Archive for January, 2006

On the paucity of (Sg) women in Grad School; Jorge Cham

A continuation (somewhat) from the previous post. Both online higher education sources that I follow on a regular basis reported today of Stanford putting in place a new childbirth policy intended to encourage more women to pursue advanced degrees (targetted primarily at PhDs). MIT also has a similar one, and that was used as a prototype for Stanford’s.

It is designed to partially ameliorate the intrinsic conflict between the ‘biological’ and the ‘research’ and ‘training’ clocks for women graduate students. I guess the late 20s/early 30s is the crunch period for the majority of us. Most graduate students do not finish their Ph.D. programs until this time, and it happens to coincide with the important decision to start a family (if you are married; if not you probably want to seriously start dating). Many do not have children in grad school simply because of limited financial support. The stipends we receive are meant for one person only, and for most it is only slightly above the poverty line. (I hear that the humanities students are basically living hand-to-mouth.)

Many of my (JC and BS) female peers I have spoken to have this mistaken notion that PhDs lead primarily to a professoriate position, and then the problem of the tenure clock comes in. For engineering, tenure decisions are made on average 5 – 7 years after entry to the assistant professor rank. This has yet to take into account an additional 2 years for post-doctoral research. For the women who leave halfway for pregnancies this would definitely have a negative impact on their academic careers. If they wait too long, they either have to give up the chance of being a mother or go for adoption or undergo expensive fertilization treatments which may or may not work.

S, a close friend, on why she didn’t consider grad school after her bachelors: In other professions, you leave because you find better opportunities elsewhere. In academia, you leave if you are a failure (no tenure). And besides, I do want to have a life (in both sense of the word) you know. Ouch.

For those who choose to go into industry, it ain’t any much better. But at least many companies (here) will still consider your application if your PhD is recent and skill-sets relevant.

Guess I won’t be seeing that many (Sg or otherwise) women at the grad level anytime soon.

Someone was asking me why there aren’t that many male grad students dating women outside of school. 2 reasons:

a) Grad students earn much less relative to what we could have had if we had chosen to work after getting our bachelor degrees. Dating is expensive you know.

b) Outsiders don’t really understand that we can be working in our labs 24/7. Although I think junior i-bankers and housemen also have similar workloads.

Edit: Another anonymous source has tipped me off on this article in Nature.


Addenum (Jan 31): Now that you mentioned it,

Here’s the (most famous) cartoonist ever

Jorge Cham
Jorge Cham

and the lecture he gave while touring various US campuses

Inside the Brain of a typical Grad student

Go attend it, if he’s coming to your school. Guaranteed to be worth your while skipping classes/lab research for that 1 hour of laughter.


January 30, 2006 at 7:05 pm 4 comments

That Singsoc CNY celebration

So in one of the rare occasions (in any given year), I turned up for the SSA Chinese New Year dinner gathering yesterday. Unlike hers, the SSA here is very open to foreigners joining in, so much so that a number of exco positions are held by FTs non-Singaporeans. But anyway, that is not the main point of this entry.

Because we hardly never hang out together, the event was good in that you get to see your fellow country folks. And most importantly, we could check out the Singaporean chiobus, which unfortunately I only saw 3 (in my opinion) out of ~20 in a room of about 80 people. They were taken already I think. (Many obviously don’t hold the familiar red passport; there were Argentinians, French and Americans, as well as the regular Malaysians and Indonesians.)

This place is really like a monastery; amongst the grad students the sex ratio is even more skewed – there are only 2 Singaporean females in the entire university, even after counting in the popular (for females) majors like business/management and the biological sciences. To put things in perspective, there are 20+ Sg male grad students.

Extrapolating to the undergrad student body, the JC circle is again rather small.

Friend: I chose the wrong school to go to.

Me: Not so much wrong school, but wrong major.

Oh yeah, the food was passable. Although I could see people were more interested in eyeballing/checking out the girls rather than eating. Social intercourse at its best.

January 29, 2006 at 11:52 am 4 comments

Eureka; Competition vs Collaboration in Academia

Just one equation and a graph. And the advisor had produced a plausible explanation for a problem that had vexed us for several months. Geez, why didn’t I look at it from that angle?

The clearest example yet of why he is the professor and we are the grad students. Padawans, we still are.

Always start from the First Principles.


Kevin is suggesting the use of wikipedia for sharing and collaborating research work amongst grad students. I beg to differ. This explains why, especially for my (related) field.

January 26, 2006 at 8:28 pm 5 comments

Clothing Label; Ex; No go for IIM – Singapore; RGSians

I found this while clearing up my room after she had gone.


People will surely get the wrong idea. But I can tell you a friend can fly halfway around the world to see you visit the area and even cook for you (one meal only lah); and that doesn’t mean anything. I wonder why they keep drawing the wrong conclusions. Nabeh. Information Rumors here fly faster than one can say KNNBCCB. Why am I so “in denial mode” you say? Because of her.


On the same day she left, I received an email from a hypothetical ex asking me “How’s it going?”. Followed by a “Are you attached now?” The main text seemed to suggest she is not (right now).

I just want to let you know that I don’t want to lose a special friend.

Do you talk to your ex-(es)?

My love life is so screwed up. Argh.


Not sure if this was reported in the local (Singapore) papers, but IIM-Bangalore had got its application to open an overseas branch in Sg-land rejected by the Indian federal government.

India Rejects Plan for Overseas Campus


The Indian government has rejected a proposal by the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore to set up a campus in Singapore, saying that the prestigious institution should first meet domestic demand before venturing abroad.

The decision, made in December but reported this month, has been widely criticized by many of India’s top executives and academics, and even some members of the government, who felt that India would benefit by allowing one of the country’s most elite higher-education institutions to expand overseas.

“We must realize that world-class educational institutions are created not through government mandate and control, but through academic freedom, innovation, and the pursuit of excellence,” said Narayana Murthy, founder of the Indian company Infosys, in an address at Cochin University of Science and Technology last week.

Goh Chok Tong, a senior minister in the Singapore government, expressed disappointment in the decision. “Singapore is a hub for education, and the institute has a good reputation, so we are happy to welcome the institute,” he said, according to local news reports in India. “They could have made some money as well.”

The directors of all six of the country’s Indian Institutes of Management, which have trained many of the country’s top business leaders, are scheduled to meet in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) during the first week of February to decide their course of action. Three of the institutes — at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, and Kolkata — are likely to contest the decision, arguing that they are not dependent on government financing anymore. However, the three other institutes — at Indore, Kozhikode, and Lucknow — continue to receive money from the government.

Last week Arjun Singh, minister of human-resource development, whose ministry rejected the branch proposal, dismissed talk that the institutes are independent entities and noted that the government has pumped millions of dollars into them. “They are not independent companies, that they can do whatever they like,” he said.

This is not the first time the institutes have clashed with the federal government. In 2004 the previous government imposed drastic tuition cuts, arguing that the institutes were becoming unaffordable. The institutes objected, saying they could not maintain high-quality programs otherwise. The decision was overturned by the current government.
Section: International
Volume 52, Issue 21, Page A49

Interestingly unlike Warwick, it wasn’t over academic freedom issues. $$$ talks, but apparently the Indian government favors a ‘locals first’ policy.

Do Indians have a favorable view of the city state? I hope this belongs to the minority.


Some quotes of past RGSians. Not exactly sure why I put the link here. Definitely not useful in analyzing the girls mentioned above.

I guess all of us still bring up our secondary school days, even when we are well past the teenage years. The only memories I have of that period are the (unpleasant) Chinese lessons. Heh.

January 24, 2006 at 6:00 pm 2 comments

Of Draft Dodgers Disruptees and White Horses

Couldn’t resist putting these up here.

From Today:

(Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean) added: “The concept of self-sacrifice must be an inherent part of NS. There must be equity in not just making sure that everyone serves but when an individual does so. There’s nothing to stop Singaporeans from doing their postgraduate studies after NS. The morale of the troops will go down when some are granted deferments while some are not.

My initial response – What about the Delta Company in OCS? Ask those non-scholar cadets (and other NSF trainees in the units and training schools) how they feel when they see their PSC scholar peers disrupt for overseas undergraduate studies while they have to continue their sai kang with the military.

On White Horse treatments:

ST: Jan 16, 2006
VIPs’ sons given special treatment in 1999

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ms Ho Ching’s manifestation of humility, as described by Mr Lionel De Souza in his letter, ‘Day I witnessed PM and wife’s humility’ (ST, Jan 12), is certainly awesome and refreshing.

This contrasts with my own experience in December 1999 when my late son was enlisted.

In the same intake were the sons of a government minister, an MP and a former MP.

The moment we arrived at Pulau Tekong, a few instructors asked frantically who the minister’s son was.

As we were ushered into the auditorium for the briefing by the school commander, the minister introduced his son to the commander.

Then, as we queued for the buses to ferry us to the cookhouse for lunch, a military vehicle pulled up and whisked the minister, his wife and son away, probably for lunch elsewhere.

I could see the look of envy on the faces of many enlistees and their parents, including my son, who happened to be a good friend of the minister’s son.

When it was time to leave Pulau Tekong, we had to queue to get through the turnstiles.

A few military personnel cleared a path for the minister, the MP and the former MP and their wives, hence avoiding the queue.

The experience left me, and I am sure many others, with an extremely poor impression.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

and contrast to this:

(Cedric Foo, Minister of State for Defense) in Nov 2003: ‘White Horses’ are sons of influential Singaporeans and these influential Singaporeans include ministers, member of parliaments, ex-ministers, ex- member of parliaments, nominated member of parliaments, ex-nominated member of parliaments, doctors, senior civil servants like senior SAF officers above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or senior police officer or SCDF officers above the rank of deputy assistant comminsioners. And also a very big group of people who earns S$9,500 a month or more.”

…like anywhere in society, there will be some people who are more prone to bootlicking, but let me say categorically that no one and no commanders will misinterpret this system although it does not exist now. It is certainly not something that we will look too highly upon. In fact, you must scrupulously not to treat them better and not to be seen and perceived as if you treating it. If you look around, very few armed forces would have been able to do what the SAF did. I mean, in the region, which is endemic to corruption, you will not find this level of commitment to fulfil its mission.”

Have you ever seen the OC of a BMT company (as well as ALL his support staff) coming down to greet an ACGS (Assistant Chief of the General Staff) because his son was in the company? And how he was allowed to leave early for the weekend on Friday (his dad actually drove up to the company line to pick him) when others could not?

Incidents like these make me fume, even after so many years.

January 16, 2006 at 5:41 pm 5 comments

Creative Giving at MIT; Korean visitors; Blogging Hiatus

Amongst US institutions of higher learning, MIT stands out for its creative use of the web to excite, educate and engage visitors, students and alums alike. From having a new daily spotlight on its main page to Opencourseware, now it has the MIT Fun(d) Challenge. A flash game that lets you play the role of a campus administrator and tries to persuade you to donate (real $$$) to the Institute at the same.

MIT Fun(d) Challenge

Tip: Ann Rata


To my Korean visitors,

I am curious. May I know the reason(s) behind the interest in Tracey Ho? With multiple visits from Postech, SNU, KAIST and Pusan to Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford and USC, I figure that something is going on. What is it?

Country of origin
Visitors’ IP addresses country of origin


There will not be any updates on this blog for the next week (or so). The primary reason will be the arrival of a friend from afar.

January 16, 2006 at 2:07 pm 1 comment

Bonus points for “Higher” Mother Tongue

Two letters (from Michael Heng and Handayani Budhi Kosasih) in the ST Forum today (Jan 16) made me go re-read the one submitted by Celine Teo a few weeks back.

Dec 31, 2005
She got perfect score, but can’t get into elite JCs

I COMPLETED my O levels last month and was posted to a junior college (JC) through the Provisional Admission Exercise.

Under current guidelines, students who take Higher Mother Tongue can get two bonus points deducted from their JC entry score. As a result, students like myself who do not take the subject are not eligible for the deduction.

Of course, students who do very well in their co-curricular activities (CCAs) are also awarded two bonus points.

When I was admitted into secondary school, I was neither in the top 10 per cent of the cohort, nor did I score an A* in my Mother Tongue. Hence, I was not eligible to take up Higher Mother Tongue in secondary school.

It was only two years later that changes were made to allow the top 30 per cent of students to take up Higher Mother Tongue.

So although I got a perfect score of six in my preliminary examinations, I was unable to gain admission to elite junior colleges where the cut-off was three points.

Yet students who had an L1R5 score of seven were admitted to these JCs, because they took High Mother Tongue and did well in their CCAs, thus gaining four bonus points.

This loophole in the system has certainly put students who do not take Higher Mother Tongue at a disadvantage.

I would like to propose that one or two bonus points be awarded to students who get an A1 or A2 for their O-level Mother Tongue exams. This suggestion helps late bloomers who may excel in Mother Tongue only in secondary school.

I hope changes can be made to level the playing field.

Celine Teo Ying Zhen (Miss)

I once had a vested interest in this issue; for I “played the bonus points game” to my advantage despite having a less than positive experience with the learning of Chinese in school. Even back then, having 6 points was no guarantee one could get into two of the “elite” JCs’ science streams, as had happened to Celine. (Or was she referring to the top 5 JCs?)

There were the students from the affliated secondary schools (2 points bonus), students with at least a C6 for HMT (2 bonus points) and another 2 bonus points for those who got in during the 1st 3 months and decided to stay on. There were many folks who ended up with “zero” points, although rumors had it that the school would only allow a maximum of 4 bonus points to be counted to your L1R5 score.

I can’t speak for those who took Higher Malay or Higher Tamil, but Higher Chinese was much tougher than the “normal” Chinese (CL2). So much so that a number of SAP schools (including the one I attended) deemed you a failure if you can’t get an A1 for CL2, on the assumption that you are on the HCL track, so you would have absolutely no problems with CL2.

For those of us struggling with the language in secondary school, the two bonus points was an incentive. We were spending a disproportionate amount of time on the subject just to stay afloat.

If Celine’s suggestions are taken up, I can forsee:

– SAP students with borderline grades, the new rule could force a difficult decision: Should they continue to take HCL and risk getting a lower grade for their other subjects and thus bring up their L1R5 score? HCL would no longer offer them a 2 points buffer against their non-HCL peers who did well in CL2.

– Academically (and linguistically) strong students who are not likely to have any problems taking HCL would not take it, as they could still get their 2 bonus points from an A grade in CL2. It may not pay to take a harder class.

My suggestion instead? Let anyone who wants to, take the HMT. Then weed out the weaker students after gauging their performance during the mid-terms. And not use the PSLE as a benchmark. If they perform well, they deserve the 2 bonus points.

The current system antagonizes two groups:

1. Those SAP students who have no interest/barely passed HCL staying on in the program just to take advantage of the two points but get traumatized and swear off the language forever.

2. Non-SAP students who enjoyed their mother tongue classes and did well (overall) but felt discriminated against during the post-O level JC postings.

So, to those who championed that our meritocratic educational system has many routes to success, it still boils down to one’s performance in the first important national exam, the PSLE. See the cascading effect?

Related: Tongues Engaged

January 15, 2006 at 6:52 pm 2 comments

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