Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Further Studies? No Money!

Assalamualaikum WRT WBT

Feedback! Wohoo! I thrive for feedback. It’s sort of like proof that what you write matters and was important enough for others to start a conversation over, or ask questions. Thank you for the questions, I’ll answer them as best I can.

I should state that I am writing from UTM’s perspective, and these posts about further studies are not aimed as a way to promote my university. Hehe. It’s solely for the purpose of spreading out the information to those interested. I’m stressing out the fact that there might be other universities (local or overseas) that will be able to better equip you in our studies or are better suited with your lifestyle, etc2. However, I am writing about the opportunities available in my university. The choice is totally up to you.

One thing people tend to worry about when further studies become an option is funding. Yes, everyone needs money. And with a spouse and a couple of kids, we cannot just simply decide to quit our job and do fulltime study. It will affect the income of your family drastically, thus affect you personally. If you have a desire to further your studies for whatever reason (maybe to put you on a higher salary scale, or to change to a better job that needs higher qualifications, or just for the sake of wanting more knowledge), think it thru before doing any extreme decisions. Do you have funding, if not, where should I get it from?

If you have money of your own, go ahead and use it for studying. With your own money, there won’t be any hassle of debt and paying it back. And every cent of money spent for a good cause, every cent for the sake of Allah and ibadah, Allah will reward handsomely on the Day of Judgment. So what do you have to lose? Invest your money for benefit in the Hereafter.

If you don’t have money, there are a few options you can go for. First is MyBrain15, an initiative by the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia. As a huge push and encouragement towards higher education, this is one initiative by the government that you should take advantage of. And the best part is, they will support you till the end of your studies. But I should warn you that you will need to fill in the application and submit the required documents very carefully. A simple mistake will result in rejected application. And with the reputations of a high success rate for approval, the only reason one might be rejected is a few mistakes during the application and the documents. So be careful there ok. Just a tip *wink*

For more information of MyBrain15, click here.

Second is MARA. I am unclear of the terms and conditions for applying, so I suggest you go and browse the MARA website for more information. But they do give scholarships and loans for further studies.

Third is Research Grant. This one is only relevant for research-based masters. Most researchers (i.e. Professors, Doctors, Lecturers) that are active in research or are doing on-going research have their own grant money to spend for research. And they will have a certain amount of funding for appointing Research Officers or Research Assistants that will help in their research. These researchers are usually looking for masters students to fund. So look for lecturers that are in your area of study, look into what research they are doing and see if it relates to your interest. If it does, then contact them and ask personally about the opportunities for further studies. Researches nowadays are very friendly and they encourage those that have enthusiasm. In fact, they invite them. So there is nothing to lose. However, the grant is usually based on availability. So you have to ask carefully.

But just a reminder, research is a tough journey and you need to love what you are doing. Do not compromise on what you want to research on. It has to be your choice. If not, you will feel so stressed out that it is not even worth the trouble.

Ok what else.. let’s see..

UTM offers a few funding schemes that you can also go for, most of them for research-based masters. One of them is Zamalah. Zamalah is sort of like MyBrain15, but it is a University initiative for those who are not able to get other fundings. Application for Zamalah can be done, but the funding will only be per year basis. And the catch is, you will need to produce high impact journal papers in order to extend the funding. Which means that, by the end of the year, you will need to reapply with a backup of papers so that they will renew the funding for another year. But I must say, the monthly allowance is awesome. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, you will have to teach undergrad students for about 3 hours per week.

Another scheme UTM offers is the Teaching Assistant Scheme. The requirements are you need to be a post grad student and do not have any other form of funding. They will give you a few hours of classes to teach (based on your expertise) per week and pay you RM50 per hour. This scheme is opened for both local and international students.

Others means you can target in terms of funding is applying for an external research grant yourself (or with the help of your supervisor). Again, this is for research-based masters. If  your research is of a new area, or the outcome will be beneficial to a certain industry or company, you can always apply for research grants. Identify your research and look for available grants in the industry. Big companies like Shell, Intel, Motorola, etc. And organisations (either government or private or NGOs) have their own allocation for research. But the catch is, you will need to share the findings with them and whatever you come up with will have to benefit them.

Apart from that, if you have wealthy parents, you can always ‘apply’ for Pa&Ma Scholarship. Hehhe.

So there is no excuse of not having the resources. All you were lacking before this is knowledge. The opportunities out there are endless. All you have to do is ask yourself if you really want it or not. 

Ok, I hope this post will give you a broader view of what is actually in store for you out there. looks like I’ll be doing a series of posts like this. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or msg me personally on FB. InsyaAllah, if I find the time, I will answer them as best I can.

Next post will be about “Selecting Your Supervisors” :D 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Masters? MPhil? PhD? Which to Choose?

Assalamualaikum WRT WBT

I was attending a meeting yesterday when Sakinah asked me a question about further studies. And since conversation during a meeting isn’t something you can really do (or should do for that matter, hehe),  I sensed some unanswered questions and a lingering curiosity from Sakinah’s side.

So as requested by Sakinah, Im writing a post concerning furthering studies. A few simple questions that may come up when you think about doing post graduate studies; Should I? Is it hard? What is expected of me? Should I do taught course or research? Should I go for MPhil/Fast track or just stick to Masters first?

Yes, well I’ve been thru a bunch of these similar questions. So let me give out a few pointers to those out there who have intentions of going thru this journey.

During my final year of degree, I was asked by the Vice President of my University (other universities call them TNC) about my 5 year plan. He specifically requested to come into our class to talk to us. And I guess he wanted to see where our minds were and where our visions were focused on since we were nearly at the end of the road.

When Prof. Abu asked me, I already had a goal in mind. I wanted to be a lecturer. Therefore, I will need my PhD. Prof. Abu doesn’t really know many names. But unfortunately for me, he knew mine (He kinda reminds me of my dad. So I’m partiality fond of him, and I always talk to him since I was a Student Council Representative. Which explains why he knows me. Hehhehe). Anywaaaay, I was among the first people he asked.

My answer was full of confidence. In five years, I see myself either already with or doing my PhD. Determination and confidence was oozing out of me. Hahaha. And yes, I was certain I would be able to do it.

Confidence. Certainty. Two of the things you need. The other important element of the overall sum is knowledge. You need to find out a few things about the what, where, why and how of things.

First of all, to those who want to go into post grad studies, I say “Go ahead and do it!” Islam encourages us to pursue knowledge till our last breath. And if you see it as a good opportunity to contribute to Islam, then by all means, here’s the application letter!

We are in need of many scholars especially for the development of Islam itself. Knowledge leads to influence, influence leads to listeners, and listeners lead to followers. In this era where qualifications are so important to the general population, more qualified Muslims are needed. The higher the qualification the more respect one gets and the more people believe what one says.

There are 2 different types of Masters Studies; Taught course and Research-based. Majority of people take the taught course. Very very few are adventurous enough to jump into research. When it comes to taught course masters, basically it is 2 years of going to minimum classes and by the end of the duration, there will also be a short research you will need to come out with and present. When one says research-based, then I assume everyone would understand that it’s 100% research.

If I am asked which one is easier, I’ll reply in saying “There is nothing ‘easy’ about Post Grad Studies”. Both approaches have its advantages and disadvantages. But both come with its list of challengers as well.

For those who would like to venture into a new field of study unrelated to their degrees, I advise going for taught course masters. Because for one, you will be entering a new major, something you only have minimal knowledge of and your foundation might be very rocky. And with the really basic familiarity to research and its processes, you need the extra classes. You need to learn more in order to produce more. If you feel like your base isn’t as concrete, again, go for taught courses.

The concept is the same as doing your Diploma. Most people skip this stage and go for Degree, but they end up getting a shock of their lives at how different the new way of requiring knowledge is. Some cannot cope. Those who go thru Diploma get a longer time to set up their basic skills and knowledge before going thru degree. But once they go thru it, they grasp concepts much faster because of their strong initial understanding.

From High School straight to Degree, well, people do survive it. Why? Because these people are able to adapt to their situation in a short period of time.

If you are confident enough to take Research-based Masters head on, and you have a high degree of discipline, I say “You Rock! Go for it!” Also, it matters that you were serious when you did your Final Year Project.

Most scholarships only support research-based masters because of the end results. When you do any type of research, in the end you will come up with new knowledge or new application of certain knowledge. Therefore, your contribution will be acknowledged.

Again, it is all based on you. How far you want to go and how far you are willing to sacrifice.
Now PhD. That is a different matter altogether. Haha.

Between Masters and PhD, there is this thing called MPhil (Master of Philosophy). MPhil is a phase where you do research and after a few months of it, you will be evaluated to see if it can be upgraded to PhD or downgraded to Masters. In UTM, it’s called Fast Track. So if your research is good enough and reaches the level of PhD, then you will have the opportunity to skip that phase and go for the short cut. A 3.5 and above CGPA is one of the requirements for MPhil applications.

If you already have a Masters Degree, then ofkos you can straight away go for your PhD. Those in this category don’t usually have problem adjusting. It’s the Fast track ones who encounter a loooooooong list of tough challenges.

During the first year of PhD, if people asked me “How’s your PhD going? I was thinking of going for it as well” I’d answer “Its ok. Eh, sure. You really should!” Now.. If people tell me they want to do PhD, I’ll stop them and ask “Are you sure you wanna do PhD?”

But we will talk about that in another post. Hehe.