How to prepare yourself for archival research

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Last month, I went to the History faculty's postgraduate training session on "Tackling foreign archives and libraries". Here is a list of the advice and tips I received from Dr. Hubertus Jahn, who conducted the session:

Prepare before you go.

1. Check footnotes of books that used sources from the archives you plan to visit.
2. Prepare introductory letters from your supervisor, department, and whoever else that may be relevant. Also, keep on hand introductory letters with "blank" addresses, like ones that begin with "Dear Director", in case you stumble onto an archive you did not plan on visiting.
3. Reading and deciphering skills/paleography issues. Depending on which era you are researching, the script might differ from what you're used to; so take some time to get familiar with them.
4. Cultural differences. Some archival cultures are less professional than others. You should consider bringing gifts for the archivists -- not as bribes -- because lots of archivists are underpaid devotees, and a material show of appreciation for their role could go a long way. Dr. Jahn said that for example, on his archival research trips in Russia, he would bring printer toner cartridges for the archive, because he noticed that they didn't always have enough supply of those.
5. Know the rules. Can you bring a camera? Can you photocopy materials in the archives? Do they charge a fee for photography and photocopying services? Check beforehand, not just because you'll have to pay for it (or not), but also to get permission from them if you want to publish the scanned pages or images.
6. Check out the living expenses for the area you'll be visiting.

At the archives.

7. Make friends, strike up relationships. With the staff, other researchers, people at the cafeteria. Because they might know shortcuts to things that could help you loads with your time at the archive. Remember that you are not the only scholar there -- talk to the others, mine them for information.
8. Don't be discouraged if you can't decipher everything.
9. Get all the reference information copied accurately -- signature/call number/basic author information/file number.
10. Keep a logbook. Note down what you did in every session: what you ordered, received, copied, etc. Sometimes the sources you gather on a trip may be useless for a current project, but will be useful for future ones. Usually, only about 10 percent of what you find will be used in your final write-up; sometimes you'll read for a week and find nothing.
11.  Other things to keep note of: your general impressions of the documents, like: (a) the language, tone, consistency or change over time, (b) perspectives between documents, and (c) is there something obviously missing? Think laterally as you sift through them.
12. Be open to accidental finds. If the shelves are open access, spend some time just looking through them, because something you need might have been accidentally wedged between completely different materials.
13. How to keep record of the materials when you're there? Handwriting vs. typing. Typing might be quicker, but there'll be a risk of digital failure. Copying things down by hand, on the other hand, help information stick to your mind. This is up to every person's preferences, of course.
14. Find a balance between quality and quantity of materials copied and scanned, and of photos taken.
15. For those moments of enlightenment: write down your thoughts at once.
16. If the materials are in a language different from what you'll be writing in, decide on the spot whether it's worth it to transcribe the stuff in its original language (you'll get the nuances of the original expressions), or if meanings (from an immediate, as-you-go-along translation) would be sufficient.

When you're back from the archives.

17. When you're finished with your dissertation or publication, give a copy to the (main) archives.

I hope this helps, if you're planning to do archival research; and if not, I hope this tells you a bit of what historians do.

Now food

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Too many of my recent posts had "PhD" in their titles T__T While I do love this job, I also do other things, like make and eat food. This post will be like a simulation of scrolling down Instagram...I think.

Packed lunch on departmental induction day. 
Salmon, mashed potatoes, and one parboiled carrot.

 Mashed potatoes with garlic butter AND cream.

Free lunch I got for helping out at an event
(This is a typical British lunch -- sandwich, crisps, maybe dessert)

Chocolate cake for a charity coffee morning in college.
Recipe for cake here but I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup; here's how to make the pudding filling -- I subbed the white sugar for dark brown sugar and found that 1/2 cup was plenty!; and the icing is a simple ganache (about 2 parts double cream warmed up to melt 1 part dark chocolate).







One morning, I put too much water in the rice.
Rice was too mushy.
Turned it into nasi himpit.








Asam pedas salmon for dinner.

The leftover dinner.
Leftover egg salad, garlic bread -- to use up some stale tiger/giraffe baton (which happens to be my favourite)--, with soup made of stuff I had in the cupboard and freezer: potatoes, peas, sweetcorn, ikan bilis, coriander, and cod. Delicious. <== Do people use this word anymore?
/This bowl of soup was the last of a batch of 4-5 portions that I made and froze earlier./

Sometimes, dinner is an assortment of snacks.
Strawberry yogurt, crisps, banana, and leftover chocolate pudding filling with cake tops (that I sliced off to make the cake layers even). I felt full after the yogurt, crisps and cake, so the banana became next day's breakfast.

Meatballs in tomato sauce.
I made a huge batch (made the tomato sauce, then mixed, shaped, pan-seared, and slow-cooked 146 tablespoon-sized meatballs...I counted while doling them into freezer bags) and divided them into 14 portions. 
That's 14 almost instant future meals! This is important, people, to have ready meals for hectic days and nights and to cut down on time spent in the kitchen. In a friend's words, "Daripada you duduk kat dapur [to cook and clean up for one person], baik you guna masa tu untuk study kan." So accurate.

So. I should go off now and start reading those 4 chapters/articles for Wednesday's Methods class.

5 (x 4) things I wish I'd done in my first year of PhD

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A couple of days ago, I attended Cambridge DOCking Station's "‘5 things I wish I’d known last year’: A Networking & Mentoring Event" at the Criminology building. They put together a panel of second- and third-year PhD students, who shared their regrets/insights about what they could've/should've done during their first year. A few of the points were repeated by most or all of them -- which means I should watch out for these things--, and overall I thought they gave really helpful advice.

Here are the things first-year PhD should heed:

1. Plan supervisions ahead, draw up a list of question you want to raise with your supervisor. Simply put, have clear goals for each meeting.
2. Start writing as soon as possible.
Talk to people in your department, not just PhDs, but the postdoc fellows, the lecturers, everyone. They know things you don't.
3. Plan for your final year and for your post-PhD life...this helps you to stay focused on finishing your research successfully, but
4. Avoid planning for the future too rigidly, enjoy the research process.

5. Remember the very privilege of being able to do research -- you'll appreciate your position (all of its highs and lows!) better.
6. The process of reaching your final PhD goal is like a downward (or upward, whatever) spiral, with you starting from one end and aiming for the other. Let's put in some visual aid:

Explanation: because your research goals are on side A, you'll feel discouraged every time you realise that you're at a point on side B (have you ever, after weeks or months of sifting through the literature and materials, found yourself back at the same place you were before? That's side B.)
The thing to remember is, no matter which side you're currently on, you are moving down the spiral, which means that you are getting closer to your research answers. 
It will feel slow or stationary sometimes, but just. keep. going.

7. Read broadly, attend a variety of talks and events to keep your mind active and open and curious.
8. Establish from the start your key expectations with your supervisor.
9. Peer supervision. Get PhD colleagues and postdocs to comment on your work. Yes they're busy with their own work, but be persistent and keep asking. 

10. Manage your supervisor. They are extremely busy people, do not take their time for granted, but chase them down for feedback if you need to. If they forget, remind them. Right now, in the midst of your cluelessness about your PhD, it seems like your supervisor will be the one to manage your project, BUT NO. It is your project. You manage it, and manage your supervisor's commitment to it as well.
11. Plan your learning time. Set aside time to actually read and understand and learn new skills.
12. Collaborate up. This means that, whenever possible, ask for comments on your work, seek research collaboration opportunities, and establish relationships with academics who are higher up the seniority ladder.
13. Ask for help.

14. Keep writing. One way to do is is to always write on a fresh file/document/sheet instead of writing and editing over a new one. This helps you to keep track of your progress because you can compare your older work with your more recent ones.
15. Have specialists and non-specialists look at your work.
16. On writing and note-taking: keep your literature review/broad perspective notes separate from your close analysis.
17. Consistently re-examine your voice and perspective. It needs to be critical and authentic, beware the trap of cultural imperialism, which tricks you into adapting a point of view just because it's prevalent and seems correct.
18. Take advantage of travel opportunities. Apply to all the funding available, and even if it seems remotely applicable to your research/recreational situation, ask. 

There should've been 20 points, but the other two probably were repetitions of the other points so I didn't write them down. Additional advice:

19. Don't think of your PhD research as a title. Your research scope will expand and change and twist, so lower your barriers and keep an open mind.
20. Don't reference things that aren't directly relevant to your argument just so you can bulk up your footnotes.

On managing your reading (your to-read list will grow forever more):
21. You can't read everything.
22. Read book review articles. This is a lovely cheat tip, but doing this really does direct you towards the central debates of the topic and area.


I also attended the History faculty's introductory session on "Good Research Practice" for PhDs/historians, but I'll lay out the loot from that one in another post inshaAllah.

Tips for first-year PhDs

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Now that I am almost three weeks into this adventure, I've met my supervisor, made friends in college and in the department and elsewhere, I have received some advice from others who have more experience doing a Humanities PhD. All of them have helped me look at my open schedule and the PhD process differently, and I suspect that these tips will be very valuable to me as I trudge ahead.

I have always wondered what it's like to be a PhD researcher -- what is expected of me, what can I do to get the most out of it, what challenges should I be prepared for, what perks should I not miss out on, and basically how will it change my life? Maybe you've been thinking about these things, too, so here's what I've heard so far:

From my supervisor:

1. Spend the first two months or so of the PhD exploring your topic. Be open to all the possible ways of examining your topic, and map out what sources are available.
2. Enjoy your experience.


Sometimes I get lost.

From a 2nd year Middle Eastern Studies PhD student:

3. Try to do a bit of everything everyday. In any research area/phase that requires intensive and extensive reading, it's easy to lose yourself in one book or subtopic, and emerge from the rabbit hole 2 or three weeks after that. And then you'll realise how out of touch you've become with the other aspects of your research, that you're now 3 weeks closer to the first year assessment deadline but have not examined the other subtopics/authors yet, and it'll be more difficult to shift your focus quickly.

This is the work routine that worked for him (he didn't realise this until he was several months into his PhD): Chunk down your morning into sessions where you do, say, some language work, and then some essential reading of Egyptian history, and after that a reading of your primary sources. So by lunch time, you'll see that you've covered quite a lot, which is very satisfying and encouraging. After lunch break, you can then concentrate on one thing that you've chosen for the day. Repeat. After a few weeks, you should have (a) decided whether this works for you or not -- and tweak or change your rhythm as needed, and (b) have covered quite a bit of ground on your initial research, inshaAllah.

The Free School Lane Site. This reminds me of UCL.

One of my classmates in Hebrew class is a post-doctoral fellow in Linguistics, who did his PhD in Cambridge about ten years back, experienced a difficult PhD -- he didn't get much support from his supervisor, it took him 5 years -- but he made it and became a specialist in that area! Here was his advice:

4. Have good friends. A few good ones is better than many not-so-close ones. Also important, know your friends' weaknesses, so you don't completely give in to their ways, and also so that you can help them where they need a friend's advice and support.

5. Ask for advice from people, don't be afraid to ask for advice. Listen to their perspectives, but you don't have to act on their advice if it doesn't suit you.

6. Be really curious. Open up your views, don't judge the ideas (related to your research), just be curious and get as much input as you can. Later you decide what's best for you and your study.

7. Do one thing that's different from your PhD. It could be completely unrelated to your study, it could be slightly related, but go out and be involved in something other than your research. These should all help you consider your research topic with fresh eyes, and in a broader view. Most importantly, it takes you a step back from your research, and we all know that things look differently from afar.

 Trumpington Street

I haven't found my reading-and-note-taking rhythm yet, nor my perfect desk/reading spot, or a (Cambridge-based) circle of friends that really click with me/kindred souls for keeps, but I will find them inshaAllah. 

اللهم بارك لنا في أوقاتا، آمين

PhD postcard

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Dear friends,

I've begun my first year (they call it the probationary year -- you'll only be officially registered as a PhD student once you pass the first-year assessment) of PhD in Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Really, though, my research is historical (as opposed to being a study of politics...and...international studies. I've been to three separate sessions on methodology so far and now, more than ever, I find it hard to say "historical" (and a host of other terms) without weighing in the ways people have defined it/them.

Ideally, this post would be a letter with many snapshots enclosed. But (a) I no longer have a camera except for the one on my phone and (b) I can't transfer the phone photos to my laptop at the moment, but I managed to e-mail this photo from my phone before the tech-y problems arrived:

I bought a whole salmon at ASDA and cut it up to be frozen. This is much cheaper than buying salmon fillets, I wonder why we never thought of doing this in London.

Sorry my first photo from Cambridge is of a fish. The past few days have been spent in mapping out where the books that I need are -- this university has more than a hundred libraries but I'll probably only frequent 4 or 5 of them, and it's not like we get access to all the libraries anyway --, and then sourcing books than cannot be found in any of the Cambridge libraries, ferreting around the internet for human sources of information, plotting a realistic plan for the next several months of research, and getting used to living in Cambridge. Haven't bought a bike yet. Or a duvet. I made some laundry detergent, though, and I'm quite happy with the results so I shouldn't need to spend so much money on regular ones any more :)

Remember me in your du'as!

Until next time,
Maryam
St. Catharine's College, Cambridge

Lemon cake recipe

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I forgot to blog this one.

Lemon cake is like sunshine! Lemon cake is one of the very few cakes that I actually like to eat. Lemon juice takes away the cloying sweetness of a plain (but dense and fluffy) pound cake, and the cake is best enjoyed with hot tea or plain water.

I've been baking lemon cakes for breakfast and snacking purposes since maybe 2009, using this recipe, which is simply pound cake laced with lemon juice and zest, and topped with crunchy lemon glaze (sunshine).

In London, I did not like the electric beaters we inherited from the flat's previous tenants (it made too much noise and most of the time the beaters refused to release themselves for washing up), so I looked for a recipe that would only require an egg whisk. This recipe served me well there -- it uses melted butter instead of softened butter (so no creaming required), and a dose of double cream. But when I tried making the cake using the melted butter recipe when I was back in Malaysia, the cake refused to rise properly (even after I doubled the baking powder) and didn't turn out as perfectly as it used to in London. Climate effect, probably. So here's the Malaysian-weather-friendly recipe:


Easy lemon loaf cake from Nabeelah on Vimeo.

To make this cake, you will need:
1/2 cup (125g) butter, softened
1/2 cup (95g) caster sugar
2 large eggs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (more, if you want a tangier cake)
1 cup (140g) plain flour, sifted with
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder,
and 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the glaze, you need:
1/2 cup caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Some lemon juice, maybe 3-4 tablespoons?

It's easy, really. Here's how you make the cake:

  1. Rub the lemon zest with the sugar, to release the lovely oils.
  2. Dump the butter onto the lemon sugar, and beat until creamy and fluffy. You can use an electric mixer or a large spoon, just make sure the butter and sugar are well beaten.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one by one. Mix well. If the mixture looks curdled, don't worry.
  4. Add in the dry ingredients and lemon juice alternately, ending with the flour mix. Stir until just mixed.
  5. Pour the batter into a greased and lined loaf tin.
  6. Bake in a 180*C oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool the cake for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then turn in out on a wire rack.
And here's how you make the glaze:

  1. Make more lemon sugar using 1/2 cup caster sugar and the zest of one lemon.
  2. Stir in lemon juice, until the glaze is runny but still thick.
  3. Pour onto the top of the cake, and let it set.
The cake is also amazing glaze-less and warm from the oven. Cut it up and enjoy!

Bagaimana untuk memohon kemasukan ke program PhD di UK**

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 بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

**Panduan ini khusus untuk anda yang berminat untuk menceburi penyelidikan akademik -- melalui ijazah penyelidikan (MPhil, MRes, PhD, DPhil) -- dalam bidang Sastera, Kemanusiaan dan Sains Sosial di United Kingdom. Mungkin banyak juga prosedur di bawah terpakai untuk bidang lain dan di negara lain, tetapi pengalaman saya terhad kepada sistem PhD di UK (dan mungkin Eropah).

Ada bidang ilmu yang sangat sesuai didalami di UK, dan ada yang kurang sesuai
[The Study Room of the Department of the Ancient Near East, the British Museum]

Pertama sekali, jangan takut ditolak. Permohonan ditolak, e-mel tak berbalas, e-mel dibalas tetapi tanpa berita yang menggembirakan...ini semua normal.


Untuk memohon kemasukan ke program PhD atau ijazah penyelidikan (research degree) yang lain di UK, anda perlu:

  1. Menyediakan kertas kerja cadangan penyelidikan (research proposal)
  2. Mendapatkan persetujuan bakal penyelia (supervisor)
  3. Membuat permohonan rasmi ke universiti
Cuma tiga perkara. Nampak ringkas, tapi sebenarnya boleh menghantui masa tidur dan masa sedar anda.

Kemudian, bersedialah untuk menunggu, dan sediakanlah back-up plans secukupnya. Kita merancang dan berusaha untuk kebaikan di dunia dan akhirat tapi Allah jua yang mengizinkan atau tak mengizinkan.

Cara-cara memohon:

#1: Sediakan kertas cadangan penyelidikan.

Sebenarnya, anda boleh juga lakukan #2 (cari penyelia) terlebih dahulu, dan merencana cadangan penyelidikan bersamanya. Namun, menurut pengalaman saya, lebih baik anda siapkan dahulu kertas cadangan, supaya anda boleh terus melamar penyelia dengan persediaan secukupnya, lebih-lebih lagi jika anda dan penyelia tersebut tidak saling mengenali.

Sebelum menyediakan kertas cadangan penyelidikan, anda mesti mempunyai cadangan penyelidikan. Dalam kata lain, perihal apa yang anda rasa wajar untuk diberi tumpuan penyelidikan selama lebih kurang tiga tahun, dan berbaloi dibelanjakan beratus-ratus ribu ringgit semata-mata untuk membolehkan anda mengkajinya?

Kalau anda sudah ada tajuk cadangan, alhamdulillah. Teruskan usaha mengembangkan tajuk tersebut menjadi kertas cadangan yang baik. Kalau belum, anda boleh cuba menjana cadangan projek kajian menggunakan panduan di bawah:

  1. Kenalpasti lapangan ilmu serta tajuk khusus yang anda minati.
  2. Baca sebanyak-banyaknya. Baca buku-buku serta makalah-makalah akademik (yang diterbitkan dalam jurnal dan sebagainya) penting dalam lapangan yang anda mahu selidiki. Jangan lupa untuk mengikuti perkembangan terkini dalam kesarjanaan lapangan tersebut.
  3. Kenalpasti isu-isu yang masih belum dipelopori dalam penulisan para sarjana lapangan tersebut. Inilah yang dikenali sebagai "research gap". Mengapa anda perlu mencari lompong-lompong tersebut? Kerana setiap tesis PhD mestilah menyumbang sesuatu yang baharu kepada pengetahuan manusia. Ada kajian PhD yang tidak menjumpai bahan baharu dalam sesuatu bidang, tetapi menyumbang dengan cara mengutarakan kaedah baharu untuk mentafsirkan sesuatu pengetahuan [menggunakan teori pemahaman yang lain, dan sebagainya].
  4. Catitkan isu-isu yang anda rasa perlu dikaji (tetapi masih belum dikaji), dan pilih isu yang paling anda suka. Anda patut memilih tajuk yang anda betul-betul minati, kerana nanti akan ada banyak cabaran yang menguji sejauh mana anda sanggup bersusah demi menyiapkan sebuah kajian. Cabaran-cabaran ini akan mudah mematahkan semangat jika anda tidak benar-benar cintakan subjek kajian anda.
  5. Kenalpasti para sarjana yang paling arif dalam lapangan serta tajuk yang anda pilih. Cari alamat/alamat e-mel mereka, dan catitkan semuanya.
  6. Karang kertas cadangan penyelidikan anda.
Bagaimana pula cara terbaik untuk mempersembahkan kertas cadangan penyelidikan PhD? Lain universiti dan jabatan, lainlah format yang diminta. Tetapi lazimnya, perkara-perkara berikut perlu ada dalam kertas cadangan:

  1. Tajuk (working title). Tajuk projek harus jelas dan seringkas yang mungkin. Dinamakan working title kerana biasanya tajuk kajian akan berubah mengikut kemajuan penyelidikan dari masa ke semasa.
  2. [TIDAK WAJIB ADA] Abstrak, atau ringkasan cadangan. Biasanya abstrak tak lebih daripada satu perenggan pendek, fungsinya untuk memudahkan kerja panel penilai, dan penyelia, untuk memahami cadangan projek anda sekilas pandang sebelum mereka meneliti keseluruhan kertas kerja. Kalau anda tidak mahu menyertakan abstrak, atau had perkataan tidak mengizinkan, saya cadangkan anda hasilkan juga seperenggan abstrak untuk melatih diri meringkaskan buah fikiran. Penulisan abstrak juga boleh membantu anda lebih nampak perkara-perkara yang perlu diberi lebih tumpuan, dan yang mana perkara picisan.
  3. Tinjauan kajian terdahulu (literature overview). Literature review yang baik bukan sahaja menggabungkan serta membanding-beza semua pandangan serta penemuan terdahulu dalam lapangan ilmu yang dipilih. Lebih daripada itu, anda mesti menonjolkan tema-tema terbesar dalam sesuatu wacana, serta mengasingkan perdebatan-perdebatan terpenting.
  4. Ringkasan kajian cadangan (research overview). Berkesinambungan dengan literature review sebelumnya, nyatakan research gap(s) yang mahu anda penuhi melalui penyelidikan yang diusulkan. Terangkan peri-penting kajian anda (significance of study), kemudian gambarkan secara ringkas kajian yang bakal anda jalankan (brief description of proposed study). "Research gap(s)" serta "significance of study" yang anda tunjukkan adalah dua sisi terpenting dalam cadangan penyelidikan -- inilah yang akan menarik minat bakal penyelia terhadap potensi projek cadangan anda.
  5. Kaedah penyelidikan (research methodology), termasuk sumber-sumber yang bakal digunakan. Kajian kualitatif atau kuantitatif? Kajian arkib atau sejarah lisan? Apa rangka teori yang dirasakan paling sesuai untuk peringkat analisa dapatan?
  6. Rangka masa cadangan. Contohnya, tahun satu untuk literature review serta tinjauan awal bahan-bahan rujukan primer; tahun dua untuk mengumpul data; tahun ketiga untuk menganalisa data dan menyiapkan penulisan tesis. Bahagian ini perlu untuk membuktikan kepada penyelia bahawa anda jelas dan bersikap realistik dengan perkara-perkara yang perlu dilaksanakan demi menghasilkan sebuah tesis dalam masa yang ditetapkan.
  7. [TIDAK WAJIB ADA] Latar belakang anda, selaku pemohon dan bakal penyelidik. Apa pengalaman dan kelayakan yang anda miliki, yang akan membolehkan anda melaksanakan kajian yang dicadangkan? Jika ada kemahiran yang relevan, termasuk yang anda rasa perlu ditambah semasa membuat PhD nanti -- contohnya kemahiran bahasa-bahasa tertentu --, nyatakan.
  8. Senarai bahan rujukan (bibliografi) ringkas. Serasikan format bibliografi dengan gaya "citation" yang anda gunakan dalam bahagian utama kertas kerja.

Apa yang penyelia dan panel pemilihan cari dalam kertas cadangan penyelidikan?
Keaslian cadangan kajian; kajian yang mampu memberi kesan [kepada kesarjanaan atau/dan terhadap masyarakat dunia]; kemampuan calon untuk memahami dan merumuskan perbincangan serta perdebatan terpenting dalam lapangan yang dipilih; kebolehan calon untuk menyertai dialog ilmiah dalam lapangan tersebut; kepekaan calon terhadap perkembangan terkini ilmu tersebut; kemahiran mengutarakan (menulis) pandangan dengan bernas dan jelas; kesediaan calon untuk berdikari dalam menyelidik [dengan bimbingan penyelia]; keupayaan calon untuk mengembangkan konsep-konsep yang rumit dan menerapkan konsep-konsep yang sesuai di dalam penyelidikan dan penulisan.


#2: Cari penyelia

Ada pelajar yang sudah mengenali pensyarah yang dirasakan sesuai untuk dijadikan penyelia PhD, mungkin kerana cara kerjanya, atau mungkin kerana bidang kajiannya. Untuk kes-kes sebegini, kadangkala pensyarah tersebut sudah mempunyai cadangan kajian, dan sekiranya dipersetujui oleh pelajar, pelajar cuma perlu mengembangkan kertas cadangan penyelidikan, dan memohon secara rasmi untuk kemasukan ke universiti terbabit.

Ada pula pelajar (seperti saya) yang sudah ada tajuk yang diminati, tetapi perlu mencari penyelia yang sesuai. Jangan hanya menghubungi seorang penyelia. Sama seperti memohon universiti sebelum ke peringkat PhD, tiada siapa yang boleh menjamin kemasukan anda ke mana-mana institusi. Oleh itu, senaraikan sebanyak mungkin pensyarah yang dirasakan sesuai menjadi penyelia projek cadangan anda. Di sini ada panduan yang baik untuk mencari penyelia PhD.

Kemudian, e-mel pensyarah-pensyarah terbabit.

Di sini saya kongsikan panduan menulis e-mel kepada penyelia-penyelia yang diminati:

  1. Letakkan tajuk e-mel (subject) yang jelas. Contohnya, "Prospective PhD candidate for 2016/17, research on batch-cooking among students in winter".
  2. E-mel mesti ringkas. Kalau boleh, biar seluruh teks e-mel anda, dari "Dear Professor X" sehingga ke baris "Thank you", boleh dilihat dalam skrin tanpa perlu di-skrol ke bawah. Ahli akademik, apatah lagi yang berpangkat profesor, sangat sibuk dan biasa menerima berpuluh-puluh, bahkan beratus-ratus e-mel setiap hari. Saya pernah mendapat balasan e-mel daripada seorang profesor (yang terkenal dan sibuk), bukan daripadanya sendiri, tetapi daripada pengurusnya -- itupun setelah saya menghantar e-mel follow-up kerana e-mel yang pertama sudah beberapa minggu tidak dibalas. Bayangkan betapa penuhnya jadual harian mereka. Jadi, hargai masa penyelia dan mudahkan kerjanya.
  3. Perkenalkan diri anda. Singkatkan yang ini. Siapa nama anda, kelulusan terakhir apa dan daripada universiti mana. Jika anda disarankan untuk menghubungi penyelia tersebut oleh pensyarah lain yang mengenalinya, sebut nama pensyarah yang anda kenal itu.
  4. Tanya sama ada mereka masih mempunyai kekosongan untuk pelajar seliaan baharu bagi tahun akademik yang anda mahu mulakan pengajian PhD. Profesor yang saya sebutkan di atas, tak dapat memenuhi hajat saya untuk menyelidik di bawah seliaannya, kerana pelajar sedia ada sudah cukup banyak. Kalau diterima lagi, beliau takkan dapat memberi perhatian selayaknya kepada setiap pelajar seliaan (ini belum termasuk tugas-tugasnya yang lain di universiti dan di luar universiti!). Contoh pertanyaan,"I am writing to ask if you are still considering/taking on new PhD students/supervisees for the next academic year."
  5. Rumuskan cadangan kajian anda. Kalau sudah sediakan abstrak, boleh digunakan di sini, tetapi mungkin anda perlu ubah sedikit struktur ayat untuk disesuaikan dengan nada e-mel yang lebih bersifat perbualan. Ingat, ringkaskan.
  6. Kaitkan cadangan kajian anda dengan kepakaran dan kajian-kajian semasa mereka. Tunjukkan bahawa anda pernah (sekurang-kurangnya) membaca hasil penyelidikan mereka, dan tunjukkan bahawa projek kajian yang anda cadangkan itu selari dengan minat kajian mereka.
  7. Lampirkan kertas kerja cadangan penyelidikan yang sudah anda siapkan.
  8. Gunakan bahasa yang sopan dan profesional. Anda perlu tampilkan minat yang mendalam terhadap tajuk kajian serta keterujaan untuk bekerja dengan penyelia tersebut, tetapi tak perlulah memuji berlebihan. Usah mendesak, tetapi jelaskan kepada mereka bahawa anda perlukan maklum balas dan tunjuk ajar daripada mereka. Adakalanya, ada pensyarah yang berminat dengan cadangan anda, tetapi skop kajian anda terkeluar daripada kepakarannya. Dalam keadaan begini, mereka mungkin boleh mencadangkan penyelia-penyelia lain (di universiti yang sama atau berbeza) yang boleh anda hubungi. Proses mencari dan melamar ini tidaklah susah, cuma kita perlu bersikap terbuka, bertawakkal kepada Allah, dan beradab dalam mencari guru. Ingat, memang kalau boleh kita mahukan penerimaan daripada penyelia-penyelia idaman kita, tetapi seperti juga hubungan dengan manusia lain, kita takkan tahu keadaan sebenar mereka melainkan setelah kita bertanya. Jika gagal mendapat persetujuan daripada penyelia yang dituju, move on. Cari yang lain. Apa pun maklum balas yang diberi, anggaplah setiap guru yang kita hubungi itu sebagai pembimbing dan penanda arah ke jalan terbaik dalam penyelidikan.
  9. Jika e-mel anda tidak dibalas selepas 2-3 minggu, hantar kembali e-mel asal, dengan nota baharu untuk meminta penyelia tersebut memberi maklum balas. Jika tidak dibalas juga, lupakan penyelia tersebut. Anda perlukan penyelia yang sanggup meluangkan masa untuk memberi maklum balas sesegera mungkin, jadi jika dari awal pun sudah nampak betapa mereka tidak mengambil berat soal menjawab e-mel dan pertanyaan, atau mereka terlampau sibuk dengan bebanan kerja yang lain, lebih baik anda cari penyelia lain yang lebih boleh diharap.
  10. Jika anda menghantar beberapa e-mel lamaran kepada beberapa orang pensyarah dalam satu-satu masa, JANGAN hantar e-mel "acuan" dengan alamat e-mel semua penerima diletakkan sekali. Dalam situasi ini, mass e-mails are rude. Siapkan, dan hantar e-mel satu persatu, dan pastikan nama penerima serta butiran lain di dalam e-mel (seperti universiti di mana penyelia tersebut bekerja dan pengkhususan kajian penyelia terbabit) diubah jika anda menggunakan karangan yang sama untuk setiap e-mel. Jangan terburu-buru. Penyelia takkan  berminat untuk membalas e-mel, apatah lagi menyelia pelajar yang tidak mengambil berat akan perkara-perkara yang kelihatan kecil, tetapi mustahak sebenarnya.

#3: Mohon secara rasmi untuk kemasukan ke universiti.

Apa yang jabatan/universiti cari dalam permohonan PhD? Apa yang membuatkan mereka menawarkan tempat kepada calon PhD yang memohon?

  1. Kertas cadangan penyelidikan yang mantap. Kajian cadangan anda haruslah berdaya saing, menarik, asli, dan menjanjikan sumbangan ilmu.
  2. Keserasian kajian anda dengan pengkhususan jabatan secara keseluruhan (research fit). Setiap jabatan ada kekuatan dan kekurangannya, dan mahu membina kepakaran dalam isu-isu tertentu. Sebab inilah, anda mesti bijak membina kertas cadangan yang mampu "menjual" tajuk anda kepada jabatan terbabit. Selidiki pengkhususan para pensyarah serta tumpuan kajian jabatan yang diminati, kemudian bentukkan cadangan kajian anda supaya selari dengan minat mereka.
  3. Kemampuan menyelia di pihak jabatan. Boleh jadi, projek kajian yang anda cadangkan sebenarnya bagus dan secara peribadinya menarik minat panel penilai, tetapi jika jabatan tersebut tidak mempunyai penyelia yang sesuai untuk anda, atau penyelia yang berkepakaran sedang cuti pada tahun itu (research leave, sabbatical) tidak mampu meluangkan masa untuk menyelia anda, maka permohonan anda akan ditolak. Bagi kebanyakan universiti di UK, persetujuan tak formal daripada penyelia (yang anda dapat melalui perhubungan e-mel dengannya) merupakan tanda awal penerimaan anda sebagai calon PhD di universiti terbabit. Namun, ada juga jabatan yang meletakkan tanggungjawab membuat keputusan menerima atau menolak permohonan ke atas bahu para pensyarah dalam panel penilai jabatan. Dalam keadaan ini, walaupun anda sudah mendapatkan persetujuan tak formal daripada penyelia, masih tiada jaminan untuk anda mendapat tempat di universiti tersebut. Contohnya, jabatan Politics and International Studies (POLIS) di University of Cambridge serta program PhD di Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS, Freie Universitat Berlin) mengiklankan di laman sesawang mereka bahawa para pemohon tidak perlu menghubungi bakal penyelia sebelum memohon kerana setiap permohonan akan dinilai oleh admissions committee, bukan penyelia. [Tapi saya tetap menghubungi penyelia sebelum menghantar permohonan kepada kedua-duanya. Tak ada pun kesan negatif terhadap permohonan kita, cuma apabila ditawarkan tempat, kita mungkin akan diberi penyelia lain]. Ya, penyelia akan dirujuk untuk memastikan mereka sudi dan mampu menyelia, tetapi dalam proses sebenar penerimaan calon PhD ke setiap jabatan, halangan terawal yang perlu diatasi adalah untuk mendapatkan lampu hijau daripada panel pemilih.
  4. Kelayakan akademik dan keupayaan/pengalaman menyelidik. Ini tentu sekali syarat yang perlu dilepasi oleh calon-calon yang berminat untuk membuat PhD. Lazimnya universiti akan menilai kelayakan anda sekaligus dengan calon-calon lain dalam tahun yang sama. Maknanya, pencapaian setiap calon adalah relatif kepada pencapaian calon-calon yang lain. Persaingan sesama ahli "cohort" (kumpulan pelajar yang memohon dan diterima masuk setiap tahun) inilah yang akan menghantui siang dan malam anda setelah mimpi ngeri mendapatkan penyelia berakhir. Faktor persaingan sesama pelajar dalam mendapatkan biasiswa jugalah yang menyebabkan banyak pemohon yang berjaya mendapat tawaran universiti, tidak jadi mendaftar kerana tidak mampu membiayai pengajian.
  5. Saranan bekas pensyarah pemohon. Kemampuan dan potensi anda akan lebih menyerlah sekiranya disokong oleh surat-surat saranan yang bagus. Jika anda masih lagi belajar di peringkat ijazah sarjana muda atau ijazah sarjana dan merancang untuk menyambung PhD di masa akan datang, cari bakal "referees" mulai sekarang. Mereka mampu menilai kekuatan akademik anda menerusi hasil kerja anda, tetapi dari sudut keperibadian, bina hubungan yang baik dengan semua guru supaya mereka senang hati menaruhkan nama dan reputasi mereka di atas surat sokongan permohonan anda nanti.
  6. [BUKAN SEMUA] Temubual dengan penyelia atau panel penilai. Bagi pemohon yang tinggal jauh dari UK, universiti biasanya membenarkan interview dijalankan menggunakan Skype atau telefon. Rata-rata program PhD di Jerman mewajibkan sesi temubual (dengan bakal penyelia serta beberapa lagi individu dalam jawatankuasa pemilihan) sebelum keputusan muktamad dibuat. Di UK, bukan semua universiti akan menemubual pemohon PhD. Yang penting, sesi temubual bertujuan untuk memastikan bahawa calon benar-benar telah menghasilkan kertas cadangan kajian dengan sendiri; bahawa calon boleh berkomunikasi dengan baik dalam bahasa Inggeris; bahawa personaliti calon dan bakal penyelia serasi, atau sekurang-kurangnya tiada perkara yang akan menghalang pemohon daripada bekerja dengan baik selaku calon PhD.

#4: Pembiayaan.

Ini cerita lain, inshaAllah. Selamat memohon!

Friday, December 18, 2015

How to prepare yourself for archival research

Last month, I went to the History faculty's postgraduate training session on "Tackling foreign archives and libraries". Here is a list of the advice and tips I received from Dr. Hubertus Jahn, who conducted the session:

Prepare before you go.

1. Check footnotes of books that used sources from the archives you plan to visit.
2. Prepare introductory letters from your supervisor, department, and whoever else that may be relevant. Also, keep on hand introductory letters with "blank" addresses, like ones that begin with "Dear Director", in case you stumble onto an archive you did not plan on visiting.
3. Reading and deciphering skills/paleography issues. Depending on which era you are researching, the script might differ from what you're used to; so take some time to get familiar with them.
4. Cultural differences. Some archival cultures are less professional than others. You should consider bringing gifts for the archivists -- not as bribes -- because lots of archivists are underpaid devotees, and a material show of appreciation for their role could go a long way. Dr. Jahn said that for example, on his archival research trips in Russia, he would bring printer toner cartridges for the archive, because he noticed that they didn't always have enough supply of those.
5. Know the rules. Can you bring a camera? Can you photocopy materials in the archives? Do they charge a fee for photography and photocopying services? Check beforehand, not just because you'll have to pay for it (or not), but also to get permission from them if you want to publish the scanned pages or images.
6. Check out the living expenses for the area you'll be visiting.

At the archives.

7. Make friends, strike up relationships. With the staff, other researchers, people at the cafeteria. Because they might know shortcuts to things that could help you loads with your time at the archive. Remember that you are not the only scholar there -- talk to the others, mine them for information.
8. Don't be discouraged if you can't decipher everything.
9. Get all the reference information copied accurately -- signature/call number/basic author information/file number.
10. Keep a logbook. Note down what you did in every session: what you ordered, received, copied, etc. Sometimes the sources you gather on a trip may be useless for a current project, but will be useful for future ones. Usually, only about 10 percent of what you find will be used in your final write-up; sometimes you'll read for a week and find nothing.
11.  Other things to keep note of: your general impressions of the documents, like: (a) the language, tone, consistency or change over time, (b) perspectives between documents, and (c) is there something obviously missing? Think laterally as you sift through them.
12. Be open to accidental finds. If the shelves are open access, spend some time just looking through them, because something you need might have been accidentally wedged between completely different materials.
13. How to keep record of the materials when you're there? Handwriting vs. typing. Typing might be quicker, but there'll be a risk of digital failure. Copying things down by hand, on the other hand, help information stick to your mind. This is up to every person's preferences, of course.
14. Find a balance between quality and quantity of materials copied and scanned, and of photos taken.
15. For those moments of enlightenment: write down your thoughts at once.
16. If the materials are in a language different from what you'll be writing in, decide on the spot whether it's worth it to transcribe the stuff in its original language (you'll get the nuances of the original expressions), or if meanings (from an immediate, as-you-go-along translation) would be sufficient.

When you're back from the archives.

17. When you're finished with your dissertation or publication, give a copy to the (main) archives.

I hope this helps, if you're planning to do archival research; and if not, I hope this tells you a bit of what historians do.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Now food

Too many of my recent posts had "PhD" in their titles T__T While I do love this job, I also do other things, like make and eat food. This post will be like a simulation of scrolling down Instagram...I think.

Packed lunch on departmental induction day. 
Salmon, mashed potatoes, and one parboiled carrot.

 Mashed potatoes with garlic butter AND cream.

Free lunch I got for helping out at an event
(This is a typical British lunch -- sandwich, crisps, maybe dessert)

Chocolate cake for a charity coffee morning in college.
Recipe for cake here but I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup; here's how to make the pudding filling -- I subbed the white sugar for dark brown sugar and found that 1/2 cup was plenty!; and the icing is a simple ganache (about 2 parts double cream warmed up to melt 1 part dark chocolate).







One morning, I put too much water in the rice.
Rice was too mushy.
Turned it into nasi himpit.








Asam pedas salmon for dinner.

The leftover dinner.
Leftover egg salad, garlic bread -- to use up some stale tiger/giraffe baton (which happens to be my favourite)--, with soup made of stuff I had in the cupboard and freezer: potatoes, peas, sweetcorn, ikan bilis, coriander, and cod. Delicious. <== Do people use this word anymore?
/This bowl of soup was the last of a batch of 4-5 portions that I made and froze earlier./

Sometimes, dinner is an assortment of snacks.
Strawberry yogurt, crisps, banana, and leftover chocolate pudding filling with cake tops (that I sliced off to make the cake layers even). I felt full after the yogurt, crisps and cake, so the banana became next day's breakfast.

Meatballs in tomato sauce.
I made a huge batch (made the tomato sauce, then mixed, shaped, pan-seared, and slow-cooked 146 tablespoon-sized meatballs...I counted while doling them into freezer bags) and divided them into 14 portions. 
That's 14 almost instant future meals! This is important, people, to have ready meals for hectic days and nights and to cut down on time spent in the kitchen. In a friend's words, "Daripada you duduk kat dapur [to cook and clean up for one person], baik you guna masa tu untuk study kan." So accurate.

So. I should go off now and start reading those 4 chapters/articles for Wednesday's Methods class.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 (x 4) things I wish I'd done in my first year of PhD

A couple of days ago, I attended Cambridge DOCking Station's "‘5 things I wish I’d known last year’: A Networking & Mentoring Event" at the Criminology building. They put together a panel of second- and third-year PhD students, who shared their regrets/insights about what they could've/should've done during their first year. A few of the points were repeated by most or all of them -- which means I should watch out for these things--, and overall I thought they gave really helpful advice.

Here are the things first-year PhD should heed:

1. Plan supervisions ahead, draw up a list of question you want to raise with your supervisor. Simply put, have clear goals for each meeting.
2. Start writing as soon as possible.
Talk to people in your department, not just PhDs, but the postdoc fellows, the lecturers, everyone. They know things you don't.
3. Plan for your final year and for your post-PhD life...this helps you to stay focused on finishing your research successfully, but
4. Avoid planning for the future too rigidly, enjoy the research process.

5. Remember the very privilege of being able to do research -- you'll appreciate your position (all of its highs and lows!) better.
6. The process of reaching your final PhD goal is like a downward (or upward, whatever) spiral, with you starting from one end and aiming for the other. Let's put in some visual aid:

Explanation: because your research goals are on side A, you'll feel discouraged every time you realise that you're at a point on side B (have you ever, after weeks or months of sifting through the literature and materials, found yourself back at the same place you were before? That's side B.)
The thing to remember is, no matter which side you're currently on, you are moving down the spiral, which means that you are getting closer to your research answers. 
It will feel slow or stationary sometimes, but just. keep. going.

7. Read broadly, attend a variety of talks and events to keep your mind active and open and curious.
8. Establish from the start your key expectations with your supervisor.
9. Peer supervision. Get PhD colleagues and postdocs to comment on your work. Yes they're busy with their own work, but be persistent and keep asking. 

10. Manage your supervisor. They are extremely busy people, do not take their time for granted, but chase them down for feedback if you need to. If they forget, remind them. Right now, in the midst of your cluelessness about your PhD, it seems like your supervisor will be the one to manage your project, BUT NO. It is your project. You manage it, and manage your supervisor's commitment to it as well.
11. Plan your learning time. Set aside time to actually read and understand and learn new skills.
12. Collaborate up. This means that, whenever possible, ask for comments on your work, seek research collaboration opportunities, and establish relationships with academics who are higher up the seniority ladder.
13. Ask for help.

14. Keep writing. One way to do is is to always write on a fresh file/document/sheet instead of writing and editing over a new one. This helps you to keep track of your progress because you can compare your older work with your more recent ones.
15. Have specialists and non-specialists look at your work.
16. On writing and note-taking: keep your literature review/broad perspective notes separate from your close analysis.
17. Consistently re-examine your voice and perspective. It needs to be critical and authentic, beware the trap of cultural imperialism, which tricks you into adapting a point of view just because it's prevalent and seems correct.
18. Take advantage of travel opportunities. Apply to all the funding available, and even if it seems remotely applicable to your research/recreational situation, ask. 

There should've been 20 points, but the other two probably were repetitions of the other points so I didn't write them down. Additional advice:

19. Don't think of your PhD research as a title. Your research scope will expand and change and twist, so lower your barriers and keep an open mind.
20. Don't reference things that aren't directly relevant to your argument just so you can bulk up your footnotes.

On managing your reading (your to-read list will grow forever more):
21. You can't read everything.
22. Read book review articles. This is a lovely cheat tip, but doing this really does direct you towards the central debates of the topic and area.


I also attended the History faculty's introductory session on "Good Research Practice" for PhDs/historians, but I'll lay out the loot from that one in another post inshaAllah.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tips for first-year PhDs

Now that I am almost three weeks into this adventure, I've met my supervisor, made friends in college and in the department and elsewhere, I have received some advice from others who have more experience doing a Humanities PhD. All of them have helped me look at my open schedule and the PhD process differently, and I suspect that these tips will be very valuable to me as I trudge ahead.

I have always wondered what it's like to be a PhD researcher -- what is expected of me, what can I do to get the most out of it, what challenges should I be prepared for, what perks should I not miss out on, and basically how will it change my life? Maybe you've been thinking about these things, too, so here's what I've heard so far:

From my supervisor:

1. Spend the first two months or so of the PhD exploring your topic. Be open to all the possible ways of examining your topic, and map out what sources are available.
2. Enjoy your experience.


Sometimes I get lost.

From a 2nd year Middle Eastern Studies PhD student:

3. Try to do a bit of everything everyday. In any research area/phase that requires intensive and extensive reading, it's easy to lose yourself in one book or subtopic, and emerge from the rabbit hole 2 or three weeks after that. And then you'll realise how out of touch you've become with the other aspects of your research, that you're now 3 weeks closer to the first year assessment deadline but have not examined the other subtopics/authors yet, and it'll be more difficult to shift your focus quickly.

This is the work routine that worked for him (he didn't realise this until he was several months into his PhD): Chunk down your morning into sessions where you do, say, some language work, and then some essential reading of Egyptian history, and after that a reading of your primary sources. So by lunch time, you'll see that you've covered quite a lot, which is very satisfying and encouraging. After lunch break, you can then concentrate on one thing that you've chosen for the day. Repeat. After a few weeks, you should have (a) decided whether this works for you or not -- and tweak or change your rhythm as needed, and (b) have covered quite a bit of ground on your initial research, inshaAllah.

The Free School Lane Site. This reminds me of UCL.

One of my classmates in Hebrew class is a post-doctoral fellow in Linguistics, who did his PhD in Cambridge about ten years back, experienced a difficult PhD -- he didn't get much support from his supervisor, it took him 5 years -- but he made it and became a specialist in that area! Here was his advice:

4. Have good friends. A few good ones is better than many not-so-close ones. Also important, know your friends' weaknesses, so you don't completely give in to their ways, and also so that you can help them where they need a friend's advice and support.

5. Ask for advice from people, don't be afraid to ask for advice. Listen to their perspectives, but you don't have to act on their advice if it doesn't suit you.

6. Be really curious. Open up your views, don't judge the ideas (related to your research), just be curious and get as much input as you can. Later you decide what's best for you and your study.

7. Do one thing that's different from your PhD. It could be completely unrelated to your study, it could be slightly related, but go out and be involved in something other than your research. These should all help you consider your research topic with fresh eyes, and in a broader view. Most importantly, it takes you a step back from your research, and we all know that things look differently from afar.

 Trumpington Street

I haven't found my reading-and-note-taking rhythm yet, nor my perfect desk/reading spot, or a (Cambridge-based) circle of friends that really click with me/kindred souls for keeps, but I will find them inshaAllah. 

اللهم بارك لنا في أوقاتا، آمين

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

PhD postcard

Dear friends,

I've begun my first year (they call it the probationary year -- you'll only be officially registered as a PhD student once you pass the first-year assessment) of PhD in Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Really, though, my research is historical (as opposed to being a study of politics...and...international studies. I've been to three separate sessions on methodology so far and now, more than ever, I find it hard to say "historical" (and a host of other terms) without weighing in the ways people have defined it/them.

Ideally, this post would be a letter with many snapshots enclosed. But (a) I no longer have a camera except for the one on my phone and (b) I can't transfer the phone photos to my laptop at the moment, but I managed to e-mail this photo from my phone before the tech-y problems arrived:

I bought a whole salmon at ASDA and cut it up to be frozen. This is much cheaper than buying salmon fillets, I wonder why we never thought of doing this in London.

Sorry my first photo from Cambridge is of a fish. The past few days have been spent in mapping out where the books that I need are -- this university has more than a hundred libraries but I'll probably only frequent 4 or 5 of them, and it's not like we get access to all the libraries anyway --, and then sourcing books than cannot be found in any of the Cambridge libraries, ferreting around the internet for human sources of information, plotting a realistic plan for the next several months of research, and getting used to living in Cambridge. Haven't bought a bike yet. Or a duvet. I made some laundry detergent, though, and I'm quite happy with the results so I shouldn't need to spend so much money on regular ones any more :)

Remember me in your du'as!

Until next time,
Maryam
St. Catharine's College, Cambridge

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lemon cake recipe

I forgot to blog this one.

Lemon cake is like sunshine! Lemon cake is one of the very few cakes that I actually like to eat. Lemon juice takes away the cloying sweetness of a plain (but dense and fluffy) pound cake, and the cake is best enjoyed with hot tea or plain water.

I've been baking lemon cakes for breakfast and snacking purposes since maybe 2009, using this recipe, which is simply pound cake laced with lemon juice and zest, and topped with crunchy lemon glaze (sunshine).

In London, I did not like the electric beaters we inherited from the flat's previous tenants (it made too much noise and most of the time the beaters refused to release themselves for washing up), so I looked for a recipe that would only require an egg whisk. This recipe served me well there -- it uses melted butter instead of softened butter (so no creaming required), and a dose of double cream. But when I tried making the cake using the melted butter recipe when I was back in Malaysia, the cake refused to rise properly (even after I doubled the baking powder) and didn't turn out as perfectly as it used to in London. Climate effect, probably. So here's the Malaysian-weather-friendly recipe:


Easy lemon loaf cake from Nabeelah on Vimeo.

To make this cake, you will need:
1/2 cup (125g) butter, softened
1/2 cup (95g) caster sugar
2 large eggs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (more, if you want a tangier cake)
1 cup (140g) plain flour, sifted with
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder,
and 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the glaze, you need:
1/2 cup caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Some lemon juice, maybe 3-4 tablespoons?

It's easy, really. Here's how you make the cake:

  1. Rub the lemon zest with the sugar, to release the lovely oils.
  2. Dump the butter onto the lemon sugar, and beat until creamy and fluffy. You can use an electric mixer or a large spoon, just make sure the butter and sugar are well beaten.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one by one. Mix well. If the mixture looks curdled, don't worry.
  4. Add in the dry ingredients and lemon juice alternately, ending with the flour mix. Stir until just mixed.
  5. Pour the batter into a greased and lined loaf tin.
  6. Bake in a 180*C oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool the cake for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then turn in out on a wire rack.
And here's how you make the glaze:

  1. Make more lemon sugar using 1/2 cup caster sugar and the zest of one lemon.
  2. Stir in lemon juice, until the glaze is runny but still thick.
  3. Pour onto the top of the cake, and let it set.
The cake is also amazing glaze-less and warm from the oven. Cut it up and enjoy!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bagaimana untuk memohon kemasukan ke program PhD di UK**

 بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

**Panduan ini khusus untuk anda yang berminat untuk menceburi penyelidikan akademik -- melalui ijazah penyelidikan (MPhil, MRes, PhD, DPhil) -- dalam bidang Sastera, Kemanusiaan dan Sains Sosial di United Kingdom. Mungkin banyak juga prosedur di bawah terpakai untuk bidang lain dan di negara lain, tetapi pengalaman saya terhad kepada sistem PhD di UK (dan mungkin Eropah).

Ada bidang ilmu yang sangat sesuai didalami di UK, dan ada yang kurang sesuai
[The Study Room of the Department of the Ancient Near East, the British Museum]

Pertama sekali, jangan takut ditolak. Permohonan ditolak, e-mel tak berbalas, e-mel dibalas tetapi tanpa berita yang menggembirakan...ini semua normal.


Untuk memohon kemasukan ke program PhD atau ijazah penyelidikan (research degree) yang lain di UK, anda perlu:

  1. Menyediakan kertas kerja cadangan penyelidikan (research proposal)
  2. Mendapatkan persetujuan bakal penyelia (supervisor)
  3. Membuat permohonan rasmi ke universiti
Cuma tiga perkara. Nampak ringkas, tapi sebenarnya boleh menghantui masa tidur dan masa sedar anda.

Kemudian, bersedialah untuk menunggu, dan sediakanlah back-up plans secukupnya. Kita merancang dan berusaha untuk kebaikan di dunia dan akhirat tapi Allah jua yang mengizinkan atau tak mengizinkan.

Cara-cara memohon:

#1: Sediakan kertas cadangan penyelidikan.

Sebenarnya, anda boleh juga lakukan #2 (cari penyelia) terlebih dahulu, dan merencana cadangan penyelidikan bersamanya. Namun, menurut pengalaman saya, lebih baik anda siapkan dahulu kertas cadangan, supaya anda boleh terus melamar penyelia dengan persediaan secukupnya, lebih-lebih lagi jika anda dan penyelia tersebut tidak saling mengenali.

Sebelum menyediakan kertas cadangan penyelidikan, anda mesti mempunyai cadangan penyelidikan. Dalam kata lain, perihal apa yang anda rasa wajar untuk diberi tumpuan penyelidikan selama lebih kurang tiga tahun, dan berbaloi dibelanjakan beratus-ratus ribu ringgit semata-mata untuk membolehkan anda mengkajinya?

Kalau anda sudah ada tajuk cadangan, alhamdulillah. Teruskan usaha mengembangkan tajuk tersebut menjadi kertas cadangan yang baik. Kalau belum, anda boleh cuba menjana cadangan projek kajian menggunakan panduan di bawah:

  1. Kenalpasti lapangan ilmu serta tajuk khusus yang anda minati.
  2. Baca sebanyak-banyaknya. Baca buku-buku serta makalah-makalah akademik (yang diterbitkan dalam jurnal dan sebagainya) penting dalam lapangan yang anda mahu selidiki. Jangan lupa untuk mengikuti perkembangan terkini dalam kesarjanaan lapangan tersebut.
  3. Kenalpasti isu-isu yang masih belum dipelopori dalam penulisan para sarjana lapangan tersebut. Inilah yang dikenali sebagai "research gap". Mengapa anda perlu mencari lompong-lompong tersebut? Kerana setiap tesis PhD mestilah menyumbang sesuatu yang baharu kepada pengetahuan manusia. Ada kajian PhD yang tidak menjumpai bahan baharu dalam sesuatu bidang, tetapi menyumbang dengan cara mengutarakan kaedah baharu untuk mentafsirkan sesuatu pengetahuan [menggunakan teori pemahaman yang lain, dan sebagainya].
  4. Catitkan isu-isu yang anda rasa perlu dikaji (tetapi masih belum dikaji), dan pilih isu yang paling anda suka. Anda patut memilih tajuk yang anda betul-betul minati, kerana nanti akan ada banyak cabaran yang menguji sejauh mana anda sanggup bersusah demi menyiapkan sebuah kajian. Cabaran-cabaran ini akan mudah mematahkan semangat jika anda tidak benar-benar cintakan subjek kajian anda.
  5. Kenalpasti para sarjana yang paling arif dalam lapangan serta tajuk yang anda pilih. Cari alamat/alamat e-mel mereka, dan catitkan semuanya.
  6. Karang kertas cadangan penyelidikan anda.
Bagaimana pula cara terbaik untuk mempersembahkan kertas cadangan penyelidikan PhD? Lain universiti dan jabatan, lainlah format yang diminta. Tetapi lazimnya, perkara-perkara berikut perlu ada dalam kertas cadangan:

  1. Tajuk (working title). Tajuk projek harus jelas dan seringkas yang mungkin. Dinamakan working title kerana biasanya tajuk kajian akan berubah mengikut kemajuan penyelidikan dari masa ke semasa.
  2. [TIDAK WAJIB ADA] Abstrak, atau ringkasan cadangan. Biasanya abstrak tak lebih daripada satu perenggan pendek, fungsinya untuk memudahkan kerja panel penilai, dan penyelia, untuk memahami cadangan projek anda sekilas pandang sebelum mereka meneliti keseluruhan kertas kerja. Kalau anda tidak mahu menyertakan abstrak, atau had perkataan tidak mengizinkan, saya cadangkan anda hasilkan juga seperenggan abstrak untuk melatih diri meringkaskan buah fikiran. Penulisan abstrak juga boleh membantu anda lebih nampak perkara-perkara yang perlu diberi lebih tumpuan, dan yang mana perkara picisan.
  3. Tinjauan kajian terdahulu (literature overview). Literature review yang baik bukan sahaja menggabungkan serta membanding-beza semua pandangan serta penemuan terdahulu dalam lapangan ilmu yang dipilih. Lebih daripada itu, anda mesti menonjolkan tema-tema terbesar dalam sesuatu wacana, serta mengasingkan perdebatan-perdebatan terpenting.
  4. Ringkasan kajian cadangan (research overview). Berkesinambungan dengan literature review sebelumnya, nyatakan research gap(s) yang mahu anda penuhi melalui penyelidikan yang diusulkan. Terangkan peri-penting kajian anda (significance of study), kemudian gambarkan secara ringkas kajian yang bakal anda jalankan (brief description of proposed study). "Research gap(s)" serta "significance of study" yang anda tunjukkan adalah dua sisi terpenting dalam cadangan penyelidikan -- inilah yang akan menarik minat bakal penyelia terhadap potensi projek cadangan anda.
  5. Kaedah penyelidikan (research methodology), termasuk sumber-sumber yang bakal digunakan. Kajian kualitatif atau kuantitatif? Kajian arkib atau sejarah lisan? Apa rangka teori yang dirasakan paling sesuai untuk peringkat analisa dapatan?
  6. Rangka masa cadangan. Contohnya, tahun satu untuk literature review serta tinjauan awal bahan-bahan rujukan primer; tahun dua untuk mengumpul data; tahun ketiga untuk menganalisa data dan menyiapkan penulisan tesis. Bahagian ini perlu untuk membuktikan kepada penyelia bahawa anda jelas dan bersikap realistik dengan perkara-perkara yang perlu dilaksanakan demi menghasilkan sebuah tesis dalam masa yang ditetapkan.
  7. [TIDAK WAJIB ADA] Latar belakang anda, selaku pemohon dan bakal penyelidik. Apa pengalaman dan kelayakan yang anda miliki, yang akan membolehkan anda melaksanakan kajian yang dicadangkan? Jika ada kemahiran yang relevan, termasuk yang anda rasa perlu ditambah semasa membuat PhD nanti -- contohnya kemahiran bahasa-bahasa tertentu --, nyatakan.
  8. Senarai bahan rujukan (bibliografi) ringkas. Serasikan format bibliografi dengan gaya "citation" yang anda gunakan dalam bahagian utama kertas kerja.

Apa yang penyelia dan panel pemilihan cari dalam kertas cadangan penyelidikan?
Keaslian cadangan kajian; kajian yang mampu memberi kesan [kepada kesarjanaan atau/dan terhadap masyarakat dunia]; kemampuan calon untuk memahami dan merumuskan perbincangan serta perdebatan terpenting dalam lapangan yang dipilih; kebolehan calon untuk menyertai dialog ilmiah dalam lapangan tersebut; kepekaan calon terhadap perkembangan terkini ilmu tersebut; kemahiran mengutarakan (menulis) pandangan dengan bernas dan jelas; kesediaan calon untuk berdikari dalam menyelidik [dengan bimbingan penyelia]; keupayaan calon untuk mengembangkan konsep-konsep yang rumit dan menerapkan konsep-konsep yang sesuai di dalam penyelidikan dan penulisan.


#2: Cari penyelia

Ada pelajar yang sudah mengenali pensyarah yang dirasakan sesuai untuk dijadikan penyelia PhD, mungkin kerana cara kerjanya, atau mungkin kerana bidang kajiannya. Untuk kes-kes sebegini, kadangkala pensyarah tersebut sudah mempunyai cadangan kajian, dan sekiranya dipersetujui oleh pelajar, pelajar cuma perlu mengembangkan kertas cadangan penyelidikan, dan memohon secara rasmi untuk kemasukan ke universiti terbabit.

Ada pula pelajar (seperti saya) yang sudah ada tajuk yang diminati, tetapi perlu mencari penyelia yang sesuai. Jangan hanya menghubungi seorang penyelia. Sama seperti memohon universiti sebelum ke peringkat PhD, tiada siapa yang boleh menjamin kemasukan anda ke mana-mana institusi. Oleh itu, senaraikan sebanyak mungkin pensyarah yang dirasakan sesuai menjadi penyelia projek cadangan anda. Di sini ada panduan yang baik untuk mencari penyelia PhD.

Kemudian, e-mel pensyarah-pensyarah terbabit.

Di sini saya kongsikan panduan menulis e-mel kepada penyelia-penyelia yang diminati:

  1. Letakkan tajuk e-mel (subject) yang jelas. Contohnya, "Prospective PhD candidate for 2016/17, research on batch-cooking among students in winter".
  2. E-mel mesti ringkas. Kalau boleh, biar seluruh teks e-mel anda, dari "Dear Professor X" sehingga ke baris "Thank you", boleh dilihat dalam skrin tanpa perlu di-skrol ke bawah. Ahli akademik, apatah lagi yang berpangkat profesor, sangat sibuk dan biasa menerima berpuluh-puluh, bahkan beratus-ratus e-mel setiap hari. Saya pernah mendapat balasan e-mel daripada seorang profesor (yang terkenal dan sibuk), bukan daripadanya sendiri, tetapi daripada pengurusnya -- itupun setelah saya menghantar e-mel follow-up kerana e-mel yang pertama sudah beberapa minggu tidak dibalas. Bayangkan betapa penuhnya jadual harian mereka. Jadi, hargai masa penyelia dan mudahkan kerjanya.
  3. Perkenalkan diri anda. Singkatkan yang ini. Siapa nama anda, kelulusan terakhir apa dan daripada universiti mana. Jika anda disarankan untuk menghubungi penyelia tersebut oleh pensyarah lain yang mengenalinya, sebut nama pensyarah yang anda kenal itu.
  4. Tanya sama ada mereka masih mempunyai kekosongan untuk pelajar seliaan baharu bagi tahun akademik yang anda mahu mulakan pengajian PhD. Profesor yang saya sebutkan di atas, tak dapat memenuhi hajat saya untuk menyelidik di bawah seliaannya, kerana pelajar sedia ada sudah cukup banyak. Kalau diterima lagi, beliau takkan dapat memberi perhatian selayaknya kepada setiap pelajar seliaan (ini belum termasuk tugas-tugasnya yang lain di universiti dan di luar universiti!). Contoh pertanyaan,"I am writing to ask if you are still considering/taking on new PhD students/supervisees for the next academic year."
  5. Rumuskan cadangan kajian anda. Kalau sudah sediakan abstrak, boleh digunakan di sini, tetapi mungkin anda perlu ubah sedikit struktur ayat untuk disesuaikan dengan nada e-mel yang lebih bersifat perbualan. Ingat, ringkaskan.
  6. Kaitkan cadangan kajian anda dengan kepakaran dan kajian-kajian semasa mereka. Tunjukkan bahawa anda pernah (sekurang-kurangnya) membaca hasil penyelidikan mereka, dan tunjukkan bahawa projek kajian yang anda cadangkan itu selari dengan minat kajian mereka.
  7. Lampirkan kertas kerja cadangan penyelidikan yang sudah anda siapkan.
  8. Gunakan bahasa yang sopan dan profesional. Anda perlu tampilkan minat yang mendalam terhadap tajuk kajian serta keterujaan untuk bekerja dengan penyelia tersebut, tetapi tak perlulah memuji berlebihan. Usah mendesak, tetapi jelaskan kepada mereka bahawa anda perlukan maklum balas dan tunjuk ajar daripada mereka. Adakalanya, ada pensyarah yang berminat dengan cadangan anda, tetapi skop kajian anda terkeluar daripada kepakarannya. Dalam keadaan begini, mereka mungkin boleh mencadangkan penyelia-penyelia lain (di universiti yang sama atau berbeza) yang boleh anda hubungi. Proses mencari dan melamar ini tidaklah susah, cuma kita perlu bersikap terbuka, bertawakkal kepada Allah, dan beradab dalam mencari guru. Ingat, memang kalau boleh kita mahukan penerimaan daripada penyelia-penyelia idaman kita, tetapi seperti juga hubungan dengan manusia lain, kita takkan tahu keadaan sebenar mereka melainkan setelah kita bertanya. Jika gagal mendapat persetujuan daripada penyelia yang dituju, move on. Cari yang lain. Apa pun maklum balas yang diberi, anggaplah setiap guru yang kita hubungi itu sebagai pembimbing dan penanda arah ke jalan terbaik dalam penyelidikan.
  9. Jika e-mel anda tidak dibalas selepas 2-3 minggu, hantar kembali e-mel asal, dengan nota baharu untuk meminta penyelia tersebut memberi maklum balas. Jika tidak dibalas juga, lupakan penyelia tersebut. Anda perlukan penyelia yang sanggup meluangkan masa untuk memberi maklum balas sesegera mungkin, jadi jika dari awal pun sudah nampak betapa mereka tidak mengambil berat soal menjawab e-mel dan pertanyaan, atau mereka terlampau sibuk dengan bebanan kerja yang lain, lebih baik anda cari penyelia lain yang lebih boleh diharap.
  10. Jika anda menghantar beberapa e-mel lamaran kepada beberapa orang pensyarah dalam satu-satu masa, JANGAN hantar e-mel "acuan" dengan alamat e-mel semua penerima diletakkan sekali. Dalam situasi ini, mass e-mails are rude. Siapkan, dan hantar e-mel satu persatu, dan pastikan nama penerima serta butiran lain di dalam e-mel (seperti universiti di mana penyelia tersebut bekerja dan pengkhususan kajian penyelia terbabit) diubah jika anda menggunakan karangan yang sama untuk setiap e-mel. Jangan terburu-buru. Penyelia takkan  berminat untuk membalas e-mel, apatah lagi menyelia pelajar yang tidak mengambil berat akan perkara-perkara yang kelihatan kecil, tetapi mustahak sebenarnya.

#3: Mohon secara rasmi untuk kemasukan ke universiti.

Apa yang jabatan/universiti cari dalam permohonan PhD? Apa yang membuatkan mereka menawarkan tempat kepada calon PhD yang memohon?

  1. Kertas cadangan penyelidikan yang mantap. Kajian cadangan anda haruslah berdaya saing, menarik, asli, dan menjanjikan sumbangan ilmu.
  2. Keserasian kajian anda dengan pengkhususan jabatan secara keseluruhan (research fit). Setiap jabatan ada kekuatan dan kekurangannya, dan mahu membina kepakaran dalam isu-isu tertentu. Sebab inilah, anda mesti bijak membina kertas cadangan yang mampu "menjual" tajuk anda kepada jabatan terbabit. Selidiki pengkhususan para pensyarah serta tumpuan kajian jabatan yang diminati, kemudian bentukkan cadangan kajian anda supaya selari dengan minat mereka.
  3. Kemampuan menyelia di pihak jabatan. Boleh jadi, projek kajian yang anda cadangkan sebenarnya bagus dan secara peribadinya menarik minat panel penilai, tetapi jika jabatan tersebut tidak mempunyai penyelia yang sesuai untuk anda, atau penyelia yang berkepakaran sedang cuti pada tahun itu (research leave, sabbatical) tidak mampu meluangkan masa untuk menyelia anda, maka permohonan anda akan ditolak. Bagi kebanyakan universiti di UK, persetujuan tak formal daripada penyelia (yang anda dapat melalui perhubungan e-mel dengannya) merupakan tanda awal penerimaan anda sebagai calon PhD di universiti terbabit. Namun, ada juga jabatan yang meletakkan tanggungjawab membuat keputusan menerima atau menolak permohonan ke atas bahu para pensyarah dalam panel penilai jabatan. Dalam keadaan ini, walaupun anda sudah mendapatkan persetujuan tak formal daripada penyelia, masih tiada jaminan untuk anda mendapat tempat di universiti tersebut. Contohnya, jabatan Politics and International Studies (POLIS) di University of Cambridge serta program PhD di Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS, Freie Universitat Berlin) mengiklankan di laman sesawang mereka bahawa para pemohon tidak perlu menghubungi bakal penyelia sebelum memohon kerana setiap permohonan akan dinilai oleh admissions committee, bukan penyelia. [Tapi saya tetap menghubungi penyelia sebelum menghantar permohonan kepada kedua-duanya. Tak ada pun kesan negatif terhadap permohonan kita, cuma apabila ditawarkan tempat, kita mungkin akan diberi penyelia lain]. Ya, penyelia akan dirujuk untuk memastikan mereka sudi dan mampu menyelia, tetapi dalam proses sebenar penerimaan calon PhD ke setiap jabatan, halangan terawal yang perlu diatasi adalah untuk mendapatkan lampu hijau daripada panel pemilih.
  4. Kelayakan akademik dan keupayaan/pengalaman menyelidik. Ini tentu sekali syarat yang perlu dilepasi oleh calon-calon yang berminat untuk membuat PhD. Lazimnya universiti akan menilai kelayakan anda sekaligus dengan calon-calon lain dalam tahun yang sama. Maknanya, pencapaian setiap calon adalah relatif kepada pencapaian calon-calon yang lain. Persaingan sesama ahli "cohort" (kumpulan pelajar yang memohon dan diterima masuk setiap tahun) inilah yang akan menghantui siang dan malam anda setelah mimpi ngeri mendapatkan penyelia berakhir. Faktor persaingan sesama pelajar dalam mendapatkan biasiswa jugalah yang menyebabkan banyak pemohon yang berjaya mendapat tawaran universiti, tidak jadi mendaftar kerana tidak mampu membiayai pengajian.
  5. Saranan bekas pensyarah pemohon. Kemampuan dan potensi anda akan lebih menyerlah sekiranya disokong oleh surat-surat saranan yang bagus. Jika anda masih lagi belajar di peringkat ijazah sarjana muda atau ijazah sarjana dan merancang untuk menyambung PhD di masa akan datang, cari bakal "referees" mulai sekarang. Mereka mampu menilai kekuatan akademik anda menerusi hasil kerja anda, tetapi dari sudut keperibadian, bina hubungan yang baik dengan semua guru supaya mereka senang hati menaruhkan nama dan reputasi mereka di atas surat sokongan permohonan anda nanti.
  6. [BUKAN SEMUA] Temubual dengan penyelia atau panel penilai. Bagi pemohon yang tinggal jauh dari UK, universiti biasanya membenarkan interview dijalankan menggunakan Skype atau telefon. Rata-rata program PhD di Jerman mewajibkan sesi temubual (dengan bakal penyelia serta beberapa lagi individu dalam jawatankuasa pemilihan) sebelum keputusan muktamad dibuat. Di UK, bukan semua universiti akan menemubual pemohon PhD. Yang penting, sesi temubual bertujuan untuk memastikan bahawa calon benar-benar telah menghasilkan kertas cadangan kajian dengan sendiri; bahawa calon boleh berkomunikasi dengan baik dalam bahasa Inggeris; bahawa personaliti calon dan bakal penyelia serasi, atau sekurang-kurangnya tiada perkara yang akan menghalang pemohon daripada bekerja dengan baik selaku calon PhD.

#4: Pembiayaan.

Ini cerita lain, inshaAllah. Selamat memohon!