Saturday, August 29, 2009

Driven to driving a taxi despite having a PhD

Saturday August 29, 2009 - THESTAR.COM.MY


Bio-chemist Dr Cai Minnjie who failed to land another research position after losing his job last year now happily prowls the streets as a cabbie.

SINGAPORE’S fraternity of taxi drivers, with its fair share of retrenched executives, has now an exalted new member – a PhD bio-chemist from Stanford University.

Prowling the streets of Singapore today is 57-year-old unemployed scientist Dr Cai Mingjie who lost his job at Singapore’s premier A-Star biomedical research institute last year.

The China-born naturalised citizen with 16 years of research accomplishments said he began driving a taxi last October after failed efforts to land another job.

The news shocked this nation, which holds an unshakable faith in the power of an advanced university education.

One surprised white-collar worker said he had believed that such a doctorate and experience was as good as life-long employment and success.

“If he has to drive a taxi, what chances do ordinary people like us have?” he asked.

I have met a number of highly qualified taxi drivers in recent years, including former managers and a retrenched engineer.

One cheerful driver – a former stock-broker – surprised me one day in giving me detailed reasons on what stocks to buy or avoid.

“At a time like this, the taxi business is probably the only business in Singapore that still actively recruits people,” said Dr Cai.

To me, his plight is taking Singapore into a new chapter.

“(I am) probably the only taxi driver in the world with a PhD from Stanford and a proven track record of scientific accomplishments ...,” blogged Dr Cai.

“I have been forced out of my research job at the height of my scientific career” and was unable to find another job “for reasons I can only describe as something uniquely Singapore”.

The story quickly spread far and wide over the Internet. Most Singaporeans expressed admiration for his ability to adapt so quickly to his new life. Two young Singaporeans asked for his taxi number, saying they would love to travel in his cab and talk to him.

“There’s so much he can pass on to me,” one said.

Others questioned why, despite his tremendous scientific experience, he is unable to find a teaching job.

His unhappy exit is generally attributed to a personal cause (he has alleged chaotic management by research heads) rather than any decline in Singapore’s bio-tech project, which appears to be surviving the downturn.

The case highlights a general weakening of the R and D (research and development) market in smallish Singapore.

“The bad economy means not many firms are hiring professional scientists,” one surfer said. “Academia isn’t much of a help – there’s a long history of too many PhDs chasing too few jobs.”

While the image of taxi drivers has received a tremendous boost, the same cannot be said of Singapore’s biomedical project – particularly its efforts to nourish home-grown research talent.

“It may turn more Singaporeans away from Life Sciences as a career,” said one blogger.

One writer said: “In my opinion, PhDs are useless, especially in Singapore. It’s just another certificate and doesn’t mean much.”

Another added: “The US is in a worse situation. Many are coming here to look for jobs.”

“I won’t want my child to study for years to end up driving a taxi,” said a housewife with a teenage daughter.

The naturalised Singaporean citizen underwent his PhD training at Stanford University, the majority of his work revolving around the study of yeast proteins.

His case is not unique. US research-scientist Douglas Prasher, who isolated the gene that creates the green fluorescent protein (and just missed the 2008 Chemistry Nobel Prize) faced similar straits.

Prasher moved from one research institution to another when his funding dried up, and he eventually quit science – to drive a courtesy shuttle in Alabama.

“Still, he remains humble and happy and seems content with his minivan driver job,” said a surfer.

With an evolving job market as more employers resort to multi-tasking and short-term contracts, more Singaporeans are chasing after split degrees, like accountancy and law or computer and business.

Others avoid post-graduate studies or specialised courses of a fixed discipline in favour of general or multi-discipline studies. “Experience is king” is the watchword; there has been a rush for no-pay internships.

“The future favours graduates with multiple skills and career flexibility, people who are able to adapt to different types of work,” one business executive said.

During the past few years, as globalisation deepened, there has been a growing disconnect between what Singaporeans studied in university and their subsequent careers.

It follows the trend in the developed world where old businesses disappear – almost overnight – and new ones spring up, which poses problems for graduates with an inflexible job expectation.

I know of a young man who graduated from one of America’s top civil engineering universities abandoning the construction hard hat for a teaching gown.

Another engineer I met is running his father’s lucrative coffee shop. Lawyers have become musicians or journalists, and so on.

Cases of people working in jobs unrelated to their university training have become so common that interviewers have stopped asking candidates questions like “Why should a trained scientist like you want to work as a junior executive with us?”

In the past, parents would crack their heads pondering what their children should study – accountancy or law or engineering, the so-called secure careers – and see them move single-mindedly into these professions.

A doctor was then a doctor, a biologist generally worked in the lab and a lawyer argued cases in courts – square pegs in square holes, so to speak.

Today the world is slowly moving away from this neat pattern.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ryanair closing Manchester routes

View: Ryanair being a large airline seems to be using its muscle to squeeze for lower operating costs. Airports tend to loose out if major airlines pack and leave, but an airport's ability to draw the passengers will determine who wins this battle on costs

BBC Monday, 17 August 2009 17:15 UK

Ryanair is to switch or close nine of the 10 routes it currently operates from Manchester Airport, blaming the airport's refusal to lower its charges.

The firm said most affected flights would be switched to East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, and Liverpool airports.

Ryanair said the change would result in the loss of up to 600 local jobs, a claim disputed by the airport.

The airport told BBC News job losses would be limited, but said the budget airline's decision was "regrettable".

"We also have all but one service that Ryanair offers, served by other airlines that operate at Manchester," said chief executive of Manchester Airport Group, Geoff Muirhead.

"So the damage will be limited."

Full refund

Ryanair's announcement comes a month after it said it would cut flights from London Stansted by 30% over the winter period, also as a result of a dispute over airport charges.

We've consistently cut our charges for the last 15 years even when faced with increased costs such as security
Manchester Airport spokesman

The nine routes from Manchester that will close are those to Barcelona (Girona), Bremen, Brussels (Charleroi), Cagliari, Dusseldorf (Weeze), Frankfurt (Hahn), Marseille, Milan (Bergamo) and Shannon.

The changes, affecting 44 flights a week, will take effect from 1 October.

The airline said passengers affected by the changes would be e-mailed and, "provided with a full refund, or the alternative of flying to some destinations" from East Midlands, Leeds Bradford and Liverpool.

Ryanair said it had offered Manchester an additional 28 weekly flights if the airport agreed to reduce its charges, but that it had rejected the offer.

However, a spokesman for Manchester Airport said it did not "believe that charges as low as £3 per passenger are unreasonable".

"We've consistently cut our charges for the last 15 years even when faced with increased costs such as security," he added.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

JetBlue offers all-you-can-fly plan for $599

Unlimited flight pass valid for trips between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8.

By Julianne Pepitone, contributing writer

NEW YORK ( -- JetBlue Airways will offer an "all-you-can-jet" pass for $599 in which passengers can book an unlimited amount of flights within a one-month span, the airline said Wednesday.

Pass holders can fly to any of JetBlue's (JBLU) 56 destinations between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8, with no seat limitations or blackout dates, the company said in a release.

Airline equities analyst Bob McAdoo, of Avondale Partners, said he "has never seen a promotion like this before."

In fact, Air Canada had a similar promotion in 2007, where it offered an unlimited flight pass starting at $1,657 per month.

Still, with JetBlue flights already slashed as low as $100, customers might have to fly 6 or 7 times in a month before they break even.

"This is a way to get people to pay attention, with publicity that doesn't cost the company much," McAdoo said. "They're doing this at a time when there are probably a lot of seats available anyway."

Customers must buy the $599 pass by Aug. 21, and they can book flights within three days of the departure date. All travel using the pass must be booked between Aug. 12 and Oct. 5.

Taxes and fees are included for domestic flights, and changes or cancellations made less than three days before departure cost $100. To top of page