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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Dancing out of A*Star

Dear Dr Eng Kai Er,

I have been reading news reports on your laments with interest. So you’re now in a job, or rather in a line that you say you don’t like, in a research institute studying infectious diseases. You are now chafing at being tied to your job by a bond, through a scholarship that paid for your first degree at Cambridge University, and another that paid for your PhD in infection biology in Karolslinka University in Sweden.

As you wrote in your blog: “Eng Kai Er is not interested in science at all, but has to serve her bond or pay, as of 30 September 2014, around $741,657.37 in order to quit her job. Since she understands the pain of having a paid job that is not aligned with her interests, she wishes to change the world by having more instances of paid jobs aligned with people’s interest.’’ And that is why you are pledging to give $1,000 a month from her salary to support arts projects for a year.

First, I have to say that a lot of people are in jobs that they don’t like or enjoy, but stay on for various reasons. They grit their teeth and get on with it. Of course, they are not compulsorily bonded to the job – they can jump ship or pursue their area of interest. But maybe they need the money, maybe they feel obliged to their employer who has been treating them well, maybe no one wants to offer them a job to their liking. In other words, you are not alone.

Second, I am a little puzzled that you don’t like science and yet took up a second scholarship to do your PhD. Why? Because you want a PhD? Or it’s a chance to be in Sweden? I think other scholars would be envious of your current position: you are actually in a job that reflects your area of study – not thrown into a job any old how.

Third, you’ve already finished two years of your bond and you’re left with just another four years. You will be only 34, time enough to start a second career.

I guess you’re regretting your move because you’ve (recently?) found your calling as a dancer and choreographer. Your theatre production, Fish, clearly reflected your need to be unfettered, independent and boundary breaking – according to the reviews I’ve read. In fact, in hindsight, I wonder if the production was directed at your bosses at A*Star. I gather that you asked to be transferred to the National Arts Council and was rejected. After spending so much money on your specialist education, I can see why A*Star did so. As a taxpayer, I would be pretty annoyed if you were not deployed in an area that took advantage of your privileged education. That’s the reality, young lady. You had a privileged education, courtesy of taxpayers. You MUST live up to this honour that we have given you.

You might have made a mistake at taking up a scholarship at age 18, or at 24, or even 34, and you might even have repeated the mistake, but as my late father would say, you make your bed – you lie on it. Others have, and quietly too. They bide their time, pay off their debts and start off on a clean slate. To use that awful word, they are resilient. You can do the same. It is only four more years.

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I suppose you feel that as a scientist/artiste, you need to express your frustration at being in a day-time job you don’t like. I think it’s great you have other pursuits like so many others, who use what free time they have doing what you like. Oh! How you wish you can do it full-time (even pro bono if you can afford it)! An understandable feeling. You are not alone.

Maybe the media made too much of your blog comments. Maybe you are grateful for the privileged education you’ve received. In fact, you might want to make your own experience a cautionary tale for young people who jump into a bond because it offered an overseas education without regard for the consequences.

But as someone older, I just want to say: Grit your teeth, girl! Pay your debt and finish the bond! Then go show the rest of us some good art.



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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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