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.


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