Foreign Professor’s Life Advice to Chinese Student: Go and make some real money!


Lately, there’s been a blog floating around the Chinese internet about graduate study, and it is most noticable from the inflammatory remarks made by the professor in the story, whose sage life advice for his Chinese student is “Go and make some money!”

This is my translation. The English part comes first, and then the Chinese afterwards so you can compare. At the end will be the vocabulary I used/had to look up. I wasn’t going to do many flat-out English translations of Chinese blogs here on Can-do Sino, but I’m so proud of it Daddy has to show his new baby off.

No, it isn’t a perfect translation. But it’s my translation, and I kick ass. Enjoy.

From here, here, here, here, here and here. There are probably more. And to be honest, it’s sad to see an essay so widely re-distributed and plagiarized, but downright depressing that it would be one that is written this poorly and illogically.

Since you are so poor, why don’t you go make some money? What are you doing this graduate work for

When I was studying abroad, I had gone to see my advising professor on the second day after I arrived. To tell you a brief introduction about him, after graduating from John Hopkins University he worked as a scientist in the Bell laboratory; afterwards he joined a university to teach and even then as a young man was considered a fine professor. This hard work eventually culminated in his attaining the position of dean; however, he later decided to resign the position and leave the school in his middle age to begin a new career. However, several years later he would end up being unsuccessful and my advising professor would return to university to resume his former career.

The first time I met the boss, who is also a foreign (laowai) professor, I was very polite and referential. I said, “Professor, I am a foreign exchange student from China and have come to get my PhD. I am very interested in your research methods. Can you please tell me which books I need to read so that I can start right away? In order for me to start researching with you, I can go get them right now.”

After I was done speaking the professor eyed me over up and down, and then he calmly and smoothly said, “Are you rich? At the very least you must be a millionaire.”

To say the least, I was very surprised. I had to immediately refute those remarks; that is to say, if he thought I was wealthy he would not give me the position of assistant research fellow, and if that was the case I would not have the income required to continue to study. And if that was the case, I might as well pack up my things and go home. Therefore, I replied, “I am a foreign exchange student from China, I am poor but I really do want to learn— I am especially interested in your research. The professor asked me again, “Is your family rich?”

This time around I steeled my will when giving him my answer. I said, “Not at all. I come from China and China is a poor country. My family doesn’t have any money.” He let me finish, and then said, “Since you are so poor, why don’t you go make some money? Why have you come here to do graduate studies? Committing to research takes money and time; it is a practice specifically for people with full bellies with nothing pressing to do. Only those with the money and the interest are really able to do graduate work. You say you are interested in my research methods but I think you aren’t interested in my research at all; instead, you want to work here with me to make some money. This has nothing to do at all with you wanting to do post graduate studies.”

As I heard this my whole face turned red. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the professor’s research methods whatsoever. Instead, I said I was interested because if I didn’t do this low-paying job the professor wouldn’t give me the position of assistant research fellow and then I wouldn’t have the money for school tuition. Because of the money situation, I had no choice but to say that I was very interested in his methods.

The professor has seen a lot of students in his day; he could tell with a glance which students are interested in doing post graduate studies and which are interested in making money. Naturally, the professor still allowed me to take the position of assistant research fellow, a job to which I worked very hard. Although I do not possess any inherent innate researching skills, I worked hard despite the criticisms of other people in the laboratory doing the lowly manual labor, just like that of a coolie. Throughout it all, the professor’s research expenditures always subsidized my studies and I eventually received my PhD diploma. After the graduation ceremony, I once again went to go see my professor. Naturally I was very appreciative; if it weren’t for all those years working as an assistant research fellow paying for my studies I wouldn’t have been able to obtain my diploma. As well, a particular Chinese phrase comes to mind when concerning this situation: a good teacher doesn’t just teach, but also acts as a good father figure. With that in mind, I went to go visit him to see if I could get any last pearls of wisdom from him before I left. At that time he said, “I could see ever since the first day we’ve met that your goal is to make money. Now you’ve gotten your PhD diploma, it’s finally time to do just that.”

“Go and make some real money!” This is the sage life advice he gave to me.

Many years later, I gradually came to recognize the profound wisdom he gave me. When all is said and done, graduate study is only for those who have money and time to spare. For those who want to perform some real research (since doing menial jobs in a laboratory is not truly considered research) you first need to meet two conditions:

1)you have a special vested interest in doing graduate study (similar to my own situation with my professor, except you are not lying about it like I was). There isn’t any money, nor fresh flowers or beautiful girls here; neither is they anyone to admire you and praise you as you study intensively without stopping.

2)you can set aside economic pressures and responsibilities. People who have the basic necessities of life taken care of (that being of food and shelter) need only apply.

This is the basic theory behind the practice of tenure of professors in American universities. First, a recent PhD graduate must first steel oneself and complete 5 years of hard work. Afterwards, if you are picked by the group of tenured professors and one day pass their requirements, then for the rest of your life you will never have to worry about making a living again. At that point you can wholeheartedly devote your time to research and study. Naturally the school also knows that the overwhelming majority of these tenured professors have no research potential left in them. Equally impotent are the lowly menial workers of the research laboratory. However, out of the vast numbers of tenured professors a few stand out from the crowd that actually have talent and contribute positively to the economy.

I’ll raise an example for you: back in the 70s, photocopy industry leader Xerox was concerned about the rise of interest in computers; if everybody used computers to exchange messages then no one would use photocopiers and this would invariably cause the market for photocopiers to decrease. Therefore, Xerox constructed a laboratory at the Polo A1 facility and housed it with fifty to sixty of the world’s top leading computer scientists; by removing all outside interference and distractions including financial concerns, Xerox was able to let the scientists freely unleash their imaginations and create technologies that would lead mankind into the future. Such inventions of the time include:

1) a UI graphical interface 2) the Ethernet and 3) an object-oriented programming (I don’t know how to say this in Chinese).

These trail-blazing inventions would establish the future of computer development, and would influence the course of civilization.

Each year for a short time in the spring, enrollment brochures and books from American universities arrive at the homes of millions of Chinese students, and year after year the majority of Chinese students look forward to receiving the enrollment brochures for these graduate schools. In order for many students to receive the subsidy for being an assistant research fellow they will apply for the PhD diploma. The vast majority of students don’t actually have any real interest in post graduate study, but instead hope to go to the USA to make some money. Their logic for applying for a PhD is as such: in order to make money they need to obtain an American diploma, and to obtain an American diploma they need to go to America to study, and in order to go to America to study they need a scholarship, and to get a scholarship they need to apply for a PhD. Therefore, for a Chinese student to go study in the USA is the same as to go there to get a PhD since there isn’t any other choice. The two are the same according to this logic.

However, the original purpose of a PhD is to cultivate the ability to study and research. To do post graduate study one must actually be interested in it, but more importantly than that the key point is that one must have both time and money to do this. It’s difficult to imagine ordinary everyday people who normally run around in circles trying to study and research like this. Post graduate study is like music, it is a rich man’s game.

All the same, my professor’s words still ring true: since you are so poor, why don’t you go make some money? What are you doing this graduate work for?


留学的时候,我下飞机的第二天就去找我的指导教授。我的指导教授是John Hopkins 毕业的,在贝尔实验室作过科学家,后来来到大学任教,很年轻就当了正教授,后来又当了系主任,人到中年的时候,离开大学,自己创业,几年以后以失败告终,然后又回大学任教。





Go and make some real money!这就是他给我的人生指南。



2、要排开经济的压力,吃喝不愁,衣食无忧的人才能搞研究。美国的大学的终身教(tenure)系统,基本就是这个理论。首先一个新科博士(fresh minted PhD)要经过5年的磨练,然后评选终身教授,一旦通过,一辈子就可以无饭碗的忧虑,可以一心一意地搞研究。当然学校也知道:这些终身教授里面绝大多数人是没有什么研究的潜力的。也搞不出什么东西来,就是一些实验室的苦力。不过,只要千千万万终身教授中有几个真有天分的人,加上良好的经济条件,自然可以搞出些东西来。

再举一个例子。70年代的时候复印机行业的老大Xerox担心电脑的兴起,会使得复印机的市场变小,如果大家都用电脑交换信息,当然就没有人买复印机。所以Xerox在Polo Alto建立了一个实验室,请了50-60个世界顶级电脑科学家,排除一切外界的干扰(包括财务的压力),让他们自由的发挥自己的想象,创造未来能够领导人类的科技,当时的发明有:

1、UI图形界面;2、以太网;3、object-oriented programming (不知中文如何说)。




贝尔bei4er3 (name)Bell
实验室shi2yan4shi4 laboratory
任教ren4jiao4 to be a teacher
系主任xi4zhu3ren4 dean
创业chuang4ye4 begin an undertaking, carve out a career, start a major task
告终gao4zhong1 to end up
毕恭毕敬bi4gong1bi4jing1(also必恭必敬) very reverent and respectful, extremely deferential
方向fang1xiang4 direction, orientation
以便yi3bian4 so that, so as to, in order to
大量da3liang to size up
富翁fu4weng1 millionaire, rich guy
助研zhu4yan2 short for assistant research fellow
铺盖pu1gai bedding, bedclothes pu1gai4 bedcover
根本gen1ben3 simply, fundamental
廉价lian2jia4 cheap
劳工lao2gong1 labor
不得不bu4de2bu4 have no choice but to, cannot but, have to, can’t help it, can’t avoid
天赋tian1fu talent, gift; V to be innate
任劳任怨ren4lao2ren4yuan4 to work hard despite other people’s criticism
苦力ku3li4 “coolie”, an underpaid worker
经费jing1fei4 funds, expenditure
资助zi1zhu4 to provide financial aid, to subsidize
学位xue2wei4 academic degree
典礼dian3li3 celebration
感激gan3ji1 to appreciate
讲究jiang3jiu4 to pay particular attention to; adj exquisite, aesthetic
一日为师,终生为父yi2ri4wei2shi1, zhong1sheng1wei2fu4 “A good teacher don’t just teach, but also acts as a good father figure.”
终生zhong1sheng1 one’s whole life
看望kan4wang4 to visit, to pay a call
人生ren2sheng1 life
真谛zhen1di4 real, true, genuine
指点zhi3dian3 to show how, to give directions
指南zhi3nan2 to guide
逐渐zhu2jian4 gradually
到底dao4di3 when all is said and done, finally, in the end
赞赏zan4shang3 to admire
钻研zuan1yan2 to study intensively
系统xi4tong3 system
基本ji1ben3 basic
理论li3lun4 theory
磨练(磨炼)mo2lian4 to steel oneself, to temper oneself, to put oneself through the mill
评选ping2xuan3 to choose
终身zhong1shen1 life-long, tenure
忧虑you1lv4 worry
一心一意yi1xin1yi1yi4 intently, wholeheartedly
一心yi1xin1 wholehearted
绝大多数jue2da4duo1shu4 the overwhelming majority
潜力qian2li4 potential
行业hang2ye4 industry
老大lao3da4 head, very
交换信息jiao1huan4xin4xi1 exchange message
交换jiao1huan4 to exchange
信息xin4xi1 information news message
顶级ding3ji2 top level
排除pai2chu2 to remove
外界wai4jie4 outside world
干扰gan1rao3 interfere, obstruction
财务cai2wu4 financial affairs
创造chuang4zao4 to create
UI图形界面 tu2xing2jie4mian4 graphical interface
划时代hua4shi2dai4 epoch making, trend setting
奠定dian4ding4 to establish, fix, settle
进城jin4cheng2 process, course
录取lu4qu3 to recruit, to enroll
到达dao4da2 to arrive
年复一年nian2xia4yi1nian2 year after year
盼望pan4wang4 to hope for, to look forward to
其中qi2zhong1 among, in
除此以外chu2ci3yi3wai4 in addition to this
关键guan1jian4 crucial, pivotal, key
奔波ben1bo1 rush about, to be busy running about
绝对数量jue2dui4shu4liang4 absolute amount
单一dan1yi1 single
量度liang2du4 measure
认定ren4ding4 firmly believe, set one’s mind on
通常tong1chang2 normal


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