed.
-Part-Time programs are available for all consultants and are working well to meet people’s overall needs:
1. At present, ~120 people are on part-time programs. They are among the 740 people who have chosen to go part time at some point in their career.
2. 28 partners and 2 directors have been elected while on part-time programs.
3. We do not have a standard approach to part-time or flexible programs. Everyone is different and has different needs. Some approaches that have worked well include: Reduced hours per week; Reduced weeks per year (breaks between studies); Longer leaves of absence; Temporary or permanent track changes.
4. We continue to experiment with new work approaches for all consultants, such as work sharing, which is currently being piloted in several offices.

APDs are as successful as MBAs at McKinsey.
- We are a merit-based organization, which means you proceed as quickly as you are able.
- In all US and Canadian offices, PhD, MD, and JD candidates are hired for the same position as MBA candidates, at the same salary, and typically advance at similar rates throughout their career at the Firm. This is also true of masters candidates who are hired as associates.
- On average, you can expect to progress to the Engagement Manager role 2 years after joining the firm, Associate Principal 4 years after joining, and Partner 5 – 7 years after joining.
- APDs have partner election rates identical to those of MBAs. We currently have over 300 partners who came to the Firm as APDs.
- We continue to hire increasing numbers of APD candidates because they are so successful at the firm.

Continually supporting your personal growth is one of our core values, and something we have been doing for our consultants for over 80 years.
-We are renowned for the quality of our associate development. In addition to our philosophy of providing real-time “on the job” coaching, we continue to create even more training programs for consultants, including increasing our investment in skill development and mobility opportunities.
1. We spend over $35 million dollars annually on training.
2. New Associates can expect at least 27-46 days of formal, tenure-specific training in their first two years at the firm. Even before your first study, you will spend three weeks at “mini-MBA” training.
3. On-going training is role-specific and focused on building your leadership skills.
-Over 4,000 days of partner time are dedicated each year to reviewing how associates have performed, and sharing this feedback with them in order to ensure that their development needs are met.
-Our staffing process is geared towards developing the full skill set of our consultants
-People leadership (i.e. mentorship/development) is one of the five criteria against which everyone at McKinsey is measured, and is a basis for partner elections. In other words, the Firm chooses leaders who are exceptional mentors.

Forge your own path, make your own McKinsey experience
-There is no single path or cookie-cutter approach to success. We value innovative ideas and people leadership. How you choose to spend your time is up to you.
-McKinsey operates in over 80 offices in more than 40 countries around the world. This global network brings with it an unprecedented amount of variety, which translates into unrivaled choice for our consultants.
-Many of our practices and knowledge initiatives have been started by individuals following their own interests and passions. So if you don’t find a path that suits you at the Firm, we encourage you to create it!
We are looking for people who are passionate about having impact in this world and about developing themselves. If that sounds attractive to you, then WELCOME!

Thanks, again, for your interest in McKinsey.

Best regards,


Incidentally, the cover story for the Economist this week is "The battle for brainpower".

You know the fight for talent has gone global when you have Indian software giant Infosys coming to recruit aggressively on US campuses.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Note to Self

When speaking to the girl you are interested in, stop being so self-conscious! Furthermore, the operating principle of the SEM is a completely neutral topic and is a piece of equipment that you are so throughly familiar with.

Granted, you were trying to explain that to her in Mandarin, but she had already said it was OK to describe in English. Why did you make a clown out of yourself by continuing to "hee-haw" in Chinese?

It is no wonder she left the conversation with a puzzled look, and will probably question how you can call yourself an expert user.

*Shakes head*

takchek, you are such a klutz.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

If you want to use Craigslist to look for sex... are more likely to succeed if you are a "straight female looking to have sex with a male". I assume that the local chat rooms (IRC?) will have the same phenomenon happening. (Ed: The survey had excluded gays and lesbians.)

Tells you a lot about the differences in social behavior approach to sex between straight males and females.