Returning: It Is Never That Simple

People nowadays working in emerging countries like China or some other Asian countries around, say Singapore and Hong Kong, can have strong feeling of stress that is becoming a serious social concern. However, every few people, especially those in China, can fully understand why it happens and where it comes from. People are complaining about their working load, the stress from their bosses and peers, their living conditions and how salaries fail to meet up their demand. But why does it really happen? Here in this post I am willing to have a superficial investigation of the reason why based on a cultural-shock that I have come across during my job seeking in past several months as a natural setting, trying to tell something that you should be aware when making a decision about returning to work and living for good.

This is because that job market for PhD graduates are much tougher in recent years comparing to those in industries which are mostly regarded as fairly priced. PhDs in China and those from overseas without a degree awarded by top schools are often received very modest treatment in terms of limited salary and slightly more-than-zero support. Communication never work as chairs in school and department never open their eyes to this group of youngsters in a supportive manner that aimed at ‘helps’. Mostly, they are treated as a publication-making machine and teaching facility to accomplish most works that are never wanted by seniors.

But I am now willing to have a discussion about the reasons in depth as to why it happens as those are often too complex to reveal and can put myself in some troubled situation. However, I would like to share you some experience that I have gained since leaving Lancaster and you might have some clues of knowing why people always feel stressful when working in such environment and how terrible young people, especially young scholars as discussed in this post, can suffer from though they are still taught and required to pursue their research to some great excellence.

  1. Experience in Hong Kong: Email might not work

    Over three years’ experience at Lancaster, a small town in Northwest England, has nearly made me forget about these stress until my return to work about one year ago. Fortunately, Henry helped me find a fixed-term position at Lingnan, Hong Kong and it successfully helped me of resettling myself to a conventional Chinese, or broadly, an Asian environment to work and live with. Different cultural issues, ways of communication between or among departments, as well as Internet censorship, all reminds me up of being back.It can always bring much work to IT department for new comers as systems always need to be initialized and working environment being established. However, when following my UK experience of sending an email out, there is just no reply. After a three-hour waiting, I decided to make a call. They answered the phone stating how their schedule is tied up and how great their apology is that they cannot offer help in a timely manner. Anyway, all these issue settled in three days, which is still satisfactory given their status as a second tier school in Hong Kong and their IT support is quite limited. This experience brings me very first lesson of living in China: NEVER believe in email communications, a phone call or visiting to office can always save your time and energy.

  2. Chinese experience
    1. A market for cheap labor or a market for talents?

      The job market outside China changes dramatically and the process of change is even quicker than that of our PhD training program. Yes, I graduated in three years, which is quick, but without any good working paper and thus no job offered. Such dilemma between home settling and career definitely drive me home for a teaching position in some second Tier school (1st Tier schools only welcome flyouts from top US business school and Hong Kong with the reason of reputation for the former and publications in potential for the latter). But things are getting even worse than I expected though there has been a pre-sessional course from Hong Kong and past experience achieved before leaving for UK five years ago.It is always a good idea not to take everything for granted for people from US and Europe back home, which was told by some of my friends, and unfortunately this probe really works fine. The recruitment of new staffs (faculty in US) and new PhD students (with living allowance allocated) is always based on a budget that income would be sufficient to support a family and for staffs, necessary equipment in office is never a problem besides the area (people at Lancaster are enjoying their small offices these days). However, when returning, I just find, all these issues that should not become a question really becomes series of questions. But they still share one thing in common: the attitude towards research. As for teaching? Who (Hu) cares!

    2. Salary will never bring you respect of any kind

      Salary (here in this blog I do not tell the income before tax and that after the tax as it is unrelated to the context) is of the greatest disappointment among some issues that shall be listed and discussed briefly above. Most schools, including Tsinghua and PKU, share a compensation plan that ranges from 2500 to 3500 GBP (approximately based on current exchange rate as 1 GBP = 10 RMB, an official currency unit in China), which significantly lower than the average in UK and Europe, not say our US counterparts who are offering a package with annual income at 150k US dollars or above). Such salary should be of good consistence with the living standard, however, provided that the pricing of both housing and autos are in consistence with such standard as well, but which unfortunately is never the fact. Thus, most young faculties in Chinese universities are always living in great stress from both their research and living. Definitely, this is not a good way of motivating youngsters taking academia as their career though they are excellent adequately in terms of their recording.

    3. Puzzle can always be challenged by another round

      What puzzles me more, however, is the way of distribution. Taking my own case in one school from Central China for example, a salary that sums up to 300k RMB would be divided into three parts: 70% would be on a monthly basis sharing a similar nature as salaries from most firm; 10% would only be accessed to at the end of each fiscal year; and the last 20%, however, would be unavailable till the end of a three interval, where an examination process exists. What is the result? That can directly result in a very imbalanced pattern and very stressful cash flow in-and-out if I am under a mortgage that can take over half of my monthly income. Feeling unfair and unreasonable? Sorry but most staffs in Chinese universities have not learned ways called efficient communication, or well, they might not know what communication is, let alone standards, either domestically or internationally. Terms are never fixed and needs to be negotiated. Official of high ranks can always make one or some major changes on terms without any approval from the candidates, provided that this is not a signed copy. When inquiry, you can never get full information unless you can raise enough questions with the level that can only be reached by those who work on establishing the policy. In my case, the draft of contract that I have received come with an additional line saying that the departmental subsidy will be cancelled if I failed to pass the quasi-tenure requirement at the end of my third year. This is indeed in a handwriting form and seems never approved by a formal process. What is the consequence? There would be no subsidy or budgeting, no matter how you call it, in my third year on book purchasing, travelling for conferences and other costs. Feeling crazy about it? This is the environment where academicians in China live with.

    4. Potentials are overlooked, and support for future?

      Universities in China are introducing a quasi-tenure-track system that is close to its US cousin but is different in some ways. It is definitely promoted by the dilemma that most colleges face that goes between the decision of employing new staff and maintaining the old ones. This mechanism is nothing related to the pursue of academic freedom as it initially suggests in a western setting but only keeps that research tasks can be accomplished by those young scholars without promising sufficient pay. Some top-tiered school has required staffs to leave in a six-year interval if they have not been promoted to be an associate professor (senior lecturer in UK). However, unlike their US counterparts where over 100k salary is offered, these poor young guys are only offered very limited salary. This often results in a very cheap cost of transformation when a PhD or young faculty in a school decides to leave for industry, which might be the only advantage that I can think about for this set of policies. Office spacing and equipment including software licensing has long been overlooked unless you have been famous overseas or come with some ranks. Professor is never a good term that intends to be used for office spacing unless he/she simultaneously owns a position as a dean or associate dean, either for the department or for the whole school. Printers? I wonder if teachers and professors from most Chinese universities who have not worked in a company have seen professional high-speed printers. I have not investigated this myself but it should be all right in terms of my personal communications with some guys there. This forms a huge gap between our research team and those outside China, which might also be a source that explains the gaps of research and teaching quality between Chinese schools and that of overseas. This is indeed not only related to some direct impact that links working efficiency to the hardware support, but also related to some indirect impact from some software support, say working environment. But remember, this kind of working condition never form an excuse of low working efficiency in bosses’ eyes. They are expecting some work with international quality! Sorry, not expecting, but dreaming.

    5. Medical care insurance: slightly more than nothing

      These issues are not that highly related to the university system in China but rather are related to its weak social insurance system. Medical care resources has been scared and highly biased to those with good fortune and high official ranks for years, a social insurance issued for the public, as the one that I shall take, will be far from adequate for covering. Quite a few items or treatments, say imported drugs, dentists, opticians, will not be covered and have to be paid our of your own pocket. People in theory are encouraged to take commercial insurance of some forms, but the initial question is, can you really afford that? Graduates who are working for international firms with settlement overseas and those for the governmental with some immediate ranks should be among the few who can really receive very good medical care support, with the former one supported by premier plans which can consume huge amount of money and the latter one by governmental subsides which should have been designed for ordinaries and minorities that needs further protection. For others who are in high demand of such product but are not covered by the company that they are working for, the cost would be a great deduction from their family income. However, considering the salary of my offer from schools in China, this is too unlikely. As Jane said to the head teacher when being asked how to avoid herself from death and being burned in fire – keeping good health!

    6. Kids’ education: also a big concern

      Kids’ education is really another big concern that I really get trapped though our young baby has not come to this world yet till the time of writing this blog. Quite similar to the situation in medical care, education resource is also quite biased. Most schools in remote areas have difficulty of finding qualified English teachers while students in large cities have received good training from native speakers in early years. Even in the same cities, the quality of education they offer can be dramatically different from one to the other. There is some rules of enrollment as in many countries that is county-based. However, relationship still plays important roles and governmental decisions are never reasonable with untold reasons. This issue is more serious in some central and western areas of China, while governmental actions has been greatly improved and become quite transparent in eastern and very southern part, where are regarded as being better developed.

    7. Housing can really be a panic here, especially for young graduates

      Housing price has been a big concern for most people that were born in 1980s and 1990s as the price of a flat with reasonable size, say 100 sq-meters (3 small bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom) can cost over 400 thousand GBP in some large cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where most top universities in China locate. With very limited income at entry level, say 10k GBP for example, a house can spend his/her 40 years of salary in total! This is even more tough for most PhDs, who have graduated, received their degree and started their career at his/her 30s without any saving in bank They come with very strong demand of settling their house but with limited financial ability.A conventional in Chinese universities to solve these problem is to offer some low-rate flats, either for rent or for sales. But that sounds like a legend sometimes as most staffs in that universities have been housed well, and nobody really cares about the younger generations, whether they are sleeping in office or in forest. The barrier of communication in different departments here become really significant problems as the housing problem presents. Words from an unnamed staff is as follows, which clearly identifies the burden that young teachers might come across:

      …We are really glad to offer you a temporary flat if there is any difficulty of settlement when you arrive. However, we do not have any vacancy at present. There would be no subsidy in extra given your high salary…

  3. What can we do and how can we respond to?

    Universities in China and their departments seem never knowing how to communicate with their faculties in potential, or they might merely find it a waste of time to do so. Any requirements on improving these conditions will never be settled in reality but instead would come back with warm answers in confusion. These includes but not limited to:

    • We really appreciate your suggestions and are thinking about it;
    • We are having an official discussion with that but no result can show;
    • Please understand that this is limited by our policies;
    • Really? I don’t know that!
    • Are you still a kid? How can you raise all these issues?
    • You idiot, you are not in a right positon to say this!!

    So till now, I personally do not find any good way to solve these issues but trying to adapt it and then find some other alternatives. It is indeed a waste of time on my side of expecting that there would be a change on these issues, either under official or directors’ mercy or not. Some people will argue that this is about the uniqueness of our Chinese culture? But the question is how can such a country that have overlooked the price of knowledge and talents in potential can maintain its stability and prosperity in past 5000 years? Maybe our large population explains and probability matters!

5 thoughts on “Returning: It Is Never That Simple”

  1. 这些烦心事儿都是免不了的,尤其是对于毕业生来说。
    有些事可以通过自己的努力去弥补和完善,但有些就不行,比如空气污染。比起北方,南方已经是绝对的乐园了!

    1. 是啊,不过好在南方,至少是深圳这里,很多事情还是走在全国前列的。比如行政部门的效率和态度、高校的一些人性化管理等等。这也算是一种安慰吧

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *