Category Archives: Career

Alan Heeger (Nobelist): Never Lose Your Nerve

Source: UCSB, Dec 2015

the book is an exhortation to embrace creativity, discovery and risk in the pursuit of one’s passions, whatever they may be.

“One must cherish creativity,” Heeger said. “One should be bold, audacious. Seek to discover. Go into a new area, into the unknown and look for something new. The excitement of that risk is part of the thrill of a life in science.”

“Science is difficult,” Heeger said. “Not so much because the concepts are difficult, though many people think they are, but because you have to be right. You can work very hard on a problem that turns out to be unimportant … but you don’t usually know ahead of time that something will turn out to be especially important and lead to important publications or even a Nobel prize. Your intuition is involved. Where does that come from?

“One way is to work with a great scientist, get some sense of how they think and how they approach a problem,” he continued. “What do they consider interesting? Then you begin to understand how to have an intuition whether something will work out to be of value.”

“Without passion success is impossible, in any field,” he said. “People perhaps will find it difficult to believe that scientists are passionate about their work. But passion for your work is critically important in any creative endeavor. Music, literature of course, and in science it’s really important. There are ups and downs. Not every day is a great discovery. Sometimes there are things you’re working on and you think you had it right, then realize you don’t. You have to have the passion to sustain you, to make you go forward.”

The theater also gave Heeger the title of his new book.

The Terrence McNally drama “Master Class,” about soprano Maria Callas, features a scene in which a student asks the famed vocalist, “Why did you stop singing? Did you lose your voice?”

Callas replies, “No, I did not lose my voice. I lost my nerve.”

“That line went into my head because it’s so real,” Heeger said. “Any creative endeavor involves taking risks. You must not lose your nerve or you won’t hit the high C. You must not lose your nerve or you won’t be able to write the next book. Whether it’s science or music or literature or anything, creative endeavors involve risk. That’s true in business, too. For companies and entrepreneurs to succeed they must succeed in taking risk. So, never lose your nerve.”

Related Resource: Possibiltieas, Oct 2014

one must continue to be optimistic about the future and take satisfaction from one’s accomplishments. One must take each day one at a time and seek to make each day meaningful and satisfying.

How do creativity, risk and discovery work together for a scientist?
People typically think of scientists as meticulous and focused, perhaps even boring. Many think that scientists do not tolerate risks. Although true for some scientists, those that are risk-averse are not the creative and productive scientific leaders. In fact, for me and for most scientists, risk-taking is part of our lives; we are “risk-addicted.” Every time we publish an article, we take on risk. We try to make certain that the data are correct, but it is impossible to be certain. We seriously try to give the correct interpretation of the data. But the very process of research involves pushing beyond what was previously known; that process involves taking risks. Of course, the more interesting the result the bigger the associated risk.

Interdisciplinary science is even more risky; the reason is fairly obvious. Educated as a physicist, I have a core of knowledge where I feel very comfortable. Each time I reach out beyond that core, I am exposing my ignorance. But reaching out into new directions involves learning new concepts and finding a way to meld those new concepts into what one had previously known. Exploring new directions is the first step toward creativity and discovery. And dealing with risk is absolutely essential: One must never lose one’s nerve! Additionally, scientific breakthroughs typically result from a combination of creativity and discovery. In science, creativity and discovery are related, but they are not the same.

With our discovery of semiconducting and metallic polymers, we created a new field of science at the boundary between Chemistry and Condensed Matter Physics.

Even after our initial discoveries were published, such an interdisciplinary endeavor was subject to the risk of being a “bastard child” that would not be accepted by either parent. In 1976, the creation of our truly interdisciplinary collaboration was bold and risky.

Any words of wisdom for young scientists who may be reading?
I work closely with each person individually. When they make a “discovery”—no matter how small—I carefully point out to them that this is indeed a discovery and they should cherish the memory. If you aspire to scientific accomplishments that could have sufficient impact to generate nominations and eventually to result in the award of a future Nobel Prize, I have the following advice:

  • Cherish creativity!
  • Be bold, and have the audacity to seek to discover!
  • Do not lose your nerve.
  • Remember that creativity and discovery necessarily involve risk. Dealing with that risk is part of the thrill and satisfaction of living a life in science.

Andrew Ng/Baidu: Career Options

Source: Huffington Post, May 2015

I wish we as a society gave better career advice to young adults. I think that “follow your passion” is not good career advice. It’s actually one of the most terrible pieces of career advice we give people.

If you are passionate about driving your car, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should aspire to be a race car driver. In real life, “follow your passion” actually gets amended to, “Follow your passion of all the things that happen to be a major at the university you’re attending.”

But often, you first become good at something, and then you become passionate about it. And I think most people can become good at almost anything.

So when I think about what to do with my own life, what I want to work on, I look at two criteria.

  • The first is whether it’s an opportunity to learn. Does the work on this project allow me to learn new and interesting and useful things?
  • The second is the potential impact. The world has an infinite supply of interesting problems. The world also has an infinite supply of important problems. I would love for people to focus on the latter.

Do you define importance primarily by the number of people who are impacted?

No, I don’t think the number is the only thing that’s important. Changing hundreds of millions of people’s lives in a significant way, I think that’s the level of impact that we can reasonably aspire to. That is one way of making sure we do work that isn’t just interesting, but that also has an impact.

innovation or creativity is a strategic skill where every day you wake up and it’s a totally unique context that no one’s ever been in, and you need to make good decisions in your completely unique environment. So as far as I can tell, the only was we know way to teach strategic skills is by example, by seeing tons of examples. The human brain, when you see enough examples, learns to internalize those rules and guidelines for making good strategic decisions.

Very often, what I find is that for people doing research, it takes years to see enough examples and to learn to internalize those guidelines. So what I’ve been experimenting with here is to build a flight simulator for innovation strategy. Instead of having everyone spend five years before you see enough examples, to deliver many examples in a much more compressed time frame.

With his wife (Carol Reiley)

How to be a Successful Scientist

Source: University of Waterloo website, 2005 &  Psychology Today, May 2010

1. Make new connections.

Broaden yourself to more than one field.
Read widely.
Use analogies to link things together.
Work on different projects at the same time.
Use visual as well as verbal representations.
Don’t work on what everyone else is doing.
Use multiple methods.
Seek novel mechanisms.
Find new ways of making problems soluble, e.g. by new techniques.

2. Expect the unexpected.

Take anomalies seriously.
Learn from failures.
Recover from failures.
Avoid excessive attachment to your own ideas.
Be willing to recognize and admit mistakes.

3. Be persistent.

Focus on key problems.
Be systematic and keep records.
Confirm early, disconfirm late.
Concentrate tenaciously on a subject.

4. Get excited.

Pursue projects that are fun.
Play with ideas and things.
Ask interesting questions.
Take risks.
Have a devotion for truth and a passion for reputation.
Have an inclination toward originality and a taste for research.
Have a desire for the gratification of discovery.
Have a strong desire to comprehend.
Never do anything that bores you.

5. Be sociable.

Find smart collaborators.
Organize good teams.
Study how others are successful.
Listen to people with experience.
Foster different cognitive styles.
Communicate your work to others.
Marry for psychological compatibility.
Tell close colleagues everything you know.
Communicate research results effectively.
Learn from winners.
Have people to fall back on when you get into trouble.

6. Use the world.

Find rich environments.
Build instruments.
Seek inspiration in nature.
Have good laboratory facilities and use them.
Observe and reflect intensely.
Perform experiments that rigorously test hypotheses.

Making Real Connections

Source: Forbes, Sep 2016

Forget “Networking.” Work on Relationships.

networking should be all about authenticity and meeting people that you like, that you share ideas with, and to me those are the best business relationships.  Networking is not what you are but who you are.

Friendships Can Lead to Partnerships.

Skip the Cocktail Party. Go to Lunch.

Make Better Use of Business Cards.

Say Thank You

A handwritten personal note is always beautiful, but an e-mail can get you where you need to go if it’s a personal e-mail.  And do not have typos. You can make smart mistakes


Singapore’s Academic Achivements

Source: FT, Jul 2016

A city-state of just 5.5 million people, Singapore is routinely ranked at or near the top in global comparisons of mathematical ability and boasts one of the most admired education systems in the world. In a league table based on test scores from 76 countries published by the OECD in May last year, Singapore came first, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. The rankings, based on testing 15-year-olds’ abilities in maths and science, reinforced a sense that western children were slipping behind their Asian peers. The UK was in 20th place and the US 28th in the table.

Education is still discussed by the city-state’s politicians primarily in terms of economic utility. In his speech in May 2015, Lee Hsien Loong described a conversation with the South Korean minister for education. “We compared notes and I told him in Singapore we try to train people for the jobs they can fill. When our students graduate they find jobs straightaway. He was envious,” Lee said.

The Singapore curriculum is more stripped down at primary level than in many western countries, covering fewer topics but doing so in far greater depth — a crucial factor in its effectiveness, according to the OECD’s Schleicher. “When you look at England and the US, [their curriculums] are mile-wide and inch-deep,” he says. “They teach a lot of things but at a shallow level. Mathematics in Singapore is not about knowing everything. It’s about thinking like a mathematician.”

It is taken for granted in the west that some children have greater ability at particular subjects than others. Not so in Singapore, where diligence is prized over talent. Tim Oates, who was in charge of a review of England’s national curriculum in 2010-2013 and is now director of research at the exam board Cambridge Assessment, says this approach is finally being adopted in the English system. “It is a different approach to ability — really, a major overhaul of the way in which children are viewed,” he says. “A switch from an ability-based model of individualised learning, to a model [which says that] all children are capable of anything, depending on how it is presented to them and the effort which they put into learning it.”

Linked to this idea, the Asian approach to maths also favours teaching the class as a whole, rather than breaking the class into smaller groups of different abilities to work through exercises. The whole-class approach allows the teacher to spot weaknesses and intervene swiftly if a child needs help, rather than waiting for them to get stuck on a problem and calling for attention.

Singapore’s success is not about money. The city-state spends about three per cent of GDP on education, compared with about six per cent in the UK and nearly eight per cent in Sweden.

But the Singapore system is remarkably effective at offering teachers the freedom to improve their practice. Teachers are given time in the school day to evaluate their work, and to observe each other’s lessons. A successful teacher is not pushed towards management, as is often the case elsewhere, but given opportunities to be a mentor or take a hand in designing the curriculum. Schleicher of the OECD says: “In other school systems we make the best teacher a poor administrator.”

Yet for all the admiration Singapore’s school system earns abroad, it is frequently disparaged at home. Privately, parents confide fears that the exam-oriented system places too much strain on their children, and worry that the emphasis on academic achievement from an early age can come at the expense of a balanced upbringing. Children are often tutored after school for hours in order to pass their exams.

In contrast, the education system in Finland — which is also highly rated by the OECD — emphasises social development ahead of academia in a child’s early years, focusing on play rather than classroom work. Melissa Benn, the British writer and education campaigner, says: “There is a tradition in European education of starting school later in life, and much more inquiry through play. I think there’s a strong argument for emphasising the benefit of play.” Every country has its own distinctive approach to education, Benn argues, adding: “What England is good at is a more relaxed and more independent way of thinking.”

Within Singapore, there are also concerns that the existing system sharpens inequality, and that streaming skews the system against late developers. While the government’s educational motto is that “every school is a good school”, not every Singaporean parent subscribes to this belief.

Perhaps the most stinging criticism, and one that’s often aired in private by concerned parents, is that Singapore’s system deters creativity.

While Singapore is not the only country to look at Silicon Valley and wonder about its own lack of entrepreneurial spirit, parents here worry that a prescriptive education may dull their children’s creative edge. An academic at a Singapore university told me that many of his students had been fashioned into “learning machines”, unable to deal with a situation that did not have a binary “right or wrong” answer.

In a parliamentary debate this year, the Singaporean MP Kuik Shiao-Yin expressed concern that an ingrained aversion to loss was creating a generation of “grantpreneurs” who chased government grants for small businesses rather than taking risks to build innovative companies.

A potential danger for Singapore is that advanced economies increasingly require soft skills — such as imagination or the ability to take risks — as well as hard ones. A system that was effective in an era when mass manufacturing provided employment risks being insufficient for an age when creativity and innovation bring the greatest career rewards.

Why Do People Resist New Technologies?

Source: World Economic forum, Jul 2016

… argues that society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity. …

We eagerly embrace them when they support our desire for inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature. We do so even when they are unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming to use, and constantly break down.

… resistance to new technologies is heightened when the public perceives that the benefits of new technologies will only accrue to a small section of society, while the risks are likely to be widespread. This is why technologies promoted by large corporations often face stiff opposition from the public.

Similarly, new technologies face great opposition when the public perceives that the risks are likely to be felt in the short run and the benefits will only accrue in the long run. So telling a skeptical public that new technologies will benefit future generations does not protect us from the wrath of current ones.

Table of Contents

1. Gales of Creative Destruction
2. Brewing Trouble: Coffee
3. Stop the Presses: Printing the Koran
4. Smear Campaigns: Margarine
5. Gaining Traction: Farm Mechanization
6. Charged Arguments: Electricity
7. Cool Reception: Mechanical Refrigerated
8. Facing the Music: Recorded Sound
9. Taking Root: Transgenic Crops
10. Swimming against the Current: AquAdvantage Salmon
11. Oiling the Wheels of Novelty

The Economist: Automation and Anxiety

Source: The Economist, Jun 2016
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What determines vulnerability to automation, experts say, is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar but whether or not it is routine. Machines can already do many forms of routine manual labour, and are now able to perform some routine cognitive tasks too.

Economists are already worrying about “job polarisation”, where middle-skill jobs (such as those in manufacturing) are declining but both low-skill and high-skill jobs are expanding. In effect, the workforce bifurcates into two groups doing non-routine work: highly paid, skilled workers (such as architects and senior managers) on the one hand and low-paid, unskilled workers (such as cleaners and burger-flippers) on the other.

… in the past technology has always ended up creating more jobs than it destroys. That is because of the way automation works in practice, explains David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Automating a particular task, so that it can be done more quickly or cheaply, increases the demand for human workers to do the other tasks around it that have not been automated.

… while it is easy to see fields in which automation might do away with the need for human labour, it is less obvious where technology might create new jobs. “We can’t predict what jobs will be created in the future, but it’s always been like that,” says Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University. Imagine trying to tell someone a century ago that her great-grandchildren would be video-game designers or cybersecurity specialists, he suggests. “These are jobs that nobody in the past would have predicted.”

Focusing only on what is lost misses “a central economic mechanism by which automation affects the demand for labour”, notes Mr Autor: that it raises the value of the tasks that can be done only by humans. Ultimately, he says, those worried that automation will cause mass unemployment are succumbing to what economists call the “lump of labour” fallacy. “This notion that there’s only a finite amount of work to do, and therefore that if you automate some of it there’s less for people to do, is just totally wrong,” he says. Those sounding warnings about technological unemployment “basically ignore the issue of the economic response to automation”, says Mr Bessen.