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Singapore: Taxi driver-blogger is a PhD graduate

He is a Singaporean taxi driver, blogger, and PhD holder from Stanford University. Singapore netizens describe him as the “most educated taxi driver in the world.” His name is Dr. Mingjie Cai.

Dr. Cai worked for 16 years as Principal Investigator at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) of ASTAR, Singapore. He was laid-off from work in 2007 (without receiving compensation). After an unsuccessful attempt to look for a new job, he decided last November 2008 to become a taxi driver. He started blogging four months ago. His blog has attracted the attention of Singapore bloggers, including mainstream media.

Dr. Cai introduces himself and his blog in this way:

Probably the only taxi driver in this world with a PhD from Stanford and a proven track record of scientific accomplishments, I have been forced out of my research job at the height of my scientific career, and unable to find another one, for reasons I can only describe as something “uniquely Singapore”. As a result, I am driving taxi to make a living and writing these real life stories just to make the dull job a little more interesting. I hope that these stories are interesting to you too.

Dr. Cai mentions the circumstances which forced him to become a taxi driver:

Becoming jobless at my age is perhaps the worst nightmare that can happen to any ordinary man, not to mention the loss of life-long career…I had submitted countless CV and application letters to various places in Singapore including universities, government agencies, and private companies. Most of them, however, never responded. A couple of replies I did receive never materialized into anything positive. Later, the outburst of financial crisis world wide helped extinguish my last hope of finding a job anytime soon. By November 2008, I finally made a decision to become a taxi driver.

This blog records some of the events that I have experienced as a taxi driver. They are all actual events and are presented as truthfully as possible…The purpose of this blog is to provide readers with the first hand accounts of my experience of converting from a veteran scientist to a rookie taxi driver in today’s Singapore

But is Dr. Cai a real person? Is he really a scientist? Toward the Green researches the profile of Dr. Cai and confirms that Dr. Cai has published several scientific papers.

the facts seem pretty clear: Dr. Cai does exist, and has a well-documented history as a biochemist from the years 1989 to 2009. There is at best circumstantial evidence to suggest that he had a falling out with IMCB sometime in 2007, but hardly anything definitive at this point.

So why is Dr. Cai having trouble finding another R&D job? The R&D market isn’t so hot these days. The bad economy means not many firms are hiring professional scientists. Academia isn’t much of a help – there’s a long history of too many PhDs chasing too few jobs. It doesn’t help that many people get a feeling for rampant ageism in the R&D job market too. Dr. Cai, having received his PhD in 1990 or so, is probably in his mid-forties by now, which in any industry is a particularly challenging time to find work.

Dr. Cai now writes engaging stories of his experiences as a taxi driver. However, for someone like me, his experience spells a clear cautionary tale for anyone interested in a R&D career, let alone anyone interested in an R&D career in Singapore and A*STAR.

Rambling Librarian describes Dr. Cai as the “de facto voice for all Singapore cabbies

…he probably became the de facto voice for all Singapore cabbies overnight. Without planning to be one, he is a leader in his own way.

Alvinology II praises the attitude of the taxi driver-blogger

The blog reads like a novel of sort, about a scientist-turned-taxi-driver, diligently documenting quirky observations he made while driving on the road – the passengers he met, the various changes coming to our society.

I feel for his plight though. It is a waste of human capital when skill sets and academic qualification do not match with the job a person is holding. Definitely not a healthy trend if we see more and more Singaporeans in such a predicament.

Mr Wang Says So appreciates the writing style of Dr. Cai:

I really like his writing. It's honest, observant, authentic and has a lot of genuine local flavour. His blog entries almost inspire me to start writing my next poetry book.

Heyzanie's World thinks that driving a taxi is not an inferior job even for someone who has a PhD from Stanford

It is a business you can run quite independently and if managed well, it fetches ok income. More importantly, it gives one flexibility of time to work on the other aspects of life. Afterall, Dr. Cai has spent a life time of researching in other people’s labs. It’ll be good to be explore and experiment his own life for a change.

Personally, I feel that driving a cab should not seen as beneath one’s dignity – not even for a star-studded Phd – if one knows how to make the best out of it.

Kent Ridge Common hopes scientists will be allowed to work in an environment where talents are allowed to flourish

Dr Cai’s experience was like a fish getting suffocated out of water, or more accurately in a suffocative environment marked by domination, prejudice and arrogance in his own words. It is good for a nation like ours to dream of becoming a Biomedical hub, but first and foremost, we must create an environment to allow our talents in the field to flourish. If such an environment remains suffocative, such dreams will only remain as hallucinations.

  • Pingback: Taxi Driver, Blogger, PHD. « Going Global

  • robert i

    having been a taxi driver in the bay area of california since 1973 i always find it mildly insulting and vastly amusing to read comment how maybe driving a taxi is beneath someones ‘skill set’ and obvious station in life.
    driving a taxi has allowed me to travel the earth, own 3 homes, live on boat in carribbean, live part time in mexico, raise 2 children both who graduated from uc santa cruz, one in grad school at berkeley, be a moderately successful artist, and in general do things that people who followed the usual course in life on dream of doing.

    • Abdu

      I agree with you, there is nothing wrong doing what you like to do for a living! as long as you are enjoying what you are doing! even though there is a lot of money to be made in taxi business, some cultures look at you down. but, again who cares as long as you are happy doing what you do! and again there is a lot of money to be made out of taxi business. However, if you are forced to drive taxi because you can not find the job you want, then you will never be satisfied and the same rule applies to any job that you think is not right for you.

    • Michael

      Hi Robert,
      Wow, now I am interested to be a taxi-driver, even though I have graduate degree.

  • Sushma Gupta

    Hi…I am agree with your post. I am also not interested in this type of driving process. But, I must say that, this is a very great blog for me. Keep sharing.

    http://majorcarsuk.com

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