Sunday, July 30, 2006

S$1B in research funds for NUS/NTU

Well, at least the money is going to the local institutions...BUT - the allocation of funds is to be decided recommended by a panel of nine, most from outside of Singapore. Another case of foreign advice good, local bad?

This comes in the wake of the A*star - JHU break-up.


1. Do these nine people have the technical expertise to really understand the promises of all the proposals submitted? $1B is no small change.

2. How is the panel selected? On the basis of ...? Who are the members of the panel? Do they understand the 'uniqueness' of the Singapore system? Or will it lead to another clash of cultures in terms of producing results or KPIs?

3. From what little I know of America's NSF grant proposal selection system, there are many groups of senior scientists deciding on whether grants are awarded. These vary from field to field and change on a frequent basis. So our panel of nine will be appointed for five years?

High-brow input on how to spend MOE's $1b

Weekend • July 29, 2006

Derrick A Paulo

The advice of nine academics from around the world will help determine how the Ministry of Education (MOE) spends $1.05 billion.

The money is how much the MOE will have for five years, starting this year, to support academic research in Singapore universities — almost double the amount available in the previous five years.

But before the universities can get the funding, they must first go through nine people in China, Europe, Singapore and the United States.

They are the academics, scientists and research administrators appointed last month by the MOE as members of a new advisory group, the Academic Research Council.

The council's overarching goal is to develop research excellence in the universities to help turn Singapore into a world-class centre for innovation and technology.

But while it may take 10 years before that descriptor can become reality, admitted council chairman and Boston University president Robert Brown, the council's impact will be felt immediately.

The council, which held its inaugural meeting here this week, will advise the MOE on the allocation of research funding, and next month, it will be issuing its first call for proposals for research projects.

Professor Brown expects the universities to submit 40 to 50 proposals, but the council may not recommend them all to the MOE for approval.

One of the criteria is the research must have a "high impact" on the area of study internationally, Prof Brown told reporters on Friday. "Second, is that research impact of economic, strategic value to Singapore? Third is the ability of that investigator to deliver that research. Fourth, do we think the budget is reasonable for what they're trying to do," he added.

In their comments to the media, the universities do not seem fazed by the council's gatekeeping role.

"NTU supports, welcomes and embraces competitive funding. In the past few years, NTU has been competitive with its peers in winning internationally reviewed calls for proposals from MOE and from A*Star," said Nanyang Technological University vice-president of research Tony Woo.

The most important proposals the council will receive will be for new research centres of excellence.

These are like research institutes, and the council wants them to be the "best two or three in the world" in what they do, said Prof Brown, an honorary citizen of Singapore.

The council won't specify the centres' research fields, and will be careful about proceeding with proposals.

The universities, however, are bullish.

"We intend to respond in the areas that the Government has already identified as important, plus, generate novel ideas for world-class research centres that will break new ground," said National University of Singapore deputy president of research and technology, Prof Barry Halliwell.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The cost of fitting in

Found from Kelvin:

“I got there [Holy Providence School in Cornwall Heights, right outside Philadelphia] and immediately found that I could read better than anyone else in the school. My father’s example and my mother’s training had made that come easy; I could pick up a book, read it aloud, pronounce the words with proper inflections and actually know what they meant. When the nuns found this out they paid me a lot of attention, once even asking me, a fourth grader, to read to the seventh grade. When the kids found this out, I became a target....

It was my first time away from home, my first experience in an all black situation, and I found myself being punished for everything I’d ever been taught was right. I got all A’s and was hated for it; I spoke correctly and was called a punk. I had to learn a new language simply to be able to deal with the threats. I had good manners and was a good little boy and paid for it with my hide.”

––Abdul-Jabbar, 1987

Sounds familiar? So it is not just a Singaporean thing.

I actually had a not so pleasant time in secondary school. On one hand, you have parents wanting you to put in your best; on the other, you have peers who are either ignorant or envious of your "achievements" and try means and ways to bring you down to their level.

I was ridiculed for my poor command of Chinese while the rest of the class had no problems with it (half my class even took Chinese Literature).

Not surprising then - I hated my classmates, and despised them for mediocrity and sloppiness in their work. With the exception of one, I have no contacts with them anymore.

Life's slightly better now, not least since I am in the "Champions league". You only become better when you play with the best (from around the world).


If you stay within the group's norms you are rewarded, if you stray you're punished. The possibility to attaining something "better" involves risk. Simply put, for many people in this situation the expected return of deviating from the group's norms is very low. - mike


One thing I really hate about Singaporean style "modesty" and "humility" is how one always tries to downplay his/her achievements. If you are good, you are good. Don't give me bullshit and try to be overly humble. You are making me feel sick by becoming too fake.

Friday, July 28, 2006

JHU - A*star break up (BT coverage)

The Business Times has two more letters published on this issue. Interesting parts in bold.

Business Times - 27 Jul 2006

JHU-A*Star break-up raises more questions

I REFER to media reports about Johns Hopkins University's Singapore arm not meeting A*Star's goals in their tie-up.

A*Star's statement that Johns Hopkins University's (JHU) agreement was terminated because it failed to meet eight out of 13 performance benchmarks may raise more questions. Its spokesman had, only days earlier, described the problems as a period of 'transition' - a decision taken by the leadership of the American university and the agency to replace the current 'operating model of collaboration' with a 'new model of partnership' still being developed.

It is interesting to note that whilst five of the performance benchmarks (KPIs) relating to recruitment were not met, output in the five KPIs typically associated with academic research far exceeded their targets.

For example, in the first year, the result was zero for training programmes, graduate students and visiting faculty, and a shortfall of 78 and 62 per cent for full-time faculty, and research scientists respectively. Even by the second year, the result was still zero for graduate students, with a shortfall of 50 per cent for training programmes, 66.6 per cent for visiting faculty, 92 per cent for senior investigators with international reputation, and 69 per cent for research scientists.

In contrast, the KPIs for number of post-doctoral participating in research, joint projects with other research institutes in Singapore, papers published, papers presented at top conferences, and conferences organised; far exceeded their targets by 20, 300, 260, 300 and 100 per cent respectively.

If you are not able to recruit the numbers you target, but fewer people are able to produce much higher outputs, then what is the problem? Perhaps what is more important now is to try to understand why it is so difficult to get researchers willing to come to Singapore. We need to find out how to make our research environment more attractive.

It is perhaps instructive to note that all three KPIs relating to commercial end-results, failed to produce a single patent, new technologies or new products. In this context, maybe there is a need for us to re-examine our fundamental strategies and approach.

If JHU, which is arguably one of the best in the world in its field, is not able to meet A*Star's standards, are the goals realistic and achievable within the time frame stipulated?

In the final analysis, KPIs and agreements aside, it is a 'no win' for A*Star, JHU and Singapore, as Singapore has clearly stumbled in its maiden major medical research effort.

We should focus on learning from the experience rather than concentrate on apportioning blame. Otherwise, we may just be reinforcing the scientific community's perception that Singapore's environment is not conducive to creativity.

I cannot help but feel that the root cause of the problem may be a clash of two cultures - Singapore's technocratic efficiency versus the American ideals of freedom, liberalism, diversity and creativity.

For example, JHU prefers to recruit young researchers as they may have more passion and are hungrier for a research breakthrough, whereas A*Star wants researchers with international reputation.

Unlike other American universities and scholarships, JHU does not believe in bonds for its scholars, like A*Star which has a history of even taking bond-breakers to task.

As one researcher I spoke to said rather profoundly, you need to be happy to be creative, so Singapore's happiness ranking at 131 out of 178 countries has to improve.

Leong Sze Hian


Published July 28, 2006


DJHS did not deliver as promised

I REFER to the letter 'JHU-A*Star break-up raises more questions' from Leong Sze Hian (BT, July 27). The key question is whether the return on Singapore's investment in DJHS has been satisfactory. The answer: Not satisfactory.

We reiterate that DJHS was established to achieve three goals:

• establish a centre of immunology, experimental therapeutics and cancer research with an international reputation;

• establish PhD training at DJHS in Singapore; and

• recruit senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and full-time residence in Singapore.

DJHS failed to deliver on its commitments on all three goals.

With reference to key performance indicators (KPIs), they were what DJHS reported to A*Star. By its own rating, DJHS did not achieve eight of the 13 KPIs.

The five that DJHS said had been achieved do not outweigh the eight that were not met. Whether the five KPIs, including the number of papers published, have been met is yet to be determined by A*Star, in the light of the sparse presence of full-time senior investigators based in Singapore.

Mr Leong asked whether A*Star's goals for DJHS were 'realistic and achievable within the time frame stipulated'. We would clarify that the KPIs were not imposed on DJHS but were arrived at through negotiation and mutual agreement. With reference to the issue of recruiting senior scientists as opposed to junior scientists, A*Star is fully supportive of nurturing young research talent. Hence our extensive National Science Scholarship programme.

But the agreement with DJHS explicitly required the recruitment of senior investigators to lead the research programmes and to mentor students and young scientists. We need good 'generals' to lead our own young 'lieutenants'. Mr Leong said: 'What is more important now is to try to understand why it is so difficult to get researchers who are willing to come to Singapore.'

A*Star has had no difficulty in attracting some of the best scientific talents in the world to relocate to Singapore. These include world renowned leaders in their fields as well as bright young post-docs.

By happy coincidence, we are able to quote from the latest issue of Time magazine (July 23, 2006): 'For a serial kidnapper, Philip Yeo looks harmless enough. But to hear some people tell it, he's a dangerous man. Over the past six years, Yeo has been roaming the world, trailing talented scientists in Washington; San Diego; Palo Alto, California; Edinburgh and elsewhere, and spiriting them back to his home country of Singapore - What distinguishes Yeo from other kidnappers, of course, is that his targets go willingly. They happily relocate to Singapore's new 2-million-sq-ft Biopolis research centre.' (see: magazine/printout/0,8816,1218061, 00.html)

With reference to the scholarship bonds, A*Star as a public entity that uses public funds, is obliged to the Singapore tax-payer to ensure that its scholars return and serve Singapore after completion of their studies. Johns Hopkins, as a privately funded university, may issue bond-free scholarships if it chooses to do so, but it should not expect A*Star to fund such scholarships on its behalf. A*Star is not aware of any other government entity that awards overseas study scholarships without requiring the recipients to return after completion of their studies.

Dr Andre Wan,
Biomedical Research Council
Agency for Science, Technology and Research

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sg Govt worry we will all leave

I suppose this is from the Straits Times:

July 26, 2006, 6.36 pm (Singapore time)
Govt warns of youth leaving S'pore: Lim

YOUTH, having been groomed by a first class educational system and equipped for the challenges of a competitive and global market would choose to leave Singapore for greener pastures.

This is a worry that Minister of Transport Raymond Lim voiced out to more than 400 junior college students on Wednesday.

He was speaking at the 16th Temasek Seminar, organised by the Ministry of Defence, to share with students Singapore's need to eke out a relevant role within the international system.

He stressed the importance of youth, citing them as 'stakeholders of a common destiny'.

Speaking to the audience, he said, 'For me, nothing is more urgent now than a dialogue with the sons and daughters of our country, to understand and work with you to build a home that you would call their own.'

'If you end up marrying them, that is alright but please settle down in Singapore to raise your children,' he said jokingly of meeting people from other cultures.

Mr Lim's worries are likely to be well-founded.

A recent survey by Singapore Press Holdings - based on a poll of 2,548 teenagers from India, China, Malaysia, Japan, and Singapore - found that 53 per cent of Singaporean teens would consider emigration.

This sentiment is much more prevalent among Singaporean teens, than with their counterparts in India (39 per cent) and Malaysia (28 per cent).

The survey also revealed the top reasons teens here gave for emigrating: stress and the perception of better job opportunities overseas.

Also present at the annual seminar was Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean who addressed the need for Singapore to remake itself 'to possess the right qualities and attributes for the 21st century world city'.

'While many of the challenges facing us, such as our country's small size, have not changed, the world around us has,' he said, pointing out that Singapore has already begun to adapt.

Us? Stakeholders? Bullshit.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

About doing Science in Singapore

Anonymous asked: as a grad student, are you able to comment more on the situation? for example, how easy is it to get that many investigators to move to singapore?

i'm guessing that there are very few PIs/full profs who would relocate without very large financial incentives.

10:04 AM, July 25, 2006

Short answer? It is not easy and yes, very few PIs/established professors would relocate without (to put it bluntly) lots of money. Even so, this does not guarantee they would not quit and move back home later.

The Singapore bureaucracy tends to think they can simply throw money and get the returns it wants. Might be true if you are talking about easily quantifiable *stuffs* like factories, or shipyards, or number of (doctors/lawyers/life scientists/engineers). But scientific talent? More than that.

With regards to scientific research, Singapore has several drawbacks.

1. Weather. Eg.: In the area of Organic Chemistry (synthesis), the hot and humid conditions (even inside the lab) pose challenges if you are working with water-sensitive materials as is the case with most reactions. Relevance to Singapore? How about pharmaceutical research?

2. Distance from the main centers of scientific research, namely the US and Europe. This isn't just the travelling time researchers in Singapore need to take to get to conferences to present their findings. Many advanced equipments that the local A*star institutes and universities use are manufactured in the West. If there are serious breakdowns, parts and technicians have to be flown in to repair them. This naturally jacks up (financial) costs; and in the fast paced world of research publications, where many investigators have to 'publish or perish' the loss in time is something they cannot ignore. One of the (local) institutes once had to wait 3 whole months to get their mass spectrometer fixed. You can imagine how many research groups were affected.

On the other hand, if you are to check out the manufacturing sites for these scientific equipment, they tend to be located in places near some US research university. (CA and MA have many.) One of the equipments my lab uses was manufactured in a factory an hour's drive away from campus. My boss said that their customer service is good. "Very fast in their response time."

The distance is also an issue with the family members (spouse/kids) of the researchers. Who likes to uproot themselves from a familiar environment to go to somewhere far and foreign? I know a few cases of professors turning down offers from NUS because of familial objections.

3. Support network. Scientists do not (like to) work alone, and they are drawn to places where there are already many established universities/national labs. Think Research Triangle in North Carolina, or the CA schools (Berkeley and Stanford are only about 1 - 1.5 hours drive apart), or Boston with its numerous colleges and universities. Or how the presence of Los Alamos National Laboratory attracts researchers to New Mexico, a state which is not known for scientific research. Can NUS/NTU, and by association the research institutes generate the critical mass?

4. Libraries. Might not be very obvious, but many faculty members like to read. And Singapore's culture is one that does not encourage reading. How many of you had been teased when young if you told your friends that you want to go to the library to read? Nerd!


So, what does a real US-based prof think about the Singapore tertiary education and research scene?

The emails below are part of an exchange I had with my SRP mentor a long time ago while still serving in the SAF. He was then returning to the US and is now at a highly regarded university in New England. Do bear in mind I was only 19 at that time, so please excuse my youthful naivety. :P For obvious reasons the identifiable parts have been changed/edited to maintain my anonymity. This took place sometime in the late 90s. The situation might have changed since then, but I doubt it.

From :>
Sent : June 17, 199X 2:52 AM
To : takchek
Subject : RE: Some Queries about US education system

Hi takchek!

You may be a product of the Singaporean system, but that doesn't make you rigid. Actually, the fact you are exploring the possibilities of study abroad already sets you apart from your classmates! Most of the students I encounter are quite satisfied with what they have been given and seldom question anything. When they consider study abroad, if they do, they are always concerned about the possibility of losing something here. I don't find Singaporeans to be big risk takers, in the way Taiwanese and Hong Kong people are.

I may sound down on Singapore and its people, but please don't misunderstand. I actually like it here, and most of all, I like the Singaporean people. I just want them to have more opportunities to develop themselves to their fullest potential. I guess that is what every teacher would like for his students.

Thank you for your kind wishes, I am returning home with mixed feelings, I must confess. I have enjoyed my sabbatical here, free from the stress and pressures of our system and of my job at (US university), and of course, I am changed in some way. I have enjoyed all of my experiences here, good ones and bad ones. I have also learned a lot and made some wonderful new friends whom I shall always treasure. I have met and tutored many interesting young Singaporeans such as yourself and look forward to watching them develop in the years ahead.

I hope you will stay in contact. I will return here in the fall and look
forward to seeing you again.

With best wishes and warmest regards,

From: takchek
Sent: June 16, 199X 5:04 PM
Subject: RE: Some Queries about US education system

Dear Dr X,

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you that the education system here is too rigid, but unfortunately I am a product of this system. Rote learning drills knowledge in but leaves one inadequate at the teriary level, where one will be working/studying at the frontiers of his/her discipline.

Bon voyage (Happy Independence Day on Jul 4!) and I will let you know when Mr Y (Ed: another prof he recommended I contact) replies. I am sure he will bring in a fresh
perspective and correct some of my misconceptions.

Till then, best regards.

To: takchek
Subject: RE: Some Queries about US education system
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 199X 13:48:34 +0800

Hi takchek!

Thanks for your reply. I won't mind your writing to me in the future if you wish to discuss your academic plans. By the way, I will return to the USA on July 4. My e-mail address in (the US) is:

I agree that you need to have an overseas education in order to have a good future in the 21st century. From my experiences in Singapore, I can say that the system here isn't yet world class. Yes, they have nice facilities, but the libraries don't measure up to even those of average universities in the USA. But what is really lacking is the quality of the faculty, they aren't doing world class research in most areas and while they are good, the best have left the country to work in the US, the UK or Australia.

There is also a rigidity about education here, too much emphasis upon grades, memorization and little concern for creativity or critical thinking. The classroom here is boring as far as I am concerned. Well, I don't want to seem unkind by criticizing my colleagues but I have enjoyed this experience and learned a lot. What I will take back with me is fond memories of the kindness and warmth of the Singaporeans!

But for an undergraduate education you can certainly receive a decent one here and then consider transferring to an overseas university for graduate training.

I think your idea of having a study abroad experience is an excellent one, but I don't recommend summer programs, you should consider a full semester program. For example (US university) and NUS have an exchange program and we receive undergraduates from Singapore for a full semester.

It's a more meaningful experience and the students return very happy from that experience.

I don't think you are ready to decide such matters as what to do after you graduate right now. Let's just concentrate on getting an undergraduate degree first!(-:

Take care and let me know if you need more help.

Warmest regards,

From: takchek
Sent: June 14, 199X 8:32 PM
Subject: RE: Some Queries about US education system

Dear Dr X,

Thank you (Ed: for offering to help me answer questions about US universities). I do not have any more questions at the moment, but there will definitely be more coming in the months ahead (I hope you won't mind)as I consider my tertiary education path. I firmly believe that I need to have an overseas education to get the experience, which I think will be invaluable in the 21st century. Unfortunately, I have to consider the costs, so I may want instead to go for the summer programme and/or a semester as an exchange student for my undergraduate education. I have not really decided yet. As for my Masters, I hope I can get the grades needed to go to one of America's top research universities. Maybe a PhD after that? Or straight to industry and followed by a MBA a few years later? I don't know.

Best Regards


More about the A*star and JHU break up:

e pur si muove (I), (II), (IV); Joseph.

Monday, July 24, 2006

More on the JHU-A*star breakup

The original ST report here. Today has a follow-up, and I reproduce it below:

The experiment that failed

A*Star points to problems with Johns Hopkins' PhD programme, senior leadership

Tuesday • July 25, 2006

Tan Hui Leng

SINGAPORE'S eight-year relationship with Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has gone sour and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has said the reason was simple: The American medical institution did not deliver what it promised.

In a media report over the weekend, the university had appeared to blame its Singapore partner for not meeting its "financial and educational obligations".

This is not true, said A*Star yesterday, while acknowledging that it had decided to terminate its arrangement with the Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore (DJHS).

"We are dismayed at the implication that A*Star is somehow to blame for the current predicament of the DJHS junior faculty and students," said A*Star's director of the Biomedical Research Council, Dr Andre Wan, in a press statement.

Singapore had invested $54 million under Phase 1 of the collaboration from 1998 to 2004 and another $28 million from then to now. Despite this, the university had "significant problems" in the progress of its research and education programmes, A*Star said.

"Findings revealed that DHJS was still lacking in senior scientific leadership and had failed to achieve several key performance indicators," said A*Star.

The review was carried out by two committees late last year and early this year.

In the agreement, DJHS was tasked to enrol at least eight PhD students by February this year. As the review date approached, however, the division still had no students.

"Given the pace of development, A*Star assessed that DJHS was unlikely to meet the target of 40 PhD students enrolled by Feb 2009," the agency said.

The agreement also required DJHS to recruit 12 senior investigators with international reputation, who would live in Singapore by February this year.

However, just one out of 13 fulfilled these requirements, said A*Star.

Five others were full professors but one resigned from the university. Two were based in Baltimore, one spent 80 per cent of his time at the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and one was a visiting scientist. Of the remaining seven faculty members, six were assistant professors.

"Academics generally would not consider someone at the level of an assistant professor to be a senior investigator," said A*Star.

The agency raised its concerns but the university responded that it prefers "to hire capable and ambitious junior scientists rather than bring in 'big names'".

However, A*Star "feels strongly that neither the letter nor the spirit of the agreement, in particular the requirement to recruit senior investigators, was being followed". Just this month, the agency learnt that DJHS had granted four PhD students five-year scholarships with no obligations to return to Singapore after the completion of their studies. However, such scholarships do not qualify for A*Star funding support under the agreement.

A*Star said it has been actively helping the facility with the relocation of its faculty members back to Baltimore and placements for those who wish to stay. It is also trying to assist the PhD students with their studies.

"As a government agency, A*Star has a responsibility to review the progress and performance of projects such as DJHS that are supported with public funds," said A*Star.

"Where necessary, we will act decisively to ensure that these projects continue to create value for and contribute positively to Singapore's biomedical sciences initiative."


On the same day under the Voices section, Dr Andre Wan gives the Agency's take on the issue. Pretty much the same as was written above, with the addition of several minor details.

We have kept our end of the deal: A*Star

Agency says decision to terminate agreement with Johns Hopkins taken after three years of monitoring and scrutiny

Tuesday • July 25, 2006

Letter from dr andre wan
Biomedical Research Council
Agency for Science, Technology and Research

Let us start by stating the mission of the Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore (DJHS). It was set up to achieve three goals.

First, to establish a centre of immunology, experimental therapeutics and cancer research with an international reputation. Second, to establish PhD training at DJHS in Singapore. Third, to recruit senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and full-time residence in Singapore.

We refer to Mr Leong Sze Hian's letter in your newspaper yesterday urging A*Star to "tell us more". We also refer to the Straits Times' article of July 22, 2006 headlined "Johns Hopkins, A*Star 'headed for break-up'". It was alleged in the report that A*Star "has not kept up its end of the deal in meeting its 'financial and educational obligations'" and that this is a "reputational issue for Singapore and A*Star".

It was also alleged that Johns Hopkins University (JHU) "had done its part to recruit faculty and graduate students as stipulated in its Agreement with A*Star".

These statements attributed to the JHU spokesman are both untrue and inappropriate.

The truth of the matter is that A*Star has fully complied with its obligations under the Agreement and continues to do so during the contractual 12-month wind-down period.

Indeed Singapore invested a total of S$54 million under phase 1 of the collaboration (1998-2004) and a further S$28 million under phase 2 to date.

The JHU presence in Singapore began in 1998 with the goals of providing clinical service, education and research. But in 1999, Johns Hopkins Singapore (JHS) was found to have significant problems in the progress of its research and education programs and a restructuring of the collaboration was then effected.

However, problems persisted. A*Star had to negotiate a significant restructuring of JHS in 2003 which led to the establishment of the DJHS, an academic department reporting to the Dean of Medicine at JHU.

A*Star put in place, with the agreement of JHU, stringent oversight criteria and the requirement for a mid-cycle review. The Agreement specified clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that would provide mutually agreed metrics for success.

The mid-cycle review was carried out by two committees in late 2005 and in early 2006. Separate reports were submitted by the independent Scientific Advisory Committee appointed by DJHS itself, and by the A*Star Grant Review Committee. The findings revealed that DJHS was still lacking in senior scientific leadership and had failed to achieve several KPIs.

For example, the Agreement required DJHS to enrol at least eight PhD students by February 2006. However, as the review date approached, DJHS still had no students. In October 2005, DJHS was urged by its Scientific Advisory Committee to take steps to address this issue. Given the pace of development, A*Star had assessed that DJHS was unlikely to meet the target of 40 PhD students enrolled by February 2009.

The Agreement also required DJHS to recruit 12 senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and with full-time residence in Singapore by February 2006.

In truth, only one out of the 13 recruited by DJHS fulfilled these requirements. While there were five others who held the title of full Professor, one had already tendered his resignation from JHU, two were based in Baltimore and did not reside in Singapore, one was based at the JHS International Medical Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and spent only 20 per cent of his time at DJHS, and one was a visiting scientist on a 12-month contract.

Of the remaining seven faculty, six were given appointments as Assistant Professors by JHU. For five of the six, this was their first appointment as an Assistant Professor. Academics generally would not consider someone at the level of an Assistant Professor to be a senior investigator.

When A*Star raised its concerns, JHU responded that at Hopkins they prefer to hire capable and ambitious junior scientists rather than bring in "big names". A*Star feels strongly that neither the letter nor the spirit of the Agreement, in particular the requirement to recruit senior investigators, was being followed.

All in all, DJHS failed to meet eight out of 13 KPIs for scientific capability development specified in the Agreement. For seven of these KPIs, DJHS was unable to even meet the first year targets by the end of the second year.

The Agreement allows A*Star to discontinue funding DJHS if it decides after formal review and with due process, that DJHS is not likely to succeed in achieving its KPIs.

The decision to terminate the arrangement with DJHS was not taken hastily and was based on nearly three years of monitoring and scrutiny. Moreover, discussions between senior management at JHU and A*Star about the potential closure continued for over three months (mid-February to end May 2006) before the decision was finally made.

A joint A*Star-DJHS circular was then sent on June 20, 2006 to all DJHS staff and students to inform them of the decision. The wind-down process then commenced in accordance with the terms of the Agreement.

It was only in July 2006 that A*Star learnt, for the first time, that DJHS had granted its four PhD students five-year scholarships with no obligation to return to Singapore after completing their studies. Such scholarships do not qualify for funding support under the Agreement.

Instead the Agreement requires DJHS to either fund or seek external funding (ie not from A*Star) to support any student to be trained in Baltimore.

We are deeply dismayed at the implication that A*Star is somehow to blame for the current predicament of the DJHS junior faculty and students.

Under the Agreement, should the DJHS program falter, JHU alone is responsible for the redeployment of its faculty. A*Star's obligation is limited to the provision of a 12-month wind-down budget. Notwithstanding this, A*Star has been actively helping DJHS and JHU with the re-location of faculty to Baltimore and placement of those who wish to remain in Singapore.

As for the four PhD students, though their scholarships do not qualify for A*Star funding under the Agreement, A*Star has gone out of its way to offer them assistance. We have renewed offers of A*Star local scholarships to two of them, and we are still attempting to assist the other two. We have yet to hear of any offer of assistance from JHU.

As a government agency, A*Star has a responsibility to review the progress and performance of projects like DJHS that are supported with public funds. Where necessary, we will act decisively to ensure that these projects continue to create value for and contribute positively to Singapore's biomedical sciences initiative.

In this respect, we have been even-handed and fair in our other interactions with JHU as a whole.

For instance, A*Star and Singapore have a productive relationship with the JHS International Medical Centre based at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Much of the clinical research conducted there is funded by the Singapore Cancer Syndicate, which is an arm of A*Star.

A*Star also sends its National Science Scholars to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees at JHU in Baltimore, after which they are obliged to return to serve Singapore.

A*Star and Singapore have, over the past eight years, given JHU every possible chance to succeed. But for DJHS, JHU was unable to fulfill its obligations under the Agreement. We cannot justify the continuation of public funding for a collaboration that has failed to yield results for Singapore.

However, we continue to act in good faith to ease any disruption by the provision of a generous 12-month wind-down period and as much support as possible within the terms of the Agreement.

It is therefore most surprising that JHU should choose to lecture A*Star and the people of Singapore about our reputation when it is JHU which has not delivered on its commitments under the Agreement.

Letter from Dr Andre Wan

Director, Biomedical Research Council

Agency for Science, Technology and Research

My take? A divorce is always messy, especially when you have two big egos clashing.

The 2006 PSC scholars

Taken from Sammyboyforums. Interesting bits in bold.

July 23, 2006
PSC casts wider net to attract more talent
Mid-term scholarships for those already in university, local medical scholarships, plus internship scheme for a taste of life in civil service

By Jeremy Au Yong

THE Public Service Commission (PSC) has expanded its scholarship programme to enable the civil service to cast a wider net when recruiting talent.

Undergraduates can now apply for scholarships midway through their studies and local scholarship recipients can take up medicine, a choice previously available only to President's Scholars.

Is it more like: you fail the first time round in the interviews (after your As/poly), now you get a second chance to become a bonded servant of the system.

The changes were announced yesterday by Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, the minister-in-charge of the civil service, at the annual PSC scholarship ceremony.

In his address to scholarship recipients at the Istana, Mr Teo explained the rationale behind each development.

The mid-term scholarships, he said, have been introduced to provide an avenue for students who 'for some reason or other' did not want to apply for a PSC scholarship.

The scholarships for local medical students was created to 'recognise outstanding students whose hearts are set on becoming doctors'.

I don't really see how Med School fits with the Civil Service. I thought Med students in NUS are already bonded to MOH. They should also mention that nobody signed up to be LSA(Med) scholars this year under SAF.

He also said the civil service will start an internship programme to give outstanding undergraduates a taste of life in the civil service. A total of 29 undergraduates from 15 top universities are currently going through the programme.

He hopes the experience will get them to consider signing up after graduation.

I really think these folks should work overseas first before thinking about signing on with the Civil Service. At the very least, think of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars your folks had shelled out. With the pay scale in the Sg Civil Service, you probably won't be able to earn these back within a reasonable time frame.

He said: 'The civil service values its talent, regardless of whether he or she joins us as a scholar after A levels or mid-way through university, or as fresh or mid-career graduate.'

Mr Teo also encouraged overseas students to go beyond their social circle of Singaporeans and suggested that those in local universities should sign up for overseas exchange programmes. He stressed that good grades were not everything.

I guess he has heard of the Singaporean ghetto-towns?

'While achieving good academic results is important, you should strive to make your educational experience as meaningful and enriching as possible.'

Later, he handed out scholarships to 39 students.

Of the cohort, 19 will be heading for Britain, 14 to the United States and one - 19-year-old Png Zhiheng - to France. Five will study locally.

Among the scholarship recipients yesterday was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's son, Mr Li Hongyi, 19, who will be reading economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. PM Lee also attended the ceremony.

The third generation emerges...

The batch also included Mr Loh Wei-Liang, 19, one of the first three students to receive a Local Merit Scholarship to study medicine.

He said: 'I have been set on becoming a doctor since secondary school. With or without the scholarship I would've taken up medicine, so I feel really lucky to have got it.'

I beg to differ. More bonded years? :)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Housemate(s) from hell

Many of us studying (or sometimes working) abroad will stay with housemates/flatmates/roommates. It is usually expensive to stay alone in a one bedroom house/apartment/studio and a typical student's budget will not be enough to pay for this luxury.

Then there will be the issue of getting along with those who share with you the living quarters. For many (at least the majority of folks I know), there is always the concern of whether you are unlucky enough to get one from hell. It is one thing to know a person as a friend, it is another to see him/her day in/day out.

So last Friday things came to a head in my house when utility and gas bills for the month of June came in. To cut the long story short, it is significantly higher than the previous months. I have a pretty good guess as to the reason why. These being the summer months, we have to rely on A/C to keep ourselves cool (pun unintended). But this moron simply kept the A/C on when he was the last one to leave (and he is almost always the last one out). The same goes for the stove oven; he likes to host parties at my place and there were at least two occasions where he simply left the oven heated overnight after he had removed the chicken.

This was the fuse that lit the tinderbox. I started to confront him on the other issues; those that I had kept bottled up for a long time.

1. You regularly bringing different girls home for sex. I don't really care what you do behind the closed doors of your bedroom. But you sure make a lot of noise that the wooden walls cannot keep out. Eh hello? The whole world does not need to hear those.

2. PDA in the common areas. It is one thing to give each other pecks on the cheek or hugs; it is another to engage openly in sex on the couch in the living room. Oh, and can you tell your girl not to walk from your bedroom to the bathroom wearing nothing at all below?

3. Taking one hour baths on weekday mornings. There is only one bathroom in the house, and your two housemates need to use it too before going to school or work.

4. Leaving your dirty dishes in the sink. I am not washing your shit, and I need the space for my own cooking.

5. Playing your fucking electric organ while I am watching the TV.

I am seriously reconsidering extending my lease, but the location is too good to pass. Let's hope you get the internship, then I do not need to see you again.

Not surprising then to read news reports of people killing their housemates.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Those Joint PhD programs between S'pore and Top Foreign Universities

It's not often you get to see such news being reported in the local press. I always have mixed feelings about such programs. Sometimes I wonder if there are any benefits to Singapore at all, given the heavy subsidies the state has provided to these foreign institutions. Several years ago, questions were raised in a Technology Review article about the UK government's financial involvement in the Cambridge-MIT partnership (similar to our SMA program).

Straits Times July 22, 2006
Johns Hopkins, A*Star 'headed for break-up'
Facility in Biopolis will close in a year, say staff of research and education tie-up
By Liaw Wy-Cin and Teh Joo Lin

AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD marriage between a top American medical institution, Johns Hopkins University, and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) looks to be heading for a break-up, and a messy one at that.

Staff of the research and education tie-up - Division of Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins in Singapore - told The Straits Times that they had been informed early last month that the facility in Biopolis in North Buona Vista would close in a year.

Another indication of problems came from four local students who were awarded doctorate scholarships to study at the university in Baltimore.

They too were told last month that the research division would no longer be funding their studies.

When contacted, an A*Star spokesman described the problems as a period of 'transition' - a decision taken by the leadership of the American university and the agency to replace the current 'operating model of collaboration' with a 'new model of partnership' that is still being developed.

But while the issues are worked out over the next 12 months, staff and faculty here will be given help to either relocate to Baltimore or find new employment in Singapore, said A*Star.

As of March, there were a total of 60 staff, 13 of them faculty members.

As for the four local students who were to pursue their graduate training in Baltimore, A*Star said:

'Although A*Star is not obliged to do so, we have offered assistance to all four students to facilitate their entry to a PhD programme at a local university and where possible, we have offered them the opportunity to apply for an appropriate A*Star scholarship.'

Taking a different view of the situation was the spokesman for Johns Hopkins University, who said the university had done its part to recruit faculty and graduate students, as stipulated in its agreement with A*Star.

The university maintains that its Singapore partner has not kept up its end of the deal in meeting its 'financial and educational obligations'.

'Although Johns Hopkins University has attempted to be as collegial as is possible during this very difficult phase, the displacement of outstanding junior faculty recruited from throughout the world, and the intense disruption of graduate student education, cannot be underestimated or dismissed.'

The spokesman added that this is a 'reputational issue for Singapore and A*Star' and that the university will continue to work to resolve faculty and student issues during this transition.

The recent developments came as a surprise to staff, some of whom had only recently relocated to Singapore.

As late as March this year, an editorial in Johns Hopkins Singapore's newsletter said the division 'continues its recruitment efforts'.

It also said it had 'embarked on its education programme with a bang', before going on to mention the four Singapore students who would receive the postgraduate scholarships.

Johns Hopkins came to Singapore in 1998 to carry out research, education and patient care activities. p> It also set up a medical centre here, designated as Johns Hopkins Singapore's clinical arm for patient care and clinical research.

And while the research division has hit a rocky patch, the medical centre is expanding.

The Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre last year moved from its original premises at the National University Hospital into a space at Tan Tock Seng Hospital that allowed it to see up to 750 new private patients each year.

A year ago, the Wall Street Journal reported about the increasing popularity of such tie-ups between Asian countries and Western universities. Risks aplenty, good reputation or not.

U.S. colleges offering degrees in Asia

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
By Cris Prystay, The Wall Street Journal

A few years ago, the government of Singapore made Duke University an offer it couldn't refuse: The city-state would underwrite a new $310 million graduate medical school and hand the entire budget over to Duke. The Singapore school would use Duke's curriculum, and Duke would run the show, from hiring the staff to selecting the students.

The Durham, North Carolina, university, which had been looking for ways to expand to Asia, leapt at the offer. But they refused one thing: to call the Singapore degree a Duke medical degree -- at least right away.

Concerned that it could take time to build a program of the same standard they offer at home, Duke proposed the actual degree be granted by the National University of Singapore, where the graduate medical school will be built, when it opens in 2008.

"The Duke trustees said 'This is a great experiment, but we don't know if, at this point, we should give a Duke degree,' " says Dr. Victor Dzau, president and chief executive of Duke University Health System, the entity that oversees the university's teaching hospitals and medical research. "But we'll be quite ready and happy to do it in a couple of years, once we have some experience over there."

Universities around the world are looking for ways to globalize their staff and curricula -- and grab a slice of Asia's booming education market. About 45 percent of the 1.8 million students who chose to study at universities outside their home country in 2000 came from Asia, according to Unesco. That figure is expected to jump to 7.2 million by 2025, when Asia will account for 70 percent of global demand for international higher education, estimates IDP Research, an Australian organization co-owned by the country's universities.

American colleges have long been content to let their brand names draw foreign students. But as competition for Asia's students is stepping up, some big U.S. schools are getting into the game there. While universities in Australia and the U.K. have offered degrees in Asia for years, a wave of U.S. academic heavyweights are now entering the market.

Singapore, which offers schools preferential real-estate terms and tax-free status, has in the past five years attracted more than 15 top-ranked U.S. schools, including Duke, Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University.

Educators say it's not just about raking in more fees, but also about tapping research, scientific and business trends to make their own programs more competitive and relevant.

"The finances were never the motivation for us; our students are being recruited by global companies and they need global expertise," says Depak Jain, dean of Northwestern University's Kellogg business school, which set up a joint executive MBA degree with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 1996.

The move also allows Kellogg to broaden the courses it offers and the kind of research its professors do. Kellogg's professors fly to Hong Kong to teach modules for its weekend executive MBA program, and conduct research into local business trends. It recently set up an elective on doing business in China.

"It's very important that our professors have a global outlook, says Mr. Jain. "We can't just have a U.S. perspective."

Some universities are rushing in headlong, franchising their degrees to private colleges who offer students a foreign diploma without ever having to leave home. Others, like Duke, are wading in slowly, torn between concerns about diluting their brand and being left behind.

And it's not exactly a cheaper route to a degree. While Asian students may save a bundle on travel and living costs by studying closer to home, most of the U.S. schools charge the exact same stiff fees as they do on their main campuses. Chicago's Graduate School of Business charges the same tuition in Singapore, $38,800 for 10 classes in the 2005-2006 academic year, as it does at home in Chicago. Cornell, which is setting up a master's degree in hospitality management in Singapore, will do likewise.

But other factors are driving Western schools to Asia, where many countries face a massive gap between demand for higher education and the supply of home-grown universities. So some governments are encouraging Western schools to set up shop.

The Malaysian government, for example, began allowing foreign schools to offer degrees in the late 1980s through "twinning" arrangements with local colleges. In those cases, students take the first few years of a degree at the local school before heading overseas for their final year or two. About 30 foreign universities now have similar ventures in Malaysia, with many now offering a degree's entire course work there.

China, where only 17 percent of students who passed national university entrance exams got a place in a local university last year, has followed suit, licensing dozens of joint-venture schools.

While many academic forays are deemed successful, others have proved less so. In 2003, Australia's Newcastle University became the center of controversy after 15 students at the Malaysian campus of its joint-venture partner were caught plagiarizing essays from the Internet. In the end, Newcastle ended the partnership.

For Duke, which had been courted by schools from all over Asia, the fact that Singapore's offer came from a government known for quality control calmed many fears. The dean and vice dean of its medical school will spend about a third of their year in Singapore. Professors hired for Singapore will get an adjunct appointment at Duke and professors from Duke will travel to Singapore to work on research projects. Duke will also get a licensing fee for its curriculum; the school declines to say how much.

The academic intermingling, however, is as much the driver behind the push East as the extra fees, Dr. Dzau says. "It's totally consistent with what's happening around the world, which is globalization," he says. "In the future, there won't be a U.S. model or a Singapore model -- it'll be a global model of education."

Singapore aims to draw 150,000 foreign students from around Asia within 10 years. In 2002, the government Economic Development Board drew a list of high-profile schools and began knocking on doors. Some schools, like French business school INSEAD and the University of Chicago business school, have built their own stand-alone campuses. Others, like MIT, offer specific degrees through ventures with state-owned universities. One recent coup: The University of New South Wales, one of Australia's top universities, agreed last year to build a $245 million, 22-hectare campus over 15 years that will offer the university's full range of graduate and undergraduate programs to 15,000 students, beginning in 2007.

For some of the new entrants, the move has quickly paid for itself. INSEAD, which opened its Singapore campus in 2000, says it took in $18 million in revenue last year and has an enrollment of 300 full-time MBA candidates. And about half of the business school's research projects get some sort of funding from the Singapore government.

Even as top-tier universities look for ways to tap that market, they are looking for ways to manage potential risks.

For Cornell's prestigious School of Hotel Administration, which recently agreed to set up a joint master's degree with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, professors from its Ithaca, New York, main campus will serve as the dean and vice dean. Cornell professors will spend a substantial amount of time in Singapore working on research projects and teaching classes; students in Singapore will spend half their 12-month term in Ithaca.

"The major concern of any brand leader is that when you take the brand further afield, how do you protect it? This was a question we asked at every level," says Leo Renaghan, associate dean for Academic Affairs at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. "We've put a lot of resources into this hybrid model to make it work."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Passing of Singapore Serf, aka Knight of Pentacles

Sad to hear this. Rest in peace anonymous friend, and thank you for chronicling your struggles and eventual emigration from Singapore.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Public Service Announcement (E2K6 and Confluence 2006)

E2K6 (a follow-up from this) will be held this coming Sunday 23 July at the Marriott Hotel Grand Ballroom Level 3 from 10am to 5pm.

I strongly urge you to make a trip down if you want to know more about studying in the US from the Singaporean perspective.


Confluence 2006 - the inaugural Ministerial dialogue session & corporate networking fair held at the Raffles City Convention Centre Swissotel on Saturday 19 August 2006 is a jointly organized cross-Atlantic event for Singaporeans studying all over the world.

The highlight of the event will be the keynote address by Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean followed by a Question & Answer session where the audience will be able to engage the members of a panel consisting of several prominent Singaporeans in meaningful and constructive debate on national issues concerning young Singaporeans such as ourselves.

Concurrently, there will be an all-day corporate career and networking fair where numerous multi-nationals companies and organizations from the private and public sector will be in attendance. The networking session will be an excellent opportunity for students to mingle and find out more about the various career opportunities available from the organizations. Representatives from various fields including sectors such as law, banking, engineering, management consultancy, accounting and the civil service, will be on hand to interact with the students.

During the networking session after the Q & A session, a high tea reception will be served where all attendees are welcome.

Attendance is by invitation card only, which will be mailed to you following registration. Admission is FREE. Please click here to register and receive your personalized invitation card.

Not sure how 'constructive' the questions you can ask TCH will be, but hey, at the very least you can enjoy the free food.

*Maybe he will ask you when you will get married or have kids. The cynical me thinks that this 'dialog' is a result of the MOM study couple of years back.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The "I am Singaporean" meme revisited

Runebab and oceanshaft had been asking if I will *write* the "I am Singaporean" meme. Apparently this doesn't count.

Well, sorry to disappoint you both; I really have nothing to say about being a Singaporean.

Read this guy's (Joseph) account then.

Choice bits:

Where is my sense of ownership of Singapore? Where has my emotional attachment to Singapore gone? Why do I not care if Singapore lives or dies tomorrow?


I think I've finally pinpointed it down to one major reason for this lack of sense of belonging.

The lack of a voice.

If you have a voice that will be heard by the government of your country, you will have a sense of ownership of your country.

If you have an opinion that wants to be heard, and a role and a part to play, you will feel an attachment to this country of yours.

If you want to change things, and you know that if the system allowed for such changes if you tried, you would feel a sense of ownership of this country where the system represents the voice of the people.

But Singapore is not this country.

The government called for an inclusive and more open country in the National Day Rally speech in 2004. This call was contradicted again, and again, and again. And again until there was such a deep breach of trust.

I've seen, read, heard, and experienced too many stories where people tried to change the system to allow more voices to be heard and received flak for it. Where people tried to have their voices heard and received a swift clampdown for their efforts. All for the love of their country and their desire to improve it. But what did they receive?


You have a generation of Singaporeans who are well provided for, and now calls for something more. A voice to be heard.

Until this voice can be heard, the exodus continues.

Tip: Val.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Peer competitors

A week ago, a lab groupmate (as well as my prof) announced that she has been awarded a competitive PhD fellowship by one of the (U.S) federal agencies. This makes three in my own (small) lab group, being holders of prestigious national fellowships. If I include folks from the other lab groups in the department, the numbers go up further.

A year ago, another labmate was awarded the Intel PhD fellowship. As an indication of its selectivity:

The Intel Foundation Ph.D. Fellowship Program awards two-year fellowships to Ph.D. candidates pursuing leading-edge work in fields related to Intel's business and research interests. Fellowships are available at select U.S. universities, by invitation only, and focus on Ph.D. students who have completed at least one year of study. This is a highly competitive program with approximately 40 fellowships awarded annually. The two-year fellowship is renewable for up to two years pending review by the Intel Foundation.

Two years ago, another was awarded the NSF graduate fellowship.

Even my advisor was given tenure early, after 4 years (instead of the usual 5).

This is so depressing for me, to be surrounded by overachievers. Yeah, a number of my friends' publications have also been awarded "best student-authored" prizes by various academic/professional organisations.


This takes the cake:

(Soccer-mad) Friend, SMF: You should expect it what. Grad school sieves out the pretenders from the contenders. (Ed: wtf???) Besides, you have been immersed in competitive environments since secondary school. Then JC, army and undergrad. So what's new?

Me: I am getting tired. I'm always running and benchmarking myself against my peers. It's so hard to do your work and then you see your peers getting recognised for their efforts while you struggle through with your experiments. Then I see my seniors going places.

SMF: Dude, you are now playing in the Champions League. (Ed: I like this analogy, heh) Undergrad is like the Serie A or Premiership, there are weak teams for you to beat easily and end up in the top 10%. Now your competitors are the US and international champions.


The department secretary sent out this email:

Dear Department Head:

As you know, the National Research Council of the National Academies sponsors a number of awards for postdoctoral researchers at federal laboratories. These awards provide generous stipends ($36,000 - $65,000), and the opportunity to do independent research in some of the best-equipped and staffed laboratories in the country.

We ask your assistance in informing doctoral students in your department of these opportunities by copying this message to each one.

Detailed program information, including instructions on how to apply, is available on the NRC Research Associateship Programs Web site at:
Questions should be directed to the NRC at 202-334-2760 (tel) or

There will be four review cycles annually. Upcoming deadline dates are:

February 1, 2006

May 1, 2006

August 1, 2006

November 1, 2006

Applicants should begin a dialog with prospective advisors at the lab as early as
possible, before their anticipated application deadline.

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely yours,
H. Ray Gamble
Director of the Fellowship Programs
National Research Council
The National Academies


Friday, July 14, 2006

Singapore to increase research talent pool

Archived here for future reference. Grad School, anyone?

July 15, 2006
Scientific and R&D talent will be trained

I REFER to the letter from Mr Vincent Tan Yan Fu, 'Put greater emphasis on training scientists' (ST, July 12).

We thank Mr Tan for his views and suggestions.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) and Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council undertook a rigorous deliberation process and considered training of scientific and R&D talent as a critical component of the proposals for the three strategic programmes in Biomedical Sciences, Environmental and Water Technologies, and Interactive and Digital Media, as well as the set-up of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) Centre.

Training and growing a pool of R&D talent is crucial as top research minds are necessary to transform Singapore into a nation underpinned by strong capabilities in R&D. Through this, Singapore can leverage on R&D to create new growth engines to drive our economy.

The three strategic programmes and Smart Centre will create new opportunities for budding young scientists to embark on R&D careers, and open up avenues for them to work with internationally renowned R&D talent.

The NRF and MIT are working closely on the Smart Centre. The centre will see senior MIT professors lead in research, and this will certainly offer great R&D training opportunities for young scientists.

Chong Wan Yieng (Ms)
Manager, Corporate Communications
National Research Foundation


86,000 R&D jobs to be created in S'pore by 2015

Today Weekend • July 15, 2006

Singapore is aiming to create 86,000 research and development jobs by 2015, Minister of State for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said, as the country competes for foreign investment with regional rivals that include Hong Kong.

Singapore more than quadrupled the number of researchers here to about 19,000 between 1990 and 2004, with 61 per cent of those employed by the private sector, he added.

More workers are needed because Singapore wants to increase spending on research and development to 3 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product by 2010, he said.

"Nurturing and attracting scientific talent is a key focus, especially given our small population base,'' Mr Iswaran said at a United Kingdom-Singapore conference on building science and technology capacity with South-east Asian partners.

"The Government is committed to invest in R&D as a driver for economic growth and as a foundation for our long-term competitiveness," he said.

The Minister of State also said scientific capability needed to be built up.

This could be done either through research or collaborations with industry.

So far, Exploit Technologies, the commercialisation arm of agency A*Star — set up to translate research into marketable products and services — has licensed more than 120 technologies and spun out eight companies since 2002.

More than 160 local companies have also benefited from a scheme that provides them with technological assistance and manpower to boost their competitive edge. — Agencies

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bond-free scholarships; NUS student rejects MIT scholarship

Mr Wang talked about Sg Inc. giving scholarships to the Vietnamese. Nothing new really, and 15 annually is considered negligible given the size of their country's population. So if you are Singaporean and want to find out more about bond-free university scholarships open to pink-IC holders, then check these two threads out.

When I was an undergraduate in NUS, I applied for the scholarship and was rejected despite having reasonably good A-level results (considerably better than 4A's). To pay for my expenses during my undergrad days, I had to slog and work part-time. Then during my honours year, I found out that a coursemate of mine, a foreigner, got the NUS scholarship but he eventually got a lower class of honours than I did.

This is why I would never donate money or give anything back to my (alma mater), NUS. Honestly, if I had to make a choice, I would rather flush money down the toilet than give it to NUS. - a disgruntled alumnus

I personally think that the local universities subject citizens (and PRs) to a much higher (academic) standard when deciding on the award of financial aid. All your 4As, S paper distinctions, MT, interviewing and what-nots, and you may (very likely) still end up with nothing. Then you see your (weaker) foreign friends being awarded scholarships with minimal effort. Here in the US, ironically many of us easily get bond-free financial awards/scholarships. No prizes then for guessing why there is a strong school spirit amongst alumni decades long after they had graduated.


The online forums are abuzz over the news of a NUS mechanical engineering graduate turning down a SMA Masters scholarship.

Top NUS student rejects MIT scholarship to pursue passion in teaching
By Eunice Ong, Channel NewsAsia 10th July 06

She graduated with first-class honours in mechanical engineering and was offered scholarships to pursue a Master's degree.

But Charlene Lin turned down the offers, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA), to pursue her passion in teaching.

The NUS student was the first Singaporean woman to top the mechanical engineering course in eight years.

Charlene is among 8,207 students graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) this year.

NUS Associate Professor Cheng Li said: "Being our top student, Charlene received the offers of scholarship from SMA and MIT to pursue a Master's degree in engineering. She turned down the offer because she wants to do teaching."

Charlene said: "I think a person sometimes has more than one area of interest in life. It is not unusual. It's ok, but at the end of the day, I think a decision has to be made. And compromises have to be made in life. So once a decision is made, just throw your heart over and follow your heart and give off your best."

Charlene has been offered a one-year teaching contract by the Ministry of Education.

She will be teaching physics and mathematics in a secondary school before going for further training in teaching.

Well, if you want to be a secondary school teacher, a Masters in Engineering probably won't be of much help, MIT or not.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I hate you for humming/singing Guang Liang's songs. The lyrics bring back painful memories. It has to be by a girl who rejected me to remind me of one I dumped.

Can you ever forget your first love? All these pieces of baggage...











Partially inspired by Olandario's entry.

Freedom and Science

Since it is only two days past ID4 and in light of recent events, I dedicate these quotes to myself.


Freedom [is] the first-born daughter of science.
--Thomas Jefferson to Francois D'Ivernois, 1795.

Feynman on freedom:

So I have just one wish for you -- the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.'
-- Richard Feynman, from a Caltech commencement address given in 1974

No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.

-- "The Uncertainty of Values" (in the collection "The Meaning of it All")


May the spirit of independence guide your inquiries, and may you pass it on to your children.

-- Howard Lovy, July 4, 2006

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And we all know how this would end

mrbrown wrote:

Thursday, July 06, 2006
Regarding TODAY

Some of you have been asking, so here goes.

I have been informed that TODAY has suspended my column.

It has been a trying few days for me, my family, my mum and my friends. Thank you all for your emails, letters, calls, SMSes, blogs and comments, I don't know what to say.


Thursday, July 6, 2006 at 07:39 AM

Background here.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bhavani vs. Brown

Today in Singapore, the press secretary of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) (or is it Ministry of Propaganda?), a Ms K Bhavani issued a reply on Today to Mr Brown's column (last Friday) regarding the rising cost of living and the depressing of wages stretch(ing) out (of) incomes in Singapore.

But this is not the ominous part. The implicit threat came in the second half of the letter.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.

Much (and better comments) has been said on this issue on other blogs, so I shall not repeat them. If you can't even voice out what people on the ground feel, then what role is there for the newspapers/mass media to play? Rehashing press releases from the respective Sg govt's ministries and stat boards?

But one thing's clear - I shall look to tomorrow with more significance than I do now. If anyone wonders why I have such a low opinion of my own country's leadership, this letter by Ms Bhavani partially explains it.

Acidflask, Singapore Rebel, and now Mr Brown. Who's next?

(Edit) PS asked: Is moderation by both sides possible? Can both the Gahmen and bloggers take a step back?

I don't know, but this reminds me of Newton's Third Law of Motion. If you hit something hard, be prepared for an equal but opposite reaction force directed back at you.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

NUS's FoS Dean take on the Life Sciences

Found this email exchange over at Foxtrotwing's blog. Reposted here for my future reference.

From: Edmund Lim [mailto:foxtrotwing(at)]
Sent: 1/7/2006 (星期六) AM 4:42
To: Tan Eng Chye
Subject: Life Sciences Industry: Feedback

Dear Prof,

Good Day. I understand that sometime last year in July, you received my namecard and I highlighted a serious problem of Life Sciences graduates, along with Arts people. I understand that MOE has introduced many major policy changes, including that of Life Sciences Education Programme.

From my personal experience, I have many friends who have been unemployed for up to 1 year after graduating with a BSc. Some have downgraded themselves to other professions such as property agents or insurance agents. One of my friend is now working illegally in Australia and peddling psychotrophic drugs. I understand that MOE's standpoint, and probably A*Star's position, is that there must be many trained PhD students to work in research arenas. That is probably why the quota has been increased, leading to a over supply of BSc graduates.

However, this is not fair to others who simply couldn't find a job in this industry.I have attached blog postings which do NOT show life sciences graduates in a good light.I will be doing a lot of stuff to stay alive, probably in other areas, other than life sciences.

(He then posted links from other blogs; They are numbered below.)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

The Dean replied. At least he appeared sincere in wanting to help un(der)employed alumni in securing jobs, and none of the stonewalling that is characteristic of our country's bureaucrats.

Hi Edmund

Yes, I remember you. Just a few comments:

1. There is a demand for people with higher qualification such as Masters or Ph.Ds in life sciences - and that is a fact. However, the demand is not so for basic degree graduates. So there is a mismatch of supply and demand.

2. Students mis-understood and have mis-read the job situation with regards to the biomedical industry. If you recall, Philip Yeo was many times quoted for his statement that "life sciences graduates can only wash test-tubes". His intention is to drive the message as pointed in (1) above.

3. We noticed that students invariably swing their interest, much according to the media. Even since I became Dean in 2003, I have been talking to freshmen during the Orientation Week - basically communicating (1) to them. How many listened - I doubt many listened! But some did, and the numbers are not as big as in 2002 (your batch?) and 2003. But at about 450, it is still quite big. My preference is for more students to go to the other disciplines, such as Chemistry - which actually have more relevant jobs available.

4. A science degree is not a professional degree - it is the training of the mind that matters most. I see nothing wrong in a science graduate having an administrative job at STB (one of the blobs below). But I will be worried if many become insurance agents and salesman. The difference being that the entry levels are different - most admin jobs require a degree, while most sales job do not.

5. Science have many graduates who excelled even in jobs supposedly outside science - the General Manager for Marketing of the Today newspaper is a biology graduate, a maths graduate was put in charge of a large group of accountants in Citibank (he is no accountant himself), a pharmacy graduate set up Guardian Pharmacy from one shop to its current network, a maths graduate is not CEO of the Singapore General Hospital, a Chemistry graduate is now the MD for Microsoft in Singapore, etc. Most of these alumni attributed their success to their scientific training.

6. I can understand your frustration in not being able to find a job that is commensurate with your qualification. Perhaps we can get in touch and give some help or advice. Our Office of Student Affairs have several career counsellors who are enlisted to help people like you, even though you are no more a student.

7. I am copying this to Vice-Dean Prof Lim Tit Meng, who is also a biologist. Prof Lim helps me with alumni matters as well as outreach with industry and schools.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dream city?

L'oiseau rebelle asked:

What is your dream city? Why?

Assuming that you have not struck the jackpot and your inheritance, if any, would barely last you beyond a few months. In other words, ways of amassing money to survive should be taken into account.

And: where would you never live?

My dream city? I don't exactly have one in mind, but a number. They share one characteristic - all are college towns.

Many college towns offer these benefits — a built-in intellectual community, good restaurants, low crime rate and research libraries, to name just a few. You can argue that big cities have them (low crime?) too; that may be true, but metropolises have crowds, and a cramped living/work space is a turn-off for me.

College towns (in the US) are also good places to raise a family.

Unfortunately, I assume most of my country (city) folks will probably think they are boring places to live in.

My 'dream' list then (not exhaustive): Madison, WI; Charlottesville, VA; Boulder, CO; Athens, GA; Chapel Hill, NC; Austin, TX; Palo Alto, CA; Oak Ridge, TN; Santa Babara, CA; Gainsville, FL.

Incidentally, such towns have either a state flagship university or private institution or National Lab as an "anchor tenant". If the bitter winter is an issue, then CO and WI are off my list.

Place where I would never live? Heh, it is obvious if you had followed my blog all this while.

My balls bigger than yours

*Ranting ahead*

So I called home this morning. 大姑妈 and her family happened to drop by our place. There is a fine line between being proud of your kid(s) and showing them off in front of your relatives.

The first thing I heard over the phone was: Eh, your cousin T. has just received notification for promotion to V-P leh.

Me: Wow, congrats!

大姑妈: Yeah. Fast right? She's been in teaching for only ~8 years and now she's being promoted again. (Emphasis hers) She's been HOD for only 2 years. So how many more years before you graduate ah?

Me: Oh, (?) more years.

大姑妈: Don't worry lah, you will graduate soon and earn big bucks ok?

Me: ...


T. is one of the cousins I am closer to and I am really happy for her. I felt bad for being unable to attend her wedding (damn NS!), and later the birth of her son (I was already in the US). Coming from a family of teachers, I say that she is probably on the fast-track (high flyer?), since she is just past 30 and joined the teaching service after her college education in the UK. She is also lucky (from what I heard from 大姑妈) to have been posted to relatively good schools and has supportive principals.

But.I.just.cannot.stand.大姑妈. She was always coming over to ask/compare my grades with T. (though I am a few years younger), and later the schools/colleges we attended. So T. is rising fast in her career and is happily married with kids, while I am still stuck in school and single. Not a trophy child eh?


MOE's career track