Was chatting with a friend of mine over MSN when I suddenly realised that I forgot to pay him back for some stuffs:

Me: Oh, guess what? I realised that I forgot to pay you back for the xxx

Him: It’s ok lah… you can pay me back the next time we meet

Me: Oh, that means I would be seeing you for a long time

– Silence –

Him: Oh! Are you trying to do a Richard Yong???

Me: Nay… for that amount, it’s not worth it 😛

Him: Yes, but the best criminals often try out simple bad things first 😛

Me: Okie… then it’s worth the effort then

Him: I’ll track you down!!!

Me: =P Btw… you got PPV today?

There are probably many other things that we can do, including but not limited to:

  1. Doing a TT Durai
  2. Doing a Lee, Christopher Lee, I mean
  3. Doing a …..

And I just realised that there are some that I can’t mention. 😛

07/07/07 is ping.sg’s 1 year anniversary and it’ll be held at Geek Terminal from 4pm to 9pm, followed by some post-celebration party after 9pm. There will be some blog awards and probably lotsa fun. 🙂

 Ping.sg Party Signup

If you have not registered, you may click on the banner above or do so here. 🙂 I’d be there but I’d probably be on a low profile. But yes, it’ll be nice to meet up with everyone else and especially those who are reading simplyjean. 😉

See you guys there!

Elia Diodati presented a critical view on Singapore being a research hub that was summarized from Cao Cong’s critical letter which was published in the Science magazine, that dissected the challenges facing “the Singaporean government’s ambitions to turn the city-state into a world-class hub of biomedical research”.

Since I am in the area of biomedical research, perhaps I can give a cent or two of my personal views.

Quoting from Elia Diodati’s blog, Cao’s criticisms are summarized as follows:

Research is risky. A breakthrough can take a long time to achieve, and profitable applications are far from guaranteed. Cao writes, tellingly, that “It remains to be seen whether Singaporeans are ready to embrace uncertainties and tolerate failures.”

Indeed, research is a risky business, and the danger lies in that it is not possible to predict milestones in some cases. Unlike the Human Genome Project, which I would consider to be deterministic, most experiments or projects that involves the discovery of new genes or medicine is not obtained overnight. Neither is it possible to extrapolate from current findings on when the next cure for, say, Dengue Type II, is going to come to light. Because we do not fully understand the entire genetic makeup (despite having an entire database of genetic sequences) of human beings or other organisms for that matter, we are not able to come up with a deterministic method of doing things. Knowing and understanding are two different things. Until today, I am still not able to understand the mechanisms of malaria, despite knowing the entire genetic sequence of the disease. This is probably the state of things currently.

Singapore lacks talent. Despite the A*STAR scheme and others, it will take at least 10 years to train properly educated, prominent researchers fresh out of high school. Cao questions the willingness of young Singaporeans to pursue “tedious benchwork” when more financially rewarding careers exists, and also writes “[I]n contrast to the United States, where the biotech industry has benefited from strong entrepreneurial efforts by academic scientists, their counterparts in Singapore, as civil servants, operate in a highly rigid, hierarchical system where moves between academia and industry are rare.” In other words, the civil service culture works actively against the cultivation of a biotech industry, which has survived in the US mostly because of, not despite, strong ties with entrepreneurial academics.

Many a times, I have questioned myself on my aims of moving into research. In fact, a lot of professors and professionals from other areas of biomedical research have also commented that it’s quite rare for a Singaporean to go into research. Passion, as cliche as it may sound, is really important for someone to seriously consider doing research – in Singapore or anywhere else in the world.

Diverging a little, there are 3 ways in which a graduate can move into research:

  1. Take on a university research assistantship/scholarship scheme to do full-time research, leading to a M.Eng./Ph.D. The student will be guided by a professor in a field or area that he/she is interested in. It will usually last 3 to 4 years, with the first 1-1/2 years doing some amount of coursework and passing a qualifying examination while the rest of the remaining years are spent on research. The professor is usually there to guide the student, but most of the work has to come from him/her. There is an expected end result, but this may change from time to time depending on what is feasible. There is usually no bond attached and the student may move on to take on an Assistant Professorship scheme where he will remain in an institution of education/research to further pursue his/her research and teach.
  2. Take on an external scholarship, also leading to a postgraduate degree. External scholarship from the perspective of the institution of education. An example of this would be the A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (AGS) or other forms of local or overseas research scholarship. Depending on who is really forking out your stipend and research costs, the student is expected to complete some modules for some academic credit while doing research. This may either be concurrent or consecutive, depending on his/her supervisor. He/She may also be located here or overseas if it is a joint scholarship. There is usually a 2-6 year bond to this. Excellent academic capability is a must.
  3. Pay for your own research. Well, not literally. But if the student is interested in doing research and is unable to secure his/her own scholarship, she can opt to be a paying student while doing research leading to a M.Sc./M.Eng./Ph.D. Do note that students in this group are not at the bottom of the scale. Some students are acutally holding full-time jobs in institutes of research or government agencies that is able to provide them the tools they need for their research. As research in a university is usually academic-based while that in an external organization (again, any company/agency not from the university is considered external) emphasizes more on commercial viability, there is a difference in doing research in these 2 places. More groundwork is expected from an academic-based research, and this may provide the working student an opportunity to produce a more sounding research paper. Another reason for a student to fall into this group is because of financial viability. Stipends in university may not always match the pay of a researcher, although it is known that this may be as high as S$3500, with the lowest being about S$1400.

Back to Cao’s statement of the “willingness of young Singaporeans to pursue ‘tedious benchwork’ when more financially rewarding careers exists”, it can be quite apparent, judging from the number of Singaporeans, or lackthereof, in the lab I am in. I can count them with my fingers, single-handedly. If we look at #3 above, the stipend of a research student starts from S$1400 (or S$1500 from AY 07/08, NUS/NTU), which is gradually increased to S$2000 after he/she passes the qualifying exams. Taking on teaching assistantship positions, he/she may earn up to S$1000 more, but this is just a ballpark figure. Jobs are not guaranteed after graduation, and it depends heavily on your area of research and the results that you have obtained. Besides the consideration of receiving a lower paycheck (officially, it’s an allowance), there’s also an opportunity cost that has to be factored in while considering the prospects of doing (biomedical) research.

Having given my 2 cents worth of thoughts, I have also understood why my professor is envisioning the commercial viability of my research project. It is indeed rare for an academia-industrial crossover, which is why the local universities are proactive about setting up incubation companies where students and professors can give a shot at commercializing their research product.

The average Singaporean is ill-informed about the ethical aspects of current research. The recent growth in Singaporean research is at least partly opportunistic, in the sense that tough rules proscribing the extent of stem cell and cloning research in the US and other developed nations has help attract talent to Singapore. Obviously, the permissive Singaporean laws would attract talent that would directly benefit from it. But Cao writes, and this is worth quoting in full:

[S]ingapore’s advantage may not last if the research environment becomes more open in other countries. More importantly, there should be better opportunities for civil society in Singapore to debate the issues related to biotech research. Citizens have the right to know much more about the risks and benefits associated with the biomedical sciences conducted in Singapore than they do now. Public understanding is at least as important as deep pockets and a deep talent pool.

The ethical aspect is quite a touchy issue. Take for instance, genetic profiling, which is a process where a sample from a patient can be used to determine his/her propensities to diseases, can be easily done today, and it is a tool where numbers count. This means the more data we have, the more accurate the statistical analysis and the more efficient and effective the profiling we can get. But in order to attain this state of specificity and sensitivity, the genetic privacy of many individuals would be lost in the process. This is partly why the Bioethics Advisory Committee was established by the Singapore Cabinet in December 2000 to address the ethical, legal and social issues arising from biomedical sciences research in Singapore. Hence, while Singapore is attracting talents from all over the place, it is also tiptoeing on the edges of ethics.

I am not entirely sure how much Singaporeans know about biomedical research in Singapore, but what I do hope is that every Singapore should be educated on the pros and cons of taking a genetic test, should the day that such tests are readily available come.

Ed: This is just my personal opinion and does not represent the views of the universities or agencies mentioned within this entry. If there is any inaccuracy, kindly leave a comment and I will attend to it immediately.

This is not a rant… but I am feeling a little tired today. It’s another case working too late into the night and getting woken up by the cats one after another. Sigh.

Oh, I met a new intern today and he’s actually just back from Glasgow for his summer holidays. But instead of whiling it away, he decided to write in for an internship opportunity; and this is only his second year of studies. He intends to finish his studies and then stay in Scotland, UK, or the EU to get some work experience because he feels that no one in Singapore would hire him.

This is quite a surprising statement – the part about him feeling that no one would hire him. He is going to be an honours student (and probably a very good honours) but yet he feels that Singapore would not want him! In addition, he feels that the employers here would prefer local graduates than local graduates. I might agree if the university that he is attending is a less known university, but it’s Glasgow!

Oh well, that’s grass on the other side for you. 🙂

We talked about what I want to do in the future, and I told him that I would like to get back to medical school – to do my medical studies and residency overseas, and yes, staying overseas to work. For me, coming back to Singapore probably means that I have to slog through housemanship for at least a year before I am granted a licence to practice. Since I am probably going to do my residency overseas, there is very little reason for me to penalize myself by coming back. Of course, I would like to be patriotic and serve Singapore, but not at the expense of my time and future.

Of course, there may be some allowance in recognizing the residency that I have completed overseas, but until that time comes, I am keeping my options open. The only reason that I would return to Singapore is because of my parents. They are rooted here and I don’t want to leave them behind. However, given an opportunity, I might move them out as well. Looking at the balance in their CPF, they probably have assets (at least a HDB flat) with no retirement capital. They can probably work till 80 and they will still not have enough to retire. Raising the retirement age to 65 and upping the minimum sum to SGD 120,000 is probably not enough. We need 80/250,000. (right, period.) How about 85/300,000? (sure)

Anyway, why am I talking about such sad stuffs? It’s supposed to be a “tired” and random post. Oh well.

Update: I just cut my finger in the kitchen and lost lots of blood. Probably around 100ml to 150ml of blood. Boy, am I feeling giddy or what? 🙁

Meeting some of my long lost friends for Breakfast this Saturday morning. It’s been quite a while since we last met and it’d be nice to meet up and do some catching up. Apparently, a lot of our friends are also getting married at the same time, so it’s also a good time to receive “red bombs”! 😛

There was an explosion just now at the halls and I am wondering if anyone else heard it ? It was about 11pm on 25th June 2007. Quite a loud bang that was concurrent with the lightning flash. Scared scared. 🙁

Update #1: This is totally unrelated… but my left knee cap is hurting like mad. Feels like rheumatism 🙁

Update #2: Also totally unrelated… Shawn of Campus Superstar is out! What the… ? 😮

Friends from HK

General June 25th, 2007

Met my friends from HK on friday evening at Clarke quay for a drink. They were on a 3-day visit to Singapore and was to return the day after. I’ve never really brought my overseas friends around Singapore before and frankly, I didn’t quite know where to bring them to.

Since I am not a nightlife person, I didn’t know which pub to go when they were looking at me for directions. Clarke Quay is notoriously a crowded place on Friday night, and I wasn’t sure of making them wait for MOS since I have never been them before. Would have asked Xiaxue along if I knew her better, but nope. 🙁

My friends like cocktails, so beer places were out. Merchant Court is probably going to be very expensive, and so that was out too. In the end, we tried Clinic, some Indie place, and Geographic (?!) but they were all crowded (or looked crowded). In the end, we ended up going to CHIJMES because I been there once and it looked pretty decent.

So, off we went on a 15 mins walk. There were 7 of them (which later became 5 because 2 were exhausted) and 2 of us (my friend and I) and we managed some small talk. 2 of them are medical students now while the rest just graduated from school. It’s really nice meeting long lost friends because many things would have happened in the interim and it’s really interesting how people you know change as well.

We settled for Bobby’s (any URL for this? Bobby @ CHIJMES Basement 1) because they had a very friendly staff at the entrance and it was 50% off all Cocktails and Spirits and house pours, which went down very well with poor students. 😛 It was surprisingly quiet for a Friday night at CHIJMES, which is in stark contrast with Clarke Quay!

Most of us had either Cocktails or Mocktails. I prefer Shirley Temple cos it’s soothing to the taste. The rest of us had Gunners, S*x with the Captain, Long Island Tea and some other cough mixtures non alcoholic drinks. It was nice doing some catch up and finding out how different Singapore is from HK.

Soon after, we had to leave the place. Because there were 5 of them, we had some problems convincing some taxi drivers to break the law to fetch all of them. In the end, we decided to just get them to take NR7 from City Hall MRT. They had a packed schedule ahead of them on the next day – Sentosa in the morning, Chinatown in the late afternoon and Night Safari or shopping in the evening. It would be quite a pity if they were unable to visit the Night Safari (actually I am not too sure about that, I’ve never been to the Night Safari and am currently waiting for people to volunteer to take me there 😛 ) but it’s the Great Singapore Sale now, and they might miss some fabulous buys. Ya, it’s quite ironic on how some Singaporeans think that HK is a good shopping paradise while the HongKongers think likewise for Singapore. :S

So, what did I learn from my friends’ visit? I realise that I don’t really know Singapore that well to promote it to overseas visitors. Probably it’s about time I get my facts right. Especially on food – I don’t even know if HK sells Fried Kway Teow (apparently they do) and I have problem introducing Roti Prata to them verbally.

Really, what are the places that I should recommend them? 🙁

Of internships

Blogosphere June 22nd, 2007

There was a recent blog entry that commented on some people’s experience of companies offering internship opportunities to students and how these students were exploited.

Personally, I have interned at a government agency and I am quite glad to say that where pay is concerned, it is quite a bureaucratic issue. Due to the presence of official guidelines and red tapes, there is always an adherence to certain rules and because of this, students who are attached to government agencies almost seem to get a fixed allowance – not too little, but not too much either (i.e. no poly grad pay). I am not sure about this, but apparently most people that I know of are getting the same amount. In fact, everyone was told how much they would be given even before the internship starts – so that you have an opportunity to decide otherwise about working in the agency.

In fact, my supervisor was quite a nice person. 1 week before my internship was due to start, she phoned me to ask me to sign some of the documents again – because the finance department upped the maximum allowance that can be given to interns and she figured that I probably deserved it (even before the internship starts!) – from where she got that conjuncture, I am not sure. But it does show that there are good supervisors out there.

Of course, I have heard of stories where my friends are treated as girl fridays, the delivery boy, the photocopier (the person photocopying the stuffs, i mean, and not the machine :P) and the occasional tea lady. Surprisingly, none of them blew the whistle and everyone just get by with the IA with an average B. Then there is the company that gave my friends REAL working opportunity – working till the wee hours of the morning but being stingy with their grades, and there are also those who treat interns like staff and gave them full or partial staff benefits. But usually, most of us will just end up in the spectrum of the good and the bad, with a just few of us at the extremes.

For me, I am just glad to have a good average allowance and a great supervisor. 😉

Investing in trusts

General June 20th, 2007

Actually, to be more exact, it’s investing in liquidity. According to my friends, it’s somewhat of a higher risk than other investment options such as bonds or unit trusts, but it probably has the highest ROI in the shortest possible time.

So, a few of us pooled a sum of money and passed it to one of my friend’s financial advisor who is supposed to help oversee the entire investment profile. The money that is pooled from individual is probably “affordable money”, in that, cash that we are prepared to lose in the event of an investment failure, but I supposed that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Of course, the optimists will think that we are supposed to expect good returns when we invest, but I would rather prepare myself for the worst. Of course, the returns, if good, can give us approximately 24% returns on capital, which makes out to be 2% p.m. – definitely better than our 0.025% (yes, that’s a fraction of a percent point) p.a. from our savings account. I don’t even have enough for a fixed deposit, much less talk about investments.

Since my portion in the pooled amout is so little, I’d not be expecting a lot of returns in absolute values, but at least it’s better than nothing. We are all supposed to meet the advisor this evening, but I think there are some changes. So it’s going to be this weekend.

Keeping all our fingers crossed 😛

Attended a talk by Kevin on Youtube and beyond. The majority of what he covered can actually be found on his web, but it can generally be broken down into the following:

  • Youtube and its communities 
  • available video sharing sites and their services and restrictions
  • available offline and online video editing tools
  • crazy things that you can do, like lip syncing 
  • beyond video sharing
  • a little on Creative Commons
  • Q&A which wasn’t (there wasn’t enough time)

I learnt a couple of things today: that is more than just youtube and google video; that there are video sharing sites that pays you (www.revver.com); that other sites offer you better video sizes but at the expense of a ready audience (youtube seemingly has a bigger audience to date).

I also learnt that there are fabulous sites that offers a zen-themed editing suite (read: minimalistic) that can let you crop your videos, amongst other things. Frankly, I am not a video enthusiast, although I tried to do some form of video editing – filtering out ads from my DVD-Rs, which I later realised wasn’t really worth the effort. 😛

Then, there was a short primer on lip syncing (or something like that) which is pretty much like MTV except that YOU are the lead in the publicly taken movie. Apparently, there may be copyrights issues because the song doesn’t really belong to you. Nonetheless, it looks nice and sort of amusing to create an MTV of yourself lip syncing.

Speaking of which, I didn’t know that Singapore did not endorse Creative Commons, which means your materials are either copyrighted or they are in the public domain, but not anywhere in between. More information can be obtained from the Creative Commons website.

Lastly, there is the future of video blogging. Apparently, in the short clip “Strange Days” that was shown, it presented a futuristic possibility that instead of re-living though photos and videos, there would come a time when we can re-live the entire experience through extrasensory perception.

“And that includes when you are having sex”, cited Kevin 😛