Friday, March 31, 2006

Buying of GP papers

Sometimes I wonder if these folks are still living in the era of the pre-internet days. Buy what buy? Get it for FREE ONLINE. Is this an April Fools' joke or what?
BTW, I don't recommend memorizing 'model essays'. Reeks of academic dishonesty.

The Straits Times
April 1, 2006
Curb sale of GP prelim-exam papers

VENDORS of school examination papers now have a new target group - students of junior colleges.

The hot subject is General Paper and a set of past years' preliminary-exam- ination papers from the various junior colleges, which includes answers, costs around $35.

If the Ministry of Education could allow junior colleges to place their past preliminary-examination papers on their websites, it would go a long way to create a more level playing field for all JC students.

It would also recognise JC lecturers who make an extra effort to set thought-provoking examination questions. JC websites would also have more vibrancy and online participation.

Our teachers and schools should be lauded for creating educational 'intellectual property' and the fruits of their labour should not go towards profiting a few people out to make a quick buck.

Colin Ong Tau Shien

Here are two good sites to start off.

Selected questions from RJ and VJ are already available to those who are willing to search.


From the phone log:

Call 8
(Name deleted)
12.37am 3/30/06

She called while I was about to doze off to dreamland. We talked, and I was in a semi-conscious state. I was happy she did, and we discussed a whole range of issues - Singapore, our family backgrounds, her scholarship board (and my disdain for the *bondage*), our JC past. I sang 关怀方式, finally proving to her that I had committed the entire song to memory. (Why? I don't know. It was a promise I had stupidly made earlier.)

Thanks for the heads up on "黄城夜韵".


I slept at 3am this morning after sending her home. We watched a movie (ironically titled Faithless), then spent more time at the penthouse admiring the night lights of this city.

Me: The lights are beautiful.
Her: Why do they turn it on the whole night?
Me: For you to look at when you are feeling down. That life goes on with or without you. Always the outsider, looking in. I pity those office rats working the night shift.

It was cold with the wind blowing - I was only wearing a sweatshirt and berms; I could also see that she was shivering. But neither wanted to say "Let's go back in". So we just stood by our stubbornness, and tried to forget about it. It was a pity the city lights had swamped out the stars.

Told her about "虫儿飞". She laughed.

虫儿飞 虫儿飞
冷风吹 冷风吹
虫儿飞 花儿睡
不怕天黑 只怕心碎


The next two Saturdays are also booked.


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

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


The Last Thing You Want Is To Be Friends

That's why you need to go for this (2.5 months too late, but well...):
Flirting for Nerds

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Asia-Asian : Asian-American Divide

Unknown talked about her surprise in encountering Asian intra-racism in her college. I am even more surprised to know that she is new to this phenomenon. Part of it I guess, stemmed from the fact that she "hardly hang around Asians at school, or any American born Asians".

My initial encounter was in the first year of Grad School. None in undergrad because I mostly hung out with the international students (including some Europeans, but mainly from the Asia-Pacific region), and my college was overwhelmingly white (>90% for my major; not surprising given the racial make-up of the state).

There was this pair of Asian-Americans (AAs), one Chinese and the other Korean amongst the first-years. The other Asians in the entering class were like me, holding non-US passports and with one exception hailing from S. Korea and China. (I am not counting in the Indians here.) So you know the department tends to pack first years with a heavy course workload, and we need to form study groups to tackle the homework assignments as well as the mid-terms/exams. The pair of AAs started to spend lots of time with me and another 'international', who also did her undergrad in the US. They were frank with us about the reason though - "We tend to stick with you rather than the others because you are culturally closer to us and comfortable with English."

I was also close to the PRCs (aha! Despite my love-hate relationship with the Chinese language, grad school is the time I thank my lucky stars for being *quite* bilingual). They don't like to mix with the AAs too, and tend to view most of them with contempt - something along the line of "rootless bananas" or "whitewashed". Many feel that the Asian Americans have this air of "superiority" when dealing with the non-American Asians simply because they speak better English or are integrated into the mainstream *white* culture.

It feels weird at times, to see and listen the views from both sides. Sometimes I wonder where I stand. "Surfactant" comes to mind.

Interested readers can also refer to a previous post about the roadblocks I encountered when it comes to interracial mixing.

Just like football. House Divided

Edit (Mar 29): loiseaurebelle comments in her blog.

Monday, March 27, 2006


There is something very wrong with this picture, and coupled with the wording of the cover story (on Chemical & Engineering News, Mar 20 edition) makes it funny.

Indian lab
Hint: Look at his hands and his clothing.

This is what C&EN had to say:

...In many of the photographs, the chemists pictured are not wearing protective eyewear that would be required in the U.S. C&EN does not condone this inattention to appropriate safety standards. However, C&EN, as a newsmagazine, has a responsibility to portray situations as they exist, not as we wish they might be.

Those of you who think lab safety is just a piece of annoying crap better read this.

善于泳者溺于水。How true!

Of behavior in the US versus those back home

You know you have been away from Singapore for too long when you have your fellow compatriots (both male and female, and FOB aka fresh off boat) saying "thank you" for holding the door open and allowing them to enter the nice, warm building from the bitter cold outside. They had been half-expecting me to slam the door shut in their faces. They were equally surprised to see me press the 'door open' button in the elevator and to wait to allow a person from Facilities to push a goods-laden cart in.

Excuse me?

Apparently, such basic acts of courtesy are quite rare back in Singapore. I remember reading through blogs deploring the lack of social graciousness especially amongst Singaporean males. Choice quotes are given below. Hmm, the main reason is perhaps best summed up by Unknown: ...I also think it has to do with society. Over here (in the US), there's more room for introspection and self-reflection.

What some women say about Sg guys:

Too funny!:

I usually don't depend on strangers to hold the lift for me. Most of the time, I'd rather wait for the next lift if I had to run in order to catch one. This is because you can't bet your life that anybody inside the lift will hold the "door open" button for you even if they see you running. I've GIVEN UP on Singaporeans on this aspect. Whenever I'm with Ophelia, either she's walking on her own and I'm holding her hand or if I'm carrying her, I will just saunter slowly up to a lift and press the call button to summon a lift. No point running and possibly hurting Ophelia when the bunch of idiots in the lift won't hold it for you anyway.

So just now, the same thing happened. This guy entered the lift at B3 ahead of me. He could see me walking towards the lift and I was quite near it already. I saw him jabbing at the lift-buttons panel - most probably to get the doors of the lift to shut. I just ignored him and walked slowly to the lift while the doors closed in my face.

No Romance..:
Read from The Straits Times that SDU actually came up with a guide of social graciousness for males. In it, it actually states that bad breath is a big turnoff. It is indeed amusing that a guide like this actually existed. Some of these facts are so common sense. Are the males here really lacking in social graciousness? Sadly, my friends and I all agree so. Literally slamming doors into our faces, pretending to be digging for their wallets when the bill comes, not even a single 'thank you' when we drive them to their doorstep (yes, girls sending guys back), rushing into his house as he was afraid of getting wet by the the pouring rain without bothering to guide us in reversing as his house was at a dead-end street, walking by himself without even bothering if the girl is next to him etc. How do guys expect females to get any sense of security from them if any of these are being portrayed? Alright, it's a bit unfair to say that all Singaporean males behave like that. All I want to point out is that females generally want to feel protected and well-taken care of. If a guy can't even provide a female the basic needs or display proper mannerism in public on the first date, what more about the future? Therefore, never under-estimate the importance of first impressions.

Where did all the gentlemen disappear to?
it really speaks volumes you know, to not hold the door, and let it slam into the girl’s face; to not have the initiative and wait for the girl to say “alright, I shall do the compilation for the presentation.“; to not respect a girl’s reputation and write slanderous stuff that are untrue. The list goes on.

Actually, even if there should be equality of the sexes, at the end of the day, a girl would appreciate gentlemenly gestures from the opposite sex. After all, 女人都是口是心非。 Unless you are really dealing with a hardcore feminist. Then I would advise you to back off.

Anyway, girls like to be pampered lo. Girls like to be taken care of. Even if it’s plain platonic friendship, I think the guys can be more gentlemenly, and send girls home after an outing or something. I think gentlemenly gestures are the way to a girl’s heart.

Malaysian, but close enough for this discussion:
I am not talking about Asian guys in the US, but rather, in Malaysia.

Many Chinese guys wonder why all the Chinese women are taken in by the guai-lo.

One of the reasons may be that the guai-los are actually more emotion oriented, if that's what it is.

But really, after my last visit to see my relatives in Sabah, I noticed my young guy cousin's character. He's more concerned over his things rather than making sure people are doing well.

It's not that there is a big difference in terms of guys and their characteristics, but from what I've experienced, the Chinese men that I've known in Malaysia, many are concerned over trivial things, or rather, they talk aimlessly about things that do not progress their lives.

But I also think it has to do with society. Over here, there's more room for introspection and self-reflection, whereas in Malaysia, it's all about what we're going to do tomorrow. Trust me, I've experienced this as well.

PS: This is not a post to bash Sg males, since I am one myself. I am just wondering if those Courtesy campaigns (with that yellow lion smiley face) have actually any positive impacts on our social behavior.


I also have something to say about the differences in driving behavior between the two countries, but it is probably not a very fair comparison since drivers in the metro areas (especially NYC and DC) are as bad if not worse than those I encountered on Singapore roads. Midwestern drivers on the other hand, are amongst the most friendly I have seen so far.

Edit: loiseaurebelle talked about crowded (NY) city living and the associated social behaviors.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


The title says it all.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Where is home; Elite Twats; Recruitment Weekend; Russia anyone?

Recurring themes I have been chewing on, if you are a regular follower of this blog. Choice quotes taken from elsewhere in the Sgporean blogosphere:


But it’s a question that has been put to me rather frequently of late; by my friends, myself, and most importantly, my parents. To my friends, I tell them blithely, “I’m a citizen of the world”; to myself, I scratch my head and try to banish the question into the depths of my mind; to my parents, well, I make non-committal, guilty noises.


How to tell my parents that Singapore isn’t really my home anymore? I mean, yes, they are back there, I grew up there, they took care of me there, but how do you call home a place where you haven’t lived in years, and do not intend to live in for the next few years? How do you call home a place where the only constants are your parents - a place where the landscape is always changing, a place where your friends are moving on, have moved on, and are living their own separate lives?


How do you call home a room you stacked with furniture you did not lovingly procure, but hastily assembled together from the amongst the cheapest you could find?


A few months ago, when I first told L about the best friend moving to London, she remarked about how everyone seems to be coming to our part of the world now.


So, the best friend arrives tomorrow with plans to conquer the world through creativity, and also start an experiment in domestic familiarity with his legal-eagle. Another friend of ours is already here and was showing her work at London Fashion Week, and has had her heart conquered by an architect ex-neighbour residing in London. Someone I’ve known for a long time, but have never met up with properly, is going to settle in the Midlands with her boy.

My related entry here.


Elite Singaporeans overseas; they existed, exist and will continue to exist. Social stratification occurs in every society. The key is social mobility. In the Singapore context, education used to be the social leveller. I am not so sure about now though.

Throughout the entire evening, all i could hear were whispers and questions of "what school is he and she is from?" or "which investment bank are you working for?". Its akin to the irritating noises that crickets make in the night. *twee twee twee twee twee twee twee*

You probably heard this many times from me, i believe we shouldnt be judged by where we worked, what schools we attended and the scholarships under our belts. And it sounds almost ironical when the country and our national pledge exalt harmony regardless of race, language or religon. But they forgot to add 'social standing'.


I dont know what kind of reality our so called "future leaders" and the "bright sparks" of our country subscribe to. Would these lofty creatures understand the needs of the real people? With the currently educational system of direct JC entry from top secondary further breeds this gap? Or sending your kids to expensive branded nursery to meet equally rich kids breed a tight knit group of elite that would ultimately hang out together at Zouk members bar at their reserved couches and bottles of Martell?

I am shocked. Shocked that there are more to harmony than just race, language or religon.


1 lousy asshole can spoil your entire day. Geez. Why are most twats i meet from JCs, when i always hang out with non-JC people. To makes things worse, they are often from the top 5 JCs. BAH.


And you know what I did last weekend:

Dear all,

I would like to thank everybody for their efforts to make the Graduate Recruitment Weekend a success. Graduate recruitment is one of the most important annual activities of (our department), and I am glad to report that everything went well. A few of the visitors commented to me that they were very impressed by the level of engagement of faculty and graduate students.

The participation of graduate students, staff members and faculty was essential and is highly appreciated. In a month or so we will know how successful the recruiting effort was, but I feel very good about the whole weekend. Thanks again!

Kind regards
(Faculty coordinator)

Several of the prospectives were hot. I wonder if they would enroll here. :P


Russian Studies (for NUS students)

"Dear Students,
The Russian MOE is offering scholarships to NUS students (both postgraduate & undergraduate) for full time studies in the Russian Federation...


Edit (21 Mar): Eileen's thoughts about "home".

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Of (War) Leadership

On this 3rd anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a dead Nazi's statement still disturbingly rings true.

Incidentally, in another six months' time he would be dead for 60 years.

Friday, March 17, 2006

SRP; PSC scholars' NSF disruptions

Science Research Programme to be included among H3 subjects
By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia
17 March 2006

SINGAPORE : Starting this year, the Science Research Programme that some junior college students opt for will be included as part of Higher 3 subjects, which are similar to "S" papers.

This means that students can use their grades obtained in the programme to get advanced placement at the universities.

The Science Research Programme is meant for very capable students.

These students are involved in concentrated research and are mentored by practising mathematicians, scientists, engineers and medical researchers.

The National University of Singapore says it has decided to allow the programme as part of H3 subjects as it is a very intensive programme that meets the requirement of the Education Ministry syllabus.

Said Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, chairman, Science Research Programme, "It is rigorous and pitched at the undergraduate research level. And one of the philosophies behind H3 is that it must be in-depth studies and if possible there should be an integration of discipline, application of a lot of concepts into real situations. I think this SRP, which has existed for the past 18 years, fits the requirement very well."

Can't imagine I used to have such fond memories of those lab rat days. Wait, I am still one. Damn!

Will NTU's TERP be next?


18 Mar 2006
Why PSC exceptions are made
Letter from
Colonel Benedict Lim
Director, Public Affairs,
Ministry of Defence

Mrs Choo Lee See
Director, Public Service Commission

We refer to Mr Gary Lee's letter, "Why the need to favour PSC scholars?" (March 9).
Public Service Commission (PSC) scholars are given special consideration for disruption after serving six to 10 months of National Service (NS) to do their university studies, before returning to complete the remainder of their full-time NS.
Annually, only about 30 are granted such early disruptions.
This special consideration is given only for PSC scholarship holders as it is an important conduit for bringing key talent into the public service.

Not all talents are equal. 'nuff said.

Singapore: a magnet for (scientific) talent, an irresistible force, regenerated...

I will have these to add to Mr Wang's list.
They don't really sound like "congratulatory (or self-congratulatory) words of praise generated within Singapore" though, but rather from international journals of repute. Oh wait, maybe they aren't exactly praises. It is an irony then that some of her brightest would choose to move away.

From Chemical & Engineering News:
1. A Magnet For Talent
2. An Unlikely Center For Pharmaceuticals
3. Educational Alliance Takes Next Step

From Nature:
1. Singapore - An irresistible force
2. Singapore - Filling Biopolis

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:
1. Singapore's Regeneration (Reproduced below as it is subscribers' access only)

From the issue dated November 11, 2005
Singapore's Regeneration

With an open checkbook, the tiny city-state draws top scientists



Cao Tong, a professor at the National University of Singapore, admits that he is essentially a pawn of the government. And he could not be more thrilled.

"Nowhere else could I have just walked in and started a program from ground zero," says Dr. Cao, a professor of dentistry who was awarded a half-million-dollar grant to back his oral-tissue-regeneration project. "Within one year I was set up."

The young Chinese-born researcher is using embryonic stem cells to try to generate new dental tissue and bone cells. It is a risky proposition in a field that is prone to more failures than successes. But this is precisely the kind of research that Singapore believes will make it a world leader in biotechnology.

"I'm part of the government plan," laughs Dr. Cao, flashing a smile. "And that's fine with me."

Dr. Cao is not alone. In the past five years, thousands of researchers, many of them in the biomedical sciences, have been lured to Singapore with promises of state-of-the-art laboratories and blank checks with few strings attached. Singapore's support for stem-cell research has attracted researchers who might otherwise never have imagined working in the tiny city-state off the tip of Malaysia.

"There's an infectious enthusiasm here," says Alan Colman, a member of the team that cloned Dolly, the sheep. Mr. Colman was recruited to Singapore from Britain in 2002 with offers of research money and, more importantly, unfettered access to embryonic stem cells.

"They have decided to make biomedical science work," says Mr. Colman, who is investigating how stem cells might treat diabetes, "and they'll do what is necessary to make it happen."

Determined to transform Singapore into a life-sciences hub that would attract research and industry, the government has sunk billions into developing its biotechnology facilities. Last year Singapore opened Biopolis, a $300-million "science city" that is to be central to the development effort. The 500-acre glass-and-steel science complex, with state-of-the-art laboratories, lecture halls, and computer rooms, feels like a college campus. The buildings have been given futuristic names, such as Helios, Nanos, and Proteos, and the talking elevators are emblazoned with the words "invent" and "research."

Scientists here have relatively easy access to mass spectrometers and DNA-sequence analyzers — each costing around half a million dollars. Below ground are animal laboratories, including a vivarium, which is designed to hold a quarter of a million mice. Above ground are day-care facilities, restaurants, a pub, and a fitness center. But along with the glossy architecture and the money behind it come some drawbacks: A lack of political freedom and a cultural tendency not to question authority, which can cut down on the new ideas that junior researchers in a laboratory generate.

Many have questioned whether Singapore, a tropical island with a handful of universities and a fledgling scientific community, could attract and keep the kind of talent needed to transform the country into a bioengineering leader. Even if the money and the facilities were there, would scientists, who thrive best in creative and permissive environments, move to an autocratic nation better known among some for its policy of caning and for banning chewing gum?

Some academics are clearly bothered by the city-state's repressive political climate, where criticizing the government can land you in jail. The U.S. State Department, in its February 2005 human-rights report on Singapore, said the government had used its powers to handicap political opposition and "to restrict significantly freedom of speech and freedom of the press." Last month the University of Warwick, in England, announced that concerns about academic freedom were one of the reasons it had decided not to open a campus in Singapore.

But it appears that scientists who are looking for a safe and well-ordered environment in which to conduct their research are not put off by restrictions on their freedoms. So what if we can't chew gum without a doctor's prescription, joked several scientists who were interviewed for this article. Singapore may be the ultimate "nanny state," some of those who have moved here say, but it is a small price to pay to live in a pristine, practically crime-free city, with good schools and cheap hired help.

While the lack of homegrown talent concerns some scientists and government officials, Singapore's limitations have so far not affected its ability to attract top foreign researchers.

"Five years ago we weren't on the map," says Barry Halliwell, executive director of the National University of Singapore's Graduate School for Integrative Science and Engineering. Mr. Halliwell, formerly of the University of California and the University of London, now recruits staff for Singapore's life-science projects. "It was hard to convince people to come. Now if there is someone I want, I can get them. I just poached a professor from Yale," says Mr. Halliwell, referring to Markus R. Wenk, who was hired as an assistant professor by the department of biochemistry.

America's Loss, Singapore's Gain

The United States and Britain have been at the forefront of stem-cell research ever since scientists in the 1980s discovered that embryonic cells are able to develop into nearly every different cell type. Because of the versatility of these cells, it is believed that they can be directed, as they divide, to develop into specific types of cells — such as heart, lung, or pancreas cells — which could then be used to replace damaged or diseased tissue, revolutionizing medicine. But now it is widely believed that the United States, which has placed strict limits on federally financed stem-cell research, is losing out to Asian countries such as South Korea, China, and now Singapore.

Researchers are nervous about the future financing of stem-cell research in the United States, says Ian McNiece, director of the division of biomedical sciences at the Johns Hopkins U. in Singapore, the university's only biomedical research facility outside of the United States. His own work is in compliance with U.S. guidelines and uses only federally approved colonies, or lines, of stem cells. (Mr. McNiece is free to use any cell lines but at the moment he prefers to use those approved by the NIH because they are provided at no cost.) Yet his Singapore lab is not subject to the whims of American politics, such as lawsuits intended to block research that already has federal or state approval.

As he shows off his state-of-the-art lab in Biopolis, with its centrifuges and subzero storage units that have all been underwritten by the Singaporean government, Mr. McNiece says he is not worried about competition from places such as California. Last year voters there passed Proposition 71, which approved $3-billion for stem-cell research. Even spread out over 10 years, it dwarfs anything Singapore is doing. But Mr. McNiece says it won't be the panacea some in the United States are hoping for.

"The money isn't there yet," says Mr. McNiece, echoing the opinions of other managers here, who are wary that California money could lure away some of the talent they have worked so hard to land. Lawsuits have prevented the state from releasing the money so far.

Aside from financial concerns, scientists in the United States also worry that stem-cell research is becoming a political football, with new bills being introduced at the state and federal levels seemingly every month. Singapore, on the other hand, is seen as a safe haven. The government has banned "reproductive cloning" which could conceivably lead to a new human being. But "therapeutic cloning," in which stem cells are harvested from embryos no older than 14 days, is permitted. Perhaps most importantly, with no real organized opposition to this kind of research, there is no climate of fear among researchers.

"Unlike in the United States, 'embryonic stem cells' are not dirty words here," says Ariff Bongso, director of in vitro fertilization and andrology at the National University of Singapore. "You'd be shocked to hear politicians talking about stem-cell research in parliament. It's heaven for a scientist here."

This freedom has allowed Sri Lankan-born Dr. Bongso, who some scientists credit with having been the first person to successfully isolate human embryonic stem cells, to develop new cell lines, or groups of cells isolated from a single embryo. All the cell lines approved by the U.S. government are grown in a medium of mouse cells, which increases the chance of contamination once the cells are implanted back into humans. New lines are needed, he says, if researchers hope to use their discoveries to cure diseases.

At a time when governments around the world are cutting their science budgets, Singapore's pockets remain deep. Though it could take decades to see significant returns from its investment, the government just announced it will spend $7-billion on biotechnology over the next five years, up from the almost $4-billion it spent between 2000 and 2005.

"For a company like ours, you need venture capital," which Singapore has been happy to provide, says Soren Müller Bested, the Danish chief technical officer of CordLife. His company, which collects and stores stem cells from umbilical cords, has received 11 grants from the government to set up shop here. "Money can't buy you everything, but it helps a lot."

Mr. Bested and others acknowledge that one hole in Singapore's plan may be the lack of skilled manpower. CordLife has had a difficult time finding Singaporeans to hire. They have had to recruit much of their staff from abroad.

"I can build a lab anywhere," says Mr. Bested. "But if I can't find people with suitable skills, then it is useless."

Officials here acknowledge that the country still suffers from a shortage of senior scientists. And it is costly to bring in people from the outside. While it is willing to foot the bill for now, the tiny city-state must eventually produce homegrown talent for its plan to be viable.

The government is in an all-out push to ensure that Singaporeans will be ready. In addition to sending people overseas for advanced degrees in the sciences, the National University of Singapore has expanded significantly in the past decade. Competitive hiring and admissions have raised its international profile. The administration has adopted more American-style educational practices, emphasizing analysis and inquiry rather than rote learning. Ph.D. students, for example, must now defend their dissertations.

This year the Times Higher Education Supplement, in London, named the National University of Singapore one of the top 25 universities in the world.

As part of its strategy, Singapore is investing millions in order to become an education hub, or, as officials like to say, a "Global Schoolhouse." They understand that the city-state needs to raise its international stature as an incubator of ideas and entrepreneurship if it is going to continue to attract and keep senior scientists and biomedical companies.

But an added benefit is that eventually fewer Singaporeans will have to go abroad to get a quality education.

The University of Warwick notwithstanding, the government's initiative has been remarkably successful. In the past ten years, Singapore has convinced prestigious institutions such as the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish programs here. Duke University recently agreed to help set up a graduate medical school here. The Singaporean government will underwrite the $310-million cost.

Still, there are some issues that may stand in the way of Singapore's future as a research powerhouse.

There is nervousness among some that the city-state has become too successful too fast and thus its citizens, now that they enjoy one of the highest living standards in Asia, are growing complacent.

In a speech delivered to senior government officials two years ago, Shih Choon Fong, president of the National University of Singapore, questioned whether the country, with its homogeneous pursuits and aspirations, had grown sluggish.

Moreover, scientific breakthroughs require risk taking, which many here are adverse to. And the act of challenging conventional ideas, which is fundamental to new discoveries, is considered a sign of disrespect.

"There is still this Asian problem of unquestioning belief, that elders have all the wisdom," says Mr. Colman, of sheep-cloning fame, who is now the chief executive of ES Cell International, a partnership between the Singaporean government and scientists at Australia's Monash University. "The society is a very compliant one. That is changing but there is a long ways to go."
Section: International
Volume 52, Issue 12, Page A42

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I am looking forward to attending this year's spring viewing of the cherry blossoms (櫻). It's always a beautiful sight - long, straight rows of the sakura trees in full bloom extending well beyond what one can see. The wind will be blowing and the petals will be all around you as they spiral down earthwards.

Feels just like a scene out of wuxia - two master swordsmen facing each other in a duel of death in such a heavenly setting, and eventually the white petals will be stained red with the blood of the loser...

Anyway, I have digressed. All that is needed to complement the view would be sake, dumplings and the SO/ group of close friends.

I wish you are here.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Just took the Myer-Briggs 4-letter personality code test. And this is what it posted for me:

Your Type is INTJ
Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging
Strength of the preferences %
100 50 25 33

This sounds familiar:

Typical INTJ career choices are in the sciences and engineering, but they can be found wherever a combination of intellect and incisiveness are required (e.g., law, some areas of academia).


Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.

This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. :-) This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete', paralleling that of many Fs -- only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.


Why few local PhD students in S'pore universities

Local undergrads reluctant to pursue PhDs, universities to act
Thursday March 9

SINGAPORE : Many local undergraduates say they are still reluctant to pursue higher degrees despite a recent $500 million grant given by the government to boost academic research.

The number of Singaporeans who are enrolled in PhD programmes at local universities may have almost doubled from 400 to over 700 in the last four years.

But foreigners still form the majority of post graduate students here, with three in four university research scholarship holders being foreigners.

"There is a general perception here that there is less recognition for local researcher even if you graduate from the university. So most of the principal investigators positions at research institutes here are held by foreign researchers and not local researchers," said Tam Wai Leong, a Singaporean post-graduate student.

"A lot of jobs don't actually require PHDs and a lot of them want to start earning money and settle down. We get paid but not as much as if you are working in industries outside," said another Singaporean post-graduate student Cecilia Lee.

"Perhaps they find it less prestigious to do it in a local university compared to other universities," said Singaporean undergraduate Huang Shufen.

To make a career in R&D more attractive for Singaporean students, universities here say they are looking into increasing the stipend and grants for PhD students.

At the same time they are also exposing undergraduate to the excitement of research through compulsory final year projects in many faculties.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) says all its faculties give priority to qualified Singaporeans when it comes to PhD applications.

"We also work with A*Star. They have a pre-graduate award that identifies very good students in their third year and we fund their honours year. (To qualify), you must be a Singaporean or be willing to become a Singaporean," said Barry Halliwell, executive director of Graduate School at NUS.

But while universities are working to attract more Singaporean post-graduate students, they say an ideal local to foreign student ratio will be 50:50, similar to other internationally acclaimed research labs worldwide.

- CNA /ls

Have they done a study of the number heading overseas for their graduate degrees? I mean, if you are a qualified Singaporean (I take it to mean he/she has at least a 2:1), you have quite a number of choices if you are thinking of further education. You don't need to restrict yourself to NUS/NTU. Unlike undergraduate studies, Grad School (in the US, esp for the Sciences and Engineering) will pay you to attend. Most admission offers come with tuition waiver plus health insurance plus a monthly stipend that should allow you to live decently.

Wouldn't you want to experience something different after 4 years? Plus at the end of the day, you have the option to head back to work in Singapore with your foreign PhD (since Singapore likes talents with foreign degrees so much). If you have a local PhD, the converse (to work overseas) is more difficult. And your employability in the local job market is quite limited.

Edit (24 Mar): Facetious Cap'n Intrepid's account.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pursuing my own dreams...

I didn't mention what my dreams were in the previous post. It is to work in one of the National Labs and hopefully play a part of the 21st century equivalent of the Manhattan Project - Bionanotechnology?

I sometimes wonder if it is me wanting to hang out with a group of like minded individuals who dabble in (my related field of) science and engineering. Didn't have too pleasant memories in the secondary and JC days - if one read (and knew) too much beyond the required syllabi, he/she would get labelled as a nerd and be ridiculed. I am assuming this boils down to kiasuism; others think you (want to) know so much because of the exams.

I also thank JETRO and the old YAS program for giving me a chance to do (applied) research in Japan and Singapore, and thus deciding that those two places' work cultures don't really suit me.

With the institution I am in right now and the connections my advisor has with the folks in one of the National Labs, I think I am making good progress. Fortunately, non-US citizenship isn't an issue with most of the unclassified (i.e non-weapons) research at the post-doctoral level. :) I had already paid a high price to get to this stage though.

Of course, things could have turned out very differently. My US university applications (and the SAT I/II and TOEFL) were actually paid for by PSC (luckily these monies don't need to be repaid nor bonded).

For Basic Military Training (BMT), I was in a 'scholar' platoon (yes they really exist for guys they deemed to be potential bureaucrats), where the majority would enter OCS and many eventually became overseas scholars in the Civil Service and Statutory Boards.

Who knows. In a parallel universe I might have turned out to be a disgruntled scholar mandarin longing for the bond to end, only to see his other options fade away just as he was about to become a free man again. I should thank my parents for my independence, although ironically they would very much prefer me to be chained to the Sg govt.

Home to one of the broadest and strongest programs in science and engineering.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Living your parents' dreams

I was reading these and I do not really agree that it is the society's expectations of you. Rather, most of the time it comes from the parents. Not so much from your teachers or peers.

Sometimes I look back and wonder if what I was doing all along (prior to Grad School) is because of what my parents want me to do, and not because of what I myself want to do.

Friend: well, if that is the case, you would be in Singapore, or on some (govt) research scholarship and looking for a wife.

Me: which is NOT what I am doing now.

Friend: Exactly. You have broken free.

I remember undergrad was such a chore because of the not insignificant sum of money my folks shelled out for me for tuition. All I wanted to do then was to graduate ASAP. So there was overloading of courses during the regular semesters (I avoided taking summer terms because I didn't want to pay tuition for those) and completed everything in 5 semesters. Commencement took on a special significance as it was more for them to see their eldest child graduate from university (and be proud of it), considering that both are non-graduates, than it was for me.

While googling this: "What can you do with a chemistry degree in S'pore?" (of the previous entry), three interesting links came up. Ah, the vagaries of the internet, and google. They are about the suicide of a MP's son in Oxford (in 1993).

Actually I find Grad school so much more relaxed than undergrad. Maybe because
1. I don't need to care anymore about tuition and grades,
2. I kinda enjoy what I am doing now.
Although writing papers is still a bitch, and the social life here isn't er, that great.

From: Tan Chong Kee - view profile
Date: Mon, May 24 1993 11:30 pm
Email: Tan Chong Kee
Groups: soc.culture.singapore

I am reminded of the time I spent in Cambridge when I was the only
Singaporean freshman reading Maths for that year. Upon arrival, I met the other Singaporean mathematicians there (who all got Firsts, by the way) and was welcomed by "We are so glad you came. For a moment, we thought our Singaporean tradition was going to be broken." I did my best putting up a brave and nonchalant front. They were all very helpful and friendly and during the course of the year had helped me through quite a few impossible tutorials. You see, the pressure did not come so much
from the University or fellow Singaporeans but from oneself. You go to an institution like Oxford or Cambridge with enormous expectations heaped upon you. That year, I got
a third in the tripos and felt such a failure that the thought of killing myself did flash through my mind. NOT because fellow Singaporeans were too kiasu or because my tutor pushed me too hard, simply because I felt that if I do not excel, I am worthless.

A lot has been said of the pressure felt by the lower percentile students in our rat race society. I am not trying to trivialize the issue, but at least for them, if they do not make it, psychologically, they still have the "well, I am not good at studying" to fall back on. For someone who has straight As, not making it is humiliating. You are either a mugger (ie. in reality quite thick and hence do not
belong in this elite club) or lazy (in which case, you have to face your disappointed parents, and having one of them as a MP certainly does not help).
Perhaps we should stop making heros out of straight As students and let them know that it is OK to fail sometimes. We are all human after all, and getting firsts really isn't all that big a deal despite what it might seem then or, for some of us, even now. Our socity and family have too unforgiving an attitude towards failures and mistakes, be it academically, politically or career wise. It is counterproductive to expect yourself to be perfect, and to expect that of others is simply cruel. Such an inhuman attitude has wrought many misery and tragidies in the past. What we see now is but a more sensational incident. It is time we start facing and accepting
occasional human failure, not just in the Universities for straight As students, but across all spectrum of our lives.

As an epilogue, I have since given up trying to please my parents and am now researching Chinese Literature in Taiwan - something I have always wanted to do since secondary school. There will be those who see me as a drop out or simply wasting my 'good' education, but at least I am happy.

Perhaps sometimes, for some of us, there is a time when we have to say hack to society and just get on with our lives. Flame if you want, I only telling my story and most importantly, I am still alive.

BTW, Tan Chong Kee was the founder of Sintercom.

Edit (Mar 8) - Blogs that link here:
1. Mr Wang
2. Tomorrow (Eh, I thought I put clearly in my sidebar Tomorrow not free?)
3. gecko

General degree holders

I don't get the point about this letter. Do you? Want to have a job that relates to your academic discipline? Do a professional degree course like Medicine, Nursing, Law, Architecture, Accountancy, Engineering etc instead.

Oh yeah, there are also the test-tube washer positions available in one of the stat boards.

Straits Times, March 7, 2006
What can you do with a chemistry degree in S'pore?

This issue "What can you do in Singapore with a degree in chemistry?" was a topic to which I was assigned as a team project in the National University of Singapore for a module entitled Science Foundation Module four years ago.

Not surprisingly, the survey my team conducted revealed that almost 80 per cent of chemistry graduates end up as teachers teaching chemistry.

Today, let me modify the title to "What can you do in the enterprises of Singapore with a degree in chemistry?" Again, not surprisingly, I am sure that about 80 per cent of chemistry graduates are unemployed.

Of all the job advertisements in The Straits Times that I have been looking at, those recruiting degree-holders in chemistry are really too few to talk about - about only 5 per cent of the jobs available.

What is worse is that these job advertisements are mostly from companies engaging in services such as semiconductors and polymers.

This the crux of the problem that I am highlighting. As undergraduates who majored in chemistry, we studied modules pertaining to general chemistry and not on specific topics, unless you are majoring in applied chemistry.

I urge these enterprises to state clearly in their recruitment advertisements whether they want degree-holders in applied chemistry or chemical engineering. Then maybe the educational authorities will look into this matter.

Eric Lim Chee Khiam

Edit (Mar 12): L'oiseau rebelle's thoughts on this issue, and Kreps' take.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What it takes to get in...

Perhaps A*star is right. One does need that 3.8 GPA to get in. It's quite sad that your application gets reduced to some arbitrary numbers like your GPA and GRE scores. But what to do when the Admissions committee gets swamped with applications every year?

Fall 2005 Class
Average GPA: 3.75

Official admission literature from the schools will always say that many factors are given consideration, and this is really true. In the end, the whole picture either looks like a fit with the particular department, or it doesn’t. On the other hand, certain weak spots are at once disqualifying. A popular program sees and expects very high undergraduate GPAs (still better graduate GPAs if applicable) at well-known institutions (ideally 3.7 / 4.0 or better, unless you come from a non-U.S. school or system that is understood to have tougher standards). It also expects a quantitative GRE score above 750 (800s are not out of the ordinary) and a decent analytical score. The verbal section is much less important, but a score below 500 looks off-putting, especially on an international application. Anything short of these benchmarks lands your application on the reject pile, unless you have some very intriguing other credentials (and usually inspite of it). - Applying for Admission

More: Academic Pedigrees, Grad School Admissions Crap

Recruitment weekend for accepted prospective grad students is round the corner. I wonder the quality of this incoming class.

做兵; 新加坡科技研究

From the creators of Tak Giu, come the short film Zo Peng.

ORD loh!

Tip: Jonathan

Two pieces from Zaobao. Interesting bits in bold.

新闻:新加坡 2006-03-01
作为青少年榜样 吸引他们加入科研行列




蔡玉心在2003年获颁国庆奖章行政功绩(银)奖章。她今年也受邀成为美国国家工程院(National Academy of Engineering)的会员。她是国大校长施春风教授以外,唯一受邀加入该组织的新加坡人。伍芳葆在本地的沙斯检测器和禽流感检测器研究项目中有很大的贡献。她也是《Women's Weekly》杂志最近主办的第一届“女中豪杰奖”的7名得奖者之一。黄学晖博士曾获颁2004年青年科学家奖和2005年杰出青年奖。除了这三人,新加坡科技研究局(新*科研)也计划陆续突出更多优秀的本地科研人员,让学生、教师和家长参观本地研究院时,有更多机会接触他们。














刘德斌表示,除了培育新人,我们也应该有效地进行“人才循环”(talent recycling),因为要推动科研进展,研究院的非科研工作也是非常重要的。