Monday, November 22, 2010

What I learn from 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: The process of looking for Mr Right(eous)'.

At 22 years of age, the question of marriage began to arise in front of my eyes. Seeing my friends having boyfriends, getting engaged and I even attended and took part in the preparation of some of my friends weddings in the UK (Jannah & Nurman's, Neri & Jas', Sameena & Hubby's), it made the question of marriage, or at least, finding someone to get married to got bigger and bigger.

Frankly, I was clueless and had scarce experience with man, with the exception of my dad and three elder brothers. I grew up in all girls school nearly my whole life - Convent Seremban and Tunku Kurshiah College, then venturing in a nearly all-ladies TESOL course in Edinburgh University. I was seriously skeptical whether I could find Mr Right at all.

Nonetheless, I always have strong faith in Mak's advice to me, ever since I 'began to blossom'. Mak always reminded me to train and improve myself to become a good, pure and honest lady, and insha Allah in return, Allah would grant me a good, pure and honest man.

It turns out that Mak is parting her wisdom based on Allah's unambiguous advise;

'Women of impure are for men of impure, and men of impure are for women of empure; 
and women of purity are for men of purity and men of purity are for women of purity'

With my extraordinary wise Mak, Zawiah bt Budin.

Mak also reminded me a few times to find someone compatible before coming back to Malaysia for good. She said that from her observations of the community, it was difficult for ladies to find a compatible partner (and when she says compatible, it means, Muslim, God fearing, single, matured, suitable mental and physical well-being, pleasant; to name a few). For her, finding a husband who has the same academic background, which was studying abroad, would be important for me since both of us had shared the common, or similar experiences, and the man would not feel intimidated of me.

Phew, this was a HUGE assignment! I had a year to complete it... and for me, it seemed to be like an episode of Mission Impossible, with Tom Cruise as the lead actor. (Emmm, having Tom Cruise look alike as a husband would be nice, eh?)

But how Mak? Would there be a secret recipe to find Mr Right? Or would there be a copy of Finding a Husband: Book for Dummies, in the library? 

Mak wisely replied, 'You'll know it, and you'll just do it..' 


'The first thing that needs to be done is self-improvement. Remember Allah's promise, 'women of purity are for men of purity and men of purity are for women of purity,'' Mak repeated herself. 

And I soon discovered that at that age, when I was still single, I could do lots of things to improve myself, in order for me to 'design' myself as a better muslimah of good strong spiritual uprightness. And that was the first step of the process of looking for Mr Right. Not looking out, but looking into myself.

I have a strong believe that nothing builds a home better than faith and trust. Faith in Allah on one hand, and trust to the partner on the other. My submission is plainly based on Allah's promise in verse 26 of Surah AnNuur.

'Women of impure are for men of impure, and men of impure are for women of empure; 
and women of purity are for men of purity and men of purity are for women of purity'

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What I learn from 'PhD illness'.

When I read, read, read and read journal articles, it came to a point when I asked myself, what am I reading? Why am I reviewing? When should I stop? And when these questions started popping out in your mind, I knew that I'm starting to loose focus, I'm starting to loose interest.

Then, I would find 'other' more interesting stuff, which range from facebooking, ebay/online/window/virtual/pasar payang shopping, playing games, scrapbooking, no-objective-online-browsing, HBO, TLC, Diva Universal, and even shifting my concentration and energy in a  sudden interest in cooking and new recipes.

Surely, at the end of the day, I'd suffer the 'non-guilt-free sleep' syndrome. Yikes!!

Cure needed!
I needed to find a cure. So, I arranged for a special appointment with my SV and told him about my disease, well he's a Dr afterall! To my amazement, he said that this is a common illness for full time PhD students.

And so, we came to an agreement that I needed (and still need) to keep focus by not reading off track. Off track in this context can mean too much, or too little reading. So, he told me to start compiling my reviews in an article format. This means, I have to limit my review on a sub-topic only up to 15-18 pages, including the reference. 15 page?! Gosh.. that's alot!

But then, I think my SV read my mind (and wrinkled face), and he said, 'Hello Azza, your first few parts will be your abstract and your intro, which will be your background of studies. You've got them already from your proposal! Just reshape your reviews and put them into a theoretical review! Please bring it to my table in a week.'

A week?!! Biar benar?!

Puzzle pieces.
I thought it'll be hard, but hey, I was wrong! Remember in the third lesson from the previous entry that I told you all the 'wrong' reviews will build up to be the 'right' one? This was the 'a-ha' moment for me, putting all the tiny jigsaw pieces into the right places in the research puzzle.

During my next appointment, I bravely showed my SV my first draft on my first ever attempt in writing an article. He nodded, then he shook his head, and some more nods.

The verdict.
He told me that it was a 'marketable' article (being an editor of an international journal himself, I have to admit I was very pleased) BUT I needed to refine my academic writing style and flow of writing. And so, he gave me a private tutoring on how to create a good journal. Then, he sent me back to my work station and asked me to meet him again after lunch, where he wanted to read my second draft.

In less then 3 hours, I managed to produce a second draft, yes, I was shocked I could manage to do that in a short amount of time (but I think I managed well because I did not change my window browser at all during that time!).

The issue of co-write or solo author.
During the second meeting in regards of my first ever journal article, my SV asked me frankly whether I wanted to co-write with him or publish this article on my own. I gave him a truthful answer, which I have thought about during the AirAsia flight from KT-KL earlier in the morning, that I wanted to co-write with him.

  1. Surely my SV has more publications=experiences in writing journal articles. When he agrees to co-write, it means that he can help me reword and edit my amateur version.
  2. His name could ring a bell to another international journal editor, so it'll be easier for the article to be accepted (I think).
  3. It'll be a win-win situation for both of us. Not only my SV will be credited for another journal article, but I also have a publication, too! 
  4. Furthermore, the article would be edited and refined by both my SV and the editor of the journal, hence, I could easily cut and paste it without doubt into my thesis! Cool eh?! Super cool!
I think these are more than enough reasons to co-write.

And so, both of us had corrected and refined the article until the 6th draft before I boldly sent it to an international journal editor! And it was accepted with 2 more corrections!! Alhamdulillah!

And now, I have submitted another article in an international journal, but there is no reply just yet, and working on my third one. The reason I want to write on this was not to boast, astaghfirullah, but to share that there is a cure out there for the PhD illnesses!

You'll enjoy doing something when you have a reward instore for you. It's a basic Affective theory in education. It's a basic theory of life.

'Many learners want to succeed. They are capable of suceeding: 
they are simply lack the belief (and effort) to do so." Jensen, The Learning Brain (1994)



Monday, November 8, 2010

What I learn from ‘Al Hidayah’s Merit Certificate’.

In Al Hidayah Islamic School, Bentley, WA, my class consisted of a good mixture of genders, nationalities, first languages, and of course, different level of learning abilities. The year 3 students were at a super active age, who loves to try and learn; and I had a marvelous time creating and improving lessons to feed these thirsty young minds.

Al Hidayah beliefs in the philosophy that all learners need to achieve success on a regular basis and such achievements must be recognized and celebrated. Every Friday, the class and religious studies teachers will have the opportunity to award students with merit certificates. The ‘merit’ was not only applied to excellence in assignments or tests, it also applies to the fantastic behavior (adaab) in class, as well as honoring their progress in learning. I learn that a wonderful climate of achievement can be fostered using this method. Al Hidayah celebrates all students, not just the ‘more intellectually capable’ ones. And I love that philosophy.

Some of the examples of Merit Certificates.
I got them from here.

What I learn from the philosophy of setting a wonderful climate of achievement were, as teachers as well as parents, we should:

  1. Show optimism;
  2. Demonstrate positive expectations to young people;
  3. Emphasise success and potential rather than failings and shortcomings;
  4. Stress the value of effort, persistence and the learning process;
  5. View mistakes as opportunities for learning;
  6. Ensure our judgement and assessment should focus more on the differences between past and present performance, so then the improvement(s) can be seen.
  7. Celebrate each success, however small it is, so young people know that they’ll be acknowledged by doing good deeds, even it’s so minute.
  8. Understand that all children are born with potential, and we cannot be sure of the learning limits of any child. Hence, shower them with as many learning opportunities as we can.
From the short 2 years I worked in Al Hidayah, I saw considerable evidence to show that when teachers and parents have high expectations of children, they will usually achieve greater success in their learning, and vice-versa. The high expectations should always be accompanied with motivations, support, positive encouragement (and re-encouragement), patience and of course, lots of TLC (tender loving care). Teachers and parents can dramatically influence young people’s attitudes to learning.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

What I learn from ‘the intelligent process of cut & paste’.

Plagiarism? Of course not! The key word of the title above is intelligent.

In writing and reviewing various journal articles, I found that some articles were more ‘reader friendly’ than others. When, I analysed them, I discovered that these researchers have the flair of language which made the articles more comprehensible and lucid. I want to be like them, too!

So, that’s when I learned to use the intelligent process of cut & paste. This process involves;

  1. Scanning for intelligently thought and wonderfully constructed sentences in any articles
  2. Strip all the content
  3. Leave only the grammatical constructs.
This process will leave you with fantastic argumentative statements/structures that you have ‘worked so hard for’.

Listed below are some of the examples:

  1. The study builds on and contributes to work in                            In recent years,                              have gained more attention for a number of reasons.
    Different studies have also proven the importance of                      . They investigate the characteristics of                                      
    The recent development of                         could be used to provide                            .
    Some researchers think that                            , while others believe                             .
  2. There is no empirical research that compared                           . Hence, more research is needed on                                 .
  3. A review of the literature shows the need to evaluate                          .
  4. There is also the need to find out if                              .
  5. Although studies                             have examined                    , there has not been a                       .
  6. As such, this study provides additional insight into                                .
  7. The analytic focus on                         enables another contribution.
  8. Although numerous studies (                ) have identified                         , little analytic attention has been paid to                             .
  9. The study addresses this issue by demonstrating                                 .
  10. Although it was a decade ago that                                       made this observation, it has a timeless quality and is applicable to our present generation.
  11. A considerable body of research exists which illustrates the significant relationship between                           and                                          .
  12. It is important to avoid the tendency to over generalize                                .
  13. Indeed, such information should, to some extent, determine                            .
  14. In spite of great strides made regarding U     , many still have difficulty                                 .
  15. The suggestions offered in this article are but a few of the strategies                     might utilize to ensure                                     .
  16. This paper addresses the following questions:                         ;                         ; and                        .
  17. The majority of study on                           has focused                              .  On the other hand, this study concentrates on                                    .
  18. An attempt will be made to link                            to                             , with the aim of                     .
  19. A study of literature indicated that                              (                     ).
  20. Another striking attribute of the                                      is that it can also be related/differ to                                           .
  21. The question now arises as to whether                                               .
  22. Little is known about the                                              .
  23. It is often supposed that                                        . The actual influence of these                             .
  24. What has remain unclear until now are the interrelations among                                   ,                     and                           .
  25. Insight into these processes can make an important contribution to the improvement of                      .
  26. A large literature is available on the theory of                             , and a number of studies explore the                                   . Nonetheless, the literature is missing                                           .
  27. The study also examined many of the aforementioned critiques of the issues related to                       .
  28.                              was the founder of                               and influenced its spread as                                 .
  29. The current study synthesises on                                         .
  30. The development of                                       has gained momentum over the past decade.
  31. Research has resulted in the identification of                                          .
  32. A variety of factors are seen to be related to                                         .
  33. Research has shown that                                   may reflect                                      .
  34. Whilst                              has undergone extensive investigation by researchers, the role of                has not been as thoroughly researched and thus is not well understood.
  35. An extension of the debate takes the view that                                          .
  36. In recent times the debate has gained new urgency in                                           .
  37. Examining the issue of                             is important for evaluating                                          .
  38. This study seeks to examine                                 with respect to                                            .
  39. Therefore, information obtained from studying the                      can serve to inform                          .
  40. Investigating                             is critical to determining the extent to which                            .
  41. While several studies have been conducted that show                         , few have been conducted to determine                              .
  42. This study sought to identify                               . To address this issue,                                    .
  43. In pursuing this discussion, this paper defines                              as                                 .
  44. It is expected that these findings can not only inform                                , but also serve as baseline for a change for                                   .
  45. The study sought to provide in-depth information about                         . By taking this tack, it also sought to enhance                                   .
  46. These elaborations are based on theoretical considerations (            ,               ,                ,            ).
  47. This study adapted and expanded                    ‘s model to use as a framework for                    .
  48. However, to date, the number of studies with the research design of                    is limited.
  49. This paper explores aspects that enhance                                 .
I learn that these phrases do come in handy, especially on the days when the mind is pretty non-cooperative in creating cool, meaningful sentences. Please do share some of your wonderful findings of intelligent cut & paste statements. It might help others to reduce their stress of thinking of the perfect sentence!

p/s: These statements came from social sciences journal articles. I'm have not had a chance to explore the scientific journal articles (and I have no intention to do so, too! hihih.. my hands are full at the moment!)


Thursday, November 4, 2010

What I learn ‘from my 1st three months as a PhD candidate’.

I was officially a student (yet again) on the 15th of November, 2009. I’m determined to absorb all the knowledge, skills and experience, to be a better khalifah, and servant of Allah.
I realized that the journey might not be easy – especially now I’m not like the student I was during my 1st and 2nd degree, I’m now a wife and a mom: all three are full time jobs. And I also want dedicate this journey to my Abah, who always dream to have one of his children a PhD. Insha Allah, after his son-in-law, his daughter will grasp a PhD scroll, too. Aamin.

The first lesson I learned was to set the research objectives (ROs) and research questions (RQs) during the first 2-3 meetings with the supervisor(s). Some supervisors (SV) might ask you to take your time and settle down, but for me, it’s wise to set your objectives and missions (at least for the next 3 years of your life!) earlier on in order to organize your thoughts and emotions. Yes, PhD is not just about your cognitive-self, it’s very much about your emotions, too!

What I did with my seven ROs and RQs was to print them big and huge, with bold fonts on the keywords, and fix it on my notice board. This helps me to keep focus on the keywords that I need to find during the ‘journal-hunting’ pursuit.

The second lesson is to be organized on the journal-hunting pursuit. Don’t kill yourself with books just yet, please use journal articles that aged between 1 to 5 years only to survive this long, uphill struggle;. Do keep this point in mind when skimming and scanning the articles:

Please EndNote them. Please don’t leave it for tomorrow. Please. I’ve learned my lesson for not updating my references, and I ended up wasting one whole day searching for only 3 particular articles. And do make use of your EndNotes’ ‘note’ field to insert all your bullet points above.

The third lesson is to read and review at least three articles related to your ROs and RQs, following the above system. Please don’t give up hope if you think that you have been reviewing ‘wrong’ articles and you haven’t found the ‘right’ one. Sooner or later, the building up of the ‘wrong’ reviews will help your Chapter 2 becomes ‘right’. Trust me, I’ve been through this emotional ‘oh no!’ moments (more than a hundred times!)

It’s wise to show some of your compacted and organized reviews (i.e. this group agrees with this notion but this doesn’t, etc.) to your SV, though it might be crap. At least, at this point, your SV (hopefully being responsible and empathetic) will advise you whether you’re on/off track. Both news are good news, hey, you’re only 3 months into your new journey! Chill! And make sure at the end of the appointment, set yourself a time and target for the next meeting. This will help you focus on what you should do as you leave your SV’s office.

The fourth lesson is to strengthen your background of studies, adding information on both local and current global context. Always critically ask yourself, how will my research fill in the knowledge gap? Why is my study important and current? Where’s the gap? Try to find and draw the gap using diagram. For visual learner like me, diagrams and graphs help me in having clearer thoughts.  

The fifth lesson, and to me the most important; life is all about making choices. My day to day journey as a postgraduate requires me to make wise choices. I have a choice, whether to be 1) the ‘I should start my reading now’ kind of student, or 2) the ‘reading can be delayed for a couple of hours (which will lead to the whole afternoon!)’ kind of student.

One of the simplest steps I take daily which works tremendously well is, I click the MS Words & EndNote icons only. That’s it. I do not allow myself to click on the wonderfully attractive blue and orange round icon just yet. I’ll reward myself for a guilt-free internet session later of the day, after finishing the 3 articles I need to work on.

I learn to set my priority right… though it’s not always easy. Every day should be a fulfilling day, a day that ends with a guilt-free sleep. There are a lot of distractions, but I learn that I’m more powerful than them, I have the willpower to say ‘No!’ to the lusty temptations.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I learn from 'MAC 2 mini get together'.


Taman Tasik Perdana (Playground area)

Attendees: Intan (Organiser and her sister), Amy, Eiza (and her clan), Shila (and partner), Oja (and her daughter) and myself (with her whole clan, including mom and brother!!)

From L-R: Oja, Amy, Azza, Eiza, Intan, Kakak Intan, Shila.

I learn a lot of things from this short meeting – it was simple yet meaningful. I always thought of reunion as over-pricey and super long preparation; but our ever-thoughtful Intan, as a fabulous organizer, has proved me wrong. Her picnic event was totally undemanding and unpretentious. Neither have I needed to find new clothes (to make me look thin) nor spending hundreds of RM on food and venue. Since we’re being ourselves, we became instantly relaxed and natural.

Initiatives like Intan’s should be an exemplary. Yes I described the reunion event as light and easy, but it’s never an easy thing to be an organizer of any event, simple or posh, especially when you have just started a new job. I always appreciate it when someone does something without being asked or nominated, especially event which reconnects the relationships (ukhuwwah), I’m sure Allah will pay her well. Oh, she also packed goody bags for the kids (though she hasn’t got one yet, but planning to have one at the age of 40! You go girl!) and assembled a super fantastic down the memory lane CD: ‘You and me in Edinburgh’. Talking about being thoughtful... no one can compare to our Intan Sufinaz Daud.

Yes, we studied Scottish Highers and A-Levels in the same classroom, had the same TESOL lecturers, suffered the severe cold Edinburgh weather for nearly six years and finally, graduated in the same great McEwan hall together. Nevertheless, the next seven years have painted us to be different people – some being mothers, some switching careers, some staying in rural areas, some getting slimmer (and others wider), some pursuing their studies, some disliking their posts, some working on a job unrelated to our degree… but this get together has taught me that we could and must put aside our differences and cherish our similarities.

Ultimately, it’s not about ME, it’s about US. I urged my husband to drive us back to KL for this event because I wanted to refresh the special bonds that I had with my TESOL ’03 Edin Uni comrades. We’ve been through thick and thin, watched and acted in more than thousands of real-life dramas; hence meeting them again after all these years would remind me how I started ‘growing up’ independently. They were my teachers and models; they were my friends and foes; they were my mentors and psychologists; they were my fashion consultants and chefs. Yes, the physical features might have some (major) changes but we still belong to the same past, the same beautiful memories.

Cheers guys for the fantastic day! I enjoyed myself (and not to forget Al Fateh, Alwani and Go! Yusuf, Go!, Nenek, Aisyah, Kahlil and Bg Ikram who had super fun as well). Till we meet again, insha Allah. May the FORCE will always be with you!

2010, Taman Tasik Perdana:
 L-R: Eiza & Dalia. Oja & Iris, Amy, Intan, Shila, Azza & Go Yusuf, go!

2003, McEwan Hall:
Top L-R: Ruby, cW, Shannana, Oja, Azza, Farah, Shadd.
Bottom L-R: Rosie, Noi, Shila, Eiza, Intan, Naz, Ajie, late Gillies.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What I learn from 'unwanted articles @ scrappies'.

Be creative and enjoy playing scrappies paper airplanes with your kiddos!

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