I received news recently that the university senate has conferred my master's degree to me. Someone suggested that I write a post about this in which I could use my perspective to help others.
Prior to my masters, I worked as a web designer for nine years, which this field has transformed into something more complex and extensive. There is a rise of phone users and laptop and tablet users to the complexities of UI/UX. In this field, I have to consider the behaviour and habits of different users as they access applications and websites through UI/UX.
In 2016, I decided to pursue a masters in visual Arts, which main focus is art history—the reasons why I decided to pursue masters because I wanted to explore opportunities other than my job. Moreover, I had an interest in reading artworks. Hence, I jumped into this without thinking and planning, which I regretted certain parts of my journey.
Some points that I am going to write may differ from one person to another. If you are hoping to learn anything, take what works for you. If anything of my post does not work for you, you can ignore them and look for other perspectives, such as The Post-Grad Survival Guide.
Here are the things that I learnt during this period.
Acceptance of being a visual learner
I have always been in a traditional mould of education. I went to kindergarten, primary school, secondary school and have done an undergraduate in university. In the traditional mould, the school system only accommodates students with the ability to memorise and the students who are auditory learners. Auditory learners often listen and understand things that are spoken about. Hence, they appeared to grasp the general concepts through listening and get good grades.
I was a visual learner but a trained auditory learner. I grew up with a strict father who scolded me when I tried to show visuals to describe to him. Furthermore, he scolded me for being reliant on maps and crumpled my map when I was referring to it. As a result of that, I had to train my auditory learning skills while my visual learning took a backseat. These incidences reinforced that I was not capable because I learnt differently.
I was in denial about the pain of not meeting up to my father’s expectations, especially in academia. Moreover, challenging hierarchy and gender result in more punishment when I was younger. Therefore, I did not address the trauma of being shut down as a visual learner. As I did not address the pain, the situation of learning based on my father’s expectations repeats itself when I was pursuing my masters. I was pressured to finish my masters earlier that I did not fully process my thoughts, which resulted with me extending my candidature for a few more years.
A few years ago, my husband showed me a video of about different learners. In summary, the presenter of the video highlighted that if an educator is faced with a visual learner, he/she have to make sure the students write it down because they will forget. If the student is an auditory learner, the educator should ensure the classroom environment is quiet to help the auditory learners to focus on the lesson. Finally, a kinesthetic learner learns optimally when the educator gives them lots of hands-on, such as getting the students to conduct experiments.
After hearing the video, I realised that I was not stupid and I was not optimising my strengths. I was like the fish that was taught to climb a tree. While I appreciate working on my auditory skills when I was young, but not working on my learning strengths hampered my learning and communication with people.
Here is my (not) so little secret. Sometimes I write down because I am trying to avoid eye contact with the people I am talking to. I often felt anxious and overwhelmed whenever I have appointments going on with my supervisors. Writing notes and diagrams while they speak was a way to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by other stimuli.
Hence, I will insist on my learning style if I sense disapproval in the distance. Sometimes, I will be frank and say, “If you want me to do good work and not miss your message, you have to let me write it down.”
Optimising my visual learning
After acknowledging that I am a visual learner, I found ways to optimising my learning strengths in doing my research. However, I learnt that optimising my learning strengths can be uncomfortable to other people, as they do not understand why I have to process it unconventionally. I do not think that my ways are unconventional. It is just that I followed the ‘move fast, break things’ motto by Mark Zuckerberg. I reinterpret this motto into my research to try methods. If it works, I will continue using it, but if it does not work or stagnate, I will find other methods to synthesize with my other methods.
Contrary to most people thinking, doing a research paper is not only about writing. Researchers do not write out of thin air, but we have a lot of information to synthesize to back up our research topic.
These three colour-coded files culminate the many iterations of mindmaps, outlines, notes, feedback, and exercises. The green file is filled with mindmaps and outlines for the big picture and structure for my research. The blue file consists of notes that I refer to when I need pointers from writing a dissertation and feedback from people. Finally, the red file consists of exercises that I do to work on my weaknesses in conducting my research. I find questions from Youtube and other sites and try to copy and process the recommended methods by different people.
I used to sketch my mindmaps messily, but I realised that I never referred to them because they were too messy and ugly. Hence, I change my method. I drew my mindmaps in pencil; then I inked them over with coloured pens. It took time to do them, but I was free to erase certain parts if it does not work for me. Erasing irrelevant nodes in mindmaps and figuring colours to put on the mindmap is a way for me to process information. As a result, it was more efficient to refer to my mindmaps when I need them during my research.
Think like a researcher, not a student
Going back to university to do my postgraduate means that I am a student again.
Unfortunately, being a Malaysian student brings up negative connotations, especially when people often associate students who are aged below 22 years ago. In the workplace, employers tend to complain about this group of students who cannot think critically and often rely on employers to spoonfeed them. I have my opinions on why they are unable to think critically, which is a story for another day.
Anyway, I remember complaining about certain aspects of my research, and my husband asked, “Why are you acting like a Malaysian student?”
That statement jolted me, and I realised that I needed to be more responsible. This statement also reminded me that I have a membership from the National Archives, in which I am a researcher and not a student. It’s a reminder of the responsibilities that I have.
From that day on, I changed my mindset of a researcher instead of a student, and it helped me tremendously in doing my dissertation. My supervisors referred to me as a student, but I tell myself that I am a researcher. While I respect certain aspects of hierarchy, telling myself that I am an equal to my supervisors pushes me to research better. At times I am in awe of their knowledge, but I also realised that they do not know everything. Hence, there is room for me to contribute my knowledge too.
I have been meditating more. Meditation is crucial for me because it helped me acknowledge my emotions and limitations. For the meditations, I used Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero. I learnt to acknowledge and address my emotions through his book. I grew up having to suppress my emotions because I was told that having negative emotions such as sadness and anger were wrong. The suppression of emotions was compounded by other factors, such as a patriarchal and religious society.
Denying emotions did bite me back during my masters. It was so bad that I had to call my friend for help and asked her if I needed to seek professional help. She told me not to because I was still functioning and highlighted that I was feeling stressed because of my father’s expectations. Remember the story of my father that I wrote in the earlier parts? I set my boundaries with him, and I began to trust my instincts on my research.
Therefore, I have made the decision that I am going to be emotionally healthier. I may not control other people’s reaction and get upset, but at least I can choose to work on things that I can control. The things that are out of my control, I surrender to God.
These are the experiences that I went through and learnt. While it was hard, going through my masters' candidature helped me address and acknowledge my issues that affected my research. I wanted to give up many times, but I told myself that I had done my best even if I am not conferred with my degree. Thankfully, I was conferred with the degree and am able to write about this.