Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are you a thinker or do-er?

Many of the grad students I have encountered over the years can be broadly classified into 2 types - the thinkers and the do-ers. Thinkers refer to those who are typically strong in the academic theoretical concepts, and are very much at home playing with complex mathematical equations and the like. Do-ers on the hand, are more comfortable building machines/equipments from the ground up and are very much hands-on, somewhat like those 'garage scientists' we used to read about when young. The research groups that the grad students choose to join very often mirror their status as a 'thinker' or a 'do-er'. Rare are the few who are both 'thinker' and 'do-er'.

Most of the Singaporean students I met here in the US are more of the 'thinker' type, and I suspect it has a lot to do with our academic background (majority with 'A' level qualifications) - the 'A' levels stress more on theory than practicals and the fact that most Singaporeans don't have the luxury of having a 'workshop' room in their house. Plus we are more used to buying what we need off the shelf.

Using myself as an example - as an 'engineer' I did not build my first working machine (a unique 3-flow heat exchanger) until my undergrad senior year capstone project as part of a 2-person team. It was a steep learning curve to say the least - we were given only 5 weeks to

1. get a prototype up and running
2. provide analytical solutions that predict the steady state temperature profiles of all 3 fluid streams and
3. verify the temperatures experimentally.

You can imagine the sense of accomplishment I felt when everything worked as it should (which is not always the case in research).

That said, I am still more of a thinker than a do-er although the years of being a grad student and now a postdoc have made me into more of a do-er.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Killer Bean is back!

The earlier version totally blew me away (back in college). This is even better.

Friday, October 09, 2009

If the Nobel Prizes in the Sciences are like the Peace Award...

You can be a laureate in your first year of Graduate School (and with no publications yet to your name)!

Parody taken from Greg Mankiw's blog:

First-Year Grad Student Wins Nobel Prize in Economics!
From the Associated Press (with some light editing):

Pfuffnick's Nobel Economics Prize triumph hailed by many

LONDON — The surprise choice of first-year graduate student Quintus Pfuffnick for the Nobel Prize in Economics drew praise from much of the world Friday even as many pointed out the youthful economist has not yet published anything in scholarly journals.

The new PhD candidate was hailed for his willingness to tackle difficult problems, his commitment to improving the economic system, and his goal of bringing efficiency and equality into harmony.

Professor Paul Krugman of Princeton, who won the prize in 2008, said Pfuffnick's award shows great things are expected from him in the coming years.

"In a way, it's an award coming near the beginning of the first year in grad school of a relatively young economist that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our economy a better place for all," he said. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of Mr Pfuffnick's message of hope."

He said the prize is a "wonderful recognition of Pfuffnick's essay in his grad school application."

Saturday, October 03, 2009



- 唐朝詩人李白 (701AD to 762AD)