It was about five months ago when I returned to the nice old Kent Ridge campus as a first-year PhD (Sociology) student. As I climbed the seemingly never-ending flights of steps, pausing frequently to catch my breath, I reminisced about the time when I was similarly panting for breath as a fresh undergrad of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. But unlike the younger me almost thirty years ago, I have a much stronger sense of purpose and direction for my graduate studies at NUS.
So, what have driven me to commit to the full-time PhD programme in my middle age? An important motivation is to bridge practice and theory. Having worked in the education and international development sectors since the mid-1990s, I would like to devote more time to reflecting on the accumulated knowledge and experiences from my work and seeing how they can be better informed and explained by theories in the social sciences. In fact, this is not the first time that I have taken a break from work and gone back to full-time graduate studies. Back in 2000, I pursued a master’s program at the University of Toronto after having worked as a teacher for several years. I find such an arrangement that bridges the practical and theoretical realms particularly enriching for my self- development and work engagement after graduation.
Another motivation is to prepare myself for possible future roles that I am envisioning to pursue after graduation. Rather than being relatively in the forefront as project managers or senior advisors like some of my previous roles, I hope to take on more supporting roles as researchers and educators in tertiary settings, and continue to work with underserved, disadvantaged individuals and communities in those capacities. In this regard, I believe the research-based PhD (Sociology) programme, graduate assistantship programme as well as the broader NUS platform can help strengthen my theoretical foundation, hone my research skills, and develop other relevant skills and knowledge.
Having said all that, it was not easy and straightforward to make the decision of committing almost five years to full-time studies at this time of my life, especially when there were also family and work commitments to consider. In fact, I have given up two earlier opportunities to pursue doctoral studies in 2002 and 2012 precisely because of family and work commitments. I am therefore grateful that it
is finally materialised with strong support from my family. In particular, my mother has been a tremendous source of strength and inspiration for me in taking the decisive step forward.
Three years ago, my mother suffered and survived a near-fatal haemorrhagic stroke, which left her paralysed and bedridden. She also has dementia thereafter. Despite all the disabilities and new challenges she has to face in her 80s, she has kept up a positive spirit and persevered with rehabilitation to overcome her disabilities and eventually regain some degree of mobility and independence in 2019. Her miraculous recovery to such a state at the age of 80s has vividly shown me “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. She has been a critical factor for driving me to persevere in furthering my studies and coping with the challenges of the PhD programme.
Indeed, there are more challenges that I have to face and cope with compared to the younger me with more energy and better eyesight, hearing and memory. And compared to the large majority of my fellow classmates, I probably have more family commitments to balance with studies, including elderly parents and parents-in-law. Having been away from academic studies for almost two decades has also significantly lengthened the amount of time I need for academic reading and writing. Nevertheless, those challenges are not insurmountable, especially when I think of those that my mother has to cope with at such an old age. My prior work experience and skills such as project management have also been useful in helping me manage the demands of the PhD programme. Moreover, the patience, understanding and support of my family, friends as well as fellow schoolmates, faculty and NUS staff have helped me cope with the stress and challenges.
After five months of climbing the numerous flights of steps at the Kent Ridge campus, I have gradually strengthened my stamina without requiring frequent pauses to catch my breath now. Similarly, the rigorous PhD programme has progressively built my capacity and boosted my confidence to continue my uphill learning journey at NUS. As the old saying goes, no pain, no gain. So, the demands and rigour of the programme may not be necessarily bad after all.
May the new semester be an enriching and meaningful one for all fellow graduate students. All the best! Happy 2020!
Lim Chern Yin PhD (Sociology) Student Department of Sociology Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences National University of Singapore