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.