Thursday, June 23, 2011

To Write or Not to Write – The Choice is Yours.

To some people, doing a Ph.D. is a hobby. My previous officemate actually did that. He had already retired, had all the money that he wished for, but he decided to do his Ph.D. at the age of 60 just because he loves learning. However, to most of us, Ph.D. is part of a job requirement. As we move along the tedious process - compiling the literatures, identifying the gaps, constructing the framework, designing the applicable methods, analyzing the data and finding reasons why the results were not as expected - then only the excitement and the joy of learning become more apparent.

Often in the course of writing the research, we find moments where writing becomes difficult. Some people call it the writer’s block. In truth, writer’s block does not exist in academic writing. We are not being creative and trying to inspire people. We are just reporting things that we had done. It was quoted in a book called ‘How to Write a Lot’ by Paul J. Silvia – ‘Writer’s block is nothing more than the behaviour of not writing.’ So, the cure for this disease is actually to continue writing. Hmm, how ironic is that…

I often conveyed this to my students – Ph.D. is not for a genius; Ph.D. is for those who are determined. I said this because no matter how outstanding you are, if you are not able to sit down everyday and follow your schedule closely, you will not be able to complete your research. It should be you who chase your supervisor and worry about your deadlines instead of the vice versa. Remember - a good Ph.D. is always a finished Ph.D. Often in the process of your writing, you will come across new ideas and new experiences. Whatever happens, you need to keep bouncing back. You must be physically and emotionally resilient. To do your Ph.D., you need to have a certain standard of maturity in your thinking so that you will be able to see beyond the usual. It is not easy. But…I assure you that it is going to be worthwhile. Be a consistent writer, not a binge writer.

I once read this book by Harry F. Wolcott entitled ‘Writing Up – Qualitative Research.’ He said that in writing, you need to have a plan. And the first thing that you need to do is be clear with your statement of purpose. It is important for the writer to be clear with his goals before he can get his message across successfully. The second thing is for you to develop your outline or list of major topics as detailed as possible. The reason is for you to be able to differentiate the main ideas as opposed to the supporting ones. And finally, you need to determine the basic story of your research. Imagine yourself as a movie producer. What will happen if the storyline is not in sequence and keeps going back and forth? Won’t your audience be annoyed? Won’t the audience feel frustrated because they cannot identify the gist and the ending of the movie? It is the same with the writing of your research. It should be a story. It should be your story. And it should have a sense of clarity to it – the story has to make sense…to the audience.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I am Sorry, but it’s a NO.

Many, many years ago, I was obsessed with kungfu movies. I actually saved my money to buy most of Jet Li’s Chinese movies. And in one of those movies, there was this particular phrase uttered by Jet Li to his son (of course in Cantonese) that I really liked. The phrase actually stays with me until now. Roughly translated, it basically says – ‘There is no need to explain when no one believes the explanation.’ I strongly believe in this. Normally, if I find that explaining is a waste of time and does not provide me any good in the end, I just don’t bother to do it. But last week, I failed to uphold this principal of mine. I was given a task that I knew I would not be able to do well. I was given a limited time to complete it with very minimal information on how to go about doing it. On top of that, it was not even in the area of my expertise. Against my better judgment, I did it anyway. But when I got bombarded for not being able to meet the management’s expectations, I felt compelled to defend myself..mainly because I didn’t like the negative perception that came with the blame. Theoretically, a delegation of work should be accompanied with the transfer of responsibility and accountability. However, lack of information would also hinder the effectiveness of the delegation. It was like you being given a car and a set of keys to drive without the direction of where to go. Still, those who really know me would expect me to find just the right time to interject my argument…and I will do it only once. On that particular day also, I got a very good advice from somebody..’You should learn to say NO.’ Thank you. I will always remember that….