Thursday, June 22, 2017

Considering the possibility of retrenchment: its potential impact and my response

Well, well, what do ya know? Reporting season is upon us and my superiors have to report to top management as to whether our research KPIs have been met. From the topic title, you could probably guess that my team failed to hit their KPIs. Data collection has been abysmally slow and, without data and research findings, research funding may get cut.

When one of my bosses, let's call her Dr Janice (not her real name), implied the above, my fellow colleagues were in shock. Me? I was strangely calm. It was not until Dr Janice left the office that we all became chicken littles, freaking out over the possibility of job loss.

Next, as per typical human behaviour, my colleagues engaged in the blame game. "Dr Janice could have formulated the research participant inclusion criteria less stringently. That way, more participants could have entered into the study and this would have been a non-issue."

The above is one way to look at the current situation. An alternative perspective is to consider the operational workflow of the entire research process. All of my colleagues are data collection personnel. They handle administrative stuff, meet participants, and collect data. Then, they pass the data over to Unintelligent Nerd, the database developer/database administrator/data analyst/social science researcher guy (yeah, my current role is quite rojak; a small bit of everything) for data entry, database development, programming scripts to automate processes, and statistical analyses. 

After that, it goes to my three bosses (let's call them Dr Jason, Dr Jeremy, and Dr Janice). That's that.

If there is a bottleneck at data collection, we are screwed. How fast data is collected depends on my colleagues' social skills, rapport building, and pro-activeness. Unfortunately, my colleagues are not proactive individuals. If can slack today, then slack lah! Why so kan cheong to collect data? 

Speaking of which, I'm a kan cheong spider. I'm a Type A who likes to pia here and pia there while they are Type Bs who are more chill. As we are stationed in a satellite office away from the watchful eyes of our bosses, they have been reporting to work late by 2-3 hours. They have been caught multiple times when my bosses spring surprise visits on us. Hence, there's the possibility that the conversation is meant to imply "buck up!" to them (and is an empty threat?)

Yet I digress.

So, what will Unintelligent Nerd do in the case that the whole study folds? Let's consider my financial assets first. In light of the possibility of a market crash, I have been liquidating my stock portfolio over May and June, taking profits whenever Mr Market allows me to. Off the top of my head, I've liquidated around 30% of my portfolio. As a result, my cash/war chest grew from 5% of my net worth to around 25% of my net worth. Roughly, I have 3 months' worth of my gross pay in my emergency fund (in fact, I have diverted some of my profit-taking to my emergency fund instead of my war chest). Short-term, I should be doing okay if I do get retrenched.

What if I get retrenched and then the market crash? Well, I would still invest, even if more cautiously. To play safe, I might not even use up all of my war chest. Instead, I would bolster my emergency fund with my war chest!

In terms of getting a new job, I think I might do fine? My domain knowledge in social science + statistical know-how is still sought by social science research employers (see here). Now that I have more experience in statistical programming, I could also try applying for statistics-related jobs (see here). Anyway, since I've been pursuing breadth over depth (a lot of "beginner level" knowledge in various fields), I think I should be flexible enough to meet the requirements that employers would throw at me. Worst case scenario is to go become an insurance agent (see here). Hopefully that won't happen......(not my cup of tea, personality-wise).

What else have I learned from this episode? One of my colleagues adamantly believes that longitudinal studies suck. There is a lot to plan and many unknown-unknowns. If the unknown-unknowns are discovered at a late stage, correcting them may prove to be very difficult. I need to pick my bosses' brain more, to learn from their experience in this area.

Second, could you diversify your risk away? Dr Jason and Dr Jeremy have other studies they are involved in. If this study blows up, they still have their rice bowl. For Dr Janice, get the picture.

That's all for now. Future pay will either go into my emergency fund or my war chest. I'll only whack hard when the market correction comes.


  1. Unintelligent Nerd,

    You take care now.

    Ivory tower jobs are foreign to me. I've learned something new from your sharing.

    Stay healthy, stand tall.

    1. Thanks SMOL,

      I was completely blind-sided by that. I thought that as long as I over-deliver in my work, all would surely go well. Seems like that's not the case? Zzzzz

      Totally didn't expect it to come from that direction too. I think my bosses did not expect the numbers to come in thaaatttt slow as well. -.-

      But I'm optimistic. Heng, I got competitive advantage.

      Maybe I'm also thinking too much. It could just be my bosses' poking my colleagues? If that's the case, this is a non-issue! LOL

  2. Unintelligent Nerd,


    We can control the 人和.

    We may influence the 地立.

    But 天时 we can neither control nor influence.

    That's what make life a little more interesting through its unpredictability ;)

    Of course I can only say so when its not raining in my backyard!

    1. Haiz. I've got a rejoinder (from one of your blog posts!) to your response but I can't find it. LOL

      Gotta learn from Uncle Temperament, start creating and managing my bookmarks more deliberately.

    2. During our working life, we always awared that we might be retrenched any time without warning.

      That's the reason we did not upgrade to a private property.

      It's a normal practice(aka Hire & Fire) very long time already.

      Now Employers even becomes "smarter".

      Many jobs are on temp only.
      No need to pay retrenchment benefit

      Unless you are in the civil service (Iron Rice Bowl)

      Better still if you become a MINISTER of Parliament then you are RICH FOR LIFE with no ROD. LOL.

      i also want leh(Day dreaming only)

    3. Uncle Temperament,

      I'm actually in a 铁饭碗 organization, just that 铁饭碗 organizations no longer give out perm positions readily. :/

      All temp/contract these days....

      These days, benefits are also not guaranteed. My previous jobs didn't give me bonus, dental benefits, flexi benefits, etc.

  3. You provide great depth of analysis in your posts. Good glimpse into what your industry is like. Look forward to your next post

    1. Haha thanks. I'll share within limits as to what can be disclosed.