a journal of a researcher

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Why Chinese students are weak in research

Science is to discover the new truths, debate what are the truths and stick on what you believe are truths. Science means to be independent and deep thinking.

The soil of China, i.e. historical, social and political environments, does not cultivate independent souls. We are educated to obey the authority, even for practical reasons. We are eager to make compromises and keep superficial harmoniousness.

Spiritually, we are pragmatic people. We are too willing to adapt to the environment, and find excuses for doing this. One good thing is that this makes Chinese survives for thousands of years. The bad thing is that you find they are distracted from scientific research.

Practically, we are empirical people. The know-how was accumulated by the practices of generations. But no enough theories are built for the explanation.

Fundamentally, Chinese do not grasp enough corner stones that built the western scientific traditions. At least that is not the over-all knowledge among the people. Only a few know the methodologies. Most of the teachers in all levels of schools and even the university professors do not how the methodologies. What they can teach is just know-how. They do not know how to train students to do scientific study.

The Chinese students were trained well in China to know enough background knowledge. But they do not have enough training on how to study one topic systematically and do profound thinking. One symptom is that the Chinese students ask many questions that they can solve in 10 minutes or just think twice. They want to know the answers quickly from the professor. But what they get is just a piece of information. It is better to solve the problems themselves.


  • Not all North American graduate students are good, and I would think that the average Chinese graduate student is extremely smart. I actually expect that average IQ of the Chinese student to be higher than the average IQ of the North American student.

    One big difference you don't mention is that many, many really smart North Americans do not go to graduate school, or they just get a Master's degree. So, by the time these Chinese students are taking all these graduate courses, the North American counterpart are engineers in companies. There are many amazing examples like the founders of Google, Microsoft, Netscape, and so on. And you have to include Linus Torvald.

    These things are valued quite a bit here and I don't know how aware Chinese are of the fact that these amazingly succesful technology people do not have Ph.D. and sometimes, do not even have a single degree. These people are models. The young CS kids in Fredericton see these and are inspired.

    But what do they see? They see people who succeeded because they had innovative ideas and they pursued them. They don't see people who went by the rules. People who go by the rules often end up government worker, earning 1/50 of what the innovators sometimes earn.

    Take Stephen Downes. Stephen doesn't have a Ph.D. He failed to get his Ph.D. (failed must be said carefully) and for the longest time, he did not publish in conventional conferences and journals. Yet, he is, by all accounts, one of the leading research (worldwide) in eLearning. But he broke and the rules and he has been rude! Yes.

    Playing by the rules, doing as you are being told, publishing many papers, doing your homeworks on time, following instructions, that's not how you succeed in this new era. This is how you "survive", that's quite different.

    So, doing your homeworks nicely, is just one option. You can actually end up making more money than your teaching if you forget the homework assigned and follow your own ideas.

    I'm not at all certain that a Ph.D. is a good investment of one's time. It is a silly thing to do actually. And I can't help but be worried to see all these Chinese who come here to get Ph.D.s

    I'm sure, quite a number will be disappointed or they won't get what they should be getting considering their skills and talents.

    No doubt, there are great entrepreneurs among the Chinese people, but among the students who come to North America, I think you are saying that they do not quite understand how the world works and are maybe a bit naïve.

    Well, that's ok. Maybe they can learn... maybe that's why they come here.

    By Blogger Daniel Lemire, at 7:35 AM  

  • You are absolutely right. I hope more of my students can find my blog.

    By Blogger flydragon, at 8:22 AM  

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