Saturday, June 30, 2007

An African Proverb

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.

- Taken from The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, pp 114.

There are some of us who want to take time off to smell the flowers and relax (after getting a nice, well-paying job as a graduate from some hot-shot, elite university). Some questioned the need to go for further self-improvement (since, he/she presumed he/she has 'arrived' after slogging out for 16+ years in school.)

I wonder how long more before they will fall by the wayside and starve to death. Management consultants, investment bankers, financial analysts notwithstanding.

If there is one thing I am thankful for - it is hanging out with peers who are very focused and driven; never resting on their past laurels. Always pushing for the next opening, the next opportunity that will give them the leg up for excellence. They instilled a sense of fear in me - the fear of being left behind. So I follow them and run.

Some may call this the rat-race, and desperately want to get out of it. Well, unless you come from a family rich enough to survive on your endowments, this is not really an option.

That said, I have been running since age 7 (Primary One). But my philosophy is to try to play fair and square, and to help my potential competitors if possible. Because I believe I gain too when my friends benefit. In one of my business school courses, the prof called it social capital.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bitter Asian Males Part III

Taken from kite.

This is the source (in Chinese).

Previous ones here.

A harrowing experience

On my way home today, I blew one of my rear wheel tires on the highway while going at 90 mph. The cause was a stupid nail on the road.

Am still in a mild state of shock - to see everything flash you by. For a while I thought I would be going in a flash too.

BANG! and the car started to jerk and swerve violently. I was lucky that the cars behind weren't tailgating.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Working at Google

From an ex-Micro$oftie's perspective. This has been making its way round the blogosphere for the past few days.

The 'M' Bomb...

I never thought it would be played out in front of me. 2003 CBS's 60 Minutes interviewed 3 recent female graduates of the Harvard Business School about career women and infertility. They call it the H-bomb: “The H-bomb is basically, some guy turns to us and says, 'So what do you guys do?' And we're like, 'Oh, we're students.' Oh, great. Well, where?' 'Oh, we got to school in Boston.' 'Oh, great. Where in Boston?' 'Oh, in Cambridge.' 'Oh, where in Cambridge?' 'OK, Harvard Business School.' And as soon as you say Harvard Business School, or even Harvard, they turn around. I mean, that's the end of that conversation.”

It's the kiss of death. But Vartanian (one of the women) says that guys wouldn’t hide the fact that they go to Harvard Business School: “As soon as the guys say, 'Oh, I go to Harvard Business School,' all the girls start falling onto them.”

So I had lunch together with some of my new friends. And being the good friends they are, they also invited several others (all single pretty females, a rare sight in the company) to dine together with us.

Exchanging the usual pleasantries, we soon turned to our colleges. The girls were very vague about their alma maters - machiam like it is a stigma to be graduates from there.

Only later did I find out the school they attended. Stupid me - that's how they got to know one another well what!

One of them reminds me of an ex, along with the loads of unpleasant memories. Heh.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Greetings from the First State

aka the home of the Fightin' Blue Hens. (Ed: Cockanadens!)

A big change in scenery - from the hot, arid deserts of Arizona to the cool, lush, green foilage of northern Delaware.

Pics to come...for now Annapolis beckons.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Playing the PhD Admissions Game

This entry is inspired by an email cc-ed to me by elia diodati from a reader who is thinking about Graduate School in the US.

I won't bother about repeating the advice he had given to the reader; much of it can actually be gleaned from the many websites about Grad School admissions. Do your own background research - google (or yahoo or any other search engine) is a powerful tool at your disposal.

I will just give my own story. Of course I don't expect readers to follow what I did in order to apply for the PhD. But I can tell you most of my Grad School peers have similar experiences. Back in JC, I was already ~70% sure I want to get a PhD. Much of it was based on my participation in the SRP (Science Research Program) offered by MOE and input from the NUS professors. It also helped that I was doing something I liked, this is a point I cannot emphasize enough for potential PhD students.

So while in college, other than taking core classes required for my (bachelors) degree, I applied for (and got accepted) into various undergraduate research programs offered by the university. Even better - I got paid to travel to another country (Japan and Singapore) and another university (Tier-1 research institution no less) to do research. These not only helped to offset the cost of my undergraduate education, but also made me a more desirable candidate in the eyes of the admissions committees when I started sending in my applications. (Notre Dame even offered to waive the application fee and the department would pay. They got my info from my undergrad advisor.) But grades are also important, so make sure you are at least in the top quartile of your graduating class. (I made it to the top 10%.)

I know there are some who think the 'personal' statement section is the same as the one they had submitted for their undergraduate college applications. Nothing can be further than the truth. The same goes for recommendation letters. While such a letter can get me admitted to elite, extremely competitive schools like Johns Hopkins for college; at the graduate level this will likely put me into the 'junk'/'reject' heap. What the admissions committee wants to look out for is evidence of your research ability. That said, having no publications prior to the start of your PhD program is NOT a liability. So don't worry about that PRC/Korean/Indian student who already has many papers and is applying to the same school/dept as you.


Now, as to the schools to apply to. My personal preference is to apply to a large department rather than a small one. Several reasons.

1. The most important thing when it comes to survive (and graduate) in any PhD program is your relationship with your advisor. Your research comes second. In a large department, there are usually several professors working in a related subfield. If you are suay and fall out with your advisor, chances are you can request for a change of research group. Rare, but it happens. Sometimes his/her way of work is too different from yours. In a small department or university, usually the only option for you is to transfer out. And it will be a messy affair.

2. Smaller schools are usually constrained by the equipment they have. Especially so if you are in science and engineering. They are also more restricted in the breadth of their research areas. One girl transferred from Princeton to my university because she decided to change her research focus, and Princeton did not have what she wanted.

3. While your research will be in depth in your field, being in a large school means you have the option to take courses outside of your area if they are of use in your thesis. Smaller universities can thus be at a disadvantage. E.g. you want to combine musical instrumentation into your computer science research. Some universities may not have a School of Music.


Last but not least, do not assume all is fine and dandy once you get that offer letter. Not everyone who starts off in 1st year will leave with a PhD. In my department, ~60% will make it through it all to be called a Doctor.

If you are to ask me my greatest academic achievement in my life so far, it is this. I celebrated the occasion by going home to sleep.

Suggested readings.

The above also explains why I think this idea is crap. I am in good company. (Reminds you of A*star's NSS (BS-PhD) program, isn't it?)


Last but not least, if the header pic excites you:

Welcome to the family of Grad Students. :)


Superman, because we all are.

CMU Recruiting Poster 2002

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ghim Moh-ians Unite

For all the gripes I may have about the school (when it was still at Ghim Moh), I love my class. 12 years after being put together as one, we are still in touch - with 16 out of 24 of us accounted for; cell numbers, emails and addresses are surprisingly up-to-date.

I feel bad about missing several weddings (not by choice), and I appreciate others making time for a gathering whenever I am home for a holiday.

Kudos to Mr B. for taking the initiative and sending out the updated class list. It only seemed yesterday when we were hanging out by the stairwells after/in between lectures playing carrom. And that Singapore-style contract bridge.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A parallel Révolution française?

I have a fertile imagination. I was watching the The History Channel several months ago about the French Revolution, and I find many similarities between France on the eve of the revolution with the present day Singapore, and a haunting view of what can happen if the current PAP government is overthrown via violent means through some kind of people (mob) power.

In my thought experiment, the alternative is not pretty. There are many idealistic, rational thinking citizens (like Mr Wang, heh) who can use the vacuum left behind by the incumbents to rise to public prominence and institute progressive change to society and the state. But my cynical self says it would probably be the likes of people from a certain online kopitiam to sweep them aside and radicalize the Revolution a la The Reign of Terror:

The Revolutionary Tribunal summarily condemned thousands of people to death by the guillotine, while mobs beat other victims to death. Sometimes people died for their political opinions or actions, but many for little reason beyond mere suspicion, or because some others had a stake in getting rid of them.


During Robespierre's Terror — often believed to have been a bourgeois-led, peasant-backed uprising against an autocratic nobility — nearly 95% of its tens of thousands of victims were, in fact, poor or middle class. And those left alive were tyrannized by the very same revolutionary fanatics who once claimed to be liberating them from the ancien régime. - Publishers Weekly's review on The Terror: The Shadow of the Guillotine: France 1792--1794

Think it is far fetched? Think again.

A descent into insanity and excesses.

Who knows, our neighbors may also make use of the unrest as an excuse to mount a military invasion and takeover.

PS - Of course I am not saying that the status quo is good; on the contrary, there has to be a change, a shift towards a Singapore for Singaporeans, and not Singapore Inc.


"...we need to examine the need for civil and rational discourse in society, before the voices of xenophobia and anger consolidate their presence in the web." - BL

To BL's quote, I will also add: "and onto the streets."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Excuse me, are you an elite?

I have very probing readers. They give me lots of ideas about topics to blog about, and can even tell me what most Singaporeans may think what I am simply based on my educational background. So today accidental elite girl, or AEG asked said, after reading the reply by sunny flowery:

sigh.. see. . the christians = old school elite

You are the 'elite' whether you like it or not. It doesn't matter if you don't behave like one, or don't think you are; but your education is privileged and in 'meritocratic' Singapore, you are considered a member of the elite. Whether or not you choose to behave like one is another matter.

My background is very humble, but if you were to look at my academic record, schools I went to, what I studied, and the fact I am still getting an education, I am probably classified as 'elite'.

With my background.. I could have ended up as a checkout girl at NTUC, just as easily as I will be ending up with a PhD. Living off the state, not paid taxes, I don't worry about money because I am fairly confident I will be ok. Not rich..because scientists never are.

I think I have been pretty unsullied by financial troubles living in singapore brings to you, because i am still at student at 30. But sure.. when the time comes to 'grow up', get married etc..oh boy I will be in trouble.

(M)Any of your friends who are scholars etc think they are not is delusional.

"We will all deny strongly. There is this 'guilt' factor, to admit anything like it."

Yeah.. the guilt. I know. But deep down in the bottom of your heart you all know you are. You guys are educated, you have options, you have skills, you aren't trapped in Singapore. The world truly is your oyster.

"I mean, it's not hard when u have mckinseys, goldman sachs coming down to your campuses to recruit"

To deny that these opportunities present themselves to you because you are the educated elite smacks of hypocrisy.

She asked for anonymity, but agreed to a pseudonym. I suggested 'elite girl' or 'little miss elite', but she said those are too Wee Shu Min-ish. So we settled on 'AEG'.

Perhaps you can post this question on your blog and ask your readers

"Am I an elite?"

since i reckon many of your readers are also part of the educated elite

I then posed this to loiseaurebelle, and she has duly blogged about it our subsequent conversation.

I guess you can call this post her (lr's) prequel. But I take no responsibility for what she had written about me, or what the Gahmen thinks about us.

Edit: Sze blogs about this too.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Books I read and a hypothesis

I lead a very *boring* lifestyle. The weather is too hot outside to do any strenuous activities without the risk of getting a heat stroke - so I spend much almost all of my free time in the day on the weekends reading in the public library near my house. Which is quite well stocked. There is also the option of driving over to ASU's libraries. Just yesterday I turned down an invitation to go to a strip club in order to *gasp* read my stack of books I had borrowed last weekend but was unable to finish.

Nothing excites me more than going through the individual shelves and picking out books that interest me. If I am unable to finish reading by the time the library closes, I simply check out the ones I want and continue from the comfort of my room. So today's spoils included

a. Freakonomics,
b. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman,
c. Sex with Kings: 500 years of adultery, power, rivalry and revenge and
d. College Girls: blue stockings, sex kittens, and co-eds, then and now.

Which is a drastic change from the themes I was engrossed in for the past month. I gobbled up "The Fall of Berlin 1945", "Panzers", "West Point", "US Naval Academy", "US Air force Academy", "Crossing the Rhine", "The Rise and Fall of the British Navy", "The SS" and many others whose titles I have forgotten. Some I had read before, but decided to re-read them again anyway.


...just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. A correlation simply means that a relationship exists between the two factors - let's call them X and Y - but it tells you nothing about the direction of the relationship. It's possible that X causes Y; it's also possible that Y causes X; and it may be that X and Y are both being caused by some other factor, Z. - Freakonomics, pp 10.

A female reader shared with me her hypothesis on why Christians/Catholics tend to form the bulk of higher echelon of society in Singapore. (Ed: Don't ask us to back it up with numbers, we don't have any.)

1) back in the colonial days, the missionaries were very zealous in coming in and setting up schools for educating the populace

2) so kids who went to school back then = english educated (Ed: There were missionary schools that provided a Chinese medium of instruction - eg. Catholic High)

3) even if they didn't have formal education, knowing english was a big step up

4) these 'english educated' people found jobs in the administration and were converted into christianity

5) Therefore.. if you were 'educated' and practised 'logical thinking', it would be more appealing. Plus.. it was more hip to go to church and talk about love than to go to temple, and taoism, buddhism as practised by the general population was really not attractive to the educated person. It's 'low class'.

6) I grew up on telok ayer st. It was bustling with processions and 7 month festivities and tian fu gong was my playground. My family was the only church going one. My next door neighbour in telok ayer st was a medium for the goddess of mercy. She was also addicted to heroin, and chain smoked. gambled. slept around when she wasn't a medium.

7) ok.. maybe she didn't sleep around.. i was too young to verify that. So seriously... between christianity and its love and care message and the other two which one would you choose?

8) My hypothesis

My housemate asked if I wanted to follow him to check out the churches in the neighborhood. (Like me, he is also a newcomer to this city.) I declined. I am a non-theist.

Several related entries that you might also want to read.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is trying to be funny?

While clicking on this link ('Singapore Funds Game Development'), a welcome screen popped up.

It had just one quote by Elbert Hubbard:

"Progress comes from the intelligent use of experience."

Ha Ha.

Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be the case for Temasek.

Upcoming East Coast itinerary

Last year, it was Air Force. This year, it will be Navy. I will pop by JHU and Penn as well if my schedule allow. Part of my scenic drive through the Maryland countryside will include the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

But the best thing of all - my trip is fully sponsored. Whooohoooo!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

My neighborhood

I love my neighborhood, partly for its tranquility, and partly because it reminds me of the one I left behind in Singapore.

AZ Neighborhood 1

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Funny pictures

Not that I really agree with these assumptions about Liberal Arts majors...but I think they are worth a laugh.

Picture taken from here

Reminded me of an earlier one I posted.

Can a marriage with no kid(s) survive?

In the past 3 weeks, I had this discussion separately with 3 groups of folks - my mum, my fellow Las Vegas travellers, and a peer from grad school.

The grad school friend: "You should be wary if she doesn't want kids. She might just walk out on you, demand half of your assets and scoot off with another guy with your money." (With reference to the 'hordes' of mail-order brides in China/Vietnam.)

Unanimously, they all said no. In the Sg blogosphere, I already know of two prominent married but childless couples dissolving their unions. Of course, having children (a painful process for the womenfolk) does not guarantee a marriage will survive. Then yesterday I came across this post, which mirrors the arguments put forth to me earlier.

I hope to be able to find a life companion, but I am not sure if I want to be a parent. "Then why marry?", asked my mum.

What do you think?


On a sidenote, my professors broadly fall into two groups:

The first is so totally devoted to his/her research that they remain childless. Usually their spouses are as equally career minded; if they aren't they are divorced.

It is typical for them to chide their grad students if they get married/have kids during grad school, as has happened to a friend. Everyone else sent him congratulations, but his advisor emailed him - "I hope you don't slack off else you won't get your PhD from me."

They drive their students hard, and will be in the lab with them on weekends/public holidays. If you want to make it big in academia, these are the professors to work for. Just don't expect to get hitched while being a lab rat.

The second will settle down and start their families upon getting tenure. They are unlikely to be promoted to the Full professor rank, and most will retire as Associate professors. Their students generally will have an easier time compared to the first group.

My present company ain't much better; the divorce rate is higher than the (US) national average given the constant tight deadlines most groups have to meet every quarter.(Read: Overtime)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Mortar Boards for All? Or not?

This past week the Straits Times published many complaint letters from Singaporean parents whose kids did reasonably well in the A levels but fail to secure places in the local universities.

Suggestions such as freeing up the use of CPF monies to finance overseas undergraduate education, opening more universities and/or places in Singapore for the 'average' A level holders (The California model) were raised.

Open access or research/academic excellence with extremely selective criteria? Can the two coexist in a single institution? The current Sg public tertiary education system is clearly inadequate. While the number of slots available is obviously scarce, the public (rightly or wrongly) sees foreign talents as adding unnecessary competition to the local college going pool.

Recommended reads: Higher Education subsidies, and the situation with US state flagships.

Expect to see more of such letters next year, Dragon babies or not.

Ease CPF-funds rule for overseas study

MY DAUGHTER scored As and Bs for her A levels but failed to get into the law faculty at NUS and SMU. Neither did she qualify for her second choice - accountancy. She was offered her fifth choice.

Unless one has excellent grades, the influx of foreign talent and scholars has rendered it increasingly competitive (and difficult) for good to average performers to secure a place in the local universities. This has been exacerbated by the drive by the universities to attract top talent that would have otherwise qualified (with scholarships) for the likes of Oxford and Cambridge by offering double degrees, scholarships and tie-ups with overseas institutions.

It is shocking to learn that some students with four As failed to qualify for even an interview with the medicine faculty this year. Students with excellent results of A1 (General Paper) and four As also failed to qualify to study law at NUS.

These students may have to venture overseas. Ironically the four As would have secured them a place at some of the top international universities.

However, they may be deprived of pursuing their dreams by the very high cost of a tertiary education overseas.

My daughter has secured offers from UK universities to study law. An estimated $250,000 is required for the three-year course. None of the banks I contacted is prepared to offer a study loan for overseas tertiary education. All they could offer are the usual overdraft and personal loans, with collateral and at an interest rate of prime plus 1 per cent.

CPF Ordinary Account funds can be used for local tertiary education but not for overseas studies. I have written to the Ministry of Manpower but to no avail.

The ministry should consider allowing the use of CPF funds for overseas tertiary education, perhaps capping it at a certain limit, or come up with other solutions.

Singapore's goal of becoming an education hub would be questionable if the people's educational aspirations cannot be accommodated.

Ong Cher San


Did son just miss the mark or ...?

I WAS disappointed when my son, with As in all four subjects (three sciences and mathematics) and distinctions in two 'S' papers (one of which was Chemistry) and a B4 in the General Paper, could not obtain a place in the pharmacy course at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
But I was more disappointed with not knowing by how far he missed obtaining a place or whether he should not have applied for the course in the first place because, with his results, he had 'no chance'. I wonder what the A-level scores of the last qualifying student for the pharmacy course were.

It seems far easier for an O-level student to 'know' why he did not qualify for a polytechnic course. I have seen the polytechnics provide booklets with information on the aggregate O-level score of the last student to be admitted to each course in the previous year. Special requirements needed (e.g., minimum score for certain subjects) were also included.

There is also the Joint Admission Exercise booklet for secondary-school students with similar information.

I urge the local public universities to come up with the same. The universities should not refrain from doing so on the grounds that admission criteria change from year to year. The polytechnics do caution that the information they provide is meant as a guideline but the data remains very useful for students and their parents.

If there are non-academic criteria and other preferences for certain courses, lay them out too. It cannot be too difficult.

Tan Tor Seng