None of this year’s President’s Scholars doing Engineering


Just as we were debating whether engineering is a dead-end career in Singapore, I noticed a common trait among the 2008 batch of President’s Scholarship recipients.

None of them is going to be an engineer.

From what President Nathan said in his speech, these scholars will all be heading to foreign universities for their studies. (Hey, btw, didn’t Professor Kishore Mahbubani, who’s himself a President’s Scholar and now heads the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, wondered aloud why parents are sending their children overseas when our NUS is good enough? Well, he’s comparing with Australian uni’s, but you get my point.)

Two of this year’s P-scholars will head to Cambridge, one to read Law and the other to study Medicine. Another, a Stanford-bound future police honcho, will be taking Economics. The remaining two will respectively read Economics, Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, and Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale University.

You may argue that Medicine and Econs are science-related courses, but I contend that these graduates are not going to build things or write software in their careers. No matter how technical their minds are, they will never be true engineers.

I declare engineering officially dead in Singapore. 🙂


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  1. Even the recipients of second most prestigious scholarship, SAFOS, all stay in private housing.
    Quoted from the abovementioned Today article:
    “Even if housing type is far from the most accurate indicator of household earning power, it is interesting that of this year’s five President’s Scholars, two used to live HDB flats; none, currently, live in public housing.
    Of the latest four Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Overseas Scholars, one grew up in an HDB flat but all now live in private homes.”
    (boldface mine)

  2. A digression but needed on


    A digression from the thread’s topic.

    “Well, he’s comparing with Australian uni’s, but you get my point.)”

    Are you hinting that you agree with Kishore’s view that Aussies Uni’s are not “up to standard”?

    Pls bear in mind that Singapore is the only place on earth that suck up to the US universities, or whoever is in power at the moment (MAybe we should suck up to Dubai uni or what too).

    If you have worked or studied overseas long enough, you realise that people judge you by what you do and not what quals your have (ok la, Singapore is the only startling “exceptional place” that judges by quals, an approach that is startlingly stupid.)

    Unis are made up of profs, and profs are the one who determine whether a uni is good or not.


  3. 50% of the P-scholars are reading politics. Are they our future politicians?

    Engineering may be dead. But SOCIAL ENGINEERING is alive and kicking.

  4. None of our president scholar are going be engineers in the first place. The nature of their job doesn’t require them to do so. P scholar are chosen from PSC OMS tied or open or specialised SAFOS or SPFOS, and their career is more on policy setting and not technical engineering work. Study economics or PPE may help them more in their work

  5. Mr/Ms “A digression but needed” is sorely deluded if he thinks that Aussie universities are anywhere close to the standards of Ivy League universities.

    And no, you’re wrong too that Singapore is the only place in the world that places a premium on qualifications or/and prestige. This is an international phenomenon. In the US, a degree from a top school shoos one into an investment banking position in bulge brackets instantly. And just check out the millions of American students waxing lyrical about which prestigious they’re dying to get into and the Ivy League students proclaiming supremacy over the “Lower Ivy” students.

    Don’t be so deluded lah and if you can’t cut it, try migrating to Antarctica. It may be the last place left for a deluded fag like you.

  6. Haha I’m Daniel Ong (the one headed to Stanford to do economics). Engineering definitely isn’t dead- I’m planning to do at least a Computer Science minor here. I think all disciplines stand to contribute a lot to the Civil service- like a CS major can find out how to optimize computing frameworks. We need a wide range- economists, engineers, humanities people etc. for more perspectives I guess.

    Anyway, to the comments above, I live in a hudc flat. Is that hdb or private?

  7. Hi Daniel, my belated congrats on getting the President’s Scholarship!
    As a PS, you will most likely be an AO when you embark on your career. While you earn your millions (over years), I hope you do not forget what you said in your blog at :
    “I’ve been sensitive to the vast inequality that arises in societies and in humanity as a whole- and how we intend to solve this.” and
    “the relative need of ordinary Singaporeans, and the relative affluence of us 18 year old students stands in stark contrast; what we 18 year olds deem as ‘normal spending’ could easily be a fortune to a 40-something man. What does that tell us about ourselves?”

  8. I’m guessing you’re the webmaster- because my spelling error got corrected. Anyway thanks alot for maintaining this site, I use it to keep track of the going-ons in Singapore 🙂

    Thanks for the advice, and BTW I never thought of myself as making millions over the years. In Stanford it almost seems a god-given right to many of my classmates to get huge paypackets at prestigious firms when they graduate, and the people here are all so comfortable and happy, so much that you assume everyone else is living a comfortable life. Oh well.

    Also wrt to your post on the salary calculator- I think you need to insert an important note that a fair number of Singaporeans don’t pay taxes, and thus are not part of the percentage. It may mislead people into thinking the bottom 10% of taxpayers are also the bottom 10% of all citizens, making them seem better off than they are…

  9. Yes, I’m the webmaster. Clever.
    Thanks for the suggestion, but I don’t understand why users of my calculator will feel “better off than they are”. Consider the person at the 50th percentile according to my calculator- he could have been at the 60th percentile if non-taxpayers were included. So, in fact, my calculator makes him feel worse off than he is!

  10. More than five years ago, my boyfriend was awarded the President’s Scholarship too. He was all over the news on papers and TV that even provision shop keepers in his neighbourhood recognised him and said “you appeared on TV!” to him. The PS of today can actually “interact” back through forums. Isn’t it very strange to talk back to people talking about you, indirectly or directly? Why do you bother to engage? That’s what he as his senior quipped when I told you about what I saw. =)

  11. He also said quickly back that it’s more probable that the person responding in blogs and what not as the PS is an imposter claiming to be the PS.

  12. Haha- why should it be an imposter? I dont think I’m important enough to have someone impersonate me 🙂 Well if it helps, I’m sitting in my dorm in Stanford now doing a paper on the welfare system and answering email. At 2 am sigh

    I’m not sure, I guess I’m just another user with a forum account. Well I’m not sure what you mean by engaging, but it sure doesn’t cost me anything to reply so here i am.

    Regarding the calculator, the calculator makes the poorest Singaporeans sound better off than they are. Ie someone sees that the bottom 2% of taxpayers make like $2000, and they assume that even the poorest make that amount. So its a bit misleading. yeah

    ps: Observer, who’s your bf? Haha what a small world 🙂

  13. Hey Daniel, heard you guys get paid full salary + bonus while on your postgrad degree even when you’re sitting in your dorm room doing absolutely no real work for the government, is that true?

  14. Well that’s a touchy issue… it’s only the people who signed on with the police and army who get monthly pay. Other scholars get an allowance which has to cover rent and food, we get a salary in addition to that.

    We don’t do ‘real work’ while we’re studying, but when its break we have to come back to SG to work. I don’t know what to make of the fairness of receiving salary while working, but I guess the onus is on us to decide how the money should be spent. Or donated. Or saved. Yeah.

    I think the higher ups basically see the salary as an incentive to sign on in the force as opposed to an office job in the ministries. Who would pick chongsua if they can earn the same amount for an office job (other than the really hardcore people). Then once you’re in and you start liking the job (and the 24 hour police shifts…), you’ll stay with the force. Or government. yeah.

  15. Daniel is correct on this. Only the chiong sua of the top league of Singapore Government scholarships, the SAFOS and the SPFOS have full salary and bonuses while studying. OMS does not.

    The three form the top tier of Singapore scholarships.

    Daniel, I don’t think you know him. He’s a SAFOS.

    He wonders why you sign with SPF.

  16. Haha so I assume he’s from the 2003 batch? That narrows it down to two… and I’ve met the other one (who spoke at my JC graduation), so I’d love to meet your bf. Everyone does ask me why not SAF or OMS, but I had pretty good reasons for why the police. But this is a comments board and I should stop hijacking it!

    Can you email me at [email protected]? Can talk over there haha 🙂

  17. Daniel, feel free to share your story here. I’m sure many people are interested to know. Thanks.

  18. Nope. I said “more than five years ago”, I did not say “five years ago”. =) I am very careful and detailed in my phrasing and luckily there is no editing here to further vouch for me. =)

    As far as chiong sua toughness goes, SPF can’t compare to SAF at all =P. It is a fact you know? Hehe. I mean when does police ever go on 5 week exercises in the jungle, ATEC, sleep on dirty muddy grounds, walk for miles in the rain. And they don’t do anything that Rangers or commandos do.

    In fact he always tells me funny stories about police officers he encounters who can’t climb up a slight incline without crying for the help of a rope, which he thinks is funny.

    I’m not as familiar about the police structure. Is there an officer/specialist rank dichotomy in police? And I am pretty sure that besides being way less tough, police units do not allow you to command as many guys for leadership right? =P Hope you don’t mind me saying what I feel. But I don’t think I’ve said anything untrue so far.

  19. Anon December 5th, 2008 at 8:55 am, you were wrong.

    Full salary is paid monthly in the entire duration from the time the SAFOS/SPFOS signs on at 19, which means through the four years of their studies in US/UK. Not only post-grad. Typically, these scholars are given and take four years to finish their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in US/UK. Basically SAFOS are paid from the moment they sign on the dotted line to accept the SAFOS offer. From the time they finish their studies abroad and return to service, report back to SAF, that’s when the bond countdown begins.
    First thing they do after returning to Singapore is head off to US again for a three month army officers’ course (for the SAFOS) in US Army.

  20. Aiya Daniel, you’re a brilliant guy. I am sure you will know what I mean by ‘engage’ if you ponder on it for 5 seconds. It’s like…how to say..hmmm ok think lah..its like the PM, perm sec or a celebrity replying in forums to people- all who don’t know them in person- talking about them lah. I’m not saying that you’re equal in stature to the PM (for now). But can you see the same concept applies here? It never happens. And is very odd lah. You’re the first and there’s been more than 200 PS already. Its very strange that you engage, that is if you’re not an imposter. Which I still think you could be =P

  21. Haha- sorry! I didn’t catch the “more than” clause, I was just so hoping you were the girlfriend of the SAFOS scholar i knew. He had vehemently denied being attached, and I was hoping to catch him red handed lol.

    You’re right. The SAF is much more “hiong” than the army, and the army people always say that the police is more “nua”. But the essential question is: why should you pick something because it is supposedly more hiong? For me, I don’t think I was any less tough than my delta wing OCS platoon mates, and I don’t think I need to prove that to anyone.

    Rather, I picked the police because it was suited for me. I like interacting with people, seeing what life is like at all levels of society; moreover the police deals with real life issues. For me it was a “why the police”, not a “anything but the army” thing… I don’t want to say anything bad about the SAF because it is an organization i respect deeply, but I just don’t identify much with its mission (beyond defending Singapore). I can handle the “lessened glamour” of being perceived as not as tough, and commanding less men, but again- I’d rather be respected for doing something I believe in, than trying to do something just for the glamour.

    Engage? I think the assumption innate is that now I’m no longer normal… but I guess I am! I’m only 19 lol. I havent been a celebrity before but i figure they dont answer forum stuff because they are really busy or sth…

  22. wow daniel, i think at such a tender age you are ready for politics. you are already thinking and talking like them, a bright future ahead for you! Maybe our next PM! You have my respect.

  23. eh relax leh… im sure like this counted as talking like politics. And I don’t think every single president scholar wants to go into politics, contrary to popular belief…

    2 days before I fly home, sheesh can’t wait. Sigh

  24. No prob Daniel. But since you are not in the army, you prob don’t know that in the army, you DO deal with people of all levels, because every boy born a Singaporean or hoping to be one enlists.

    So you deal with them all, from the pampered rich kid to the hokkien peng from the broken family- my bf’s dealt with them all. Like most SAFOS out there, one of the most greatest rewards to him about his army career is mentoring NS boys and he hopes to make their lives better in a way, impact them positively during their NS stint. Convicted thieves, husbands with 2 kids at 18 yr old, Sec 2 dropouts, men who work weekends in Geylang as pimps, he’s dealt with them all.

    Not everyone that can be impacted positively necessarily break laws so SAFOS peeps probably impact more lives and have greater encounters with Singaporeans at all levels. Moreover he figures police investigates, the AG chambers prosecutes. As the commander of the boys fighting on the same side, he shares laughter sweat and tears with them and that’s how he hopes to impact them.

  25. Anyway, the community is ridiculously tiny, it’s insane. So I was intentionally cautious about it. The PS SAFOS from 2003? I know who you’re referring to.

  26. Wow- Observer, I hope he’s okay with you posting such stuff about him up. You’re saying that he doesn’t engage with the talk about him online, right? Otherwise that statement could be really explosive… so “not ps”, she’s not talking about that so please don’t jump upon that.

    Yes I know the SAF interacted with people from a whole spectrum of society- I do my homework well. I don’t want to denigrate the sort of ability for army generals to engage with their men, but for me it did seem that at the end of the day, the part of society they were spending a majority of their time with was a very limited cross section of society (18-21 year olds); moreover they usually don’t bring most of their personal lives into the borders of the camps, and thus it is difficult to see their true backgrounds.

    I’ve also observed that some army officers develop a superiority complex over the rest of society after years of ‘lording’ over their men- I’m not entirely confident I’d not be susceptible to it. On the other hand some officers in the police ironically seem more humbled by the sort of work they do, and seem to carry themselves with more humility as they realize how little they can do vis-a-vis the human tragedies of the perpetrators and victims of crime.

    Well notps, I guess I’m interacting (NOT engaging- “engaging” sounds condescending wth) superficially online. Its the best I can do sitting half the world away from home…

  27. to not ps:

    Not engaging online does not mean not engaging with the public. Do you mean YOUR ENTIRE EXISTENCE is cyber? hahahaha! I didn’t know that. But now you don’t say….lol!

    Virtual identities have no credibility. Want to be taken seriously? Be brave enough to show yourself.

    Don’t need to say president’s scholar. Even I, a nobody, don’t take anything virtual with anything beyond half a pinch of salt.

    That is why I still will not believe 100% that Daniel here is really Daniel Ong. I may be more convinced now than before the first conversation started, but not 100% convinced. if you say you are completely, 100% sure without a shadow of a doubt, without seeing the person, then you are a fool. Not just a “non PS”.

  28. Oh yes, you can have all the fun you like with silly, inconsequential blogs set up by proven political rejects (go read up on who conceived TOC and why) with desperate political aspirations and agendas. All of which written without any accountability, neutrality and credibility. There’s always fodder for such mickey mouse propaganda in every soc. Its so stupid that I bet that’s why the authorities don’t give two hoots about it.

  29. Dear Daniel, what stuff posted about him? All I said is he would not engage talk ABOUT HIM online. I thought it was very clear? I’m glad you seemed to understand from what you said to “not ps” fool, but you seemed a bit befuddled in your starting para to me. It has nothing to do with engaging the public or their interests. He is very passionate about public affairs and improving the lives of people, that’s why he signed on to be an army regular.

    Jeesuz… you know all the time, I really feel unjust for him and this incident is just one of a string of many that we don’t even bother to keep count. Serving an ungrateful lot with all his earnesty, I feel bad for him and would tell him so.

    Not engaging talk about him- means even when he surfs the net from gems to filth like the two blogs mentioned above- silly free-of-charge platforms set up by groups of unemployed people with agendas- he takes in the information, processes it and moves on. He may or may not use it for shaping his thoughts and ideas about public policy, depending on how he deems its worthiness.

    Not engaging means even as he does this, he does not post “I am who you are talking about”.

    I thought I made myself plainly clear above, even complete with descriptive analogies about PM and perm sec. So the PM or perm sec does not read random stuff online and post “Hello I am your friendly perm sec in the hood”, he does not care about the public?! I can’t believe how stupid “not PS” is. He isn’t just “not ps” level. I’m one million levels below PS standards and even I find this “confusion” ridiculous.

    Not engaging simply means being like all the other 200+ PS, not saying a word and claiming in a post to be the PS on the net. As I said, ONLY you have, if you’re not an imposter. On a macro level, you’re the only one of 200+ in history. On a micro level, you’re the only 1 out of the 5 this year. I still haven’t discounted the possibility that you’re an imposter, because cos you can’t be verified. It’s just logic on my part.

    As for your insights above, yes i’ve taken them into account after reading. It’s true that their positive impacts is most applied on males aged 18-21. But all Singaporean males have to go through that anytime from 18 to 21, don’t they? So it’s a rite of passage that all Singapore men identify and have in common with one another. So in effect every male at some point would have been impacted. Even if the impact is concentrated in that age frame. Moreover, it’s most efficient, since that’s the time when they are raring to begin their lives.

    If you have ever commanded full time NS boys, you would know that it’s untrue that they don’t bring their personal lives into the borders of camp. They do, in varying degrees, with some bringing a whole lot of it.

    I do agree that police interact with a wider cross section of society than the armed forces, for example they would interact with women more, whereas army officers hardly.

    But my point remains that the police’s interaction with the public as investigators, allows them to see what’s happening (this much I concede), but their investigative role limits the interaction to be largely officious in nature, and at arm’s length emotionally. Army units, especially at platoon and company level which he’s done with, allow more emotional and closer ties to be forged. There is a brotherhood camaraderie present in army units that isn’t present in police work.

    As police officers investigate their charges, they function as observers and processors. Police officers and citizens in the course of police work, are less “on the same side” compared to army commanders and their men behind the same frontline.

    Also, do note that defence policies impact the whole nation as well as foreign policies and bilateral ties with other countries whereas home affairs policies have a more domestic focus, which is rightly so because that is its role.
    Also, they also impact reservist NS men.

    I politely disagree with your generalisation of army generals. And I think I have met many more than you have, to say that I probably have a more accurate viewpoint because of a wider sample size.

    Perhaps the army being significantly more regimented than the police has entrenched a stronger sense of tradition and emphasis on rank. It is after all the military, where units are commanded for wars vs the police whose power is over civilians.

    You may have met a few generals who are like this, but you have yet to meet enough to say most army generals are like this, and then another step up: you’ve yet to establish a causal link between the attitudes of those generals you met with the military set-up. Here’s something else for you to ponder about causal link which he taught me.

    Most PSC civilian ones were in OCS (SAFOS and SPFOS no need to say). Say, we know roughly 7 out of 10 OMS were from OCS. Does this mean that PSC looks for “admitted to OCS” as one of its criteria? To the simple minded like me, that may be one of the first few conclusions. If you find 7 balls out of 10 in a box red, does it mean that the person filling up the box had stipulated the colour red when he asked for the box to be filled with balls (vis a vis a causal link)? Or does it mean that PSC and OCS look for the same qualities, or a large subset of the same qualities when they select candidates.

  30. is a much better blog than toc. go read the parliamentary speeches regurgitated by our very engaging and very well paid part-time MPs.

  31. Everyone who’s not an idiot knows that both TOC and Wayang Party are agenda driven platforms- one of them was even proven to be started by former PAP rejects LOL. No credibility, qualifications, accountability, consequences, responsibility, neutrality, nothing to lose. All written by unemployed fools with too much time on their hands cos they’re jobless and all have nothing to lose. They’re the first to be shown the door in a SPH interview. And all sore losers. I bet that’s why the government does not give a *.

  32. p65, you didn’t know? The people with largest presence on the internet are all stupid. Like you. One even believed that his cyberlife is his entire existence. Was that you? 😀

  33. Observer- we’re on the same side. What I meant was whether he knew you were posting on this comments page as his girlfriend- because some of the things may be good and bad for the general image of scholars…

    I don’t agree at all when you label blogs such as TOC and Wayangparty as silly- you have to admit that there is something in what they are saying, even though I disagree with them most of the time. I know some of the people at TOC and have had the chance to disagree with them; they are immensely intelligent and certainly aren’t as unintelligent as you make them out to be. So let’s go easy on labelling people such as ‘not ps’ and all… especially when your diatribe makes fun of them as unemployed (which is very sensitive). I know its weird for me as a junior to say this, but honestly I thought that was a bit harsh.

    (Moreover I don’t think blogs such as TOC are inconsequential- they are pretty good indicators of how a particular sector of the population feels, and have immense power to influence. Yeah)

    Anyway, I don’t want to get dragged into a debate about police and army. Both serve the country, both expose the men who serve to society around them. There is no “better”, only what suits oneself for a career. To each his own, and after all its about the service, not what service is better because they are all necessary. I apologize for the statements I made about the army- they were personal opinions formed from my experiences, and I’m sorry if I offended you. yeah

    Well, if you still think I’m an imposter, I just touched down in SG at midnight tonight and will be available for coffee for the next 3 weeks. I’m not sure whether you’re really a PS’s girlfriend either- so does that make us equal? 😀

  34. Dear Daniel, i have said nothing that is bad for your image. You can be sure none of the adults can pick, find or excavate anything of the sort. You are still super young and I fully understand the place you are in and how you are bursting with idealism. On the agenda of the unemployed bloggers, you could do your own research and find out the truth yourself. As X-files said, The Truth Is Out There.

    Finally, regarding your “concerns” about my response to “not PS”, all I can say is a spade is a spade. Also, my views are not representative of the civil service and certainly not of its elites. Afterall, I am only an outsider. PS are not pods you know. They also socialise and have social connections to entities outside of their world of brilliance. Out there with commoners like me.

    For all you know, I am someone posing to know a PS in real life cos I am also anonymous operating behind a screen like you! I too, like you can’t be verified hahaha!!! 🙂

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