Friday, June 6, 2008

Farewell to Dr. Lee Kum Tatt

I am very saddened to inform you that Dr. Lee Kum Tatt passed away on Sunday 1 June 2008. When I visited his wake, his daughter showed me a bound book containing the printed version of Kum Tatt's blog. Kum Tatt made a special effort to compile his postings into this book. We will miss Dr. Lee Kum Tatt.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Time Tested And Time Honoured Values

I have written articles on the importance of values to our lives for my children and teenage grandchildren as they grow up. They asked me why not share some of these with others like them. The teenage years can be very bewildering. They are constantly being thrust into positions which are very confusing to them. How can they be themselves and lead meaningful and successful lives without knowing actually how to achieve this. I and my children who are now in the early fifties and late forties have lived through this ourselves. How to help our young is a role we must always play although many will disagree. Leaving the children alone is the easy way out. But is this good for them and our society? Are there certain established ways which can help them to make their own decisions correctly? This has bothered us and many parents too. I think there are set ways if only we are prepared to look out for them.

One of the ways I follow is to ask questions and try to find the answers to them. Here is an example.

What do you treasure most in your life?. This sounds like a stupid question. My children thought so when they were young. My teenage grand children have taken over this thinking for a while but are now beginning to appreciate the good in some of our way of thinking . I take this as the generation gap which will narrow down with time and age. As parents we want our family members to grow up and be good citizens. It is exasperating that there are no accepted set paths to do this and our kids are constantly exposed to all sorts of ideas, some of which were not considered to be acceptable to us before. For the younger generation it is just as frustrating not knowing how to achieve what they think they like to have or to be. Our youngsters are looking for guidance on how to succeed in life. Encouraging them to go for money is easy. Teaching them how to earn money in the correct way is a different matter. To teach them good values in words is also not difficult. Some common words used include: love your parents; have integrity, be caring for others, avoid the four vices etc; But to teach others how to live these values is not so easy. This is especially so when our society places strong emphasis on money making above everything else. To do anything different from the newly introduced acceptable norms will cost our young opportunities, effort, money, fun and with no materialistic or other tangible returns. But as grandparents and elders we still have a role to play to guide the future generation to keep them on the “straight and narrow path” which are good for us all now and for our future generations. The teenagers and some younger folks may consider this as interfering with their lives as our society has "endorsed" them. It is fashionable for them to criticize our thinking and our way of life as out of date. How did we come to this?

After years of contemplation on this problem on how to guide the younger generation I think I have found something I have been looking for. This may be only one of the many ways we can take. I lived through some of the values and experiences I treasure without realizing it. What I am going to say is not original or new. But it is something that has been time tested. They work on me, my grown children and friends. That’s why I like to share them with you all.

To me the things I treasure most are “Time Tested And Time Honoured Values”. These are the things I am prepared to sacrifice for, fight for, live for and even die for. The returns are not money or what money can buy. They are emotional satisfaction which is so important for many of us with strong EQ who want to lead a fulfilled life. I like to group these values into two general classes:

Abstracts which needs to be qualified by definitions and quantified by deeds. These involve matters of the heart (emotion) and are more difficult to achieve. People with strong EQ will do well.
Materialistic and quantifiable items which are best handled by the head. These usually include wealth, power, and status. Those with high IQ and connections will excel in this area.

The ideal person should have both - high IQ and high EQ. If we can’t get both all the time, at least we must have a good balance. Getting this balance is the constant challenge for us and for our society. The question is ‘Who decides’? As an individual we decide for ourselves where the balance should be. The leaders will decide for the society, but we can still make our contributions if they are for society’s good. Unfortunately this is not always possible because of differences in opinions, priorities and interests. Under these conditions politics flourishes and the balancing problem continues to persist generations after generations. We must continue to hope that it can and will improve with time and will not regress down the slippery path of no return. As individuals we must not give up our right to contribute where we can.

Like most people, my family and I have gone through good and bad times. My hard times include my childhood in the colonial days, the war years and immediately thereafter (1941 -1948). During these years my EQ was much more active than my IQ. My character was also developed during this period. We were more loving and caring for each other and our fellowmen. I also spent a lot of time in education ( to gain more knowledge and skills which I needed) to strengthen my I.Q. I will try to give some examples in this Blog of how I was taught to acquire and live these values I adopted. Also I will try to explain some of the deeds done which made us proud to be ourselves.

Lee Kum Tatt

Sunday, April 6, 2008

To my grandchildren

Thank you Laura, Michelle and Jeffery,

You have raised some very interested issues. I will try to answer them in my articles that follow.

Lee Kum Tatt

Cracked Pots

This is a message from a Friend. An elder Chinese woman has two large pots each hung on the end of a pole which she carries across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the Cracked Pot arrived only half full. For two years this went on daily with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed and miserable of its own imperfection. It could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. I am ashamed of myself with this crack on my side which causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.

The woman smiled. “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path but not on the other pot’s side?” That’s because I always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path. Everyday while we walked back you watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.

Each of us has our own unique flaws. It’s the cracks and flaws we each have that makes our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You just have to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

God knows how many ‘Cracked Pots’ we have in our midst. To all your ‘Cracked Pot’ friends have a great day. Remember to smell the flowers on your side of your path.
We thank you for these beautiful flowers!

Laura Kee.

Courage To Pursue Our Dreams and Ideals

Dear Kung Kung (Grandpa)
Congrats for having your Blog for more than a year in spite of your age and your schedule. Your desire to share your values and experiences to make us useful citizens is appreciated. You have taught us it is important to have good principles and values. More important you showed us how to live by them with relevant messages and anecdotes from your experiences. We treasure the private articles you have written for us through the years. They are the most valuable and precious legacy you can give to us.

We also share your joy of being given the Singapore National Institute of Chemistry (SNIC) Distinguished Service Award recently ‘in grateful recognition of your distinguished and lifetime contribution to the Chemistry Community’. You have done us all proud.

Our mother, Dr. Grace Lee Siew Luan, has inherited your genes and practices many of the values you taught her. Like you she has won many professional and research awards. She will be receiving another gold medal award on 12th April 2008 from the Singapore Society of Nephrology in recognition for her contribution to the treatment of kidney patients in Singapore. We are of course very proud of our mother and her achievements. We are sure you must be proud of her too.

As youngsters, we have our own dreams and ask to be allowed to pursue them. We need guidance, encouragement and support to do this. We thank our parents for allowing us to think for ourselves. We are aware of the changing values and priorities in our society.

Our affluent society tends to produce more and more timid souls who feel safer to follow the crowd than their dreams and ideals. Often we are stereotyped as “crackpots” for being different. On the one hand we are screaming for more innovation and creativity and for more people to take risks.

On the other hand are we killing initiative necessary for progress in our competitive world by some of the procedures we adopted? This is not good for our society and our future. How do we create more opportunities for the younger generation to be different and be allowed to pursue their dreams? Are we doing the right thing and are we doing enough? These are questions which we will constantly have to find answers to.

People who dare to think differently and make some mistakes are not failures or ‘Cracked Pots’. ‘Perfect’ people are also not those who made no mistakes in their lives. Perhaps we should encourage more brave people to come forward to help make the difference as was done during Singapore’s pioneering days. We can do it again. Have more faith and trust in the younger generation.

We like to share the following message with you and your “cracked pot” friends. Enjoy the beautiful flowers on our side of the path.

Your grandchildren
Laura, Michelle and Jeffery KEE.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Values of a Good Leader in Science

1. Promote creativity and independent thinking. Create opportunities for budding scientists to achieve their dreams. Question the top down approach.

2. Do not bottle up dissenting views which prevents the truth from being discovered or revealed. In Science accept different views to get to the truth.

3. Do not cheat in your findings, nor be greedy and create benefits only for your self. They will tarnish your image as a good scientist. These will become skeletons in the cupboard after your departure from the scene. Your actions have to be accounted and paid for by your successors and descendents after you are gone. Your reputation which you put in so much effort to build can be destroyed.

4. Develop self control. Do not be selfish as Scientific knowledge and its applications (technology) are for the benefit of all mankind starting with our fellowmen. Share your know how with others and have no part in the misuse of Science & Technology which are against Man’s very existence.

5. Be prepared to accept different views and changes without resentment. Keep politics out of science if we want truth to prevail.

6. Avoid being a Prima Donna. Multidisciplinary approaches need team work which is not easy to build. Share credits with the deserving ones.

7. Do not automatically pass blames to others. Always look for solutions and not scapegoats.

These notes were scribbled on 22 July 1976 by LKT to guide him in his profession, career and life. His success can be attributed to these values which he followed diligently. To him and us the cost has been minimal- the reward very worthwhile and satisfying. LKT got more than he ever dared to dream of when he was young.

.byLee Kum Tatt

Quality of a Good Leader in Science

My husband Lee Kum Tatt (LKT) just celebrated his 81st birthday. He spent a great part of his life in the development of S & T for Singapore’s economic, national, manpower and social development and for the benefit of his fellowmen.

During his time he did not have advisors or groups of advisors to help him do what has to be done. To build what has to be built he depended on his own gut feel and those of his many friends and colleagues. He depended on his values and philosophies to guide him most of the time.

Besides his published scientific and other works ( speeches, keynote addresses, policy papers on a wide range of subjects and issues) he also has scribbled many of his thoughts, philosophies and quotes on paper. Attached is one of his favourite scribbles. We think some of these are interesting and like to share them with you in his blog.

They will provide answers to some of the FAQ (frequently asked questions). What made LKT do what he did? What kind of character is he? How did he survive when he was often considered as an unorthodox person or even a “cracked pot” when the main stream people did not share his views.

After having spent more than 50 years as a family together we know what it is like for those who want to be different like him, are going through. These qualities may not produce Nobel Prize winners or wealthy billionaires but they can give us a comfortable, noble and respectable life.

If this can serve as an encouragement, if not an inspiration to others, to dare to pursue their ideals and dreams LKT’s blog will have served its purpose.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Controlled by Ignorant Arm Chair Superiors

The systems of most bureaucratic organizations require indicators to monitor the progress and success of their projects. If the bosses are hands on individuals and the indicators are set in consultation with the researchers the procedure can be workable. Otherwise if you have someone breathing down your neck all the time life for the researcher can be miserable if not impossible. This often happens when there is not sufficient trust in the research worker. It is difficult enough in Scientific research to produce results. To be wired and haunted all the time should be applied only to staff doing routine work in collecting data or meeting set targets in production. Those who are expected to produce new knowledge or solutions through research should not be expected to be constantly checked. Such staff should be given opportunities to make decisions on their own.

For example, there are three types of supervisors supervising higher degree research students.

The type that spoon-feeds the students, make them report to them all the time to ensure that he produces enough data to pass. This approach tends to produce graduates will little initiative to decide when they are on their own. They do not normally make good, courageous and trusted leaders.

Those who are left to themselves to sink or swim. The survivors of this approach usually make good leaders who have proven that they can make decisions on their own. The casualty rate of this approach can be high.

The Great teachers leave their research students alone. They encourage the students to approach them only when the students have exhausted their abilities to move forward. Such students make great leaders later in their lives. We need more Great teachers to produce great students.

The above approaches should apply to all involved in research and even in the “normal” work. People usually give of their best when they know they are being trusted and will get help when needed. In return a researcher must show that he is passionate enough in doing what he is supposed to do and not give up at the first sign of possible trouble. Trust begets trust. Without trust no outstanding research can result.

Lee Kum Tatt

Proposals rejected by Colonial and Bureaucratic Systems

1.Challenge the Status Quo
2. Fight for a change of the evaluating officers or the system
3. Become the approving authority yourself.

Approving officers rejects proposals with glee.

In the early days it is not uncommon to hear complaints that many proposals were often thrown back at the initiators. The above sketch gives a picture of what it was like. Can we blame those more innovative and independent individuals wanting to challenge the status quo of the system, leave the service to become their own bosses or leave the country?.
Those who succeed in research are usually those who trust their staff. The successful researchers are also those who enjoy their bosses’ trust and confidence. They know that their bosses will back them and take responsibility for what they do. It is the usual complain that there is always a shortage of such understanding and responsible people at the top. Most people cover themselves first especially in a bureaucracy. That is the usual complain in many organizations. Also nobody can be expected to trust everybody all the time.
The solutions include :
Get yourself trusted by your boss
Trust your selected few when you are in charge.

Lee Kum Tatt


The Trials And Tribulations of our reseach scientists

Many are very enthusiastic to do scientific research. They are often frustrated by the bureaucratic system and office politics as they rise from the rank and file. Many have left for better working environment overseas. This becomes our loss. What can we do about it?

Here are some of the cartoons on Research and Development (R & D) which I produced together with my friends during our more sober moments.

Difficulties in getting support for your ideas

In the colonial and early days of Singapore, getting support for proposals and projects from the bureaucratic system (especially the Treasury) can be quite a frustrating and stressful experience. This is particularly so when the approving officers are young, have no scientific background, inexperienced and are completely ignorant of what we were trying to do. Even the University had difficulties in getting funds for their academic research. Under these conditions it was very difficult to start any R & D project. We need passionate souls who are also courageous enough to challenge these people and the system to get things started.
Many changes have taken place since. The questions remain ‘Are these changes enough’? How else can they be improved to encourage more of our talents to go into research that our country needs?

Lee Kum Tatt

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Trials and Tribulations of a Scientific Research Career

My husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt (LKT) has spent his whole life studying , applying and promoting science in our economic, national and educational (S & T) manpower development of Singapore. Through science he has derived lots of fun and joy for himself and us in the family. It is our hope that others have benefited too.

I am a science graduate, an educator and a research worker myself. I know that science and scientific research are very tough occupations to be in especially for a married girl with a family. It can cause a lot of frustrations and gives a lot of stress when things do not go our way. The question is often asked ‘what made LKT continue to do what he did in spite of all the difficulties?

LKT’s answer is that he enjoys what he does. It makes him happy and proud when he succeeds. He learned from his disappointments. Given time some of his difficult projects actually turned into successes. That has been his philosophy. He does not give up and that often frightens us a lot and some others too who have to work with him. Although I cannot do many things I want to do but, I must let LKT do what he enjoys doing.

So I asked LKT to share some of his feelings, in a light manner, on how he let go his steam. Not many can take what LKT has taken with passion and commitment when it comes to science and research. Let us continue to improve our environment further for our own research talents to grow and not lose them to other countries. Read about some of this in the articles that follow.

Mrs. Engeline Lee Eng Nio

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Research Funding

Many have asked me on how to get funding for their research. According to the Chart which I set up recently in my article on ‘Pyramid of Research Activities’ there are many sources of funds available for ‘research’in Singapore. These include:

1. Basic research, academic research and strategic research, funding comes from the government – (primarily through universities, education institutions, military establishments and specially estalished R & D organisations and Departments).

2. With mission oriented research the funding can come from contracts with private corporations/companies, foundations and aid giving agencies.

3. Funding for problem solving and innovative research which provides incrementatl inprovements in service, process or products the funding usually comes from the normal operating budget of the companies/organisations/departments involved.

Many are facing difficulties in getting funding for their research in spite of so much funds being made available in Singapore nowdays. Why is this so? . My advice is to identify which group of reseacher you below to and act accordingly to get the priority you deserve for the project.

If you still do not get the support or what you need then you may have to consider the following:
a. change the topic/supervisor of your research,
b. change your place of work,
c. do something else other than research for a while.
d. think ourside the box or challenge the status quo. This can be a hazardous stand to take. You will have the break and the respect you need as a good research worker when you succeed.

Research is a noble human activity. It is based on intellectual investigation whose objectives are to discover, interpret and revise human knowledge on the aspect of our life and the world around us. Research need not have to always use the scientific method of the exact sciences so long as it produces knowledge which can be useful, easily absorbed, diffused and used for the betterment of our fellowmen. Never ask others to help you to raise funds for your research projects unless they are also part of your team or your supervisor. Making others responsible for what you do is not a fair proposition.

Many of our research scientists managed to do their research throughout their lives by following some of the suggestions listed above. All you need do is to have some courage to do what you believe in. You must have confidence in yourself if you expect others to have faith in you.

Lee Kum Tatt

Risks involved in Scientific Research

Research, like all human activities involves risks. The risk factor has inhibited many from doing scientific research. How can we overcome this risk factor before it becomes a fear factor? If we can define what the risks involved are to us and to those who fund and work with us , we will be able to handle research better.

Risk is a product of hazard and the probability that this hazard occurs. Hazards can be qualified and even quantified in most cases. I usually list out the possible damages and consider what I can bear. If I can control some of the probabilities I would proceed to do what I want to do. How can we train ourselves to be good in predicting probabilities and how much faith have we got in our own predictions? Actuarists are trained to do predictions and produce what they considered as probabilities. Most actuarists are involved with money matters –predicting on investments and insurance products etc. I do not know of any general prescription to calculate risks of research projects. The poor science research workers will have to depend more on themselves and their partners to predict the probabilities of their projects and sell them accordingly. It can be done and some of us have learned how to do this. For those who are in charge of policies and funding they have their own problems. They have to evaluate projects or count on consultants, both local and foreign, to help them. This approach can also generate lots of disagreements and frustrations.

As a student, the important risks and damages we have to consider include:
1. Loss of time, effort, tenure, opportunities and funds.
2. Getting the wrong supervisor and being involved in the wrong topics.
3 Stress caused by wrong choice that affects our peace of mind and health.

The above risks hold for most people who decides to do research. Many feel they can afford the above. What they often lack is funding and infrastructure support. As a student your supervisor is responsible to find the funds. You have to be a good student if you want to do research.

Our needs change with age, status and our responsibilities. These changes will affect the type of risks we have to handle. I will share with you my experience in research in the form of case studies and anecdotes. These will include attitudes and experience of :

1. Some students ,
2. young professionals,
3. heads of department,
4. Directors of Boards/ companies and
5. Chairmen/CEOs of statutory boards and private companies where research is done.

You can then decide whether a research career is what you want. My own views are that research is a very worthwhile activity to be involved in if you can handle the situations that confront you from time to time.

Lee Kum Tatt

What does Research mean to you

Research means different things to different people. To the question ‘what does research mean’, there is no simple answer acceptable to everybody. However, we agree that ‘research’ is good for us. There is plenty of debate on this subject now and in the years to come. As you grow, your views and what you do changes with the change of your goals in life and your responsibilities. I will share with you what these changes mean to me and some of my colleagues when we were students, parents, young professionals, managers, and policy makers. Does research provide an exciting life and career? To me it is a definite yes. How can we make that happen? A lot will depend on yourself; what you think your talents, capabilities and goals are and how you make use of them. If you can make these factors harmonize you will be fine. Usually someone, like your supervisor will help to start you off. After that whether you stay on or start something new yourself is up to you.

1. What research meant to me as a student.

When my wife and I were university students 60 years ago our goals were to do what has to be done in our studies to get our basic degrees. Many students are still doing that now. Research is what some of our professors did during their spare time. Although there were so few professors in our time we never knew what they really did and what they got out of their research. Today our professors are expected to do a lot of research and produce publications. Many never understand how the professors can get so much kick out of research. We also never knew what research was done outside the University. We believe that very little research, if any was done. I will tell you how I got interested and involved in research and let my wife tell you her own stories.

I joined Raffles College hoping only to get a diploma and then become a teacher.
All this changed when the University of Malaya was formed in 1948. I would get a B.Sc. degree instead. How would that help me, I did not know. I decided to take my honours degree in Chemistry. For what? May be I could be a teacher in the University. That required me to have a higher degree. How was I to do this?

I was on a Raffles College scholarship to do my B.Sc. degree. I was paid $1,200.00 per annum. After deducting tuition fees, board and lodging I was left with $80 per term to keep myself alive including buying books but no luxuries. I could not afford to do what my wealthier friends could do including having girl friends. How I wished I could make some extra money for myself and to help out my poor parents. This applied to many students during my time and even now. The science course was too demanding for me to take on any money making activities.

In my B.Sc. (Hons.) year I was on a Singapore government scholarship ($1,200.00 p.a.) and was also appointed a student demonstrator for the medical and science students for another $1,200.00 p.a. This appeared to be an improvement but was only on third of what I could have earned if I had found a job outside. This was part of the sacrifice I made to get a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in 1951/52.
After my Hons. degree I wanted a job which would allow me to do a higher degree with a decent pay. My Chemistry Professor got me a job in the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya (RRIM). For personal security reasons I declined the offer as I have to work in the rubber estate in Sungei Buloh in Malaya, a terrorist infested area at a time when the Governor of Malaya had been recently assassinated. My Professor was disappointed but he understood the stand I took.

I thought that was the end of my dream for a higher degree. I did not know why I wanted a higher degree so badly. Then Dr.Rayson L. Huang, a young lecturer ( who later became the first Asian Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University) offered to supervise me for an M.Sc. degree. The research topic was ‘synthesis of synthetic female sex hormones’. This was an exciting project which few young men can resist.

Surprisingly I was granted the newly created Shell Research Fellowship of $3000.00 p.a. for this course. This solved part of my personal financial problem. But it represented one third of what I would have earned as an honours degree graduate. I ran into the normal trouble of most young research students by producing no results in the first two months. I panicked but made good after that. I was offered to convert my M. Sc. to a Ph. D degree during my first year of research. This was not part of my dream but it was something I also could not refuse – to be addressed as Dr. Lee Kum Tatt if I passed. More important this gave me confidence that I can do ‘research’. I can generate knowledge, make decisions and solve problems. This is the most important thing I learned in my Ph. D. years which also changed my life. I continue to do “research’ to add value to and apply the knowledge I know to solve the problems I face.

Was research useful to me?. Yes. What price did I pay? The effort I put in and the sacrifices I, my parents and family made. What rewards did I get ? The satisfaction and peace I got for a job well done and the honour and respect I was given serving my fellowmen. Many people must still be going through what I went through. If you can handle these problems with your research training and experience and make the necessary sacrifices you will be fine.

Lee Kum Tatt

What does Research mean to you

In Singapore it has been generally agreed that R & D in Science & Technology is important and good for us. It will be a topic that will engage many in debate and doing the actual work in the years to come. Considerable amount of effort and resources will be pumped into these R & D activities. How to maximize our investment, manpower and time, will be our challenge.

My husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt, as founder chairmen of the Singapore Science Council, the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR), first Chemistry Ph.D. graduate of our University, founder of a few S & T companies etc. has written a few articles on R & D in Science & Technology in his Blog recently. He tried to explain in general on how to make things work.

In the following articles we will share with you some of our personal experiences as case studies and anecdotes to demonstrate the problems we faced and the ways we solved them. Our readers will no doubt face some of these problems still. Hopefully they will find our articles useful and we have answered some of the FAQ.

Mrs. Engeline Lee Eng Nio.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Research And Classification of Research Activities

Anonymous said...
I have the idea that there are two categories of research positions (but I am not sure if it is right). People in the first position do the "hands-on" stuff (whatever the type of research it is, e.g. basic, strategic, applied etc). People in the second position are generally the more senior staff who lead projects or manages the companies. What are the differences in the challenges in two categories? What are the differences between the kind of skills required for each category?

My Reply ....

In general practice your observation that there are two distinct categories of research positions is correct. People who are “hands on” and those who lead projects and manage companies. What are the differences in the challenges in the two categories? The differences are in the background of the individuals involved and how they climbed up their corporate ladders. The most desirable and suitable persons in research are those who have experience, who can do both the hands on work as well as lead and manage the projects or companies at the same time. Most successful technopreneurs in the private business belong to this class. They possess some S & T background related to their work to start with whether it is from the Poly’s ,universities or even the craft courses. These people cannot stand too much bureaucracy, especially “arm chair” detectives who have little or no S & T knowledge of the research subject at all. Every country likes to have more such technopreneurs.
Large organizations, (Governments and big corporations) with modern “good” governance practice require the systems to separate policy making from executive and operational activities. The policy makers need not have hands on experience although it is an advantage if they have. Their priorities are to ensure that the Government or Companies’ policies are implemented. This process divides the responsibilities of the Ministers, Chairmen/Boards, at the policy level from CEO’s/COO’s, managerial. S & T officers who have to use their “research” capabilities to execute, plan and implement the policies. With this arrangement people have to work harmoniously together to get results especially research where there is so much uncertainties to start with. The people involved must have faith, trust and confidence in those they work with. Otherwise a lot of time and effort will have to be spent in convincing and monitoring each other and to decide the best approach to take. This process is commonly known as bureaucracy which hinders the important parties from working more closely together. It is usually quite a frustrating process for genuine researchers to have to follow. This is the modern corporate life that researchers have to live with.
Some believe that the policy makers are the most important people in any set up. They believe that all technology or technical know, which reside in humans, can be bought. I cannot say I can agree with this. Important research personnel, like the military personnel, should never be manned by foreign mercenaries whose loyalty has not been proven. It is not easy to get good foreign researches who love their work passionately and are at the same time also loyal to our country and companies unless they are made only to work on selected short term projects.
We must also not overlook the importance of providing the opportunities and encouragement for our own “research” workers to rise from the rank and file, from hands on work to become leaders of projects and management of companies, small though some of these may be. It is wonderful if we can make our “guppies” become whales. It is also necessary to support our “caterpillars” to become “butterflies” as a natural sequence of their metamorphosis process instead of allowing them to die prematurely to become somebody’s silk kimonos during economic restructuring.

It is ideal if more “hands on” researchers can be helped to be leaders of projects and management of companies and successful technopreneurs. This happens and is still happening in most of the developed countries. Their local industries play a very important part in the countries’ economic and national development. It is time we have a hard look at how our local industries can be helped. If we overemphasis on too unrealistic aims we will have to depend on miracles to happen to achieve what we want. Technologically impressive projects are good for the soul but it must not be a desperate attempt to impress as considerable resources, time, effort and even lives can be wasted in the process which could have been put to better use.

My wife has suggested that we should give some case studies and share our experiences in our effort in making research our careers. You can then decide whether such a career path is worth your effort or not to pursue or to continue.

Lee Kum Tatt

How To Attract People To Fight The Status Quo

During the colonial days and the war years there were few opportunities for the colonial subjects. There was no encouragement to have freedom of thought, speech and action. Without proper markers freedom of speech and action could easily land one in trouble. In the name of national security the majority, especially the employees/ workers, were not encouraged to question or challenge the status quo. If they do they may even lose whatever little they have. Many were made to accept their miserable survival and existence. Many lived under constant fear in a very stifling environment until the tide against colonialism set in after the war in 1945. Fighting the status quo of injustice is an important motivating factor that can attract like thinking people to work together.

It was under these changed conditions that many national independent movements were started. The more enlightened and brave souls wanted more political, social, economic and other freedoms to do what they like for a better life in line with their culture, traditions, principles, values and beliefs. Our multiracial and religious society can present many problems if not handled properly by all concerned. These conditions threw up many leaders in many fields besides politics. Countries which have succeeded in getting these leaders to work together prosper. Political leaders who cannot work with each other and with leaders in other fields find their people still suffering from poverty and diseases. They have not provided the jobs, housing, education, and personal freedom that their people need. The history of early Singapore is the story of how our leaders in the various fields attracted other like thinking, capable and passionate people to work together to build what has to be built. How did they use the resources within their reach to attract the ”needles in the haystack” ? What are the motivating factors that made these people work? How many of these are still useful and attractive in the present context?

With more emphasis on money as rewards, are the existing motivating factors still valid and sufficient to continue to attract the right people to do what has to be done?

Some specific surveys, specially made to address specific issues may have to be done to get the real reasons why people did what they did. We may not be able to get the true answers to the questions otherwise. We may end with the wrong conclusion that money is the only motivating factor that works. The next best thing is to have some case studies made with individuals who participated in the process and let us learn from them their experience and feelings.

W e need some true answers if we are to remain a viable and strong nation.

The Use of Magnets.

Magnets are often used to attract needles from the haystack. What type of magnets do we need to attract the right type of people to step forward? These decisions are best made by those who have the responsibilities to do what has to be done. Definitely it is not the use of money alone. The Magnets, made up of motivating factors, will vary from case to case. The common areas where passionate volunteers are required include Charity, Social and Community Service, “National” Service, Professional Services etc. Perhaps the volunteers who serve on the top policy making levels of these services should never be allowed to make these as careers. Our Nation, the authorities, the communities, the professional bodies etc should honour these people gratefully and sincerely for their contributions and give them whatever support necessary for their work. Money should never be the main motivating factor for such services? It will be very sad for many if it is.

The Magnet we used to attract volunteers to work with us include :

1. Challenges to fight Status Quo which hindered our progress
2. Help improve the lives of our citizens
3. Do something of interests that will make a difference
4. Widen one’s network connections to become more effective
5. Enhance the effectiveness of the individuals etc.

Will great emphasis on money making can the existing value system continue to attract passionate volunteers to do what has to be done?

Lee Kum Tatt

How To Make People Work in Harmony

We live in a globalize world where whatever one does some other people will be affected in one way or another. Some of the problems we face are so complex that we need more than just a few smart individuals to solve them. Furthermore we also have a multi-racial, multi-religious and multicultural society where progress depends on our ability to live in harmony and peace with each other. Consciously or unknowingly we have acquired some experience and wisdom on how to do that. We will not tolerate any attempts by anyone or groups to upset these arrangements. We will be happy to share our experiences giving case studies and anecdotes to those interested. My husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt (LKT) has spent 60 years in learning, educating , promoting, building scientific institutions and movements, and helping local technopreneurs to develop. I myself have been involved in education and research and helped my husband in doing what has to be done in his work. We have persuaded LKT to share his experiences with us. Besides adopting the scientific approach LKT believes in applying teamwork, multidisciplinary approach, importance of principles, values, culture and tradition to problem solving. This is something that some have difficulties in doing. LKT has numerous scientific publications and delivered many key note and opening addresses in international and local conferences on the various things he had to do throughout his life. I will try to extract some of these, especially those which we consider still valid, relevant and useful to us today. LKT believes that interests and passion in one’s activities are more important than monetary rewards as is the modern trend. He shares with us how some motivating factors will attract people who are interested and passionate in what has to be done to work with us. Some of the important factors include personal and professional interests, desire to help others and courage to challenge the Status Quo especially during the earlier days.

Mrs. Engeline Lee

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Do Our Science -Trained Researchers Do?

When we talk of scientific research we invariably think of the Nobel Prize winners, great inventors, successful entrepreneurs and professors, policy makers in government or businesses. We admire and respect these people, make them our role models and even hero-worship them. When we talk about R & D we think of high technology and what their MNC’s do at home. Many of such activities are out of the reach of our people.

We tend to overlook and even look down on the large numbers of local people engaged in scientific work in our laboratories, factories, quality control systems, workshops and hospitals etc. These people provide important supporting scientific services like doing the routine work, problem solving and innovation which require scientific knowledge/skills. These people support the growth of our economy, provide the services required and the jobs we need. They also provide the important basic scientific infra structure for those involved in higher creative and basic research. They enhance the chances of research activities to become useful and meaningful to society, country and Mankind. Singapore has built up some of our S & T services in the past 50 years. We now have to build up our creative and basic research capabilities and quickly integrate them into what we already have to catch up for the years we have lost during the colonial days. Do not overlook our basic infrastructure in our quest for higher goals in S & T development. I have produce a simple chart (please see above) showing the Pyramid of Research Activities we can do and are involved in.

We know money is needed to acquire and generate knowledge and skills. Money is required to keep Science and our interest in it alive. Money is needed to keep our jobs and our businesses going. How many of our science trained personal know how to use their scientific knowledge to create wealth by themselves? Not many. This is because the creation of wealth involves many different parties to work together for a common cause.

The common complaint most scientists of developing countries make is insufficient funding for their research. The questions are:
a. Who are these people?
b. Who are the people responsible for solving this problem and
c. How are they to doing it now?

Since money is so important in many of the things we do in life, making money tend to become an end in itself instead of being a means to an end. R & D and many other things will suffer if the creation of wealth becomes the only goal in what we do.

Another answer to our problem is to produce more scientists who are also entrepreneurs, who dare to take risks and create the funds and opportunities they need. Pass the responsibilities to the science graduates and blame them if nothing happens. Be self sufficient is an ideal solution which is difficult to achieve in most cases. The authorities can step up the education program to produce more S & T personnel. To produce entrepreneurs out of these graduates is a different matter. The question is asked “Can entrepreneurs be trained or are they born? Entrepreneurs have special talents to know what to do. How does this talent come about? Entrepreneurs also need courage to do what they believe in. How can an individual acquire this courage? It must be recognized that it is too much to expect a person to be good scientifically and technologically, entrepreneurial and courageous at the same time. Those who can do all these by themselves deserve our respect for what they are. Our society will need these people more than they need us. The authorities must not stop only at indicating what has to be done i.e. do more R & D and be more entrepreneurial and creative. It must use its resources and authority to encourage active participation among the important parties.

Who are these “science research workers” and what can they do to get and produce what is needed? To get a better understanding of this universal problem I have produced a sketch (please see above) to show the type of people involved. In my profession and career I learned the importance of how to get these people to work together. A lot of work has to be done which may not show immediate results. Bridges have to be built for people to cross and meet each other. Barriers which inhibit important people/sectors from cooperating with each other have to be broken down.

I will share with you some of my own experience and that of my colleagues in articles describing anecdotes of events that happened related to this matter. I will try to describe the issues of the day, the priorities and strategies we set and the way we implemented our policies and plans in the articles in my Blog. The people, technologies and environment may have changed but the need for people to work together in order that R & D can create wealth, and also enhances our development, remains valid and essential.
How to do this remain a challenge to us and the generations to come.

Lee Kum Tatt

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Our Tradition To Serve

Singapore does not believe in a Welfare state. We have our wealthy people and our poor folks who need help. Like some other countries we have a widening income gap among our people. Some blame this on the effects of globalisation. Have we got the right balance with our wealth distribution policy? Different people have different views on this. Many, especially the old, feel that they have contributed to enlarge our national economic cake. They expect to have a fair share of the enlarged cake in their twilight years. Many of the poor and the old folks have difficulties trying to make ends meet with rising cost of living. At the same time they also have their dignity and pride to live with. They do not like to live on charity or hand outs. How then are we to help the poor and the less fortunate under these circumstances?

We need volunteers in many fields.

In the early days there were many volunteers for social and charitable services as well as “national” service to build up our infrastructure and country. These people have their own professions, careers and businesses to attend to but many stepped forward and served just the same. They differentiated their voluntary and honorary activities from their businesses and professions/occupations/careers. Many worked with passion, commitment and courage. It was a joy to work with these people compared to those who only work for personal gains. Those who work only for their money often find volunteer work a chore as there is no personal gain in sight. The genuine volunteers were not concerned about money, their positions or their promotion prospects. They just wanted to make their contributions. They made personal sacrifices and gave of their best until the projects are completed. Then they either leave or take on new projects. Many stayed on because they loved doing what they did. Human weaknesses of self interest, greed and power did not with their work. They make good leaders, good role models and set good examples for others to follow. It was a joy to work with such people.

Many are still doing voluntary services of various kinds and we need more of such people in our effluent society. How are we to continue to encourage more such people to step forward to serve? Some people are concerned that more and more people are asking for rewards before they start to serve in “national service” or even charitable organizations. Their actions imply that only “born losers” work for free in modern times. Our society views the value of these volunteer services to what it cost – Nothing - because it is free. How did this happen? This is a very disturbing trend which we must never allow to grow as it discourages people from volunteering. History has shown that countries prosper and become great through human sacrifices. These societies also do not forget the poor and the less fortunate, by helping them to add value to their lives. All societies need these special volunteers. Are our systems and practices strong enough to maintain and build on our culture and tradition on these matters?

When Singapore became a self governing country in 1959 and an independent nation in 1965, we had to pay for some of the neglects of the colonial government. We had:

1. a very small financial reserve
2. a poor education system ( especially in S & T, technical and craft courses)
3. a people ( mostly immigrants) with no experience in managing a country still suffering from the aftermath of the second World War II, the Japanese occupation and confrontation from Indonesia. Few had any strong loyalty to our new country.
4. A people with little or no knowledge of science or technical skills
(technology) essential for development.

We inherited a tiny island of 204 square miles, with a small population of slightly less than 2.0 million in 1959. Singapore has no natural resources to talk about. We did not even have our own water supply, the bulk of which has to come from a foreign country.

We had many of the problems that some of the developing countries are still facing today. We were blessed that we did not fight too much among ourselves. We gained our independence without any blood shed. These circumstances attracted many able and dedicated people to step forward and serve the country. Many became leaders, and role models in their own ways, for others to follow. They were not greedy or corrupt. Many worked with passion and for free in many fields for many years. Their passion kept them going willingly and happily in the various capacities they served. Our system rewards these people with public awards and honorary professional recognition etc. Singapore capitalized on this culture and tradition of our people, many of whom were prepared to sacrifice personal interests for the betterment of their fellowmen and their society. The order of the day was “We were in the same boat and we sink or swim together”. “Those with money will give money; those with strength will give strength.” It was tough going but wonderful to see so many people working together for so long and for a good cause – the survival of a nation and the betterment of the lives of its people.

Instead of wringing our hands in despair we settled down to do what we believed had to be done. From each his best was the spirit of the day. We rejoiced when the projects worked and we are still learning from the ones that didn’t.

Many volunteered at the sacrifice of their personal interests. They gave up opportunities to enrich themselves; provided the leadership and played role models for others to follow. I am privileged to have worked with many of these volunteers. The challenge now is how to continue to maintain our tradition to serve and improve on the spirit of voluntarism among our population in an affluent society? How do we provide examples for others to follow? Perhaps we should make a study of why people continue to provide free national, social and professional services when money has become such an important factor to many? This is a disturbing trend. Have we gone overboard in wealth creation and forgotten other just as important facts of life? Isn’t helping the less fortunate one of the mission of our being? Have we lost sight of this mission in life in our effort for rapid progress? There is nothing wrong with wealth generation as one of our goals. However treating it as our only mission in life/career including sacrificing time-tested and time-honoured values of our culture and our tradition will affect our future. This bothers many of us. We should have a hard look on where the balance should be. We should continue to attract more volunteers to serve our people with their hearts and not just their heads. It is not difficult to give in to human weaknesses. It is also not easy to discipline ourselves and others against temptations like greed and other acknowledged weaknesses. Nevertheless we must never give up trying to fight for what is good. Think of others too besides ourselves. This was how many of us were brought up with for the future of our country and the good of our fellowmen. Singapore needs more volunteers in these trying times than ever.

Lee Kum Tatt

Our Tradition to Serve for Free

In difficult times, many people worked for free to improve the lot of their society and their fellowmen. They differentiate their voluntary and honorary activities from their businesses and careers. Many worked with passion, commitment and courage without concern of being paid. The dedicated ones stayed on to work on more projects. These people were performing useful functions.

In the past many were picked up and given more responsibilities especially when they showed their worth, sincerity and willingness to serve. Such people make good leaders and good role models setting good examples for others to follow.

We must continue to promote this approach for more such people to step forward and serve if Singapore is to continue to survive and prosper. History has shown that countries prosper and become great through such human sacrifices. These societies also do not forget the poor and the less fortunate.

We had many of the problems that some of the developing countries are still facing today. We were blessed that we did not fight too much among ourselves. We gained our independence without any blood shed. These circumstances attracted many able and dedicated people to step forward and serve the country. Their passion kept them going willingly and happily in the various capacities they served. Singapore capitalized on this culture and tradition of an immigrant stock that was prepared to sacrifice personal interests for the betterment of their fellowmen and their society.

The order of the day was “We were in the same boat and we sink or swim together”. “Those with money will give money; those with strength will give of their strength.” It was tough but wonderful to see so many people working together for so long and for a good cause – the survival of a nation and the betterment of the lives of its people.

Many missionaries and pioneers work better when they work for free because they are doing what they like and not just have to work. The urge to improve the lot of others less fortunate than themselves ( especially for those who have suffered similar hardship/poverty before) can be a very strong challenge to many to give of their best.

There were many such people who set good examples and are good as leaders and role models for others to follow. Let us hope this tradition will continue under a system that acknowledges the contributions of our volunteers in our fast changing society. We can vouch that many people serve better for free. Their rewards are not money but more responsibilities and work. What makes these people thrive working for free and others not? This is a good question. If we can find the right answer it can help solve many of our problems.

Engeline Lee

Monday, January 14, 2008

Integrating Science & Technology

Integrating Science & Technology into Development Policies in Singapore’s Early Days.

A Personal Perspective

This series of articles provide some information on how Science and Technology was introduced into our Development Policies and Singapore society. It aims to demonstrate the importance of how local and international cooperation in science and technology can further the numerous inter-related aspects (economic, social, environmental and political) of the development process to help Singapore become what it is today. We have many who dared to champion what we believe in and commit to it for the sake of our country. In S & T operations multidisciplinary approaches are often necessary. This requires those involved to work together to make the difference. This can be done between parties independent of the authorities. Here are some of my experiences and personal views on how some of these projects evolved and were handled.

My blog will produce articles with anecdotes to highlight what we did based on my personal experience and those of my colleagues at that time. These articles will focus on some of the approaches we took using S & T to integrate together the activities of the important parties. These parties include the Government, Commerce & Industries, Labour Unions, Professionals, Academics, Students, Consumers, Man in the Street and the International S & T communities. We did not have much funds to start with. How did we manage? We slogged, we saved, we made personal sacrifices and we got the right people to cooperate to work together. This is a unique experience which we like to preserve and continue to practice for a better future. We did what we did because we want to improve the lives of our fellowmen just as others have done for us.

Human beings are the only resource we have in our tiny island state. We focused and placed great emphasis on our human resource development. Our other resources (finance, technology, markets and experienced manpower) were limited. We did not have five or ten year development plans to start with. Fortunately we did not suffer from paralysis through excessive analysis of massive data like the types we have today. Many of us only had a mission – to survive, and a vision - to improve the lives of our fellow men. We muddled our way through with hope, faith, trust and courage. Many of our fellowmen in various parts of the world are still struggling on. I like to share with them the little experience I have so that they will not have to go through some of the difficulties and the painful experiences we went through. This is a hind sight view of what happened. Hopefully this will give others the experience we lacked during our time. Hind sight is always clearer than foresight. It gives us hope and courage to bear the harsh ridicules that cynics gave to people who dare to venture off the well beaten paths. How I wish that I had some relevant examples or some experienced person/s to guide me during those uncertain times.

Science & Technology resides only in human beings. We got our people and others to work together at all levels and in various fields, with Human Resource development policies as our main mission.
We believe in our people and what they can do if given the opportunities.
(i) We enlarged the number of people who believe in what S & T can do. By doing this we enhanced our capacity to absorb technology.
(ii) We recognized the importance of technology transfer from
human to human for peaceful growth .
(iii) We realized the need to build knowledge networks through
personal contacts. We maximized support and minimized
destructive criticisms.
(iv) We believed in the importance of synergy among those who have to work together. For a small country this is the key that opens the doors to our future.

Integration of people from various sectors of our society has been the tool we used to integrate S & T into the development policies of early Singapore. We held meetings, conferences, workshops etc with the important parties to identify specific areas that have to be attended to. These included technologies and approaches effective in improving and innovating what has to be done. This has to be done within the circumstances a developing country had to work in. This gave every participant and other interested persons an opportunity to have a say in formulating policies that affect them. We ensure that we delivered what we promised.

How did we do what we did? We enlarged existing institutions and built new ones. We introduced “new” schemes and movements to integrate important parties to work together. We built centres of excellence which became the focus around which new technologies will grow. We provided the S & T services and products that our country, especially our locally grown industries, needed. We showed what we can do with the little we had.

We put people together and make them work harmoniously with each other. For many this is the difficult part. This will always remain a challenge for all of us to maintain harmony among the various parties. It was not all smooth sailing for us either. No one single person can do all this alone. How we built the network we did is something we can share with others. We have some successes and we also learned many useful lessons where things did not work out the way we expected. The main purpose of my blog is to produce articles with first hand experience under conditions many others are still facing in other parts of the world today. My articles in this series should be viewed with that light. It is hoped that some will find my articles, views and experience useful. If you are sincere in your mission people will believe and support you.

Lee Kum Tatt

Harnessing Science & Technology for Our Development

Science & Technology affects every aspect of our lives. The difference between the rich and poor nations is their level of Science and Technology ( application of scientific knowledge). The question has been “how can we bridge this gap and catch up with the developed world?” Singapore’s answer was to develop our human resource as quickly as possible. This policy comes with a lot of risks and cost which we accepted and shared.

Science is not an easy subject to learn. Neither is it a profession that will offer a fantastic pay. We appealed to those who are interested in the “wonders” of science and the need for Science if Singapore is to survive and thrive. This was what my husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt (LKT) and me did throughout our lives in the numerous positions LKT and me held, mostly on an honorary basis, with limited resources to do what could and had to be done.

Both LKT and I are the early Science graduates of our University. We fell in love with Science only with time because we did not know what to expect when we started. Now we understand the reactions we can expect when we promote and develop S & T into our development policies.

Our colleagues in many developing countries are still trying to do some of the things we did. Our experience should be useful to them. You will face many problems. Have faith that you have the capability to do what you want to do. Often you need courage to see it through. This is entirely dependent on yourselves. If more of our scientists dare to do what has to be done we can make a difference.The world, Singapore included, needs more scientists and technologists who dare to try new approaches through innovation and entrepreneurship to solve some of the many problems we are still facing today.

Mrs. Engeline Lee Eng Nio