24 Jun 2010


Last week, Angelina attended a Trinity College examination. Grades are not important, but it proves difficult not to be curious about what happened inside the room.

“What did the lady ask you?” I could not wait to ask.

“Well,” Angelina replied lightly, “she asked me a lot of questions. I cannot remember them now.”

Oh, one more mystery that would never be solved.

One day later, it was my postgraduate student’s turn. This time, I had to stay in the examination room. Inevitably, I heard questions that I could answer easily. It was trying to watch your own student hesitate and give obviously unconfident replies while you could not do anything. I could see why Ruud Gullit stepped in the football pitch as the player-manager of Chelsea FC, although that was not all too successful.

Maybe it is not unkind to keep parents out of examination rooms after all.

The mystery is history.

17 Jun 2010


After serving as a guest examiner, S had to organize an examination at his own school. To avoid leaking examination questions, candidates were required to report early and stay in a room so that they would not meet others who had completed their examination. Every year, candidates complained about the arrangement. The most common complaint was the school did not provide them with food and beverages.

S still remembered vividly what ST taught him last year. At the same examination, a girl said she was hungry and going to faint. S followed ST to see her.

“What is the matter?” the Discipline Master asked.

The girl looked at him, hesitated for a few seconds, and stammered, “N…Nothing.”

ST turned and brought S out of the room. He was content. What a piece of cake.

This year, another girl said she was hungry and had stomachache. S was sent to handle the matter. He did not really like it but thought it could not be too difficult. He stepped in the room and asked sternly, “What is the matter?”

The rest is history. Suffice it to say, S was caught by the Discipline Master and a few others for smuggling biscuits back to the waiting room.

10 Jun 2010


JW further complained, “How would teachers be motivated to teach? The university does not reward good teaching at all.”

“Good teachers are actually punished,” I echoed. “Not directly, of course. However, when a teacher puts much emphasis on education, he will have less time for research.”

On the surface, universities must state they consider teaching important. In reality, teaching performance can hardly be measured and does not help the ranking of universities. Thus, the decision to promote an academic lies almost solely on measurable success in research output, such as the number of articles published, impact factor, citations, h-index and research grants. Some universities also attempt to assess an academic’s international reputation. How do they do that? Again, they can only use measurable parameters such as the number of times a teacher is invited to another country to give talks. As such, teachers who stay with their local students all the time are considered losers who lack international reputation.

These points are nothing new and have been elaborated by our friend Szeto many times before. Instead, the discussion brought my thoughts back to the topic of core value.

A few years ago, JW introduced the book Built to Last to me. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras described one of the consistent characteristics of successful companies was the preservation of core values. It appears that the content of core values is irrelevant. So far as a company sincerely upholds its core value, the staff can be motivated and the institution will have the drive to progress.

What interests me is the way they define core values: “Core values are the organization’s essential and enduring tenets, not to be compromised for financial gain or short-term expediency.” As Jesus said, even a tax collector loves his friends. But how many can uphold their core values when the very act results in severe punishment?

While I think I know what my core value is, I must say that I have never been really tested. I will just have to see.

3 Jun 2010


“Do you realize that the first time most of our graduates manage an emergency admission is when they become medical officers?” JW asked me last week.

I felt that was a scary idea. But after thinking for a few seconds, I had to agree.

“And therefore I shall resume on-call teaching round next year,” JW concluded happily.

When we were medical students, attending on-call rounds was bread and butter. We had to see every case emergently admitted to the hospital that day. When the professor came, we presented the cases and discussed the acute management. We never talked about hypothetical treatments such as “we would prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics”. Instead, we were facing real patients. We said exactly the antibiotics we should choose because of the type of infection, the background medical history, and perhaps even drug allergy. This was a learning opportunity that could hardly be provided elsewhere. For example, if you just wait one more day and see the patient after he is stabilized, the situation is already totally different. And I certainly do not mind what you prescribe to manikins.

Like many good things, the on-call teaching round disappeared out of the blue. The change probably occurred during my junior training years and I could not recall what happened. JW also did not appear to know the details but just said physicians were becoming lazy.

No, it can’t be. Think about the superstars. They are anything but lazy.