Again, President’s Scholars Not Doing Engineering or Science


Congratulations to the latest batch of President’s Scholars. But like last year’s batch, not a single one of them will be doing a science or engineering related course.

In a way, this confirms the doom of science and technology careers in Singapore.

In fact, four of the six President’s Scholars this year will read Economics.

Although Economics is classified as a social science and can be a very mathematical subject (especially in the US), it’s more about the movement of money than constructing useful things.

It’s about the money.

Engineers like Lee Bee Wah can claim that some high earners have engineering degrees but the fact remains that none of the best-paying jobs here require an engineering degree.

The “dumping ground” courses in NUS and NTU are also dominated by engineering courses.

With all respect, I’m guessing that the bulk of Ms Lee’s income actually comes from her non-engineering work.

As a Member of Parliament, Ms Lee receives $190,000 in allowance per year, which is easily much higher than that of the best-paying engineering-related job (Computer operations and network manager).

I’m not sure how much pay she receives in her current full-time job as a “Principal Partner, LBW Consultants / LBW Consultants LLP”, or in her previous job as an “Asst. Project Manager, Wing Tai Property Management Ptd Ltd” (reference: her CV).


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  1. I think you make a good point. I sure wish I were paid more as a scientist.

    One reason that none of the President’s Scholars are going into science or engineering is that A*Star gives out a lot of scholars. While they’re not as prestigious, they also catch them earlier.

    Just a thought…

  2. scientists poor on

    Mike, you said it. The smart engineers-to-be are awarded inferior scholarships that will lead them to low paying jobs, while the truly smart ones get the most prestigious scholarships and one day become millionaire civil servants holding top posts in the administration.

  3. A brilliant molecular scientist, whose work led to 3 others getting the Nobel Prize, is now a bus driver:

    “Prasher reported that he was unable to find a job in science, his life savings had run out and that he was working as a courtesy shuttle bus driver…”

    “Chalfie and Tsien invited Prasher and his wife, Virginia Eckenrode, to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, as their guests and at their expense. All three of the 2008 Chemistry laureates thanked Prasher in their speeches.”

  4. This is the real irony of our world. People doing productive work will eventually get punished for it. Why would you want to invent anything if you can get greater money trading it? It also brings to mind Warren Buffet’s story about a couple of people stranded on an island where one person becomes an economist, another one becoming the worker getting food, etc and the others trading on the stuff the worker produces.

  5. shocked Singaporean on

    I can’t believe it.

    First, the news about the China-born former Astar researcher with a PhD turned TAXI DRIVER! And now this news!! The brilliant molecular scientist now a bus driver..can’t believe it..OMG.

  6. shocked scientist on

    I can believe it! I wish I had entered the finance industry as a mathematician – I would be printing money out the ears. Now I’m a poorly paid scientist, barely better than a salesman. Now I know why my brother went into banking.

    I think I should be paid way more than a trader considering the goods I do produce.

  7. So what are the “goods” that you produce? Perhaps some “shocked” students, or some published papers chucked into the academic abyss euphemistically called “body of knowledge”? 🙂

    We traders are different. We admit we are no angels, but we generate lots of moolah for our firms, which then paid big bonuses to employees who go on to spend spend spend to boost the economy! 😀

  8. Well, if it counts for anything, I was one of them last year and I just switched from Economics to Computer Science/Systems Engineering (though the powers that are have yet to approve the switch).

    Part of the attraction was being able to actually build useful things, rather than just analyze it and shift stuff around. So maybe engineering ain’t dead just yet, at least for me…

  9. wrong move, Daniel. singapore doesn’t value technical talent. as you will discover, many of the smartest technical singaporeans are actually living in california. those who insist on pursuing their careers in singapore are either struggling or have moved on to other kinds of work just as you will too, as you’re a police scholar. 🙂

    a possible scenario for you: you will one day make it to be a top guy in SPF and claim to have revamped many of the computer systems and successfully led the police force into a new high-tech era. and you will say it’s all due to your engineering training. that’s nice, but my bugbear will be that you will be just another of the thousands of technocrats who only “manage” and “lead” but have zero experience in actually building real systems.

    there are too many of such people around. even in the US, you see many business people bossing over the true technical talent. we see less of the likes of edison, jobs, gates and moore.

    talented engineers should wake up and pick up some business skills. hire the MBAs and kick their rears to make money for you instead of the other way round. but i don’t see this happening anytime soon. it’s not in the nature of engineers to do that. we are nice people. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Engineering in Singapore?

  11. i would still like to believe that the people who are really passionate about science and engineering would not like to join the civil service – there is no chance for them to practice their skills and to showcase what they’ve learnt. and the fact that a*star and dsta take away some (if not most) of the STEM scholars, you have less STEM scholars with PSC.

  12. President’s Scholars are chosen ONLY from PSC scholarship applicants. If your passions is on Engineering or Science, you will not apply for PSC, perhaps you will apply A*STAR or DSTA. Hence no Enginners or Scientist will be awarded the Predident’s Scholars.

  13. Saw this site again after getting an email again…

    @wrong move: I don’t know, time will tell I guess. I’m doing a mixed degree, with some engineering major and a political science and computer science minors. Also, in the US, most of the business people did engineering in the undergraduate days- engineers are still really respected, at least in silicon valley, where I study.

    @gevo: that’s true. I’m a “pretengineer”… if there was nothing else in the world, I would study political science. But I want to pick up engineering skills so I can create stuff, so yeah

    @saf too: and police as well!

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