31 May 2012


Last week, my father sent me a story about Joshua Bell.

Bell is one of the best violinists worldwide. In 2007, Washington Post invited him to play at the L’Enfant Plaza Station during the morning rush hours and see how people react to excellent music.

On that day, Bell disguised himself as an ordinary street musician in jeans and cap. He opened his violin case, threw in a few coins as seed money, and began to play. The first piece was Chaconne by J. S. Bach.

Before this project, the journalists asked some professionals to estimate the result. Provided that no one recognized Bell as the famous violinist, they thought, only 75 to 100 people out of 1000 passersby could appreciate the quality of the performance and would stop and watch. But a small crowd would gather nevertheless.

The result? From 07:51 to 08:34 that Friday morning, 1097 people passed by. Only seven people stopped to listen for at least one minute. Bell earned $32 in total.

24 May 2012


This year, our Chairman asked us to set questions for the viva examination again. I prepared something simple.

‘What is genome-wide association study?’

‘Can you name me an example of how genome-wide association studies have contributed to medical care?’

17 May 2012


We just had the final professional examination this week. While this was a very exciting time for students, the reciprocal was not true. Repeating the same questions over and over, examiners could be bored to death. Luckily, a few kind-hearted people entertained us.

At a history taking station, a student courteously greeted the patient and asked why he came back to the clinic. Before the patient replied, she suddenly screamed, "My God! I forgot to ask your age. How old are you?" Astonishingly, the next student did the same thing.

At another station, a foreign examiner asked a student to treat him as the patient and obtain consent for a medical procedure from him. The student asked sincerely, "May I speak in Chinese?"

On the second day, a student spotted me in the corridor and asked, "Will you be our examiner this morning?" I said no. Then she wailed, "Oh, you are our only hope!" Without a word, I waved my hand and walked away. She was insulting me!

10 May 2012

Beginner's luck

“I am afraid I will have to do emergency endoscopy tonight,” AL said on the day of her first gastroenterology call day. She just noticed that I would also be on-call that day.

The other teammates were very kind and tried to soothe her. “Most people have beginner’s luck,” they said.

I smiled and said something else instead, “If we have to do an emergency case, we will do it happily.” And we did. (I mean we did an emergency case. I am not sure if she did that happily.)

Beginner’s luck is widely accepted among gamblers. If you ask experienced gamblers, many would recall they won quite a bit during the first few games. On the other hand, the Chinese have a more logical saying – “People lose because they won before.”

Beginner’s luck is one manifestation of survivorship bias. People who lost bitterly in the beginning will less likely become habitual gamblers. So if you only survey current gamblers, chances are that the majority are early winners.

The same holds true among academics. I love to read the Masters’ Perspective in the Hepatology journal. Successful researchers take turn to describe their training and research and share wisdom. As I glance through the reference list of each article, I cannot help noticing that all the masters had their first few publications in top biomedical journals.

There are numerous possible explanations. Above all, their early success may reflect their brilliance and how good their training centers are. Survivorship bias is also at play. Young researchers who fail repeatedly may lose heart and decide to do something else, or they may just not be given another chance.

How about me? My first project during my internship was so lousy that it remains unpublished today (to be exact – not even submitted). I wonder if my first few publications were ever read at all.

Nevertheless, my mentor kept telling me that I could do it and urged me to keep trying. This, I believe, is the true beginner’s luck.

3 May 2012

General Studies

One evening, while Angela and I were discussing Mr T, Angelina suddenly got excited.

“I know who Mr T is. Mrs S talked about him during the General Studies class. He is our CE. Mrs S said he used his power to do bad things and should be put to jail,” she said.

I was dumbfounded. I was about to say that I agreed with everything Mrs S said except that I did not think he would end up in jail, but found that I could not address this issue any better. I thought teachers with independent thinking had been wiped out by the government’s brilliant education reform. Luckily I was wrong.

When I was in primary school, my teachers were free to teach anything they liked. One of my Chinese teachers was a graduate from Taiwan. Her main theme was that communism did not make sense and would collapse very soon. I am not sure what she thinks now as the Chinese government still stands strong, but in my mind she is perfectly correct. Communism does not make sense. It has collapsed everywhere. The biggest communist country no longer practices communism. That is the biggest collapse of all.