Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Musings on life

One long-standing concern which I hope to eventually eliminate from my life is my lack of career stability. Since graduation, I have been holding on to contract jobs as a social science researcher. While there are the lucky few who managed to secure permanent research positions as a degree holder, the majority of organizations in my field are looking for Masters or PhD holders.

With plenty of me-time in-between jobs this time round, I reflected quite a bit:

I could never get used to this feeling of being a sojourner of sorts. Once I am finally comfortable with the people and the daily routine at work, my contract ends, leaving me with a bittersweet feeling. This time round, all is not lost. My next project is cross-organizational; I will be working with my ex-colleagues very closely. I am very grateful for this opportunity.

One recurring thought which I had while employed in my previous workplace was my willingness to accept a permanent position at said workplace if they ever offered me one. Though my bosses and my bosses' boss did brought up such a topic, they did note that I was unqualified because I lacked a Masters Degree, Without taking into account the admin staff, all employees had at least a Masters Degree and 40% of my colleagues/superiors had a PhD.

Competition for those permanent positions is rife though. PhD applicants have been applying for Masters-level positions. This is not a good sign.....

Side Interests/Personal Development
I enjoyed this short-term break from work. Besides reading up on books (see here and here), I have also completed the Health Insurance Module offered by the Singapore College of Insurance (see here).

Another of my medium-term goals is to complete the CFA. As I am a slow learner, I have not signed up for the level 1 examinations yet. Instead, I purchased the abbreviated Wiley Level 1 CFA books so that I can read to my heart's content before even attempting the examinations. The material on financial statement analysis has been an illuminating read. I am not sure whether is it because I got the abbreviated textbook, but there is not much material on REITs.

There goes yet another potential source of information regarding REITs investing. Other REIT-education alternatives which I am considering are as follows: (a) taking up the CMFAS Module 10, (b) read up on property books available from your major bookstores, (c) complete all the necessary exams to be a real estate agent, and (d) familiarize myself with JTC + other government websites. In times like this, I'm banging my head against the metaphorical wall out of frustration. I want to improve in my investing acumen but the information I need to improve with is either beyond my level or floating around piecemeal in cyberspace.

It is also during this period of time where I started this Unintelligent Nerd blog.

Personal Finance
Personal finance-wise, I am doing alright. As planned, my emergency fund kicked in when my contract ended. The only drawback was that my warchest is a bit on the low side. After purchasing a counter on my watch list recently, I'm almost out of ammunition.

Formal Education
This is a tricky bit. On one hand, I would love to delay taking my Masters so that I can invest more in this uncertain financial climate. On the other hand, I can't be delaying too long to get a permanent job!

A PhD is out of the question. While some have advised me to hide in a PhD programme to weather the recession, I do not find this a good idea. First, I am a slow learner. I would very much prefer to build at least the most shallow of foundations for my PhD topic first before even applying for a PhD programme; I have not done so. In investing, this is called margin of safety. :D Next, my dividend income from my portfolio is meager. This is exacerbated by the proportion of REITs in my portfolio. Cash calls during PhD with only a stipend income? GG (good game)! Third, I am still straddling between my social science research career and another field. So, which field do I go into? If I choose the latter, I could be committing academic suicide because of my poor foundations.

Masters then. Yet another problem. A Coursework Masters or a Research Masters? In my original field or jump to another field? I would love to do a Research Masters (more esteemed by research-centric employers) in that other field. But I have to play it cautious.

A Research Masters in Social Science? I've thought of a highly niche subfield where there are only 2 Singaporean researchers in it. Wait a minute, there are now 4 researchers in this area. Guess blue oceans do not remain blue for long.

In the interim, my strategy is to take up 1-year academic programmes sequentially. I have just completed and graduated from one such programme earlier this year. I will be starting on another of such programme in a few weeks' time.

Just one year back, I have been nagging encouraging my school mates and my colleagues who are on contract to continually upgrade themselves and to keep their skills sharp. I could hear the crickets chirp! Now, one of them is spamming Coursera courses to boost his CV; the other is seriously contemplating doing those 1-year academic programmes which I am currently doing. Has shit hit the fan in the job market? I'm not sure. Things could worsen further.


  1. Unintelligent Nerd,

    Maybe I'm out of my depths here as I've no clue about academic or research circles.

    In the real world of corporate, once someone has left school for more than 5 years, what they have studied I no longer interested.

    It's what they have DONE during these 5 years - now that's a better gauge of their competences ;)

  2. Hmmm. In my field, I think (but don't take my word for it) employers are looking for:

    1). Publications in Research Journals
    2). Research experience
    3). Work experience in a research setting

    Research experience is particularly important for fresh graduates. I know of people who took the "easy way out" by choosing the "coursework" path over the "research path" and got their CVs immediately thrown into the bin by research employers. Not. Even. A. Chance. At. An. Interview. Ouch!

    The "what they have DONE during these 5 years" is universal and it applies to my field too. Employers look at their competences and experiences gained over the course of their employment.

    Interestingly, not getting a PhD still can survive in my field. Top management had a Masters, but she got like 30-over years of experience. But in this paper-chasing economy, I don't think it'll work if a degree holder tries to do the same thing. :/

  3. nice post. we all have different aspirations towards our career and investment. To me, PHD or not, the most important is you must enjoy what you are doing...the research work, collaboration with agencies, etc. Perhaps, explore the path less travelled instead of following the mainstream. Best of luck

  4. Hi Mr Chua,

    I'm enjoying both my career and investing. Though I'll have to admit that they are not easy and it can be frustrating at times. Thanks!

  5. Hi UN,

    I never dread studies and or even my Uni exams that much compare to many of my peers. in other words, I do like to study.

    But as I gather more experiences, I doubt the effectiveness of contemporary education which often use the certificate as a yardstick of one's ability. How about him as a person? How about him in getting along with another person?

    The ability to establish Relationships among people is by far the most impt aspect in human lives. Education and text books can changed over time but the importance of dealing with People has never changed since the evolution of mankind thousands of years.

    Those who can lower their pride n humble themselves knows how to establish true sustainable good relationships in life.

    You can get knowledge from education. but only with practical experiences and wide exposures, then u can get wisdom, eloquence, ability to discern, ability to see into the future more clearly etc

    1. Hi Rolf,

      You are correct. Only after graduation did I realize that pushing myself to higher levels of "book smart" doesn't cut it. It is those with "street smarts" that consistently identify opportunities in life and adapt and roll with the curve balls that life throws at them.

      Thank you for your sharing. It is not only until recently which I realize that I have neglected that aspect of personal development. Time to level up my wisdom (can wisdom even be level up in this way?!?!?)! Wisdom literature and the personification of wisdom, here I come!

    2. *It is those with "street smarts" that are able to consistently identify opportunities in life and are able to adapt and roll with the curve balls that life throws at them.