Monday, January 30, 2006

On the paucity of (Sg) women in Grad School; Jorge Cham

A continuation (somewhat) from the previous post. Both online higher education sources that I follow on a regular basis reported today of Stanford putting in place a new childbirth policy intended to encourage more women to pursue advanced degrees (targetted primarily at PhDs). MIT also has a similar one, and that was used as a prototype for Stanford's.

It is designed to partially ameliorate the intrinsic conflict between the ‘biological’ and the ‘research’ and ‘training’ clocks for women graduate students. I guess the late 20s/early 30s is the crunch period for the majority of us. Most graduate students do not finish their Ph.D. programs until this time, and it happens to coincide with the important decision to start a family (if you are married; if not you probably want to seriously start dating). Many do not have children in grad school simply because of limited financial support. The stipends we receive are meant for one person only, and for most it is only slightly above the poverty line. (I hear that the humanities students are basically living hand-to-mouth.)

Many of my (JC and BS) female peers I have spoken to have this mistaken notion that PhDs lead primarily to a professoriate position, and then the problem of the tenure clock comes in. For engineering, tenure decisions are made on average 5 - 7 years after entry to the assistant professor rank. This has yet to take into account an additional 2 years for post-doctoral research. For the women who leave halfway for pregnancies this would definitely have a negative impact on their academic careers. If they wait too long, they either have to give up the chance of being a mother or go for adoption or undergo expensive fertilization treatments which may or may not work.

S, a close friend, on why she didn't consider grad school after her bachelors: In other professions, you leave because you find better opportunities elsewhere. In academia, you leave if you are a failure (no tenure). And besides, I do want to have a life (in both sense of the word) you know. Ouch.

For those who choose to go into industry, it ain't any much better. But at least many companies (here) will still consider your application if your PhD is recent and skill-sets relevant.

Guess I won't be seeing that many (Sg or otherwise) women at the grad level anytime soon.

Someone was asking me why there aren't that many male grad students dating women outside of school. 2 reasons:

a) Grad students earn much less relative to what we could have had if we had chosen to work after getting our bachelor degrees. Dating is expensive you know.

b) Outsiders don't really understand that we can be working in our labs 24/7. Although I think junior i-bankers and housemen also have similar workloads.

Edit: Another anonymous source has tipped me off on this article in Nature.


Addenum (Jan 31): Now that you mentioned it,

Here's the (most famous) cartoonist ever

Jorge Cham
Jorge Cham

and the lecture he gave while touring various US campuses

Inside the Brain of a typical Grad student

Go attend it, if he's coming to your school. Guaranteed to be worth your while skipping classes/lab research for that 1 hour of laughter.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

That Singsoc CNY celebration

So in one of the rare occasions (in any given year), I turned up for the SSA Chinese New Year dinner gathering yesterday. Unlike hers, the SSA here is very open to foreigners joining in, so much so that a number of exco positions are held by FTs non-Singaporeans. But anyway, that is not the main point of this entry.

Because we hardly never hang out together, the event was good in that you get to see your fellow country folks. And most importantly, we could check out the Singaporean chiobus, which unfortunately I only saw 3 (in my opinion) out of ~20 in a room of about 80 people. They were taken already I think. (Many obviously don't hold the familiar red passport; there were Argentinians, French and Americans, as well as the regular Malaysians and Indonesians.)

This place is really like a monastery; amongst the grad students the sex ratio is even more skewed - there are only 2 Singaporean females in the entire university, even after counting in the popular (for females) majors like business/management and the biological sciences. To put things in perspective, there are 20+ Sg male grad students.

Extrapolating to the undergrad student body, the JC circle is again rather small.

Friend: I chose the wrong school to go to.

Me: Not so much wrong school, but wrong major.

Oh yeah, the food was passable. Although I could see people were more interested in eyeballing/checking out the girls rather than eating. Social intercourse at its best.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Eureka; Competition vs Collaboration in Academia

Just one equation and a graph. And the advisor had produced a plausible explanation for a problem that had vexed us for several months. Geez, why didn't I look at it from that angle?

The clearest example yet of why he is the professor and we are the grad students. Padawans, we still are.

Always start from the First Principles.


Kevin is suggesting the use of wikipedia for sharing and collaborating research work amongst grad students. I beg to differ. This explains why, especially for my (related) field.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clothing Label; Ex; No go for IIM - Singapore; RGSians

I found this while clearing up my room after she had gone.


People will surely get the wrong idea. But I can tell you a friend can fly halfway around the world to see you visit the area and even cook for you (one meal only lah); and that doesn't mean anything. I wonder why they keep drawing the wrong conclusions. Nabeh. Information Rumors here fly faster than one can say KNNBCCB. Why am I so "in denial mode" you say? Because of her.


On the same day she left, I received an email from a hypothetical ex asking me "How's it going?". Followed by a "Are you attached now?" The main text seemed to suggest she is not (right now).

I just want to let you know that I don't want to lose a special friend.

Do you talk to your ex-(es)?

My love life is so screwed up. Argh.


Not sure if this was reported in the local (Singapore) papers, but IIM-Bangalore had got its application to open an overseas branch in Sg-land rejected by the Indian federal government.

India Rejects Plan for Overseas Campus


The Indian government has rejected a proposal by the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore to set up a campus in Singapore, saying that the prestigious institution should first meet domestic demand before venturing abroad.

The decision, made in December but reported this month, has been widely criticized by many of India's top executives and academics, and even some members of the government, who felt that India would benefit by allowing one of the country's most elite higher-education institutions to expand overseas.

"We must realize that world-class educational institutions are created not through government mandate and control, but through academic freedom, innovation, and the pursuit of excellence," said Narayana Murthy, founder of the Indian company Infosys, in an address at Cochin University of Science and Technology last week.

Goh Chok Tong, a senior minister in the Singapore government, expressed disappointment in the decision. "Singapore is a hub for education, and the institute has a good reputation, so we are happy to welcome the institute," he said, according to local news reports in India. "They could have made some money as well."

The directors of all six of the country's Indian Institutes of Management, which have trained many of the country's top business leaders, are scheduled to meet in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) during the first week of February to decide their course of action. Three of the institutes — at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, and Kolkata — are likely to contest the decision, arguing that they are not dependent on government financing anymore. However, the three other institutes — at Indore, Kozhikode, and Lucknow — continue to receive money from the government.

Last week Arjun Singh, minister of human-resource development, whose ministry rejected the branch proposal, dismissed talk that the institutes are independent entities and noted that the government has pumped millions of dollars into them. "They are not independent companies, that they can do whatever they like," he said.

This is not the first time the institutes have clashed with the federal government. In 2004 the previous government imposed drastic tuition cuts, arguing that the institutes were becoming unaffordable. The institutes objected, saying they could not maintain high-quality programs otherwise. The decision was overturned by the current government.
Section: International
Volume 52, Issue 21, Page A49

Interestingly unlike Warwick, it wasn't over academic freedom issues. $$$ talks, but apparently the Indian government favors a 'locals first' policy.

Do Indians have a favorable view of the city state? I hope this belongs to the minority.


Some quotes of past RGSians. Not exactly sure why I put the link here. Definitely not useful in analyzing the girls mentioned above.

I guess all of us still bring up our secondary school days, even when we are well past the teenage years. The only memories I have of that period are the (unpleasant) Chinese lessons. Heh.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Of Draft Dodgers Disruptees and White Horses

Couldn't resist putting these up here.

From Today:

(Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean) added: "The concept of self-sacrifice must be an inherent part of NS. There must be equity in not just making sure that everyone serves but when an individual does so. There's nothing to stop Singaporeans from doing their postgraduate studies after NS. The morale of the troops will go down when some are granted deferments while some are not."

My initial response - What about the Delta Company in OCS? Ask those non-scholar cadets (and other NSF trainees in the units and training schools) how they feel when they see their PSC scholar peers disrupt for overseas undergraduate studies while they have to continue their sai kang with the military.

On White Horse treatments:

ST: Jan 16, 2006
VIPs' sons given special treatment in 1999

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ms Ho Ching's manifestation of humility, as described by Mr Lionel De Souza in his letter, 'Day I witnessed PM and wife's humility' (ST, Jan 12), is certainly awesome and refreshing.

This contrasts with my own experience in December 1999 when my late son was enlisted.

In the same intake were the sons of a government minister, an MP and a former MP.

The moment we arrived at Pulau Tekong, a few instructors asked frantically who the minister's son was.

As we were ushered into the auditorium for the briefing by the school commander, the minister introduced his son to the commander.

Then, as we queued for the buses to ferry us to the cookhouse for lunch, a military vehicle pulled up and whisked the minister, his wife and son away, probably for lunch elsewhere.

I could see the look of envy on the faces of many enlistees and their parents, including my son, who happened to be a good friend of the minister's son.

When it was time to leave Pulau Tekong, we had to queue to get through the turnstiles.

A few military personnel cleared a path for the minister, the MP and the former MP and their wives, hence avoiding the queue.

The experience left me, and I am sure many others, with an extremely poor impression.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

and contrast to this:

(Cedric Foo, Minister of State for Defense) in Nov 2003: ‘White Horses’ are sons of influential Singaporeans and these influential Singaporeans include ministers, member of parliaments, ex-ministers, ex- member of parliaments, nominated member of parliaments, ex-nominated member of parliaments, doctors, senior civil servants like senior SAF officers above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or senior police officer or SCDF officers above the rank of deputy assistant comminsioners. And also a very big group of people who earns S$9,500 a month or more.” anywhere in society, there will be some people who are more prone to bootlicking, but let me say categorically that no one and no commanders will misinterpret this system although it does not exist now. It is certainly not something that we will look too highly upon. In fact, you must scrupulously not to treat them better and not to be seen and perceived as if you treating it. If you look around, very few armed forces would have been able to do what the SAF did. I mean, in the region, which is endemic to corruption, you will not find this level of commitment to fulfil its mission.”

Have you ever seen the OC of a BMT company (as well as ALL his support staff) coming down to greet an ACGS (Assistant Chief of the General Staff) because his son was in the company? And how he was allowed to leave early for the weekend on Friday (his dad actually drove up to the company line to pick him) when others could not?

Incidents like these make me fume, even after so many years.

Creative Giving at MIT; Korean visitors; Blogging Hiatus

Amongst US institutions of higher learning, MIT stands out for its creative use of the web to excite, educate and engage visitors, students and alums alike. From having a new daily spotlight on its main page to Opencourseware, now it has the MIT Fun(d) Challenge. A flash game that lets you play the role of a campus administrator and tries to persuade you to donate (real $$$) to the Institute at the same.

MIT Fun(d) Challenge

Tip: Ann Rata


To my Korean visitors,

I am curious. May I know the reason(s) behind the interest in Tracey Ho? With multiple visits from Postech, SNU, KAIST and Pusan to Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford and USC, I figure that something is going on. What is it?

Country of origin
Visitors' IP addresses country of origin


There will not be any updates on this blog for the next week (or so). The primary reason will be the arrival of a friend from afar.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bonus points for "Higher" Mother Tongue

Two letters (from Michael Heng and Handayani Budhi Kosasih) in the ST Forum today (Jan 16) made me go re-read the one submitted by Celine Teo a few weeks back.

Dec 31, 2005
She got perfect score, but can't get into elite JCs

I COMPLETED my O levels last month and was posted to a junior college (JC) through the Provisional Admission Exercise.

Under current guidelines, students who take Higher Mother Tongue can get two bonus points deducted from their JC entry score. As a result, students like myself who do not take the subject are not eligible for the deduction.

Of course, students who do very well in their co-curricular activities (CCAs) are also awarded two bonus points.

When I was admitted into secondary school, I was neither in the top 10 per cent of the cohort, nor did I score an A* in my Mother Tongue. Hence, I was not eligible to take up Higher Mother Tongue in secondary school.

It was only two years later that changes were made to allow the top 30 per cent of students to take up Higher Mother Tongue.

So although I got a perfect score of six in my preliminary examinations, I was unable to gain admission to elite junior colleges where the cut-off was three points.

Yet students who had an L1R5 score of seven were admitted to these JCs, because they took High Mother Tongue and did well in their CCAs, thus gaining four bonus points.

This loophole in the system has certainly put students who do not take Higher Mother Tongue at a disadvantage.

I would like to propose that one or two bonus points be awarded to students who get an A1 or A2 for their O-level Mother Tongue exams. This suggestion helps late bloomers who may excel in Mother Tongue only in secondary school.

I hope changes can be made to level the playing field.

Celine Teo Ying Zhen (Miss)

I once had a vested interest in this issue; for I "played the bonus points game" to my advantage despite having a less than positive experience with the learning of Chinese in school. Even back then, having 6 points was no guarantee one could get into two of the "elite" JCs' science streams, as had happened to Celine. (Or was she referring to the top 5 JCs?)

There were the students from the affliated secondary schools (2 points bonus), students with at least a C6 for HMT (2 bonus points) and another 2 bonus points for those who got in during the 1st 3 months and decided to stay on. There were many folks who ended up with "zero" points, although rumors had it that the school would only allow a maximum of 4 bonus points to be counted to your L1R5 score.

I can't speak for those who took Higher Malay or Higher Tamil, but Higher Chinese was much tougher than the "normal" Chinese (CL2). So much so that a number of SAP schools (including the one I attended) deemed you a failure if you can't get an A1 for CL2, on the assumption that you are on the HCL track, so you would have absolutely no problems with CL2.

For those of us struggling with the language in secondary school, the two bonus points was an incentive. We were spending a disproportionate amount of time on the subject just to stay afloat.

If Celine's suggestions are taken up, I can forsee:

- SAP students with borderline grades, the new rule could force a difficult decision: Should they continue to take HCL and risk getting a lower grade for their other subjects and thus bring up their L1R5 score? HCL would no longer offer them a 2 points buffer against their non-HCL peers who did well in CL2.

- Academically (and linguistically) strong students who are not likely to have any problems taking HCL would not take it, as they could still get their 2 bonus points from an A grade in CL2. It may not pay to take a harder class.

My suggestion instead? Let anyone who wants to, take the HMT. Then weed out the weaker students after gauging their performance during the mid-terms. And not use the PSLE as a benchmark. If they perform well, they deserve the 2 bonus points.

The current system antagonizes two groups:

1. Those SAP students who have no interest/barely passed HCL staying on in the program just to take advantage of the two points but get traumatized and swear off the language forever.

2. Non-SAP students who enjoyed their mother tongue classes and did well (overall) but felt discriminated against during the post-O level JC postings.

So, to those who championed that our meritocratic educational system has many routes to success, it still boils down to one's performance in the first important national exam, the PSLE. See the cascading effect?

Related: Tongues Engaged

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Overseas Voting; Joint undergraduate degrees (NUS/foreign)

The grapevine is that the Singapore general elections will be called soon, possibly within the coming six months. It is quite likely I will not get to vote (and I have never voted), because

(1) my Singapore residential address is in one of the GRC strongholds of the ruling party (means there is a high chance of the opposition not contesting);

(2) Even if it is a contested ward this time round, Section 13A of the Parliamentary Elections Act will disqualify me as

-(i) I have lived in the country for less than an aggregate of 2 years during the period of 5 years immediately preceding the prescribed date (of the elections);

-(ii) I am not on any government scholarships nor employed by any government/public agencies (means there is a chance I will "vote irresponsibly").

Huichieh has a good summary.

If my residential area is not a walkover (like 2001), I will expect the Elections department to send me a warning note after the elections to justify why I did not turn up to vote. This means I have to provide them with written "proof" that I am overseas (with a legitimate reason) when the event took place. If I don't, my name will not be restored to the register of voters (or something like that). Meanwhile, Mindef knows that I am studying overseas (because they approved my Exit Permit application). And I wonder if the various government agencies do communicate to each other at all.

So am I excited about the upcoming elections? Of course. It is like playing merry-go-round with the agencies and I will be the monkey. And monkeys don't get to vote.


Hot off the Nation-building press:

Jan 15, 2006
NUS, foreign varsities offer joint degrees
by Sandra Davie

A NATIONAL University of Singapore (NUS) student will soon be able to spend two out of his four undergraduate years at another university, picking from such illustrious institutions as the University of California, Berkeley; the Australian National University (ANU), Cambridge or Yale.

But it will not just be a matter of spending some semesters abroad - his degree will be endorsed by both universities.

NUS plans to offer joint and double degree programmes with these and other partners, in a new grouping called the International Alliance of Research Universities.

Other members include the universities of Tokyo, Beijing and Copenhagen, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Oxford University.

The heads of the 10 member institutions - among the top ones listed in The Times of London newspaper's Higher Education Supplement - held their first annual meeting here over the last two days.

NUS said the degree arrangements would vary depending on the institution. But it will probably be similar to the joint undergraduate degree programme it is offering with ANU in economics and actuarial science, or the study of managing risk in insurance.

Under the arrangement, NUS students spend their second and third years at ANU's Canberra campus. They have to meet the requirements set by both universities to earn a degree carrying the names of both institutions.

The students pay the same fees as at home, and NUS will offer financial aid if they cannot afford the travel expenses.

Students from alliance member universities will also be able to study at NUS, living and playing alongside local students staying at the residential colleges which will be built by 2009 at the former Warren Golf Club site.

Professor Ian Chubb, ANU's president and head of the alliance, said that, increasingly, universities have to think of preparing students for global jobs and leadership.

'Every day, you hear of yet another Australian company moving its operations to China or India. They need workers and managers who can manage in China or India.

'The best way to do that is to expose students to different cultures, different ways of thinking and approaching issues.'

Ms Linda Lorimer, Yale's vice-president, agreed, saying that universities have to prepare students for the world, not just to work within the boundaries of their respective countries.

This year, the Ivy League university will offer a summer course on international studies for NUS students at its campus in New Haven, Connecticut. NUS will do the same for Yale students here.

Prof Chubb said the partners would look into collaborating on research into such issues as migration, energy, water management, the environment and ageing.

This, said NUS president Shih Choon Fong, will allow the universities to leverage on their distinct strengths.

For polytechnic graduate Nicholas Tan, 22, who is waiting to enter NUS, the prospect of the double degree programme with an American university is exciting. He had to give up his dream of going to an American university because of the high cost.

'Imagine being able to combine my studies at NUS with two years at Yale or Berkeley,' he said. 'You get the best of two education systems.'

Excited? But don't be yet. The devil's in the details, and they are not out to the public. The number of students on such dual degree programs is likely to be small (What, you think universities like Yale, Oxford etc would want to admit large groups of NUS students?) Competition will possibly be very stiff (like that I heard of SMU students vying for exchange to Wharton). And you won't know if you will get shamed in the papers if you decide the school overseas is better and you want to stay on.

But to be fair, it sounds like a better deal than the usual exchange programs (at least you get some sort of paper recognition for spending 2 years overseas).

Friday, January 13, 2006

What a Wacky World; Annapolis

1. To have a blogger friend (we have yet to meet in real life) asking if it is OK for her to come visit. I thought it was a joke so I said "yes". (Ed: I mean, who would actually take the trans-continental flight to visit a stranger? It is long enough to give some passengers DVT. Not to mention the costs.) The next thing I knew day she gave me her flight details. Talk about on a very short notice. Now I have to plan on bringing her around before she returns to Singapore. Invited her to attend a special lecture (on the role of scientists in the modern society; a timely one given the Korean stem cell scandal) as an alternative to the usual 'storm the outlet malls' kinda activities that Singaporeans here in the US are quite well-known for. She, erm, actually accepted the offer. (Ed: I think there will still be trips to the mall.)

She: Yay! Something new for a change!

Me: That's the thing about colleges and universities. They always have distinguished external speakers coming to give talks. On anything from the latest nanotechnology trends to current global security issues like Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program. Plus they are usually open to the public at no charge. Just that most folks cannot be bothered or are not interested.

National parks too. I love to see the sunrise/sunset. Will probably do so during the weekend.

The first question my kaypoh friends asked: She 'chio' a not?

Me: You say leh?

This blog has fans readers willing to go the distance. Literally. That is scary.

2. To see an Asian (I was unable to ascertain her ethnicity; was she Chinese, Korean or Japanese?) dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl-style uniform on a US campus. (Think Gogo Yubari of Kill Bill fame.) Short skirt and long socks. Outside temperature? Around 12 centigrade. Reminds me of the time when I was in Nippon. She made my head turn. Heh.

To double check, I found that there was no cosplay event planned in school today. Not that I know of any in the past. Latest fad?


In December West Point was featured in the movies. This month it is the Navy's turn.

Image Hosted by

Shall be expecting the Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine to be shown on the big screen soon. Hopefully.

Thursday, January 12, 2006



So much is the same:
small, easy to hide
in some cranny of the nucleus
or mitochondria, away from
scientists' prying eyes.
And always written in code;
a whole library of nothing more
than four letters strung together,
a tongue twister even if
you know the language.

Even the stories begin
with the familiar: proteins
saying good-bye at the cusp
of the membrane door, one
getting into his sub-cellular
compact, the other already fussing
in the cytoplasm, devising the next
meal. What's missing is the emotion.
Life, in its most intricate detail,
is beautiful in its routine. No sentiment,
no longing stare out the window.
It's all business here: the details
of their travel, where they are going,
the strange names of streets.

Recommended as "a good read for chemists, biochemists, biologists, science teachers, or indeed anyone who enjoys quality literature."

Full list of poems available for purchase on Amazon.

Short bio: Jennifer Gresham, a biochemist and poet, is a major in the U.S. Air Force and currently serves as a program manager at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Arlington, Va. She holds a BS from the US Air Force Academy and a PhD from the University of Maryland, both in biochemistry.


Me: We are but a bag of proteins, whose production codes are written from a backbone of sugars.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Legend

Aeons ago, before the issue of shaming 'scholarship' bondbreakers became public, a certain individual made it to the final round of a scholarship interview. All that stood between her and a fully sponsored overseas undergraduate education was a the man.

The session did not go very long before it ended abruptly. He had issues with her family background. Along the lines of having too much money being upper middle class. A high chance of bondbreaking. So she just stood up, did away with the common courtesies and retorted:

You are right. I do not need the scholarship at all to go to this (ivy) college. So why am I wasting my time here?

Then she turned around, gathered her file and left the room.


Last we heard she was doing quite well, jetsetting between the US, China and Singapore for a leading global financial services firm.

She epitomized the 'typical' RGS girl, and that incident was forever seared into our memories.

Army (ie regimental life) and SAP education tend to do the opposite for the guys I know though.

Disclaimer: The events/persons (except for the external link) in this entry are totally fictional. Any resemblance to actual events/persons living or dead is purely coincidental.


On the other hand, this one is real. I think.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Red Queen

To fuck, or not to fuck: that is the question.

Fuck buddy concept? :P

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Getting 'a star' drubbing...

Remember this? Seems like one member of the public has made the effort to highlight it on the national press. I wonder how the said organisation would respond. Several other government/quasi-governmental agencies have the same practice.

Actually hor, don't bother with scholarships lah, do this instead. Many friends I know are breaking/broke bonds, so why sign away your lives to it and be miserable financially, emotionally and psychologically?

Overreaching for the stars?

A*Star expects too much from scholars

Friday • January 6, 2006

Letter from
Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the report "Fuzzy is good, says MOE" (Dec 30). It says that when you move from a system that is about efficiency, to a system that is about choice, you have a set of talents that need to be nurtured. It says students have more choices and it is about moving from an exam meritocracy to a talent meritocracy.

I support the changes by the Ministry of Education, and would like to suggest that they be applied through the higher levels of the educational hierarchy.

The A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) scholarship system may be driving our scholars away from elite universities and pursuing their academic interests.

My friend's child is an A*Star scholar at a foreign university. A letter was received from A*Star which said that as the Grade Point Average (GPA) was below 3.8: "I must remind you that scholars who are not able to meet this standard may not be able to obtain A*Star support for a post-graduate programme".

According to A*Star's website, all A*Star scholars have GPAs below 3.6 at one Ivy League university. At another Ivy League university, 50 per cent had GPAs below 3.8. If the best that Singapore has are unable to meet the requirement, I think we may need to question this arbitrary minimum grade. It is very difficult to get a GPA of 3.8 or higher at some universities or faculties, particularly at some of the very prestigious ones.

To cite an example, at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law, I understand that only two students in its history have obtained first class honours, one of them being none other than our Minister Mentor. Yet, one has to attain such honours in British universities, according to A*Star requirements.

To address the problem of "grades inflation", I understand that some faculties at prestigious universities have a "forced grading curve" policy.

From what I understand through the grapevine of the scholars community, the trick is to choose universities where it is easy to get 3.8 GPA, and once you are there, choose courses in which it is easy to score high grades.

Our young scholars should be encouraged to pursue their academic interests with passion, instead of demotivating and dampening their pursuits with an arbitrary grading number.

The welcome letter to scholarship recipients ends quite aptly with: "Make the most of your educational opportunity to learn and excel, and climb new heights in research when you return to contribute to R &D in Singapore."

Perhaps this can only be achieved if we re-consider the bureaucratic policy on grades, because as of Fall 2004, 18 per cent of A*Star scholars had GPAs below 3.8, according to A*Star's website.

Edit (12 Jan): The agency responded, on ST and Today. Nothing new though, just rehashing (and copying and pasting) from what is already available on their website. What I do gleam from it though - is the acknowledgement that their local PhD scholars are "2nd rate", even for those on such joint local-overseas PhD programs, prestigious institutions or not.

A*Star scholars held to the highest standards

Friday • January 13, 2006

Letter from Timothy Sebastian
Director, A*Star Graduate Academy

WE REFER to the letter by Mr Leong Sze Hian, "Overreaching for the stars" (Jan 6), and the comment by Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan, "Play a game of risk, scholars" (Jan 10).

Contrary to their views, the vast majority of A*Star scholars are in fact able to attain the high academic standards set by A*Star as detailed below.

A*Star has articulated its scholarship principles and academic criteria publicly on our websites:



Currently, A*Star has 141 National Science Scholarship (NSS) scholars pursuing their Bachelor of Science (BSc) studies at the best universities abroad. In spring last year, 127 NSS BSc scholars sat for their examinations.

Of these, 104 scholars, or 82 per cent, achieved Grade Point Average (GPA) scores of 3.8 and above, or 1st-class honours. Forty-seven scholars among the 104 attained the maximum GPAs of 4.0 or 1st-class honours with an A grade or equivalent in ALL subjects.

Twenty scholars, or 16 per cent of the 127 scholars, attained GPAs from 3.6 to below 3.8 or 2nd-class upper honours. Only three scholars, or 2 per cent of the 127 scholars, attained GPAs of below 3.6.

A*Star's National Science Scholarship (NSS), launched in July 2001, is the only scholarship programme in Singapore which funds a combined programme of overseas undergraduate (BSc) and graduate (PhD) studies.

The three-year NSS BSc scholarship funds the pursuit of undergraduate studies in Science and Engineering at an overseas university of the scholar's choice from our select list of universities as detailed in our website. These select universities are top-tier universities in specific biomedical science or engineering areas, and have attained their high ranking due to the excellent quality of their education.

Most overseas universities also require scholars to take humanities courses to broaden their education, in addition to advanced science or engineering courses necessary for graduate studies.

For example, Vijay Chandrasekhar from the NSS (BSc) 2002 batch completed his studies in three years with a GPA of 3.97 and graduated with a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering, a Minor in Economics and a Master of Science (MSc) in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Melon University. Vijay is now home for his one-year research attachment and will proceed for his PhD studies in August/September this year.

Scholars who successfully complete their BSc studies with a GPA of 3.8 and above or 1st-class honours will return home for a one-year research attachment, and will then be considered for funded PhD programmes at top graduate schools abroad.

A*Star sets a high academic standard of a 3.8 GPA and above or 1st-class honours to ensure that our scholars get into the very best PhD programmes in the top universities. Our scholars have to compete with the best and brightest talents worldwide for admission. Only those with excellent academic scores and specific interest in research will be fully funded for these top PhD programmes.

Scholars are also assessed on their interest and ability to undertake original research through an eight-week research attachment completed during their undergraduate studies, as well as through a one-year research internship at an A*Star research institute after their BSc studies.

Scholars who achieve a GPA of above 3.6 but below 3.8 or a 2nd-class upper honours are individually reviewed by a Select Panel. They may be considered for PhD programmes locally, to benefit from closer support and supervision, under the A*Star Graduate Scholarship programme.

This programme is tenable at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, and through select joint local and overseas PhD programmes, such as the A*Star-Imperial College PhD Partnership (the United Kingdom), the A*Star-University of Illinois PhD Partnership (the United States) and the A*Star-Karolinska Institut PhD Partnership (Sweden).

Thus, 98 per cent of our NSS-BSc scholars qualify for either overseas or local support for their PhD programmes. The 2 per cent who fail to attain a GPA score of 3.6 or a 2nd Upper Honours will be offered administrative and executive positions at A*Star.

Investment in human capital is a long-term effort and high standards must be maintained.

screw the curve

Pre-semester gathering

Met up with the Singaporean graduate student folks for lunch, a relatively rare event given our *busy* schedules in the labs and the fact that Singaporeans here do not really (want to) hang out together. Graduate students do not follow the normal academic calendar as that of the undergraduates, i.e, you can actually be slaving working on your research/papers during the festive season. What matter are the conference schedules, the deadlines for journal/paper submissions and of course your advisor. Everything else is secondary.

So we have a new guy joining us, having decided he had enough of corporate Singapore and the wherewithal to pay off his remaining 1.5 years bondage bond with a GLC. That came up to a hefty S$84,000. Pretty much wiped out his savings from the previous 4.5 years of employment with the company, plus some help from the father. When asked why he does not want to wait another 18 months, (in his own words): Brain rotting inside, cannot wait any longer.

Some observations:

1. We are all male. Where are the Singaporean ladies? (Friend: All married and stay in Singapore liao)

2. We are all single. Where are the other halves? (Friend: What? You think we are the PRCs or Koreans ah? Bring wives/gfs over? Which girl in the right mind would want a long distance relationship with a grad student? Graduate school does not rank very high in the Singapore social ladder you know)

3. We came from a narrow band of (junior) colleges, practically separated by at most 2-3 degrees of friendship. The circle is rather small. (Friend: That is why we do not need want to meet up frequently. Otherwise how to meet chicks expand social circle during our precious free time? Same old faces. Kua ku liao moh sian)

4. Almost everyone accelerated their undergraduate education. Non-scholars want to save money, scholars are obliged to by their sponsors.

Well, here's to 2006. A little late nonetheless, but I hope everyone has a good start to the new year.

Related: A reader's thoughts.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Road Trip 2005

It was also an educational tour of some of the pivotal periods in American history.

Oh, say can you see?
Oh say can you see?
A sense of what Francis Scott Key would have had felt in 1812.

Wounds of war
The wounds of war, still evident after more than a century.

The Stars and Bars
The Stars and Bars continues to fly in parts of the South

Souvenir shop
No prizes for guessing which side the shop favors.

But my favorite is found from flickr.

What you get if you put "Asian" and "South" together.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Tales of the Foreign Brides...; No girl? Ram the car then

The happy, and the sad.

Related: 喜喜

Edit (Jan 12): The coverage in the local papers continues (and debated on sammyboy's kopitiam)

The Electric New Paper :
By Dawn Chia
10 January 2006

THE stork has been arriving early for couples who meet through matchmaking agencies.

Take the Tans for example. Mr Eric Tan, 36, and his Vietnamese wife, Ms Pei Rou Jiang, 18, are already expecting their first baby, just six months after they wed.

His wife is now about six months pregnant. They wasted no time in starting a family because both wanted to settle down quickly without the fuss of courtship.

The Tans' speedy trip to parenthood is a reflection of the matches which matchmaker Mark Lin does for his clients.

About 60 per cent of the Vietnamese brides in his agency, Vietnam Brides International Matchmaker, become pregnant within a year of marriage, Mr Lin said.

Speaking to The New Paper at an annual lunch organised by the agency that helped him find his wife, Mr Tan said: 'Before meeting my wife, I had a girlfriend of eight years. I wanted to settle down and start a family, but she kept asking me to wait.

'After a while, I decided I couldn't wait forever, so I called the relationship off.'

The break-up made him actively look to other avenues for a life partner.

Eventually, he came across a newspaper advertisement for Vietnamese brides and decided to give it a go.

Mr Tan said: 'My mother was very supportive of my decision. So were my friends.

'When I saw my wife, I decided that she was the one - it was her fair skin that attracted me.'

While it was physical appearance which drew the couple together at first, they are now bound by love, as well as a responsibility to their unborn child.

Coincidentally, the couple are both the youngest of four siblings in their families.

Ms Pei, who is from Tay Ninh province, said she was initially fearful of her husband when they were making plans for the marriage.

Although she did not have any expectations of her potential life partner, she was apprehensive about marrying someone she hardly knew.

She said shyly: 'He looked dependable, but we're strangers after all, and I didn't know whether I had made the right decision by agreeing to marry him.

'But I took the leap of faith and married him because my elder sister, who also married a Singaporean, told me that Singaporean men can be trusted and treat their wives very well.'

Like other women at the lunch yesterday, Ms Pei had heard about the plight of the Vietnamese bride who was duped into having sex with a 64-year-old cobbler, thinking that he would marry her.

She said: 'I feel sorry for the girl, but I will still encourage my friends and relatives to come to look for a husband here.

Mr Tan, on the other hand, acknowledged the risks which the women face when they travel far in search of a husband.

He said: 'Going to a foreign land to look for a husband can be a very dangerous experience, and I shudder at what my wife could have gone through had she met the conman.

'But not all men intend to cheat.

'It depends on the individual to have a conscience and be responsible for his own actions.'

Pregnancy joy

ABOUT six in every 10 couples can look forward to children within a year of marriage, says matchmaker Mark Lin.

The managing director of Vietnam Brides International Matchmaker added that the remaining couples usually become pregnant within two to three years of marriage.

His agency matchmakes about 60 to 70 couples a year, and the women are aged between 18 and 30s.

Ms Ou Shi Hui, 23, has been married for four months.

She isn't pregnant yet, and turned up to meet her friends who got married recently.

She said: 'I'm very excited to have started a new life here.

'My husband treats me very well and I'm glad to be able to meet my friends again.

'At least I know that there are people from my country here whom I can confide in if I need to.'

For the unmarried few who are waiting to be picked as brides, the gathering gives them an opportunity to meet their married friends and learn from them.

Miss Li Hong Shuang, 19, said: 'From what I hear, Singaporean men treat their wives very well, especially when they're pregnant.

'I can't wait to be married!'


Extremely depressing to be out on a road trip with 3 couples and being the odd guy out. I get to ram the accelerator though. Eat my dust!

Don't you hate it when they make out in the back seats?

Trivia: Minimum speed along most of the highway sections outside of the major metropolitan areas is posted as 40 mph. It is displayed prominently on those signboards you see by the side of the road. Nobody really cares, of course.