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October 18, 2012

On the universe telling me to do PhD

Just when I thought I found my passion in working where I am today, the signs of the universe are telling me to go somewhere else: do research. These include:
  • students coming to me wishing to apply for PhD studies, so I become familiar with the entry requirements, and also read their proposal and become familiar with how to make PhD proposal and find supervisor etc..
  • coming across a journal publication in my house -- made me want to write a journal article
  • reading about Qaryah Thayyibah in Kompas (QT was the subject of my thesis back at UQ), reminded me of those thesis research days and how my supervisor always persuaded me to do PhD elaborating more on my thesis topic
  • now, coming across an old blog entry from my blog as a Brisbane Student Ambassador, as below:
Here I am, with my laptop who is nearing the end of his lifetime but still hanging on for the sake of getting me through the research and writing of final report papers for 2 academic degrees… I am still painstakingly trying to get this thesis report done, knowing that I am falling waaaay behind with this but I have no other choice but to go on.

As I was reading about Lerner, Schramm, and of course Rogers with his diffusion of innovations… my mind was brought back to one year ago when I first started studying this program. I was in the Community Media and ICTs (COMU7014) class, and the session was given by a guest lecture, a prominent communications scholar from University of Ohio (I hope that's right), Professor Drew McDaniel. He was explaining about Rogers and diffusion of innovations, and I remember drawing the innovation vs adopter graph (or something like that), and noting to myself, "I do not understand any of this… but it seems interesting."

Community Media and ICTs were one of the first classes I went to, and it was conducted in extensive mode for 2 weeks in Week 3 of Semester, so it was still pretty early to finish all 3 assignments in one time. That class was memorable to me, because of the workshop mode which I found uncommon, because of the nice lecturers – Martin Hadlow, Pradip Thomas and Drew McDaniel, because of the telecentre presentation assignment, and the 2 1500-word assignment expected to be completed at the same time at the end of the 2-week workshop.

The telecentre presentation assignment was the most impressive assignment I'd ever done, besides Social Impact Assessment. It was hard finding a telecentre case study in Indonesia that was well-documented on the Internet. And the ones that were documented seemed to be too boring to be analysed. Until I came across Qaryah Thayyibah. Qaryah Thayyibah was a community offering alternative education for children in secondary school (SMP to SMA). It was one of the case studies documented in a World Bank report on telecentres in Indonesia. I was familiar with QT before because my mother told me about them. So I did the presentation, and I think I impressed the lecturers because I got 19/20 for that presentation. Martin even suggested Pak Bahruddin, the founder of the school, to be nominated for the prestigious Communication for Social Change Award presented by UQ's Centre for Communication for Social Change. I was so inspired that I made a note to myself that I would do a thesis research on ICTs and social change in Qaryah Thayyibah.

One year later, I was in Indonesia, still hadn't decided my thesis topic and went there merely "to be inspired". I figured QT which was located in Salatiga was too far away, and I know nothing about Salatiga, I don't know anyone there. I would rather do community radio instead, there was one near my grandma's village. But I didn't get any response from them. The first day I got to Jakarta, coincidentally, my mother was going to Salatiga the next day. So I told her about QT and how it was a potential research site. My mother then offered me to go with her there since I had nothing to do in Jakarta anyway. On our way to the airport she called Pak Bahruddin and amazingly he answered and we were to go to QT in a few hours' time!

So there I was, actually in QT, really being amazed at the place, and asking Pak Bahruddin's permission to do research on his school. He was very accommodating then, and he was even more accommodating when a few weeks later I came back, all equipped but dead nervous. He talked straight away, even offered me a room to board. But since I wasn't comfortable living in a house by myself where the person is no relative that I didn't know very well, I turned down his offer and stayed at a guesthouse in Ungaran, an hour's drive to Salatiga. But he did offer me a room to let me lie down on the first day, because I was exhausted (mostly from the nervousness of doing field research as an amateur on my own…). And during the whole course of my field research, he would greet me every morning, talk to me, and see me leave every afternoon. He gave me books and documents, files, photographs, videos, anything that would help me with the research. And of course, he paved the way of me getting interview respondents.

And now I'm back here, reporting what I've found from that short visit to that amazing place. I admit I had been careless, wasting my time trying to make sense of the data I found, trying to be a real social scientist but too scared to ask for help (not even from my supervisor!). And now I haven't even had a complete draft finished. One whole chapter on literature review is still in conception and not written yet. I only managed to give 3 chapters to my supervisor. I hope he doesn't get offended or disappointed that I forced him to read so many in so little time, because I'd be handing it all in by 4th November.

I guess I'm just trying to remind myself that this has been a journey that started right at the very beginning of my studies. It's been something that I wanted from the start, and now I am half-believing that it actually came true. I could actually go to that place, meet the inspirational founder, and still be in awe until now of what is going on in that place. It really gave me hope, that the people of Indonesia are really smart and able to adapt to any condition given to them. The QT community has appropriated technology to suit their environment, culture and tradition… all done in the concept that technology plays an important role in their development – personal and consequently for the whole community. All the theories that I had learned in the course of studying communication for social change, came resonating back to me in QT. QT was the perfect laboratory.

I hope I get to finish my thesis on time, and that the examiners are content with what I have written. I am now reminded of my goal, that this thesis is not for my personal fulfillment to become a Master of Communication graduate, but to provide a voice for the voiceless, the voice of the QT community who has great ideas but did not have the networks and significant platforms to publicise these ideas in the international development communities. All I am doing is for the betterment of the rural people of Indonesia… for the farmers, for the teachers, and for the children.

May Allah be with me every step of the way. Amiiin…. 

So my very nice thesis supervisor always persuaded me to do PhD, I think he probably reckons I have research potential.. but I was not confident enough. Looking at my mum who did her PhD and friends who were doing their PhD studies, I was under the impression that PhD changes you. It really changes the way you think, the way you look at the world.. well as I said, it totally will make you a different person. I was not ready for that yet. I was not ready for the big challenges that surely I'll face as a PhD student. I was still a naive, inexperienced 20-something and want to enjoy life and my new role as a wife and then a mother.

I don't know why lately I start to consider PhD studies. I suddenly become curious about things and really want to start doing some research to find the answers I seek about these 'things'. What 'things'? I have not yet really decided.. but I just want to start doing something.

Oh, another thing that motivated me to do PhD overseas, is that I can bring Raka along... the overseas experience will surely enrich him and stimulate him, there are so much better stimulation opportunities that don't cost a fortune overseas (like, parks and playgrounds are free, borrow children books in libraries are free, many activities for children are free there.. in Indonesia you have to pay to access those things). I know, because I myself was a child when my parents were studying in Australia, and I know the little kids that I teach at TPA (Taman Pendidikan Al Qur'an) are having the time of their life back there.

I don't know... maybe one day the opportunity will come.

Amin.

*shalat istikharah*

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