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)@mckinsey.com
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 (www.apd.mckinsey.com) 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.