Saturday, January 26, 2008

Consulting Career Expo 2008

I was at a career fair today with some of the biggest names in Management Consulting (McKinsey was absent as they start their annual recruitment cycle in Sept).

1. One company had this to say about my university (on powerpoint):

- Prestigious School
- Strong historical yield
- Track record of top performance by graduates already in the firm
- Academic direction in line with firm's strategy

And listed out our peer competitors:

- Penn, Berkeley, Wash U (St Louis)

2. Another lets slip that in this part of the US, Duke and the *college up the road* are the other core (strategic) schools they target for recruitment.

3. We also learned that applications and resumes from my school *will* be read by at least one alumnus already in the firm.

Advice was given: 'So don't try to (bullshit) us. We know the school, because many of us are alumni.'

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The student consulting club actually shortlists applicants for club membership. 85 applied last year. They accepted 12.

Which is quite different from most campus student organizations (open membership). Elitism starts early. Even before you graduate.

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My friend had this to say about such events.

"It allows both parties to pat each other's backs and do some joint prestige wanking together."

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I-banks are pretty much absent from the campus recruiting scene these two semesters. I think it has a lot to do with the current situation in the financial markets.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Complexity + Tight Coupling = Catastrophe; Academic Job

A good overview about the current mess in the financial markets.


On Wednesday, August 8 (2007), not long after the markets closed, 200 of the smartest people on Wall Street gathered in a conference room at Four World Financial Center, the 34-story headquarters of ­Merrill Lynch. August is usually a slow month, but the rows of chairs were full, and highly paid financial engineers were standing by the windows at the back, which looked out over black Town Cars below and the Hudson River beyond. They didn't look like Masters of the Universe; they looked like members of a chess club. They were "quants," and they had a lot to talk about, for their work was at the heart of one of the most worrisome summer markets in decades.

...When the quants gathered in August, the most pessimistic among them imagined that the collapse of the subprime market could lead to a shortage of credit as banks dealt with defaults. That would chill the economy, causing worldwide job losses, still more defaults, decreased spending, and withdrawals from the stock market, culminating in a global recession, or worse.


Rumors now abound that the US government will cut the number of H-1Bs available starting this year, or next. Job openings for non-US citizens and PRs are being slashed as it is now. One is considered lucky to be able to get a job offer in industry this year.

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A friend is suggesting that I apply to my undergraduate alma mater for a post doc position, in my former advisor's lab. After all, he is working on something similar to what I am doing now, plus I have prior experience with that lab.

Maybe I should just stay put in academia.

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If you are considering an academic research faculty position, this will be useful.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Real life applications of STEM

Math (Geometry) for (straight) guys. (NSFW)

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If there are openings for technology consultants based in Iraq, would you go? The company promises a generous salary and excellent benefits.

You would have to do quite a bit of traveling in that country though.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two Songs

Pay attention to the lyrics.

1. What Do You Do With a B.A. In English? / It Sucks To Be Me

2. Dear Mr. President - Pink

I would love to go watch Avenue Q (in NYC) one day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Icy Igloo; Girl and her guitar

It was unseasonably warm here when I arrived almost two weeks ago. My friend picked me up from the airport in T-shirt and berms. Imagine that! In Jan! Maybe Mother Nature realized this belatedly and this weekend saw the first significant snowfall for this region this year. Temperatures dipped well below freezing; even the area newscasters admitted the weather is unusually frigid.

This, plus the fact that the central heater for the dwelling has broken down, means that I have been reduced to living an Eskimo's lifestyle in my house. The space heater I have unfortunately is only good enough for my bedroom; even at maximum heat setting I go to sleep wearing 3 layers of clothes and under 2 layers of blankets, one of which a comforter.



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New tenants have moved in to the unit below mine. For the last two nights a girl was singing and strumming the guitar. I don't know who she is, but her music made me sleepy. It has been almost TWO years since someone last had that effect on me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Budget Crunch spreads to Federal Research Labs...

This is very bad news. Very, very bad news. How can they not look long-term at (alternative) energy research? Instead they waste all that money on oil.

And TFF's response:

TFF says:
come back to SG!
tk says:
haha. Why do so many of you want to go back to sg?
TFF says:
cos this is where i am born
tk says:
u are like the x-th girl to say that to me. Guess A*star will raid US labs for scientists soon.
tk says:
like what GIC and temasek holdings are doing to US banks
TFF says:
yep

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The final stretch to the PhD

It is no joke when my seniors say that the ABD stage is the hardest part of Grad School. Even the university is concerned enough to set up a Doctoral Thesis Support Group.

Dear doctoral student,

The University Counseling Center is offering a support group for doctoral students who are working on their thesis. The purpose of the group is to provide a mutually supportive environment for doctoral students to address the academic, professional, and personal challenges involved in completing a doctoral thesis.

Common topics addressed include: maintaining motivation in the face of obstacles, setting achievable goals, and working effectively with one's advisor and committee. The group ideally consists of 6-8 members who can make a commitment to attending weekly sessions that last 1.5 hours. Group members are asked to maintain confidentiality regarding group discussions.

Prospective members will have to meet with me for 15-30 minutes to determine whether the group could be helpful to them.

Warm regards,

(University) Counseling Psychologist


I must remind myself: the best dissertation is a done dissertation. Must avoid the "Dissertation as Magnum Opus" trap. This is what years of conditioning in Grad School have done to me. From someone who used to strive for nothing but As and distinctions, to one who will be happy to just pass.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Keep your options open, not closed

Seriously, why would a young, smart person want to tie himself/herself to a single employer for 6 years? In this New Age economy, job mobility and satisfaction is key. Unless you really have a passion for something that only a particular employer offers. Like the military or police force.

Oh, and if Singapore is *really* a nice place to work and live in, Lee shouldn't be worried at all. People will be making a beeline to work here. *Coughs*

Straits Times, Jan 11, 2008

MM's family also threatened by brain drain

By Jeremy Au Yong

THE problem of brain drain has hit close to home for Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

His grandson Li Hongyi, who is studying economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States on a Public Service Commission scholarship, recently advised his younger brother not to accept a scholarship.

His younger sibling, Li Haoyi, had just scored 43 out of a possible 45 for his International Baccalaureate exams.

Both are sons of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

MM Lee, without identifying the grandsons by name, related what Hongyi said in a recent letter at a dialogue session on Friday: 'He has written to his brother who has just got his Baccalaureate results, and says, 'Don't take a scholarship'.

MM Lee spoke about how Singapore was now losing talent because its English-educated population was marketable.

'Our problem now is we have an educated population, educated in English which makes them marketable,' he said.

'Way back in the 1960s we were net gainers because the wealthy countries, mostly whites, excluded Asians. So Malaysia's Chinese and other Indonesians stayed here. Now they leave.

'They go to Australia and New Zealand, Canada, US, and big open countries. Our students are now being harvested from the top colleges in the US,' he said.

As for his own grandson, it seems that despite the brotherly advice he received lately, Haoyi is thinking of applying for an Infocomm Development Authority(IDA) scholarship.

MM Lee spoke candidly about a chat he had with Haoyi over lunch at his house on Sunday, revealing that he had to ask his grandson what IDA stood for.

He was told it was the Government's agency for information technology.

'He doesn't want to work in any other,' MM Lee said.

'I said, 'Why not broaden your experience?' Anyway, I hope he does apply and he will come back.'

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Monday, January 07, 2008

07/08 crossover in Singapore

I have been in Singapore for about 3 weeks now, and have done a lot of catching up with friends and relatives. These are my observations:

1. Peers who are doing very well (financially) in Singapore now are in banking/finance/mgt consulting (apparently the US subprime mortgage crisis is still a non-issue), core civil service (earmarked for senior, superscale positions), and law. One has been made partner in one of the big local law firms, while another is slated to become CO in an infantry battalion sometime later this year.

2. IT and engineering sectors seem to suffer from wage stagnation and depression. Many of my friends in these two areas have quit to go into teaching.

3. The property market is crazy, and woe to those who got married last year (and those tying the knot this year) and want to buy their love nest. That said, two friends with their SOs bought condos in prime neighborhoods in the east without any loans.

4. H is a relationship manager in a local bank, and appears very sweet. But there is something *weird* with her actions. (No details will be provided, so don't ask.)

5. The friend's friend (TFF) comes across as very domineering and career-focused. My friend's information is outdated - she has left the ministry, and is now with one of the foreign investment banks - her portfolio covering the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) region. We have met twice; it is unfortunate I do not have enough time in Singapore to schedule more dates.

6. In the ~half decade since graduation, the income gap is evident. Considering that we all come from a very similar top-5-JC science background, the differences now are big.

7. If you want to be wealthy in Singapore, it is very important to choose the right course in the university. If you are/will want to be stuck to this island, I recommend you stick to the traditional fields in Medicine, Management and Law. Engineers and scientists here are quite badly compensated in comparison.

8. Working hours in Singapore are insane, regardless of industry sector. And I thought America's is bad enough.

9. My cousin will be a VP. Not this one; She gave up the opportunity in order to have more time for her kids. There is actually a course in NIE for those on the principal-track. Just like the SAF (Command and Staff College, Warrant Officer School etc).

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Although I am still on holiday, work emails have started to pour in. 2008 will be a busy and exciting year - I am referring to the career front of course. It will start with a 21-hour flight, and I am all geared up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two books this week

I re-read two books in my collection this week. The first one, Genome, by Matt Ridley has done quite a good job explaining modern genetics in layperson terms the 'formidable thicket of jargon'. All too often I have had accusations thrown at me saying I am out of touch with the society at large, and stuck inside the ivory tower doing my little nano-scale experiments.

Imagine the (human) genome is a book.
There are twenty-three chapters, called CHROMOSOMES.
Each chapter contains several thousand stories, called GENES.
Each story is made up of paragraphs, called EXONS, which are interrupted by advertisements called INTRONS.
Each paragraph is made up of words, called CODONS.
Each word is written in letters called BASES.

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The idea of the genome as a book is not, strictly speaking, even a metaphor. It is literally true. A book is apiece of digital information, written in linear, one-dimensional and one-directional form and defined by a code that transliterates a small alphabet of signs into a large lexicon of meanings through the order of their groupings. So is a genome. The only complication is that all English books read from left to right, whereas some parts of the genome read from left to right, and some from right to left, though never both at the same time. (pp 7 - 8)



In some places, they call it Experimental Breeding. In Harry's world, it is banned.

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The second book (actually, books) was Alice. Most of my favorite (fiction) books are children's books - including but not limited to The Wind in the Willows, Harry Potter and Pooh.

It seemed I am not alone. As Roger Green wrote in the Introduction:

"Alice, it is maintained, contains much that can be appreciated only by the adult reader; the same is true of many other writers whom we enjoyed first in childhood or youth...There is satire, allusion, even intentional symbolism in Alice that in most cases can be understood and enjoyed consciously only by older readers...These deeper meanings seem to give an added dimension, and with it some measure of immortality to humorus fantasy..."

I'd give all the wealth that years have piled,
The slow result of Life's decay,
To be once more a little child
For one bright summer-day.

(Charles Dodgeson, aka Lewis Carroll, 1853, written when he was 21)


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Next on my list (to buy from Amazon) will be The Red Hourglass.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Education in Singapore

I found this at the Singapore Art Museum on Christmas Day. (Yes, I was at the museums on such public holidays... Nothing wrong with being at the museums; pondering over the exhibits beats squeezing with the crowds at the malls)


I can't remember the exact wording, but it certainly wasn't flattering...