30 Sep 2010

Rejection

Recently, my mentor asked us to speak to some colleagues in China. I was assigned the easy topic of how to present scientific works in international meetings. Rightfully, GW had to talk about how to lead a successful academic career as a young doctor in Asia.

I was secretly happy that I did not have to do the other task. Above all, if I claim myself successful, I would blush for the entire talk. More importantly, Angelina keeps reminding me that I am no longer young.

Nevertheless, if I have to share my experience, have I learned a thing or two in my career?

Most youngsters would probably be surprised if I say the first thing that came through my mind was rejection. Teachers in medical schools often graduate with flying colors, pass all professional exams with ease, and are respectable clinicians. How can they be associated with failures?

The truth is I cannot count how many times my scientific papers and grant proposals were rejected. I had a paper which had been rejected by five different journals in a row. Some editors were nice and gave constructive comments. Others said the work was crap and should not be done in the first place. Each and every time, I wondered if this was the life I wanted to lead. To the least, if I just do clinical work, most of my patients have been satisfied with my service.

At one point, I asked my mentor what else I needed to improve before I could get my work published in leading medical journals. My hidden message was actually “I have done everything I can but the works all ended up in mediocre journals. I cannot take this any longer.”

He simply answered, “You have already got all the qualities to generate significant works. You have ideas, writing skills and also the patience to wait for the data. As for publications, luck plays a major part. In the current system, your paper will be rejected if just one of the reviewers dislikes your work. Just give it time.”

Looking back, of course I know I did not have the qualities my mentor described. But I did continue and the work was getting better. For those who wish to quit, I must say that rejection is a unique experience to improve oneself and it is worth it.

23 Sep 2010

Offices

At a recent advancement interview, a professor asked a candidate what he had learned in the last two years.

“I learned about the running of huge institutions by the hard way,” the candidate answered. “When I worked in private companies, the important thing was to get things done and procedures could be ignored. In a huge institution like the university, procedures are everything. People do not really care whether things really get done. If I want to do something, I have to stick to steps 1 to 5. If I somehow miss step 4, people would ask me to start from step 1 again. Of course, through the process, I also learned whom to approach.”

You think he failed? Not quite. First, the other potential candidates did not come to the interview. Second, all three interviewers liked his answer. In fact, I must say that after all these years, I still do not understand the administration of the university as well as this young man does. Whenever I look through the directory wondering who is responsible for what, I feel like Barnabas in The Castle.

“Is it even Castle work that Barnabas is doing, we then ask; he certainly does go into the offices, but are the offices actually the Castle? And even if the Castle does have offices, are they the offices Barnabas is permitted to enter? He enters offices, but those are only a portion of the total, then there are barriers and behind them still more offices.”

16 Sep 2010

The Castle

During this summer holiday, Angelina has read literally hundreds of books.

One day, I was astonished to see her reading The Castle by Franz Kafka. Of course, she was still working on chapter 1, Arrival, then. Thanks to training in phonics, she pronounced most words correctly and understood K. was trying to get a room at an inn.

After talking for a while, I realized that Angelina expected K. to rescue a princess in the castle or do something similar. She found the book too long and urged me to tell her the ending. “You have to find the answer yourself,” I said. But the book was nothing like that and would probably soon spoil her fun.

On second thoughts, I could modify the story a bit. Angelina would feel the conversations similar to those in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

9 Sep 2010

Universal Studios

The next day, our family traveled to Singapore. As expected, we visited the Universal Studios.

We found many similarities between the Universal Studios and Hong Kong Disneyland. Both are small and not too well attended – compared to the same theme parks in other countries; you still need to wait around 10 minutes for each attraction. If you buy Universal Express (48 Singaporean dollars for each person) on top of the admission tickets, you do not need to wait at all. On the day of our visit, we could not see a single soul paying for fast pass.

If you think this means the Studios is no good, you are mistaken. When one travels with a four-year old girl, short waiting time is the most important. Few attractions are not our concern at all. We would not be able to hang around for the whole day anyway. Thus, despite of what many Hong Kong people have remarked, I think the Hong Kong Disney is a nice place. Nevertheless, I would not recommend the Treasure Hunters. This is a motor car ride in the Ancient Egypt area. There is little to see and the ride ends shortly.

The nicest attraction was Lights, Camera, Action! This illustrates how an empty soundstage can become the setting of a Category 5 hurricane in New York. The stormy scene ends with the destruction and collapse of the boathouse where you are standing.

Although technology must have progressed a lot, I felt the King Kong and Backdraft scenes that I saw 20 years ago at Universal Studios Hollywood were much better. Well, no canvas absorbs color like memory.

2 Sep 2010

Metro

I promised some of my colleagues to report on my recent trips to Shenzhen and Singapore.

The trip to Shenzhen was to deliver a talk at a meeting organized by an international cancer organization. I took the opportunity to try the Shenzhen Metro. The Metro was jointly run by the Hong Kong MTR Corporation and China. It was indeed convenient. The Metro station was connected to the Lok Ma Chau MTR station. Both the station and the trains were clean and tidy.

As I came out from the conference center station, I thought the venue would be easy to find. I was wrong. I looked around and found that all the giant complexes looked like conference centers. In the end, I still need to ask a policeman.

That was the first time the international cancer organization held a meeting in China. As most people are aware, China has the money and patients. Where else would pharmaceutical sponsors want the meeting to be? Nevertheless, the organizer somehow overestimated the situation and arranged seven concurrent sessions at the same time. Each room ended up hosting around twenty people, including chairmen and speakers. It is alright. My university promotes small group teaching anyway.