Responding to a new virtual friend I made tonight. Thought it would be of some benefit to the many more random virtual friends I have out here.
Dear Aini Marina,
My name is M, from University of :-) , Canada. Actually I already wrote an email to you 2 days ago and I thought it was successfully delivered while it was not. I keep on checking the email to see any replies until it appeared to me that the mail was not sent. :P
This is so nice to hear from you. Every now and then I would receive emails from fellow grad students like you and it’s nice to know I’m not alone :) I hope you find the Canadian weather bearable by now :D
So here I am, writing it all over again.. Sebenarnya dah lama nak contact u since I saw someone put your ig post in DSG fb page. I was amazed that you have 2 small kids and graduated your PhD with flying colours. U just get me inspired and makes me want to know the secret of your success. I then read your blog and feels really like to talk to you about all those things; family, kids, study etc.
I also have two small kids..4 and 2 years old. The previous semester was quite challenging because it was my first time attending classes in north America. I’m sure you understand the hectic life of a student that have to attend classes and do projects and assignment beside research proposal. But in terms of time for my kids, I still can rely on my husband because he is at home taking care of them. Now that my husband is going to enroll his PhD starting this September, we have to send them to childcare which is very costly here. How did u handle this anyway? We have applied for the childcare fee subsidy in January but sadly we are not eligible until we file our first income tax.
I did not know about the DSG post, but it’s nice to know I am doing my bit to help spark some inspiration (although unintentionally). I have no “special secrets” to success. Masa tamat undergrad dulu, rajin jugak lah entertain interviews from mags and newspapers on rahsia kejayaan and what not but now, after having survived grad school – and having given birth to two kids along the way, looking back at all the write ups tu rasa nak laugh them off je, like what a joke, because nothing can be comparable to the amount of pain endured to earn these two graduate degrees, and all that was said earlier on what it takes to succeed tu tak terpakai sangat at this stage. Undergraduate level was a clear cut affair. Grad school is a different animal to tame altogether. The two just can’t be compared. The only reason I made it through was that I never gave up and kept marching forward regardless what got in my way. And I made sure to stick to my routine, rain or shine or hailstone or during days yang rasa nak terjun bangunan. I also do not feel sorry for myself for having to go through a lot of hardship (that even maternity leave was never in the picture), because I work with an end in mind. Just remember, we’re never too busy, it’s all about making priorities. Don’t wait till you find the right time to do work, you never will. You make time for things. Put it another way, you don’t actually have time for TV/elaborate cooking/doing leisure things but you make time for it.
I can totally relate to how you feel right now – trust me, I have been there, and gone through it all. Being a grad student, especially one who’s sponsored by the gov hence limited funds, limited time, memang rasa serabut sentiasa. There’s the academic work load to keep up with, then the RA/labwork duties on top of your own academic milestones, and then there’s the housewife duties, the mummy duties, and most of the time, there are 1001 other things that just do not go our way i.e. health insurance issues, childcare costs, masalah elauns, masalah sponsor tercicir tak bayar yuran hence 1001 implications as a result, kereta rosak, anak sakit needing major surgeries etc. Awal awal (like where you are now), memang rasa down sentiasa each time masalah datang, but lama lama tu, after having dealt with so many challenges along the way, you will be so strong to the extent that tak kisah apa pun yang datang, it just can’t hurt you anymore. That setiap masalah tu ada penyelesaiannya, that you just have to remain your composure to work it over (walau payah macam mana pun or besar macam mana sekalipun masalah tu) and not be too reactive about it. And like I said, as long as you don’t give up, and keep marching on, by God’s grace, you will get there, to the finishing line.
Sometimes there are sacrifices you have to make, sometimes, there will be times when you have to make difficult decisions and there are trade-offs that you have to face as a result. And tell yourself that’s okay. That sometimes it’s okay to settle for a little less, e.g. a little less than perfect school work because your kid was sick, or a little less than perfect childcare because you can’t afford the ideal one (and by the way, at one point I sent my son to an Indonesian family for childcare when both my husband and I were students in Illinois, which of course, this was sad to think because you would want the best for your child but just couldn’t afford it). Never try to achieve perfection in grad school, I can tell you that was the reason why I was near breakdown point in the first few years. All my ups and downs were chronicled in my blog – if you really need to know the daily drudgery I went through.
And this is the advice my dad gave me: Grad school is just an exercise. An exercise to learn about your field, and what it takes to do sound research. Not “the” perfect research. It’s not the time for you to come up with a groundbreaking finding and what not – that will just eat up all the time and energy you have. It’s not the time for you to impress everyone with an out-of-the-world research – that can come later through sponsored grants during your academic career. Just do the right thing at the right time. Don’t try to do everything right i.e. perfect. If you have to reach a certain milestone by a certain date, by all means, reach it asalkan kerja tu lengkap. Tak perlu cuba achieve perfection – because it never will.
And it will only make you procrastinate. Also, with whom you spend your time with also impacts your overall progress and motivation. Bak kata Pengarah EM Chicago disini, kalau baju pun kita pilih betul2, siapa kita nak berkawan, nak berapat, lagi lah kena pilih betul-betul because it might as well determine whether or not you will finish your studies in a timely manner, or if you ever finish at all. Don’t feel sorry if you must miss Malaysian/social gatherings occasionally and what not just because you have work to do or a deadline to meet. Not suggesting you become a reclusive hermit either – just telling you to always prioritize.Part of my success was because my close friend/department colleague in Malaysia is a very hardworking lady who attends UW-Madison at about the same time I attended UIUC (and have also graduated last year too, only earlier than I did!). We kept each other motivated and to always stay on track. The other person is my husband. If you haven’t already, you should find that one person who can be your guiding light – apart from your hubs. Trust me, it works.
Semangat untuk studi pun sekejap tinggi sekejap hilang bila terfikirkan hal-hal kecil yang belum selesai. Belum termasuk urusan-urusan di Malaysia lagi.. How do you maintain your spirit…I have been here for 7 months and not 1 day did I not think about going back to Malaysia…
I live by the rule of “Just do what you have to do to live with a smile” ..Sometimes you just have to drag yourself to your desk to do your work. Sometimes you have to drag yourself to lab meetings.
Things don’t come for free, either you pay the price up front (by working hard from day 1) or you have to pay for it at a higher price later i.e. bila dah kena extend, you have to live by your own means, silap silap (and mintak jauh) if kena terminate from your hiring uni back home, you have to pay back the scholarship received which would have otherwise been free. I’ve seen too many a times the problem with us Malay students ni is we have a serious issue of priority bila dah duduk overseas.
Having a spouse who takes care of household and child-minding business while you’re at school is a blessing indeed. But also consider it lucky that your hubs is also going to embark on the same journey. You will be on the same page most of time, and will be more understanding of each other. Too often when the spouse is on unpaid leave/not working, the one studying will always feel obliged to “entertain” and most certainly give up on precious hours by seeking fun/leisurely things to do when it could have otherwise been spent getting significant work done. Sometimes, the motivation to do work is never there when seeing your spouse seronok melepak depan TV/main game – true story – because rezeki for my husband to land on an academic job and started his grad studies only came in early 2011 – a year and a half later after I did. So prior to that I was always a bit “bitter and miserable” because it’s like I’m on this hard, dry journey all alone. So yes, take it as a huge blessing that your husband is going to embark on the same journey, although I can tell you it’s not going to get the journey any easier (but definitely make you stronger).
Well I am good at rambling and I can go on and on and on. But let me direct you to two books that have affected and moved me greatly. I hope they will help you with your journey as much as they did to mine and perhaps help you become so much more. Set aside some time to read these, you’ll thank me later :)
The ONE thing, by Gary W. Keller & Jay Papasan – just buy on Amazon or something, and here’s their website for more resources after you’ve read the book:
I can never stress you enough how great this book is – I wished it was available when I was in high school. I would have been an Einstein or a Bill Gates by now. Lol. To the very least, it made me sew for the first time. Lol.
How to Write A lot by Paul J. Silvia.
You may not be on writing stage yet, but you’ll always have some writing work to do, and tons of other academic deadline (requiring you to write). This book will actually tell you how to just sit at your desk and do your work and just get it done. It was that close friend of mine who recommended me to read this and God bless her, this was the book that made me feel so determined to finish off my work that I unexpectedly was able to get the PhD done in 3 years (..I was expected to finish this year the earliest actually).
Seriously, sometimes all it takes is a good book to move you to do great things.
I write this not on purpose to tell all my problem..I just want to hear how did you deal with yours.. Thank you very much for your time to read my email. Salam perkenalan.
My pleasure. Sorry for being incoherent with my thoughts. I am actually in the middle of packing up and working on a research grant+preparing lecture notes at the same time. Just 4 more weeks to go before I board that flight back home (for good)!! Add me on Facebook or something! :D
Peace and love,
*I might as well just copy and paste this on my blog yeah? It’s getting a little dusty in there these days! :D
Bye now! Go be great!
Forgot to address one of your main questions, childcare:
My masters and PhD was obtained from the University of Illinois. My husband did his Masters there too, he started his Masters the semester I gave birth to our firstborn. It was a bit of a struggle at first, both studying, and a newborn baby in the picture. We then sent our son to a kind Indonesian family who was willing to be paid only 1/3 of the price of standard childcare (not cheap enough for a grad student, but affordable enough). This was after months and months of searching for affordable care way before my son was born but just couldn’t find any. There were times when the lady was unavailable attending to her own children’s schooling matters so either one of us will give up class to take care of our son if it happens to be on a day when we both have classes. The sacrifices, and trade-offs I mentioned earlier!
By the end of 2012, we moved up to Wisconsin because my husband was going to enroll in a PhD program in Milwaukee. His field of specialization was not available in UIUC so this is the closest uni to UIUC for me to travel back and forth to finish off with my own PhD (4 hours travel by car). By this point we already have two children, and I no longer have classes to attend on the UIUC campus (hence the move was possible). So in regard to childcare, both my husband and I divided our time as equal as we could. His classes would normally start at 4.00PM onwards, so during the day I would be checking in to the local library to do my work, and go back home before my husband has to leave for class. Normally he will arrive home around 9PM, and around 11PM macam tu, after household chores dah settle kan sama sama, then we continue to do our school work till 1 or 2 in the morning. If he has morning classes, then my turn to go to the library would be in the evenings. Macam tu lah lebih kurang..
Sometimes ada preschool yang murah (usually under church, but not christian-based pun) that you can try to find. Just keep asking around, don’t give up. I really hope you will get to find the solution that works best for you.
Chin up, life is never easy :)