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kimodo
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« on: December 30, 2008, 10:59:55 PM »

As an American academic, mid career, looking for a change, am I crazy to apply for a job in Hong Kong? Anyone with experiences in this part of the world your input is most welcome and appreciated?
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sciencephd
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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2008, 11:02:28 PM »


yeah
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stickball
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2008, 8:49:26 AM »

Go for it.  Life's too short.  You'll probably regret not doing it...
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sandrino
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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2008, 9:39:40 AM »

Great city, pretty good pay, but my colleagues there complain about arbitrary decisions about promotion, workload, and awarding of university and government-sponsored grants. To some extent you might be sheltered from some of this as a foreigner, especially in the short term if you're very good at what you do. You probably should look at the job as a 2-5 year adventure, rather than as a long-term placement, although a small minority of foreign profs seem to settle there for many years.

Good travel opportunities, good food, lots going on in the city. Also, direct flights to west coast of N. America and Europe, Australia. 
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bacardiandlime
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« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2008, 11:03:11 AM »

But if you don't want to go permanently, consider how easy it will be for you to transition back into the job market in North America. (some of those foreign academics who have 'settled there for many years' have in fact found themselves STUCK there)
Is your field highly competitive? Will having spent several years away make you seem more interesting, or out of the loop?
Bear in mind, once you're in Hong Kong, you'll be one of those candidates that it will cost a lot to fly in, you could be essentially pricing yourself out of the market.
Look at how much you'll be paid, research allowance, etc - will you be able to make a couple of trips per year to the States, or at least to attend your discipline's annual conference?
People talk a lot about the globalisation of academia, and for sure, there are plenty of opportunities for those who wish to travel and live in different places (I have, and will go to another country again soon).
But in terms of jobs, there is still a lot of insularity, in that someone based a long way away from the perceived 'Metropole' is seen as being 'out of it', or indeed seems to drop off the mental map altogether.
If you're in a field where jobs are (relatively) easy to pick up though, go for it!
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scotia
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« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2008, 11:40:05 AM »

I spent four or five years teaching in Hong Kong for two weeks each year and wouldn't mind spending a couple of years teaching there, though I would need frequent breaks in places with space. Fantastic food, and great shopping if that is your thing. Housing is very expensive and/or very tight for space.

I found that though students were allegedly educated in English from an early age, their written English was often poor and extremely idiomatic. They also tend to passivity (I was teaching postgraduates - not sure what the undergraduates would be like) but they were very respectful in comparison to the students I teach in the UK (who I generally like and who do not come close to many cited on these boards). I found that the academics I spoke with were very focussed, and service expectations seemed high.
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gomer_pyle
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« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2009, 11:49:57 PM »

Great city, pretty good pay, but my colleagues there complain about arbitrary decisions about promotion, workload, and awarding of university and government-sponsored grants. To some extent you might be sheltered from some of this as a foreigner, especially in the short term if you're very good at what you do. You probably should look at the job as a 2-5 year adventure, rather than as a long-term placement, although a small minority of foreign profs seem to settle there for many years.

Good travel opportunities, good food, lots going on in the city. Also, direct flights to west coast of N. America and Europe, Australia. 

Thanks for your insight. I'd like to know, if the HK universities offer a tenure system
or is it pretty much a year-to-year contract?

It sounds to me the system is also as messed up as the one here. I got curious. I
reviewed a proposal from a HK university. It seems the postdocs are paid poorly
(about 30-35k/a USD) but the professors are quite well paid.

There must be a sense of competition amongst colleagues for the meager amount
of funding, quite a toxic environment.

From what I gather, the HK research funding level is quite low. I know of a few
professors there getting their research money directly from US agencies. That
was how these profs survived and had relatively big grants.

Is my analysis wrong?
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aardvark
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« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2009, 6:32:42 AM »

A humanities professor in Hong Kong makes around $80k as an assistant prof., around $135k as a mid-career assoc. prof., around $170k as a full prof., and around $200k as a Chair Prof. (which is like an endowed chair).  Among my friends here, I don't know anyone who spends more than around $60-80k per year at the Assoc. level or above, including the inevitable trips to Thailand and Australia and Japan, so the rest of the income is pure wealth-building.  (All figures translated into US$).

And yes, space is very tight.  But it's a tradeoff.  You might spend $250k buying a 700-sq ft. apartment in the New Territories, much more if on HK Island or a top area of Kowloon.  But then everything else is very cheap.  E.g., medical care is superb, and costs maybe 1/4- 1/3 what it costs in the USA.  You can hire a live-in maid for about US$ 600 per month.  (Not that I do-- but pretty much every one of my colleagues with children does so; it's a way of life).

For a humanities prof., the level of research funding is WAY above what is available to scholars in the USA.  I'm really not sure what it's like for science folks.  Each university has its own grants, and then there's the UGC, which has grants at the same level as a Guggenheim but with far fewer competitors.  Getting release time and travel money at the level of say, US $100k- 140k is really not all that difficult-- well, it's not nearly as difficult as it is in the USA.

Some universities have tenure with up-or-out systems, some universities have 3-year contracts that are renewable forever.  There's no standard HK rule.  And in my experience, there are some arbitrary decisions, but no more so than in the USA.  And this is a very rule-bound society, so I think you'd find that competence is rewarded-- maybe not with a quick promotion, but at least with keeping your job which, as I said, pays very well for humanities folks compared to other places in the world.  (HK is in a recession right now... but then it's also the case that the government of little bitty HK is sitting on TWICE the cash reserves of the USA [!!] and with virtually no government debt [!!] and also has announced that becoming a regional hub of higher ed. is one of its strategic goals... and also is converting from a 3-year system to a 4-year starting in 2012, so is looking to hire perhaps 200 new profs.)

I have no idea how difficult it is to move back to the USA after a few years; that's something to consider if you want to stay for just a short time.  But then I'm not sure that the USA is the best place to be right now; at least I wouldn't go back given the current environment.

Oh, and attacking professors for their alleged biases is simply not one of the local pasttimes.  There's no Daniel Horowitz in HK.  Professors (and teachers) are respected in HK, and actually earn a lot more than most of society-- and most of society thinks this is appropriate.

Teaching load:  in HK, "R1" means a 3-course per year load (that would be HKU and CUHK), whereas "teaching intensive" means a 5-course per year load (that would be Lingnan and the Institute of Education).  I think this compares pretty favorably to the USA-- especially when you're talking about a 13-week semester, so basically one extra month off per year compared to the USA.

One caveat:  if you have children and you want them to attend international schools, then this may quickly eat into your "wealth building"; I understand this can cost $20k (US) per year per child.  Seems to me this is a much better deal for the childless, or for those willing to send their children to local public schools, which are very high quality in their way, but which emphasize rote learning rather than the more creative aspects that you find at the international schools.

Good luck making your decision.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2009, 6:34:46 AM by aardvark » Logged
aardvark
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« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2009, 6:42:06 AM »

Quote
From what I gather, the HK research funding level is quite low. I know of a few
professors there getting their research money directly from US agencies. That
was how these profs survived and had relatively big grants.

Though I already addressed this in my last post, let me reiterate that certainly from a humanities or social science perspective, this couldn't be further from the truth.  The USA and UK research grants are basically dimes on the dollar compared to HK research grants. In my experience, it's as easy to get US $10k in HK as it is to get US $3k in the USA.  (I travel to Europe a lot, but even so, I'd rather have $10k to travel from HK than $3k to travel from the USA-- and it's not even close.)  Again, I don't know how the sciences compare, because I'm not in the sciences.
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aardvark
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2009, 7:07:02 AM »

Quote
[/It sounds to me the system is also as messed up as the one here. I got curious. I
reviewed a proposal from a HK university. It seems the postdocs are paid poorly
(about 30-35k/a USD) but the professors are quite well paid.
quote]

One other thing:  keep in mind that at this level there would be basically NO tax.  Even if you're talking about a US citizen who has to pay tax on worldwide income, at the $35k level there is no US income tax if you live in a foreign country (you can exclude the first $91k per person, so a married couple could EACH exclude $91k); and in HK for a married couple you can get a standard deduction of around US $27k before paying 15-16% on the rest, so earning $35k is really the tiniest of taxes.  And there's no sales tax.  It's not tough in the New Territories to pay about $750 per month in rent-- i.e., less than $10k per year (US), and when you consider that medical care is dirt cheap, you don't need a car (and public transportation is freakishly cheap-- i.e., a round trip from one end of HK to the other costs maybe $4 US), and there's no sales tax, it's really not difficult for a child-free couple to live on about $20k per year, which is to say that a $35k income would mean around $15k put into savings.  Having children (obviously) changes the equation. Anyway, I'd rather try to live on $35k in HK than $50k in the USA, FWIW.  And since the OP doesn't seem to be trying to get a post-doc, I'd guess that money is NOT a reason for the OP to avoid HK.

Granted, this doesn't include the high-end restaurants that the typical prof. here frequents, and the travel; but as I've already said, a typical prof earning in the $140k-200k range will spend $60-80k, and that's a different matter.
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nowser
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« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2009, 9:45:08 AM »

It is very competitive in HK. The humanities and social sciences are diminishing, as in the rest of Asia. If it is not about money or technology (to make more money), nobody is interested in HK. I know a Columbia psychology professor who gave up on HK, because it was just too hard.

Most PhDs in HK start out as research assistants, or presenters earning a fraction of the money mentioned above - more like $30K a year. I know a recent PhD in HK who just quit his job in linguistics after a year or two, and has gone into publishing.
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nowser
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« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2009, 10:25:51 AM »

If you do get a job in HK, it can be both a great place, and a terrible place. It is an exciting city, and a gateway to many great locations in Asia. However the culture is very robotic, and people churn their way through their days like mice on a treadmill. Get on the subway in HK and take a look at the faces of the people. Most are half dead. Many developed cities in east asia are like this. They have paid a high price for economic success. So the key is to somehow rise above the mechanical existence of the average local. The key is making connections - friends, or bring family. It is a very, very lonely city if you have no friends. Trust me on that one.

I have applied for two jobs in HK, got two interviews, and they never bothered to even get back to me, not even a generic email. That tells you a lot about the working culture. The interview panel at my second interview were positively frightening. They were like the walking dead (well, sitting dead). None made any eye contact with me, except when asking questions.

This is in great contrast the one interview I had (by video) from Australia, where a cheerful and personal panel seemed happy to talk to me.  They also turned me down. However, the interview panel leader rang me personally to explain why I had not succeeded, and encouraged me to keep trying. What a great contrast.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2009, 10:29:22 AM by nowser » Logged
gomer_pyle
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« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2009, 9:22:22 PM »

Thanks aardvark and nowser for your perspective!

I am in a field between engineering and science. A typical 3-year grant is about
380-400k/a USD, paying PIs' salaries, grad student stipend, tech support, overhead etc.
The amount requested by the proposal that I reviewed (already destroyed according to guidelines) was about half, if memory serves. The university was HKU, if memory
serves. HKU is #1 in HK, right?

There is no way that HK funding agencies can support that kind of grants that I
was used to writing.

I know that in HK, one can survive cheap. I was there 2 years ago. It's a good
place to visit. The quality of the food is not the greatest.

I am thinking of spending 3-5 years and then getting back to state-side. With things
being so difficult here, I doubt that would work. I might end up stuck there. The
departments in the HK universities are not high impact in my field. I don't know
if I want to spend 20-30 years there. I need to think carefully.

Besides, I can't move until next year. I just started a new job recently. They'll
be very mad if I leave this year. I'll have a lot of time thinking and planning
in 2009.

Happy Presidents' Day!
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aardvark
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« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2009, 3:27:00 AM »

The culture seems less robotic and treadmill-like in a karaoke bar, a church, a crowded wet market, or a good restaurant on Saturday night than it does on the MTR (subway).  This subway imagery also misrepresents the local work-force:  huge numbers of working-class HKers work in the same neighborhood in which they live, and thus walk to work.  Most have no more than a short commute, if not simply a walk. This is very much still a neighborhood-based city, and the people I see every day working in the wet market, the restaurants, and the apartment buildings don't look to me like robots or mice on a treadmill.  But I guess that's in the eye of the beholder.  This is, of course, a predominantly working-class city. 

If you want to know a bit about the research funding, you might check out the UGC's website.  http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/ugc/about/about.htm
Unfortunately, it only shares data through 2006-7.  It's also tough to compare, because money often goes a lot further here, particularly if materials or services can be had from the Mainland, as is often the case.  So when City U's 18 grants awarded that year averaged around US $427k -- not annually, but their 3-year total-- it's not clear to me how that would compare to the US $300-400k per year in the USA.  I wouldn't just assume it's a big gap.

That website also gives statistics about faculty ranks, part-time and full-time, etc., and also distribution by field and by university.  It's worth checking out.

Getting "stuck" is indeed a danger, particularly because of the "impact factor" as you mention; no doubt it would be ideal if you could combine a 3-year contract here with a 3-year leave of absence from your home university.  You could then at least meet a lot of Brits, Americans, Canadians and Australians who actually like it here, coming at an Assoc. level hopefully leave after 3 years with about US $150k in cash that you managed to squirrel away, and at that point decide whether or not this is the life for you.  Good luck sorting all that out.

I don't think it's particularly difficult to make friends in HK.  But you'd have to judge for yourself.   

It is true as nowser says that HK universities generally won't contact the unsuccessful candidate.  In fact, many ads will say straight out:  "Candidates who are not contacted within 4 months of the date of their application submission may consider their applications unsuccessful."  (In fact, I just copied that from HKU's website, a current job description for a senior Mechanical Engineering position; that sentence is in bold at the end of the ad).  This is also still pretty common in the UK; I know it offends some people.  But it tells you not about the "working culture" but mainly about the convention that HK human resources offices adapted from the British when the British established HK academia.  Not only do most of us go months at a time without dealing with human resources in any way, but also-- this will be no surprise-- they tend to be more accommodating (though still very bureaucratic) to those who work for the institution than they are to unsuccessful candidates.  Admittedly, it doesn't measure up to the US best practice of sending a rejection letter or-- even more personally when you were short-listed, getting a polite phone call from the dept head to pass on the bad news and thank you sincerely-- but it's the convention.  And it's by no means the only local convention that is different from the way they do things in the USA, but then you'd have guessed that!
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nowser
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« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2009, 8:42:18 AM »

Try www.scmp.com classifieds. I think all HK uni jobs are posted there, weekly, Saturdays, but stay online for at least a week.

As for the "those not contacted..." bit in the ads, that is for applicants (ie. those who send in a CV). You'd think they could take ten minutes out of their day to contact the half a dozen or so unsuccessful applicants after an interview.

The "robotic" description is apt, I believe, for many jobs in HK - very long hours repeating the same thing over and over in a joyless environment, where the boss basically has few limitations on what he (rarely a she) can do with you. I have sat in endless meetings (in Cantonese) watching managers droning on and on for five or six hours, often on a Friday evening, talking about stuff that seems to have no function other than to make sure staff have no social life outside of work hours. I have many times been witness managers droning on for hours after many of the audience have literally fallen asleep, oand on one occasion saw a school principal give a two hour talk where all the admin staff sitting behind him (whom he couldn't see - the rest of the staff was in front of him) had all fallen sound asleep. About 20% of the teachers were also asleep, but he just droned on and on and on... This, after other admin members had already given their loooooong speeches.

The upside of this unquestioning deferring to authority is that teachers are mostly respected - well, more so than in most western systems. The students can be really lovely (I hate to use the word for grown boys too, but many are just so child-like).

Education is particularly repetitive and joyless for most. While the successful students are hard-working and dedicated, they exist within a very teacher-centred pedgogy, tend towards passivity, and use endless rote-learning methods to acquire knowledge for the thousands of (mostly) useless tests and exams they have to endure as they make their way through the system. I am referring mostly to the secondary system, where I have taught for five years, but I believe the tertiary system tends towards the same problems. In many classes, it is a real struggle to get even a single student to raise a hand to answer a question.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2009, 8:45:39 AM by nowser » Logged
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