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.


SM said...

Hello :). I read your blog ~twice a week and am de-lurking to comment here.

I am also an NUS LS graduate. At the beginning of my second or third year, I'd heard that at the admissions briefing the Dean of FoS was actively discouraging FoS freshmen from taking up life sciences solely for the job prospects, and am pleased to see that his unusual realism holds to this day.

However also from personal experience at job interviews, I would disagree with him that "it is the training of the mind that matters most". It has been my good fortune I think to not have had my interviewers laugh in my face when I tried casually mentioning something along those lines in my earlier interviews, shortly after graduation - their dubious expressions said it all.

I have been looking around and would agree with him though that the Chemistry course does have a larger number of relevant jobs available. :)

His reply regarding "insurance agents and salesmen" is worth a full discussion in itself, but I shan't take up your space. :) I look forward to hearing from you.

thecrazzybugger said...

they shouldn't have made biology hot to start with.

and having the government monopolize the Phd job market isnt healthy, because it can pick and choose artificial criteria for hiring and recruiting graduate students and postdocs without the counter-balancing influence of outside academia.

the worst part is that they're monopolizing the flow of information so that - and i'm speaking from personal experience here, no stats or anything - undergradautes here perceive that A*STAR's scholarships (still limited relative to the large graduating pool) are the only way to a PhD.
In fact i was very surprised that my friends were unaware of the large number of summer research programs in biology (in europe and the US) open to foreign students that often leads to a fellowship offer if one performs well in it.

kungfubunny said...

i don't know if it's my browser or if his site really doesn't have comments enabling, but i hope you don't mind if i post a reply here.

i'm one of the links that he used in his email and in that post []
i lamented that the problem with the LS programme is the curriculum structure and no where did i mention i will have problems being employed in the future.

i'm annoyed that he used my blog link without even asking, or informing me, and this is just basic courtesy i'd expect from him.

prof tan's email affirmed what i am about to say, and these facts are not unknown to many of us.

you should not be blaming the faculty or school for your difficulty in finding a job.

before you signed up, like all other general degrees, you cannot expect to take up specialised jobs in the future unless you have furthered your studies.

certainly, not everyone can afford grad school, let alone a second degree.

people all know that the job market is saturated, and even though the gvt said that LS is the next big thing, do you honestly think your modest BSc is anything for you to become a true contributor in the field of research? the answer is no, if you haven't had any research experience.

we should accept that after all, LS may seem to be a specialised course, but it is still a general science degree.

few graduates find jobs related to their fields of study. look at the other science students, just to give an example.

if you are honestly keen on pursuing a career in the LS, you have to make yourself more valuable and search for opportunities for experience, or further education.

there are many other jobs outside of the LS that us graduates with general degrees can attempt.


if i'm not wrong, edmund has been pursuing this matter for a long time and found my website by googling NUS LS. While i empathise with his plight, i do not condone the way he used my post to support his cause, when it had next to nothing to do with it in the first place.

to edmund: i'd appreciate it if you would remove my link in future correspondence, and if you do wish to use it, please ask. you can leave a comment for me to email you, please don't ask me to add you on msn.

and to everyone else: biology is not life science. if you would explore the NUS LS programme site [], you will understand the difference.

the "hot" areas in life sciences include molecular biology and biomedical sciences, where research would prove lucrative in public health and welfare. i am a biology student and i specialise in animal behavior. there is a lot of difference if you'd just try to understand.

L'oiseau rebelle said...

This is less relevant to the post and more of a reply to crazzy bugger: I wonder if some bloggers/scientist types can get together and put up a highly searchable website to tell aspiring Singaporean scientists about the graduate funding situation for non-US citizens/PRs in most science and engineering fields: full tuition waiver, health insurance and a (somewhat) decent stipend.

On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, those who have left and/or "stirred up trouble" with the organization in question are those who are most likely to succeed as scientists.

*to stir up trouble: to put academic and scientific development over and above the values and creed of the organization in question. Eg. taking graduate classes that affect the GPA.