A personal note -Reflection as a Postgraduate Student

My name is Rowena, and I am a Doctor of Public Health candidate at the Social and Preventive Medicine (SPM) Department at the University of Malaya. I was moved to write a reflection on my journey of doing postgraduate studies at the SPM department. I believe every one of us doing postgraduate studies has experienced what I have gone through, but I decided to pen it down in words.

I am passionate about Public Health Medicine and realized Public Health is the way forward to make changes in many aspects of change in healthcare.

When I first enrolled in the Doctor of Public Health program, the early years were hectic, but I believe it was the process of molding me into becoming a better person. I remember struggling to search for a research topic and finding suitable supervisors. It was a personal challenge for me. Passing the proposal defense then was like going through a tough Q&A session. The questions and the criticism of the panels have added value to the research I have planned. I remembered walking out from the defence feeling frustrated.

There were a lot of changes from the beginning until I completed the project. The COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, and I was one of the postgraduate students severely affected by its impact. I had to change my research methodology and find other ways to conduct my research. But when I look back, the pandemic has added value to a research that was supposed to be limited to institution-based and only conducted in one state; thanks to the pandemic, it has become a nationwide study. Sometimes, indeed, all things work together for good.

I remember walking out of the SPM department room, wanting to quit this whole program as I couldn’t see the direction of my thesis. It was a personal battle within me. I was close to approaching the Head of the Department, too, but I’m thankful for batchmates who stopped me from making a move. I remember just having the wrong mindset. I kept struggling, thinking I was not able to finish this project. Anxiety started creeping in. I didn’t want to lash out at my family members. They were supportive throughout my journey, but I realised I wasn’t giving them my best either.

My research was not moving then; I realized I had to make some changes to make the research moving. It was stagnant for some time. One thing I did was come to the UM Library consistently to ensure some work was done. I often asked myself if it was worth fighting through the jam to reach the UM library. But I realised that was my safe spot.

After being dormant for a long time, I started touching the project and connecting the dots for my research. Some days, I wasted time looking at the thesis and felt nothing was moving. But I just disciplined myself to open the thesis. I just knew that was the only way to get the project moving. I started connecting my dots, and I thank God that I can finish this project with my supervisors’ guidance. I also want to improve my research skills; hence, I enrolled in various workshops.

Yesterday was my Viva Voce. All postgraduate students must defend their thesis in this final Viva-Voce presentation. I am amazed that I could reach this stage, and I give God all glory and praise for this. After completing the Viva, my supervisors told me, “Congratulations. Rowena, you have grown. I remember you being unable to control your emotions in your early years. You are calmer now.”

That caught my attention. I realize doing a postgraduate is not just an academic performance but builds our character. It is a journey that builds us up to becoming a better person. Our worldview becomes different. We become a better person.

I also firmly believe the mind plays a role in helping us to complete what needs to be completed.In the beginning, I had the mindset I could not do it. With this mindset, the journey was challenging, and I felt it was draggy. The right mindset is essential in helping us complete anything. I decided to have the right mindset. I decided to push away all the negative thoughts and do what I needed to complete the project. It was just a switch of mind required, and then things started flowing accordingly.

I dedicate this note to all postgraduate students at different milestones of their research journey; make up your mind, and you will complete it. Do not worry about other people’s timelines. Just focus on your timeline. Take baby steps towards it. One day, you will reach the final destination. Don’t quit!

Have a strong support system, especially your batchmates and supervisors, to help guide you through the research. Be open to talk about the challenges of your research. I am sincerely grateful for my awesome batchmates and my beloved supervisors.

I wish each postgraduate student all the best! Pick up what’s left behind and start doing what needs to be done. Things will fall accordingly. Trust me in this!

The reflection was written by Dr Rowena John.

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