Exactly two days after posting “Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel,” an FB friend sent me this private message: “Thanks for this post. It’s actually a wakeup call for me. J I’m still stuck up with my research proposal. With all these office works, I doubt if I could finish my master’s. Any piece of advice?”
Late night of the same day, I received another message from a Caribbean friend informing me, thus: “Salam. I’m now in my first semester of PhD. Any tips about writing dissertation?” And then just yesterday, an ‘online’ buddy and an ‘offline’ student at the same time told me as we bumped on each other in a nearby 7-Eleven convenient store: “Sir, we will appreciate if you could share some personal reflections on pursuing graduate studies.”
Let me share to you here three P’s as lessons from my tale of a long tunnel – Procrastination, PR and Perpetual Learning.
Procrastination is better known to us as “mañana” habit or “I-will-do-it tomorrow” attitude. Rumi, the great Persian poet, elegantly castigates this ubiquitous bad habit in his magnum opus “Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi” (“Spiritual Couplets”). There was a person who planted a bramble along a public way. The thorny shrub took root, grew and became a nuisance to the wayfarers, so much so that they complained to the ruler. The ruler summoned him and asked him to uproot the bramble. The person promised to do so but kept on procrastinating. In this manner, as the days passed by, the plant became stronger while the person became weaker and older:
“The thornbrush (is) in (process of gaining) strength and (in) ascent;
Its digger (is) in (process of) aging and decline.
The thornbrush every day and every moment is green and fresh;
Its digger is every day more sickly and withered.
It is growing younger, you older:
Be quick and do not waste your time!”
Pursuing graduate studies should start from the end. What does it mean by ‘starting from the end’? That is, as soon as you are admitted to the graduate or post-graduate program, you are supposed to have already the blueprint of your thesis or dissertation. Be like our local traditional carpenter-cum-architect who has already the sketch of the house in his mind before starting his carpentry works. Be like a painter who has already finished his painting – mentally – before actually beginning his painting.
In short, you have to start gathering your data or reading materials for thesis as soon as you are enrolled. Thinking or deciding for your topic at the time of writing your research design or proposal is already too late.
(2) PR (Public Relations)
Chapter 6 (Forming Your Dissertation Committee) of Rita S. Brause’s “Writing Your Doctoral Dissertation: Invisible Rules for Success” has this heading quotation: “I realized that getting along with people was even more important than being academically talented.”
Simply put, thesis writing is indisputably an academic venture, yet a significant percentage of it is relational. It’s pubic relationship (PR). You have to deal with your adviser, and more importantly, your panelists. You have to know the internal dynamics within the department. You have to know the professional rivalries between and among the department faculty members, some of whom will definitely become your adviser and members of your thesis defense panel. Above all, you have to know the nuts and bolts of striking a balance in dealing with these varied, and often competing, players.
(3) Perpetual Learning
After successfully defending your thesis, make no mistake in thinking that graduation is the end of learning. It is supposed to be a continuous process that should commence in the cradle and come to end only in the grave. Learning is a confession. It is a confession of utter ignorance. It is a confession of knowing too little. Learning is an acknowledgment. It is an acknowledgment of insatiability of sipping the nectars of knowledge and wisdom. It is an acknowledgment that there is still a long and winding road ahead.
Most important of all, the two-, three- or four-letter titles (MA, PhD, Dr., Atty., etc.) appended before or after our names should not be allowed to metamorphose into even specks of atom of pride (kibr) in our hearts. One good safety bolt in this regard is this line of supplication in “Du‘a’ Makarim al-Akhlaq” (Supplication on Noble Moral Traits):
“Raise me not a single degree before the people without lowering me its like in myself, and bring about no outward exaltation for me without an inward abasement in myself to the same measure!”
(Picture courtesy of http://www.mnantais.ca)