Back on 1 Ramadhan, 1438.


I want a PhD: Part 4 – Best laid plans…

Kadang-kadang rancangan kita pada mulanya memang hebat. Terperinci, dan lengkap serta mendapat endorsement dari supervisor kita. Tetapi kita hanya perancang, bukan penentu.

Tidak semua yang tidak berjaya menyiapkan PhD dalam masa yang ditetapkan itu, pelajar yang lemah, tidak berkualiti atau tidak fokus dan suka membuang masa. Jangan terlalu mudah tuduh pelajar yang lambat siap itu, kaki melancong atau tidak tekun.

Bayangkan, anda telah dua tahun di dalam makmal menjalankan eksperimen anda, dan suatu insiden ‘freak of nature’ seperti ribut yang mematikan bekalan letrik ke makmal memusnahkan bahan eksperimen anda.

Atau sesuatu yang tidak seberapa dramatik:

  • bahan yang anda perlukan untuk eksperimen lambat sampai.
  • Peralatan tidak cukup.
  • Funding project ditarik balik.
  • Supervisor anda sakit tenat atau meninggal dunia atau bunuh diri.
  • Orang lain telah menemui sesuatu yang menyebabkan kajian anda tidak lagi relevant.

Jangan terlalu kerap membandingkan diri anda dengan rakan-rakan lain. Ya, perlu ada muhasabah diri dari masa ke semasa, tetapi apabila terlalu ‘membandingkan’ diri, kelak menambah tekanan yang tidak perlu. Percayalah, tekanan membuat PhD sudah cukup berat tanpa perlu menokok-nambah lagi.Kadang-kadang kita nampak seperti perjalanan kawan-kawan kita senang, tetapi kita tidak dapat menyelami derita dia yang lain.

Jangan terlalu berbanding kerana perjalanan PhD masing-masing berbeza. Ada yang enjin awal tersangkut-sangkut tapi lancar kemudian; ada yang nampak lancar pada mulanya tetapi enjin rosak di tengah jalan.

Anything can happen. Kita boleh berdoa, memohon semuanya baik-baik belaka. Tetapi kalau berlaku juga, inilah yang dinamakan dugaan, kan? Ujian yang Esa untuk hambaNya? Atau bagaimana?

Rakan saya semasa PhD yang dikatakan paling cemerlang antara kami, ketika vivanya terjumpa satu kekurangan yang tidak terlintas oleh dirinya atau supervisornya (whom, I might add, is a renowned specialist in the field) – lantas dia perlu membuat major correction dan resubmit. Bayangkan perasaan beliau.

Kalau anda dapat siapkan dalam masa yang ditetapkan, itu rezeki yang patut disyukuri. Kalau tidak, tidak bermakna anda tidak berjaya. Percayalah, segulung ijazah Phd itu sendiri suatu kejayaan, dan jangan jadikan benchmark orang lain sebagai pengukur perjalanan peribadi anda. You don’t need to justify this to anyone. Not even your funders.

I Want a PhD: Mukadimmah

Saya tidak percaya pada formula. Formula memberikan kita satu false sense of security yang, kalau kita plug in the right elements, kita akan mendapat jawapan yang betul, atau kita akan dapat apa yang kita kehendaki. Kita lupa bahawa apa-apa formula itu pada asasnya berdiri dengan suatu set of assumptions that must hold for it to work. Dan jika terlerai assumptions tersebut, maka formula itu tidak akan memberikan suatu hasil yang optimum.

Jadi bagi saya tiada roadmap khusus dalam meneroka perjalanan PhD. The best we can do is look at the map of others and chart our own territory. That’s what the whole journey is about: if you merely trace the steps of others, how original is your original contribution to knowledge? So take what works for you, set aside what doesn’t, and when you’re done, share your roadmap so others can use it to chart theirs. There is no magic potion.

Melalui entry ini dan entry-entry mendatang yang mengupas topik PhD, saya ingin kongsikan adalah suatu overview atau gambaran am, berdasarkan pengalaman PhD saya sendiri serta pengalaman lebih kurang tujuh tahun membimbing pelajar PhD di mana empat (insyaAllah, lima dalam masa terdekat) sudah lulus, dalam bidang sains sosial. Saya akan menggunakan bahasa Melayu dan bahasa Inggeris, kerapkali interchangeably kerana saya berfikir begini dan kalau anda bersembang dengan saya, begini jugalah gaya saya berbicara.

Entry-entry awal ini bercorak lebih am dan membincangkan perkara-perkara tidak terlalu teknikal. Hasrat saya, jika masa dan kekangan lain mengizinkan, ialah untuk berkongsi pengalaman sebagai pelajar dan penyelia PhD, serta kaedah yang saya pelajari atau isu yang dibangkitkan dari masa ke semasa dalam dunia akademik, khususnya dalam bidang pengajian PhD.

Saya menjemput anda berbincang dan berbahas – I am not expecting agreement in everything and I am ready to be corrected, where wrong. Permohonan saya satu: that it is done in a civilised and intellectual manner – preferably via this website rather than on social media: not so that it can be controlled but that all deliberations are recorded in one place, making it easy for material to be accessed post-hoc.


Hanya Yanigahara’s A Little Life

I like stories about friends, and what friends do for friends. That I think has got a lot to do with the way I have grown up – away from my family for the most part, so you mend and make do the heartache that comes with the territory. One of my first favourite quotes was something along the lines of, “Family are stuck with you, but friends stick around because they want to”. I think I got that from a Mills and Boon novel. (What, you didn’t think I came out of my mother’s womb reading Camus and Proust, did you?)

Yanigahara’s group of four friends – six or seven if you count Harold, Andy and Richard – hooked me because from the outset it was clear that this was about love. Not your bog-standard romantic love – although it gets to that as the story goes – but something a lot more pure: love for love’s sake. [This is where I complain about the world ‘love’ in the English language: there is only one word for it, and so confusion ensues as to what kind of love is love. The Malay language has a lot more nuance about this: splitting it into kasih, sayang and cinta. But you’ve heard that rant before].

The story revolves around Jude, an up-and-coming lawyer at the beginning of the story, assigned with a past and a backstory that many authors would only treat around the periphery. Yanighara, however, tackles the issue of child abuse head on – and none of this Dave Pelzer stuff, either. This is much rawer stuff we skirt around because it beggars belief that people would subject children to such things, and we think if we don’t talk about it then maybe it doesn’t have to exist. Fact: it does.

Jude and his three friends – JB, Malcolm and Willem – came together as a foursome through that random assignation that is college roommates. Fortunately, the principled lawyer, the aspiring artist, the conflicted architect and the jobbing actor respectively found common ground between them and this sets them up as four adults traversing the metropole of New York. Their lives intersect in different ways, but despite the fact that the main character is Jude, the main narrator switches between them and the ‘extras’ : Harold the law professor, Andy the doctor and Richard the sculptor.

Not that they fall in love with each other – two of them do, though, and another is gay as well: making Garth Greenwell  declare in The Atlantic that this was “the long-awaited gay novel”. You could see it that way: in the same way many people see Blue is the Warmest Colour to be a lesbian movie. It is, on the surface (and thanks to a gratuitious extended in-the-sack scene) but peel back only the outer layers and you start seeing that the movie is essentially a love story with a healthy dose of heartbreak: perhaps the only merit of having women as the lead characters is that I could not see a male actor deliver such heartbreak in the way women emote without even saying things.

But I digress.

Yes, I suppose the novel does try to present the lives of gay people in New York as the new normal; this however isn’t the crux of the story. That isn’t what gets you gripped through the 720-odd pages, and it isn’t what keeps you curled under the blanket on a chilly morning reading. There is a story here, and it frustrates you and it strums your heartstrings and in the end it made me believe that love is really what matters: the love for another human being you call a friend, the people you trust or who trust you enough that sometimes you don’t ask questions before the clean-up.

It was both poignant and perhaps unfortunate that I was reading this during a time when one of my close friends passed on suddenly: a friend, like me, who also called foreign lands home. The book reminded me that with some people you do everything you can, not because it makes a difference but because that’s love.

Read this book. Read it, so you can remember what it is like to feel.

Old Girl, Older City

There is this whole thing about making new changes in the new year and all that. Mine was completely incidental, and if I were to do it again, I’d never make a move in the New Year.

For pragmatic reasons, that is: it means moving to a new place in the dead of winter, over the Christmas period when working hours are limited and you are disinclined to push for anything too hard given the festive period. I’d hate to be Ebenezer to a poor Bob toiling away at Pickford’s.

And so, as many have been made aware, after nine years and three months, I have left the quaint old town of Colchester for larger, if not necessarily greener, pastures. [I don’t believe there are pastures that are greener than others: they can all be green if you water them probably].

There has been a progression in terms of size, for me: my first adult abode here was in Lancaster, which was so tiny we didn’t have a chain cinema until 2006 [which was a good thing!]; and then Colchester which was big enough to have a Debenhams but probably not a John Lewis.

Walking to work

Birmingham is a completely different kettle of fish, as I am beginning to learn. Second / third largest city in the country (depending on which side of the bed the record keepers get out of, Brummies or Mancunians live in the second or third largest city interchangeably), I am beginning to discover nice little perks of ‘city life’.

Like shops that shutat 8pm and not 5pm.
The existence of a night life revolving around culture rather than getting drunk.
Like having an airport that is 30 minutes away, and not 2 hours and 30 minutes.

And the non-perks, of course. Higher crime rates. Gun crime in the city. A bigger target on the terrorist radar – one can’t discount this, these days.

I am a tad sad at leaving a place I called home for almost a decade. But things were getting stagnant and I needed something new to stay interested. There are clear comforts of familiarity that I sorely miss. I am trying hard to balance that with the excitement of discovering the new.

And six days in, I am excited enough to restart an old, much ignored pasttime: writing. Because suddenly, there are things to write about. Stay tuned.

Rejig Rejuvenate

How many people have you seen write this entry? I am somewhat proud to say this is perhaps the first time I am doing an apology for silence piece, but also a bit ashamed to say my writing has come to this.

I initially launched this newer version of my writings to focus on telling stories. Except I sort of ran out of stories (and time) to write them. So as part filler, part exercise to keep the creative side of things well oiled, I will begin a new series of entries roughly entitled “Instorys”. (Yes I misspelled that on purpose).

I use Instagram as my default place to post pictures, because it forces me to capture moments instead of the whole experience, and it helps me be succinct. But most of these pictures have a story. So I’m going to practice writing by writing the stories that are associated with the picture.

Let’s see how long I can stick to this endeavour.
The plan? To never have to apologise for a 4 month hiatus ever again. (Or any kind of hiatus, at that).