Saturday, May 22, 2010

What about those PhDs?

When I was studying for my PhD in the USA, someone told me PhD stood for “Push here, dummy!” This was in reference to those compact, automatic (one-touch) cameras that were getting popular in those days. They were not even digital at that time. You still have to buy rolls of film, and pay to get them developed. So you have to be careful and selective in taking the shots unless you are rich.

Anyway, Hong Kong is producing about 1,000 real PhDs (Doctors of Philosophy) each year these days. 200+ from Chinese University, presumably a similar number from University of Hong Kong, ~150 from the University of Science and Technology, ~100 each from City University and Polytechnic University, a smaller number from Baptist University and Lingnan University, ...

The tax payers (we) invest a lot of our resources into training these highly educated people. They help to generate tons of research publications, and to bring our universities up the rankings. Then what? Where are they now?

It is estimated that about 70% of them are from mainland China, many of whom do not stay in Hong Kong. Even if they want to stay, like many of our own local-born PhDs, it is very difficult to find a position as an assistant professor in a local university. There are probably about 8,000 PhD level academic positions in all of the local universities combined. Even assuming a 5% turn over rate, that is no more than 400 positions each year. And most of time, PhDs with overseas background and experience are preferred in hiring.

Since industrial research and development is practically non-existent in Hong Kong, there are few places for the locally-trained PhDs to go. Many end up teaching evening degree courses, higher diploma, associate degrees, secondary school, ... Not that these are not important contributions to society. But ...

We encourage them, entice them, hook them on research. They contribute to bringing up the research performance of Hong Kong. But many of them do not get an opportunity to practise what they are trained for.


Wangtzh said...

:-) I heard another short form for phd is "permanent head damage" @@@

It's quiet strange - Hong Kong's neighbor Shenzhen at least has industries (like ZTE, Huawei, Tencent, even Foxconn... although there is not much research there). Is there any historical reason?

StephenC said...

Yeah, that's cute.

HK did have a significant technology-based (or least manufacturing) industry from the 1960s to the 1980s. But the government (from colonial to the present) has never had a determination to promote and nuture technology R&D. Taiwan and Singapore have done it. And even Shenzhen now. That's a shame for Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

So more likely, PhD has to stand for "Papa has dough".