Friday, January 1, 2010

Of Malibu, 2010, and the puzzling dearth of Korean Nobel Laureates

It's 2010 and it's been twenty-two years since the Dodgers won the pennant, one hundred years since Japan annexed Korea (Joseon/Chosun/朝選), and ten years that I've had the right to vote. And, probably a a little more time than that since I've been to the Rose Parade in Pasadena (the Rose Parade's on TV right now). And, on a side note, it's interesting how there are probably as many floats from Chinese companies as there were from Japanese companies back when I went to the Rose Parades. My younger brother graduated from La Canada High School in La Canada-Flintridge, which would make a float for the parade each year. I attended the school for a semester as well and, well, it's a pretty big thing in that city. 

Anyways, I'm spending the first few days of 2010 at a beach house in Malibu with some close friends (No, the house isn't mine. Well, the owner of the house is actually a very, very wealthy friend of my friend's very wealthy mother). And, it is absolutely beautiful here though these pictures don't do it justice. Everyone is taking a stroll here on the beach and I'll join them soon, but I have a few remaining applications I have to or would like to work on. After all, it is 2010 and I don't want to start off the new decade being behind on my work.

But, to be honest, I have no idea if I'm really going to go onto graduate school this coming fall. I look at my grades and test scores and they're not too bad, but if I reflect back on the past ten years, then I start to worry if a school would really want an individual like myself at their graduate school. It seems like that's what's been on my mind every spare moment I have had for the past few months -- I've either been working on the statement of purpose, writing e-mails, or solving problems for an UG Real Analysis course.

However, I have been a volunteer at the English in Action program at the YWCA in Berkeley for the past couple years, where they match me with an individual, almost always Korean, who would like to practice speaking English on a one-on-one basis. Almost all my conversation partners, well those that I have cotninued to meet, up until this point have been usually Korean men around my age that are either doctoral candidates or post doctoral students at UC Berkeley. The interesting thing is every single time I talk to them they say that they can't study or do research in Korea. And, every single time I ask them, "why do you think that?"

And, the two usual answers I get are:
1. Almost all money invested in research is not in pure research, but applied research, where it's more about commercializing discoveries or trying to come up with ways to make money from contributions nationals from other countries have made.

And, probably, the most often heard answer are:
2. Research universities in Korea are very much like the country in which they are located in. Socializing and colloborating in research is done on a very a vertical basis, where it's socially difficult to criticize a senior faculty member.

So, a question naturally arises. South Korea is probably the most overrepresented country in research universities in the United States, but why is there not a single Korean Nobel Laureate? For example:

Worldwide, Seoul National University in Korea not only tops Harvard as the leading incubator of future U.S. economics PhDs but does so by a factor of more than two. During 1997–2002, 6 of the top 10 undergraduate alma maters of new U.S.-trained PhD economists were foreign universities—2 from South Korea and 1 each from China, India, Italy, and Taiwan. On average, 27 bachelor’s graduates of Seoul National Universityearn a PhD in economics from a U.S university each year, along with 7 from Yonsei University and 6 from Korea University, both also located in Seoul. Based on a dropout rate of 18.5 percent after two years of the Seoul National, Yonsei, and Korea University graduates who entered one of 27 American PhD programs in fall 2002 and assuming no further attrition among the group, an average annual graduating PhD class of 40 Seoul National, Yonsei, and Korea University alumni implies that at least 50 of their alumni enter U.S. economics PhD programs each year ("The Undergraduate Origins of PhD Economists" by John J. Siegfried and Wendy A. Stock).
But, at the same time, a Korean hasn't won a single Nobel Prize yet either, so, perhaps, my English Conversation Partners have a point -- though I hear there is a professor at UC Berkeley's Department of Chemistry that has a good chance to change that at some point. And, no, I don't consider former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung to be a legitimate Nobel Laureate. I believe he deserved it, but not for the reasons for which he was awarded for -- giving North Korea half a billion dollars. Anyways...

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