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Oral-History:Jae Kyoon Kim

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About Jae Kyoon Kim

Jae Kyoon Kim graduated from the National Aviation College in Seoul in 1961 and received a Master’s degree from Seoul National University. He studied in the United States at the University of Southern California from 1967 to 1971 and subsequently worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for one year. In 1973, he returned to Korea to be an assistant professor at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), where he would spend the next few decades. KAIST was founded with government funding and was initially staffed with Korean engineering and science talents who, like Kim, were educated in the United States. From the onset, the emphasis was in theoretical as well as applied research. KAIST became Korea’s foremost center of strategic R&D projects. The University helped pioneer the establishment of competitive graduate school programs in Korea.

In the interview, Kim discusses his career, the development of the engineering profession and telecommunications in Korea, and what he feels to be his greatest legacy: as an educator who helped found the engineering department at KAIST.

About the Interview

Jae Kyoon Kim: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, August 26, 1996

Interview #312 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Jae Kyoon Kim, an oral history conducted in 1996 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Jae Kyoon Kim

INTERVIEWER: Andrew Goldstein

DATE: 26 August 1996

PLACE: Seoul, Korea

Career Overview and College Education

Goldstein:

Dr. Kim could you please tell me about your education?

Kim:

First I graduated from the National Aviation College in Seoul in 1961, and then after serving four years in the Air Force I started again at the Seoul National University for a Master’s degree. After that, I went to the United States where I studied at the University of Southern California from 1967 to 1971. Then I worked at the NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for one year. Since 1973 I’ve been working at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). I started as an assistant professor and associate, and now professor. I guess it’s been about twenty or twenty-three years.

Goldstein:

Can you tell me about the program at Seoul National University when you were there?

Kim:

It was from 1965 to 1967, and I studied at the department of electronics engineering for about two years.

Goldstein:

I’m sorry, where was your undergraduate?

Kim:

It was at National Aviation College from 1958 to 1961. It was very long time ago, and the education of the college wasn’t really that good. But this was a special college of civilian aeronautics. I believe there were only four departments, and so it was a very small college. There were departments of avionics, communications, aeromechanical engineering, and pilot education. As you can see they are very specific departments.

I was in the avionics department, where I learned electronics, circuit theory of vacuum tubes and transistors, and electromagnetic theory. By the way, I remember the textbook of electronics was by Professor Gray of MIT. It was a classic textbook for the beginners of the electronics. I don’t, however, remember the exact title of the text. And there was another book used at the time that was by Professor Terman of Stanford.

Goldstein:

Fundamentals of Radio Electronics?

Kim:

Yes, radio engineering, I guess. But we didn’t have enough time to go through the book, because at that time the electronic circuitry was the main part. As a consequence of this I learned much about the electronics.

Goldstein:

Did you learn about power engineering also? Or was it only electronics?

Kim:

No, only electronics. Our department wasn’t related with the power engineering, mainly electronics and circuitry, control theory, and electromagnetic field theory

Seoul National University

Kim:

Graduate study was not of mainstream in 60’s in Korea. But at Seoul National, I majored in electronic circuitry, with minors in control theory. I did my thesis about a flip-flop circuit, the one that oscillates and is of bi-stable. I analyzed some relationship between capacitance and the stability of circuit.

Goldstein:

So yours was a semiconductor circuit?

Kim:

Yes, a semiconductor circuit.

Goldstein:

Who was your advisor?

Kim:

Professor Jeong-Han Lee. He is retired now. He was one of the beginners of electronics engineering education in Korea.

Goldstein:

Did he have a textbook of his own?

Kim:

Yes, I guess. At that time, there wasn’t his textbook that I remember. Most of what we were taught came from English-written textbook. In early times, many professors of Seoul National had studied at the University of Minnesota under some special education programs.

Goldstein:

Did these programs following the war?

Kim:

Yes, I think there was some agreement between the two universities by which many professors went there. Some studied for a long time, and others just a few years. Usually they got Master's degree and returned. I think that Prof. Lee also, after having been in one of these programs, had studied further and got his doctorate degree in the U.K later on. At that time he didn’t have a doctorate degree. Any way, he was one of the first generation professors in Korea.

Postgraduate Expectations

Goldstein:

What did you expect your careers would be? Did you think you would work for companies, or for the government?

Kim:

At that time, most college graduates worked as public employees or in some small companies. Some ventured to study overseas, mostly to the U.S.

Goldstein:

For further study, but did they expect to come back to Korea?

Kim:

Yes. Most of them returned, but there are some still there. After getting the education, they mostly expected to work in some government-type job.

Goldstein:

Many people I’ve talked to worked for Korea Telecom or KBS.

Kim:

Right, KBS. At that time there wasn’t Korea Telecom. There was, though, a public telecommunication operation under Ministry of Communications. These two were the main places for electronics engineers to go at that time. Only broadcasting, government jobs, and military services were the main places for graduates. I remember there were also some special communication facilities operated by the U.S. Army and Air Force. They needed local engineers for operation and maintenance.

Goldstein:

So the US. Army communication facilities had arrangements with local contractors for maintenance services?

Kim:

I guess so. They, therefore, employed local engineers. In the early ‘60s many people worked there.

Goldstein:

Do you remember names of any of the companies?

Kim:

I don’t remember the names. But I remember that Collins radio relay equipments were popular name for the communication facilities. I remember some of my colleagues worked there for some time.

Goldstein:

Was it unusual for you to be able to go to the Aeronautical Institute, or Seoul National University? Was it hard to go to college there?

Kim:

Yes. Seoul National was the best place to go. But this Aeronautical where I enrolled had some special privileges. There was no tuition, and they waived the mandatory military service for registered students. After finishing college, I went into the Air Force as a part of my military service as an officer after training for four months. And after finishing this service, I enrolled at the graduate school of Seoul National.

University of Southern California

Goldstein:

After Seoul, then you went to USC?

Kim:

Yes.

Goldstein:

What were your plans then?

Kim:

I wanted to get a doctorate degree and to return to Korea. At USC I learned about statistical communication theory. I was there from ‘67 to ’71, doing statistical communication theory and information theory, all these things were new. After obtaining my degree, I stayed to get more experience. There was a post-doctoral program offered at NASA, GSFC, and one year later I was offered a job here at KAIST. I was also offered a position at Seoul National and at the Korea University.

KAIST

Goldstein:

The schools were eager to bring in trained faculty?

Kim:

Yes, they were looking for fresh faculty members. At the time it was good for the new graduates. So I chose KAIST because it was new. It was called KAIS (Korea Advanced Institute of Science) in 70’s. They really pioneered the graduate level education in Korea. Until that time, few Koreans seriously pursued graduate study in Korea.

KAIST was a very special institution. It’s called an Institute, but it was a newly founded graduate school to educate high –quality engineers and scientists. We had several Departments in Engineering and Applied Science urgently needed for the development of Korean economy. This was the specific objective of this institution.

Goldstein:

Was it part of a development plan?

Kim:

Yes. I think so. There was a special fund to build a new school that was available by a USAID loan to Korea. I guess it was around $7 million.. On paper, KAIST was established in ‘71, but classes opened in ‘73. So, I was just in time for the first class.

Goldstein:

You were one of the first faculty?

Kim:

Yes.

Goldstein:

How big was the department?

Kim:

At the beginning there were four faculty members in the electrical engineering department. So I was one of these four. Presently, one of the original four is retired, and two are still in the department. The other one was Dr. Keun-mo Chung who was one of the founders of KAIST. He is pretty prominent person. He received a degree from Michigan State University, and he was a professor of electro-physics at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in New York before coming to KAIST. He was very active in many positions. Very recently, just last month, he became the Minister of Science and Technology. Anyway, he left in a few years after founding KAIST.

As I told you, KAIST had two objectives. One was to train and to educate very highly qualified engineers. The other one was to upgrade graduate education in Korea. Also it offered the students a big advantage of military service exemption. In Korea the military service is a very big issue to young people. But till mid 80’s, KAIST students took only one month military training instead of full Service.

Goldstein:

At KAIST, you mean?

Kim:

Yes. The off-campus training was very hard, and the education program was also very rigorous. KAIST had graduate students only, and there were no undergraduates. And then from ‘76, I guess, the doctor degree programs started. We educated many good students, and they became exemplary engineers in the industry. We were very proud of these results.

Prominent KAIST Alumni

Goldstein:

Who are some of the most well known and successful engineers in Korea from KAIST?

Kim:

In electrical engineering and computer science there are two persons I can think of. One is Dr. Bum-chon Lee , and he was the chairman of QNIX, a computer and software company.

Goldstein:

Is that a Korean corporation?

Kim:

Yes. He started QNIX. He is a first year class graduate of KAIST. The other one is Dr. Min-Wha Lee. He was a very particular person. He was a so-called visionary man. This person is a fourth year class graduate of KAIST. He started a company called Medison that became very successful. They manufactured ultrasound diagnostic systems.

The system was really started with a research project at our department, where he was one of the students working on that particular project. This project was very successful, and was partially supported by government and partially by a private company. The private company didn’t take this product when it was completed, so he started his own company for this system after graduation.

Goldstein:

So it was common for people to extend their graduate work into a commercial enterprise?

Kim:

Yes, particularly in our university. Because one of the specific objectives of KAIST was to help economic development of Korea. Also, there were many graduates who went to other universities as faculty members in Korea after graduation. Because we were the first institution that produced well trained graduates in science and engineering. Particularly for the first ten years and so, we had got many good people to study and to work in many places in Korea.

KAIST Organization and Curriculum

Goldstein:

Tell me what the program at KAIST was like?

Kim:

In 1973, KAIST started with seven departments of about thirty selective faculty members and about one hundred bright students in applied science and engineering. It grew fast both in faculty and student body over the years.

Goldstein:

In the electrical engineering, what were the courses like?

Kim:

The courses have been similar to the ones in most graduate schools in the U.S. In late 80’s, the faculty of electrical engineering had grown to about twenty. There have been five education and research fields in the department. The one which I belong to is communication and signal processing. Others are radio and optical wave, semiconductor, control and power electronics, and systems and computer engineering field. There is also another department of computer science at KAIST. I believe we are one of top departments in Korea.

Goldstein:

Were there any specific models that you tried to follow when designing the program at KAIST?

Kim:

Most of the faculty members have had United States education, and so it has much influence on us. But we didn’t use just one U.S. school as a model, we tried to incorporate as much as we could. Then in 1991, the main campus of KAIST was moved to Daejeon, a city of about 160 km south of Seoul, to merge with another newly founded undergraduate college called KIT (Korea Institute of Technology). Since then, KAIST has full programs of education from B.S., M.S., to Ph.D. program in natural science and engineering.

Goldstein:

When you moved to Daejeon, was one of the goals to expand or to de-centralize education away from Seoul?

Kim:

Yes, that’s one of the main reasons. Seoul was too crowded. Therefore to reduce the concentration, the education and the government institutes needed to be spread out. The other reason was we wanted to expand the education program to a larger size. We have now a total of about 6,000 or 7,000 students from undergraduate to graduate. For our department there are about 300 undergraduates. For graduate programs, we have about 200 in M.S., and 300 students in the Ph.D. program.

Education and Research at KAIST

Goldstein:

Who are some of the students at KAIST?

Kim:

I think I have contributed to education of bright young people. I have had supervised about twenty Ph.D.’s, and about one hundred Master’s degree students, most of whom work in Korea, but some are in the U.S. I think there are a few who became professors in the United States.

Goldstein:

Now you said that you feel like one of your greatest contributions had been in the training of your students. I wonder whether you had to make a deliberate choice between your own research and providing training?

Kim:

I tried to do the original research, but original research was not easy for beginners. The next choice was to make some modifications for improvement in the environment of limited resource and time. This was also a part of training students for research and development. It results into some improvement of the existing systems.

Goldstein:

Have the faculty and students at KAIST been able to make improvements of that kind from the beginning, or was there some period where they had to build up the strength of their research?

Kim:

Yes, in the early stage they generally do paper works.

Goldstein:

Theoretical?

Kim:

Theoretical yes, but later on they do more practical applications. I think that’s the general trend.

Goldstein:

The pattern in industry had been to work to localize production of certain technologies, and only then to extend the technology through original research and development. And I wonder if there’s an analogous pattern in the education.

Kim:

Yes. For the industry, usually when they want to start a new product, they do start in two ways. One is by their original R & D work, and the other one is that they start production by a manufacturing license, after making some first stage products. And then they want to improve this product. They then often ask universities or research institutes to improve it. I think this will be more or less similar in other countries.

In Korea the electronic industry is pretty strong, but there are still many weak points. The competitive areas are in memory chips and consumer electronics due to the well educated young engineers and government support. I think the government helped making big companies at the early stages of Korean economic and industrial development. They helped make the companies be competitive. A good example was President Park.

Goldstein:

What things did Park do to help?

Kim:

He helped make big companies by offering government subsidy in import and export businesses in 60’s and 70’s.

Relationship to Industry and Government

Goldstein:

You mentioned some of the different departments at KAIST, and I wonder what’s the system for dividing up resources between the different departments? How is it that one department becomes strong and one less strong?

Kim:

I think the main factor is the demand: the demand of the engineers, the demand of the graduates.

Goldstein:

The students’ interests are considered then?

Kim:

Yes, and also the demand from industry.

Goldstein:

Do you mean demand for a product, like for instance semiconductors, which are now big?

Kim:

Yes, semiconductors, and the telecommunication area too. Our department is the biggest department at KAIST, and the demand from industry is bigger than the other areas. Our department has traditionally emphasized on basic courses and experiment course in M.S. degree program. This has helped students in other areas beside their specialization. Usually when one works in companies, it involves working in different subjects also. Therefore one needs to be versatile.

Goldstein:

Can you tell me something about the relationship between academic institutions, such as yourself, and industry, or the military, or government? What are the features of those relationships?

Kim:

In Korea the Ministry of Education supports universities. Our university is the only one supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology. It’s somewhat unusual. We therefore received more financial support than the other universities in Korea, and are consequently more influenced by government policy. So sometimes we are required to have more graduates in particular areas. For example, in late 1970’s, there was a strong demand for systems engineering. Then new special programs were set up to meet the new needs. But these special programs usually do not last long.

Project Proposal Process

Goldstein:

Earlier you gave as an example the project to develop ultrasound imaging equipment. How does a project like that get started, and how is it sustained?

Kim:

There are national research programs that the professors can apply for.

Goldstein:

Do the proposals go to the Ministry of Science and Technology?

Kim:

Yes, it goes to the coordinating offices in the Ministry, where it is screened in competition with other proposals.

Goldstein:

Is it a peer review system?

Kim:

Yes, in two ways. There are committees, and committee members are from universities, research organizations and industry. Committees review these things and make a choice. The ultrasound imaging system was one of these projects, but sometimes government may have some more specific directions. After all the evaluations, the coordinators make their choices.

Goldstein:

This general direction that the government decides, is that a political process, or is it scientific?

Kim:

It’s both political and scientific.

Goldstein:

Is the government effective in deciding the directions?

Kim:

Yes. Sometimes they distribute questionnaires to people in universities and industry, and they ask them what they think about on various items. From these information and other reports, they select the directions for R & D. I think it’s very much scientific.

Goldstein:

In process like this Americans would be concerned about who does the screening, and how much weight they give to the different participants. We would be worried about the unequal influence. Is that a concern in Korea?

Kim:

Well, some people may have more points, but I don’t think it is so noticeable. What makes it fair is that there are so many people, and the results are averaged. Also the coordinators have the responsibility of balanced decisions.

Pedagogy

Goldstein:

I wonder if there have been different theories of education that have become popular during your time as an educator?

Kim:

That’s a very difficult question. There have been at least two themes in education. One is to make creative persons doing some basic research. The other one is to have the student make practical things, to be more of a generalist, so they can do work not only as a scientist, but can work on managerial jobs also. In our department both opinions are allowed. That causes arguments about which one is better.

Today in KAIST, there is a stronger voice for basic research to do more original works. But I think it’s better to work on applied science and engineering. I don’t think we need to concentrate on the basic things, maybe a combination of applications and fundamentals, but not just fundamentals. As for creative work, I think, just a few very talented people are enough. In education in general I think that one cannot train or make a very creative person. A genius cannot be made; it’s just to be born.

Goldstein:

All right. Another educational, theoretical issue would be how abstract the training should be, or how hands-on it should be. Have there been different approaches?

Kim:

That depends on the professors. I usually don’t give guidelines in this respect. I just leave the students by themselves and let them find their own interests. If they have done something wrong, then I talk with them and guide with some directions. It is difficult to separate these two directions.

Goldstein:

What experiences do you like them to have in order to make the choices about their research interests?

Kim:

Well, when they come to my lectures, they know what my interests are. And after they have done some reading in courses and in journal articles, they usually form their own interests. Then I discuss it with them and guide them on how to work their issues out. I guide them to other areas for related information, to some journal or articles. That’s generally the way I do it.

Technical Journals and Societies

Goldstein:

Can you tell me about the Korean journals or conferences, about what kind of local educational publication opportunities are available?

Kim:

When you say journals you mean like the IEEE Journal?

Goldstein:

That’s right.

Kim:

I think IEEE Journal is a very, good journal. Also, I am a member of IEEE since I believe 1970. The IEEE Journal is very good for publishing and getting information. Until ‘70s or ‘80s, however, Koreans preferred reading local technical journals. There are a few technical societies and each makes their own journal. The publications that came out of these journals were not very good, because they were publishing just to publish. The universities require publications. I don’t know how much of these are read by the other people. But still, by having so many people publish, the domestic journals are being improved.

Goldstein:

You’re afraid it’s become diluted?

Kim:

Yes.

Goldstein:

It sounds like you’re saying that in the earlier days there was a strong selection — that people preferred the publishing in the Korean journals, but now they’re moving towards publishing in IEEE journals or international journals?

Kim:

That’s true also. Because of so-called internationalization they like to publish in the international journals. The emphasis has therefore shifted to this.

Goldstein:

What were some of the important Korean journals?

Kim:

In Korea there are three major journals in electronics and computer science. One is the journal of IEEK, the Institute of Electronics Engineers of Korea.

Goldstein:

When did that get started?

Kim:

About fifty years ago. The other one is by KICS, Korea Information and Communication Society, which is about twenty-five years old. Finally there is a journal by KISS, Korea Information Science Society of also about twenty-five years. I happened to serve as president of KICS for two years from1993 to 1994. This Society has a good relationship with the Ministry of Communications. At that time the Ministry had strong interests in the area of radio engineering, mobile communication, and PCS (personal communication system). These were very much emphasized by the Ministry, and the Society provided good forums to discuss on these subjects.

Development of Telecommunications

Goldstein:

That’s interesting. You’ve said several things that give me the feeling that there have been some important decisions made which have shaped the direction of the Korean electrical industries. For instance, you say that some areas are stronger than other area like semiconductors. Now there is a strong interest in PCS. Can you say more about how those patterns arise?

Kim:

The semiconductor case, I think, was a decision made by the industry. I mean, the industry people know better than government which direction they can make good business. They have their own surveys, and they explain their ideas to the government. But for large scale telecommunication systems, it is more difficult due to the complexity of technology and limited markets. The development of electronic switching systems and telephone networks was one of the successful stories in 80’s. There was an engineer Minister who was instrumental in a large scale development project and then to manufacturing.

Goldstein:

What was he the minister of?

Kim:

He was Dr. Myung Oh. He’s a very interesting person. You should meet him. He is now the president of a prominent newspaper company, DongA Ilbo. “Ilbo” means daily newspaper. He is a graduate of the military academy. For some time the graduates of the military academy were very influential in Korea. He was the Vice Minister and then Minister of the Ministry of Communications.

Goldstein:

Yes. You were saying that he did something in the early ‘80s? Did he call for industry to do research in electronics?

Kim:

Yes, at first to the research institute. There was a very influential research institute called ETRI. Have you heard that?

Goldstein:

Sure.

Kim:

ETRI is a big research organization for electronics and telecommunications in Korea. This organization successfully developed electronic switching systems by his support in early 80’s. Korea had been weak in radio communications, because radio communication activities had been very restricted by national security reasons. This was due to the problems between North and South Korea. Nowadays radio communications is open. But the technical foundation was rather weak, and so the Ministry had been emphasizing the importance of radio engineering to professors and the universities. They even offered support for making special departments toward this end. This was to make more engineers in this area.

Goldstein:

Was there greater pressure to begin to commercialize these technologies?

Kim:

Yes. Since 1980 the society has become more open. The tension between North and South was not changed that much, but I guess South Korea became more confident and didn’t care much about radio leaking anymore. Also the commercial demand was strong.

Goldstein:

Were there conservative people who resisted becoming more relaxed about radio communications? Was anyone in the military or anyone else uncomfortable with becoming more open?

Kim:

I don’t know the details. They had been very careful about radio communications. Even the walkie-talkies used at construction sites were limited because of these fears. But those fears had been disappeared somehow in 90’s.

Goldstein:

And do you think that’s because the President was not from the military?

Kim:

Maybe so. You know, until 1980, there was a curfew in this country. I mean, all the streets were closed at 12 o’clock midnight.

Goldstein:

In America, when the military de-mobilizes and things relax, there are always some people who protest loudly. They say it’s a big mistake. Did that happen in Korea?

Kim:

I don’t think that there was that much argument about opening radio communications.

Shortages of Engineers

Goldstein:

I was also wondering, with so much emphasis on these electronics industries, does Korea have trouble training electrical engineers in power or transportation systems? Is that an issue?

Kim:

You mean some shortage of engineers? No, I’d say there are two areas of shortage. One is in mobile communications.

Goldstein:

Because of the late start?

Kim:

Yes, late start in the system design field of radio communications. The system design and optimization of mobile communication system is one area. The other one is of the system design for the semiconductor chips. They do make these memory chips, but they are very weak in processor chips. I think these two are the areas of shortages. These two areas are much emphasized nowadays. When the times change there are always some areas where is more demand than available.

Personal Impact on Education

Goldstein:

We’ve gone a little more than an hour. I’m happy to keep talking, but I don’t want to keep you here. Do you want to wrap it up?

Kim:

Yes. You asked about my personal career with respect to the electrical engineering or technology of Korea. As I said, I think my major contribution was on the education of young engineers. I was one of the first who started the courses like statistical and digital communication theory and information theory, and of course, about digital communications. But now there are many professors and engineers working in this area.

Goldstein:

Was it ever a struggle to start courses in those fields, either to get students interested, or get institutional support?

Kim:

No, there wasn’t difficulty. As I told you, our Institute started like a new one. So everything was new, and I started whatever I like.

Goldstein:

Really, you were given that freedom?

Kim:

Yes. It wasn’t difficult. And it was a new and important area, so there were always students to take courses. I am proud of the fact that KAIST has produced, in the last twenty years, about forty percent of domestic doctorates in natural science and engineering in Korea. Certainly in the future it will be different because there are many other universities providing good graduate education. We hope to be one of the top-rated universities in the world in the near future. But it seems quite difficult. Nowadays we are emphasizing more about the basic research to contribute to the science and engineering. But it may take some time.

Goldstein:

Do the people at KAIST feel like their goal is to contribute to Korean talent in engineering, or to the basic knowledge of mankind?

Kim:

We think also about what can be of benefit to mankind, but it’s not easy. Our university, as the other universities, tries to get students from other countries. We have some visitors and some post-doctorate students, but in the future we will try to have students from other countries. That may be for the next generation. Remember that KAIST is just one generation old. In the next generation we will try to do more with other countries. I hope that would be successful, but I don’t know.