Sunday, September 19, 2004

caustic.soda: rage against the a*star machine

title link caustic.soda: rage against the a*star machine
see also caustic.soda: science in singapore: future or farce?

i found out that i actually had alot of things to say, plus the fact that haloscan limits my comments to 1000 characters which was rather annoying, so here:

(do first read jh's 1st post above for context though)

More chilling facts: the A*star million-dollar bond only begins to depreciate in the 3rd year of service.

It's interesting how singapore claims that they can accept failures in entrepreneurship, but are simply unwilling to take any risks in science.

actually perhaps it's not so surprising. after all, a*star is a statutory board of MTI, not MOE. their sole raison d'ĂȘtre is to make money for singapore. contribute to singapore inc via the bottom line. nurturing true researchers not included.

alot of faculty from caltech hail from relatively 'unknown' colleges. and i bet some of them had less than stellar gpas as undergrads. but they're all exceptionally brilliant in their fields.

being a product of the singapore system, i must admit to focusing abit too much on grades myself, at the expense of learning. spent too much time making homework impeccable (which made up quite a chunk of the grade) which i could have used to read more broadly or deeply on the subject. plus the fact the score doesn't scale scale linearly with the time spent - to get 1% more points, one needs like 100% more time/effort. as if the homeworks and courses weren't difficult enough to being with. so what if i end up with a good grade, i don't feel like i have learnt as much as i could have. but it's no use regretting it now.

anyway nilsinelabore i don't think it's so nice to snigger at the poor scholars. not all of them can afford to leave like jh and yk. quite a few were probably misled. probably most knew about financial aid, but not all schools have need-based aid for international students. and i bet more than some of those dsta scholars will be in for a shock when they find out what dsta actually does (defence technology management/procurement). hopefully they can find places in dso.

breaking bond is all nice and good, but not serving ns? good luck coming back to visit your family, unless they also migrate with you. but how about relatives? friends?

anyway it's not surprising with all these policies the best and brightest are leaving for other shores. i know 2 brilliant singaporean techers who r not coming back. one on his way to tenure and the other, who received multiple offers from the likes of goldman sachs, doing RA and grad school. (to their credit, they both finished their ns.) and there was this math genius. IMO gold medalist, "I'm not the smartest in my family". His parents were from singapore. gotta love "foreign" talent. singapore seems to be an antithesis of google - instead of making the brains come knocking on the door with brilliant ads, they drive them away instead. why look so hard when u're driving away what u're looking for in droves everyday?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are not so aware of it. In my undergrad institution, the scholars think they are a class apart from the rest of the Sporean students. Some sort of 'superiority complex' if you will. I certainly don't see them as "poor". Misled? Nah, hard to be, esp if you come from the top 5 JCs with teachers who can advise you. My guess is, most just want a free ride for the university eduation, and start to kpkb when they find out that their assigned job will suck.

But that's one point. Another that irked me was that foreigners (from China and India) were also given overseas scholarships to study in the US/UK by the PSC/stat boards.

You reap what you sow. Anyway, in Singapore, many people still link a scholarship with prestige. Well, good luck to them.

As for that guy who didn't complete his NS bond, I am not too sure of his situation. He's a friend's friend of mine.

Sun Sep 19, 03:28:00 AM GMT+8  
Blogger qdc said...

Hmm. I was from Cornell, and I'm a PSC scholar, and neither I nor any of the other myriad scholars, didn't think we were superior to anyone. If anything, some of us probably slightly envied the lucky fellas whose parents could afford astronomical college fees. What scary univ is that where scholars think so highly of themselves?

The fact is though, there are plenty of govt scholars who genuinely need the scholarship to study overseas, and financial aid is non-existent in most US universities outside a few super-rich ones. My NJC teachers certainly never gave me any advice about scholarships! We don't produce bagfuls of scholars like RJ or HCJC. True, the culture was that scholarships were prestigious and good, and you should get one. But the point is, it's very very uncharitable to sweepingly accuse people of "want(ing) a free ride for the(ir) university eduation." Speaking as a science person to another science person, where's the evidence? Not even anecdotal (sp?) evidence?

My own story is that I became genuinely interested in a civil service career, partly because I bought into the marketing from PSC of how great it was to be an admin service officer. At the time, I was also very jaded with research because of my numerous failed experiments during SRP, and during the 5-6 weeks in JC1 December holidays that I did research with my SRP supervisor in vain hopes of winning the NSTS with a lousy project. But at Cornell, I rediscovered that research can be fun even if you don't have data, but at the same time, I am still genuinely interested in public policy. Unfortunately for me, PSC only sees that policy wonk side of me, and doesn't quite recognize that I had thought about it, and decided that it was better for me to do research first, then maybe return to policy later.

The point I want to make with the rambling here is that many scholars really cannot know what they are signing up for, because at 19, how the heck are you supposed to know what you'll become at 23, 24, 25? My solution?

Introduce a generic government scholarship, and let the stat boards and ministries fight for scholars when they get back. Or else, permit some flexibility in the deployment process, which PSC is practising to some level, witness Bean's transfer to NUS. Maybe the other boards should do the same. Clearly, in some cases, we are having market failure in the deployment process where people get sent to jobs they don't want and they'd be happier in other jobs in the govt. This is precisely where govt should step in to correct what the scholarship market has failed at.

Another option - create a market for low-interest, unsecured college loans, which is a project I know some people are working on now.

Having made all these pro-gahmen points, I will just like to say, I am frankly quite appalled at A*star's ridiculous criteria for assessing research potential.

Do you think perhaps there is another reason for this? Perhaps they are out of money, so they can't afford to send so many people to do overseas PhDs? Or are they just plain moronic? I really hope PY retires soon, and someone more reasonable goes in to shake up the HR policies... that's one of the reasons one of my dream jobs was to run A*star... so I can do it properly. Heh.

More points of clarification:
PSC does not give out scholarships to non-citizens. Most PSC scholars work in the civil service, there are security implications for having foreigners there, which you don't get in say EDB or A*star, which I believe are the ones recruiting foreigners. And besides, if they can do the job, and they decide to plant roots in Singapore, I think giving them scholarships might not be a bad thing. Also I understand A*star at least forces the non-citizens to take up citizenship, whether they like it or not.

Sun Sep 19, 09:45:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't know don't talk so much. DSTA scholars KNOW what DSTA does. DUH! Do you think anyone with half a brain, let alone scholars would commit 6 years of their lives, effectively their whole careers to an organisation without knowing its core business? No wonder you weren't clever enough to get a scholarship!

Most DSTA scholars are not Science enthusiasts. The ones who were would inform the agency which will allow them to study Bio-engineering and then place them in DSO when they are back in service. Many DSTA scholars who opt for this do the Bio-Engineering course in Cornell.

The rest of them are your usual top Science students who hope to do engineering and be engineers. And they get sent to DSTA after they finish their Engineering degrees *always more than one degree*

Sun Sep 26, 04:41:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't think the article writer is a non-scholar. And i do feel he has quite a brilliant mind contrary to your (the previous comment) views.
However, honestly i find it hard to believe that potential scholars do not know what DSTA's function and scope is. Afterall, it would only be common sense to find out what you are getting into befoere committing 5 years of your life to that org. Also on the pt of 19year olds falling for PSC, DSTA, marketing strategy or sales pitch, is it not, once again an indication that the potential scholar is not suitable as one? does it not spell out immature, inabilty to think, unperceptive, easily-hoodwinked and low eq as well? i'm not slamming scholars, just that if you scholars readily admit to the above propositions plus the gist of the article, then i think that you have just admitted to 1. the poor quality of education assessment in Sq 2. abusing the system to your flaw 3. knowingly and willingly abusing the system then criticising the system.
Ivan -

Mon Sep 27, 07:06:00 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think its ridiculous to say that DSTA scholars who are science enthusiasts would have opted for a bio-engineering option... One should also know that DSO does not really have its own scholarship programme and plans to recruit some from every DSTA batch. I have discussed several times with the Human resource of DSTA and DSO about this and thus, this statement can be backed up.

Since when has "science" translated into bio-engineering only?
One should also know that for some people, Astar was not "officially formed" during their time, whereas for some, they wish to do apply science to developing defence technological capabilities for Singapore. It is also true that in the first 2 years, I believe all of the scholars have to do research in DSO before they opt to stay on, or switch to DSTA.

Having said this, can the anonymous person who posted such misinformed comments please state his/her name to take responsibility for his/her remarks...


Fri Oct 01, 09:51:00 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went through the DSTA interviews, and they made it clear right from the start that only 15% of their scholars end up in research at DSO. Those who plan to study physics, mathematics or bio-related subjects have an additional "interview" with DSO personnel as part of the selection process, so scholars should know pretty well whether they will end up in DSO or not.

And I disagree that scholars feel superior. I greatly envy those who could afford an education on their parents' savings, or those who got into the big four universities that offer need-blind financial aid to international studnts. There is certainly no lack of trying amongst Singaporeans for financial aid, but it's awarded to very few people.

Sat Oct 02, 08:44:00 AM GMT+8  
Blogger qdc said...

OMG. someone thinks Bean isn't smart enough for a scholarship! *GASP* :)

Sun Oct 03, 09:49:00 PM GMT+8  
Blogger bean said...

No kidding. I can feel my IQ decreasing at an alarming pace every day. It'll be in the red before long. At this rate NUS will soon regret taking me in as RA. I'll just become one of them mindless zombies a la resident evil.

Sun Oct 03, 10:00:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty belated reply to this -- came across this post as a referrer link to my blog.

I think we're missing the most sinister issue with the GPA requirements though.

The Singapore government does not want truly genius level researchers, or people who are that intelligent. Such people raise valid issues (as you guys have), "think too much", and generally are undesirable from their viewpoint. As was the case with Dr. Chee.

What they *do* want is competent, hardworking, and obedient people. GPA requirements satisfy this in two ways:

1) Hitting your required GPA shows that you are able to comply with your government-specified objectives over a reasonably long period (the length of your uni education).

2) GPA is more a function of hard work than raw intelligence. Of course, it's difficult to put up a stellar GPA at a decent university if you are a complete moron (I've encountered some retards with high GPAs who seem to try very hard to prove otherwise though).

So a good GPA shows that they're getting a reasonably intelligent person who is also willing to put in the hard work. Of course there are exceptions to this -- some genius level people can post high GPAs without breaking a sweat.

I'm sure the government knows it is driving many intelligent people away (give it some credit). Come on, didn't Lee HL challenge us to "vote with our feet"?
The thing is that they don't want us (if I may presume so much about myself). They'd rather have people who are moderately intelligent and very obedient, than people of high intelligence and questionable obedience.

So bleat away, Singaporean bourgeois.

I've long railed at the emphasis on grades as elitism -- I have now come to realize the bigger picture behind it. It's even scarier than I originally thought.

Tim Goh.

Tue Nov 09, 03:33:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS. The person who posted anonymously questioning Bean's ability to get a scholarship -- kindly identify yourself. I don't think there are many within our age group who are qualified to attack Bean's intelligence... what are *your* credentials?


Tue Nov 09, 04:02:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A comment in all objectiveness: GPA definitely is a function of hard work, the coefficient of hard work (as opposed to other independent variables) being debatable and never resolvable. But hard work = obedience is a very huge and careless assumption to make.

Wed Nov 10, 09:38:00 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nope, obedience falls under point 1 -- your willingness to meet their objectives, semester in semester out. Looking at it again, I guess that shows motivation more than obedience...

Wed Nov 10, 02:20:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is to say that having a good GPA is the result of willingness to meet their objectives and not a true thirst for knowledge and excellence, or an instinct to achieve for self-fulfillment, or simply the effortless work of a brilliant mind?

Fri Nov 12, 05:54:00 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh... I posted that there are exceptions didn't I? I'm hypothesizing how the government sees it, not how I see it. Damn...

Fri Nov 12, 06:32:00 AM GMT+8  

Post a Comment

<< Home