Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Confucian way (and lack thereof)

Confucius Statue Vanishes Near Tiananmen Square

Unrepentant Maoists celebrated the move on Friday. “The witch doctor who has been poisoning people for thousands of years with his slave-master spiritual narcotic has finally been kicked out of Tiananmen Square!” one writer, using the name Jiangxi Li Jianjun, wrote on the Web site

For those who have been heartened by the government’s embrace of Confucian values, news of the statue’s removal was devastating. Guo Qijia, a professor at Beijing Normal University who helps run the China Confucius Institute, said that only Confucian teachings could rescue China from what he described as a moral crisis.

“Students come home from school and tell their parents, ‘One of my classmates got run over by a car today — now I have one less person to compete against,’ ” he said. “We have lost our humanity, our kindness and our spirit. Confucianism is our only hope for becoming a great nation.”

and commenters on Lucky's blogpost

Let me tell you what is very wrong here. If a high income man marries a foreign wife, his wife can get citizenship or PR easily and will be entitled to things like subsidised medical care (class "C" wards)etc. However, if a poor man marries a foreign wife, he may not even get a LTVP and his marriage will be strained and have a higher chance of failing. If he manages to get a LTVP (which has to be renuewed annually), his wife can stay to help look after the children but without citizenship or PR, he has to pay substantially more if his wife gets sick - unnecessarily increasing his financial strain.

One of the commenters replied:

The case Lucky cited - Damien Koh the security guard who earns only $1.5k a month and who insisted on having two kids with an uneducated vietnamese woman.

Even if their mother is granted Singapore PR, what can she work as? Cleaner earning $1k a month? Is this enough to live by in Singapore?

In the end, who suffers the most? Their two kids!

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Damien Koh should not be allowed to marry the vietnamese woman in the first place, and that was what the government tried to do.

From The Straits Times (Apr 30):

On complaints that last-minute PAP candidate Chia Shi-Lu became an MP overnight because he was fielded in his Tanjong Pagar GRC which had a walkover, MM Lee said: 'He's not an untested person, we've interviewed him. He's a president's scholar, he scored straight A's.'

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011



I am now motivated to tie up my loose ends here as a postdoc and write my remaining papers. Then pack my bags, get onto a plane and start a new adventure (to be on the other side of the fence).

The best quote ever (modified slightly):

The biggest problem at this point is trying to fit my whole life into two suitcases and a backpack. Not a simple task, as it turns out. But there is something incredibly cathartic about shedding most of your worldly possessions for the sake of hopping on a plane and starting anew, bringing only my research and teaching skills, my laptop and some souvenirs of my past life as a postdoc. I’m pretty stoked that my life is going in this direction now; I hope it’s as fruitful as it is exciting and new.

I now feel like Charlie, having just won a coveted Golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory.

Willy Wonka: "Now, hats, coats, galoshes over here. But hurry, please, we have so much time and so little to see. Wait a minute! Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you."

It has been quite a month.

"How do you get a TT position?"

It's very easy. You first excel as an undergraduate to earn a place in a top-tier graduate program. You then spend roughly 5-7 years in penury while learning one's craft and honing one's research skills, and then writing a doctoral thesis. [...] And no, this does not mean cutting and pasting from wikipedia. Then another couple of years slaving away in someone else's lab broadening your skillsets. Finally you must compete with several hundred equally qualified candidates for one of the dwindling numbers of tenure-track positions.

So yeah, it's very easy. ... Really. It only takes a decade or more of effort and a fair amount of brain power.

Last but not least, it helps to be a fox rather than a hedgehog these days when hunting for academic and industrial jobs, especially in the hot fields like nanotechnology, energy and green technology.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Scientific research in 3 different countries

Pick your choice of poison:


For most scientists, publishing an article in a prestigious journal is likely to be recognized and rewarded with attention from one’s peers.

In China, however, scientists are also rewarded with cash, and the more prestigious the journal, the larger the sum, according to a new paper published in the April issue of Learned Publishing.


The theory is simple and pure economics. Money motivates: pay people to publish in good journals and they try to do so. Monetary rewards are the best; money is a universal reinforcer.


Because of limited international circulation of Chinese journals, there is a real push to have one’s work appear in an international index, such as the Science Citation Index (SCI), Engineering Index (EI), or the Index to Scientific & Technical Proceedings (ISTP). But it doesn’t stop there. Institutions like Zhejiang University rely on a detailed accounting sheet that lists specific monetary rewards for articles according to the journal’s Impact Factor.

(Converted to US$:)

* Indexed in ISTP — $92
* Indexed in EI — $275
* Impact factor < 1 — $306
* 1 ≥ IF < 3 –$458
* 3 ≥ IF < 5 — $611
* 5 ≥ IF < 10 — $764
* IF ≥ 10 — $2,139
* Published in Science or Nature – $30,562


In a 5-year plan launched this month, Singapore will boost public spending on research by 20% compared with spending during the previous 5 years. This largesse comes with a price: The government is demanding more economic bang from its research bucks. The drive to make science pay is falling hard on bioscience institutes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Their core budgets will be cut and A*STAR's bioscientists, accustomed to assured funding, must compete for grants decided in part by the likelihood of an economic payoff. In contrast, government funding for research at the universities would increase steadily.

The sudden change has left many A*STAR scientists confused and chagrined. “Planning for the change has been rushed, the execution has been disappointing, and the messaging to the scientific community problematic,” says Edison Liu, director of A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore. Some are packing up. Two high-profile scientists who arrived here with great fanfare 5 years ago—cancer researchers Nancy Jenkins and Neal Copeland—will return to the United States in September. Others say they are mulling exit strategies.


NRF and the Education Ministry, meanwhile, are supporting the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University in their quest to become global research university powerhouses. Over the past decade, both schools beefed up their faculties and research, and expanded graduate programs.


With a possible government shutdown only a few days away, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) appears to be ready to send in a skeleton staff to care for patients and maintain animals and experiments at the agency's Bethesda, Maryland, campus. But accompanying the plans is a strange sense of secrecy.

As lawmakers and the Obama Administration continue to clash over the depth of budget cuts, leaders are now acknowledging that the federal government could shut down Monday barring another stopgap measure to fund government operations for a fiscal year that began last October. University-based scientists may not notice at first, as temporarily closing the offices that distribute most of NIH's $31 billion budget to outside investigators won't immediately affect these extramural grants. But about 10% of the agency's budget goes to its intramural program, which has over 1000 principal investigators (PIs), 4000 postdocs, hundreds of labs, animal facilities, and many clinical studies. Much of this can't just shut down and be left unattended.


Although government shutdowns are not uncommon, most recently in late 1995 and early 1996, the culture seems different this time around. While in the past many people, especially postdocs, came into work and were eventually paid, this time, "the impression I have is that you will have to show you're on some list" to enter a building, one lab chief said. Another investigator was told there will be fines for violators. This time, NIH staff members aren't even supposed to log into e-mail from home, a source said.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Moving on, but where?

My current postdoctoral grant will end in a few months' time. (In other words, I have to find a new job soon.) My advisor was unable to get my funding extended, in spite of the excellent results (5 research papers in high impact journals of my sub-field and 1 patent) that have come out of it. Seasoned readers of this blog can probably figure out the reasons.

But that is not all. As a faculty candidate, I had earlier this year made it onto the final (on-campus) round of a well-regarded Midwestern university in a state that has been making the news for the wrong reasons with regard to 'fiscal responsibility'. Then came the following email from the department chair:

Hello takchek,
The (state) legislature has announced plans to cut (the university's) funding by $XX million as part of the 2011-12 state budget proposal. The university has decided to put the hiring of faculty on hold for now and it is not clear when we can resume the process. I will keep you informed of any changes in the near future.


A one-two punch in the span of a week. How is that? Just when I thought things cannot get "curiouser and curiouser", the advisor received two separate emails (also in the same week) from different collaborators asking if he can recommend grad students or postdocs to work in their labs.

I have issues with both. The first lab is based in the Middle East, in one of the Gulf states. With the current upheaval in the Arab world, my folks are strongly dissuading me from going.

The plus side is the money. I will see a pay jump of about 2.5 times of my current income, and it is tax free. Work for a few years, then take the money and decide what to do next.

The total compensation package includes a tax-free 12-month base salary, and a benefits allowance that covers relocation, housing, initial furnishings, utilities, transportation (automobile purchase loan), health insurance, child(ren) education, end-of-service benefit and annual leave travel.

The research theme in the second lab will be on the sesquestration, removal and storage of radionuclides from contaminated waters. While there are the obvious health issues of working with radiation, the skills acquired will be highly valuable as shown by the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

Or I should just quit research now. Am sick and tired of this dog and pony show.