Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekly Scribbles

Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you),

If you read my last post, you probably noticed a sense of frustration: how long does it take to write a pilot project proposal. Today I've decided to share my whiteboard scribbles (which I often do, to help me think), to firstly share some of the thoughts that  I've had in the past few months or so, and equally so, to push myself to get things done faster.


1. Dignity
How can anyone deal with a problem like poverty, without considering the dignity of the poor? Poverty is not only about a lack of finance, but also affects ones dignity, whether it is the stigma of being poor or a sense of feeling of being excluded due to the lack of wealth. Any financial or welfare-related program should put dignity in the forefront of their consideration; how do we ensure that all the processes preserve or restore the dignity of those in poverty?

2. Institutionalize the solution (i.e. welfare program)
Individual solutions are great, but it could go further if it were institutionalized, in the sense that it becomes a culture or a norm of some sort, so that somehow when we pass away, somehow that solution which was institutionalized stays longer, to benefit those in need, even if the individual who provided that solution or program isn't there any longer. At least someone benefits from it.

3. Be creative & thoughtful
Perhaps sometimes we can become so used to poverty, we react in some rigid way. Instead, we should whoever we are, whether you're a teacher, a business man or whatever profession you may be, think of creative ways on how in your field you could help those in poverty, even if it is seemingly a minor token. Times change, solutions may too.

Take care.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Back in Brunei

 Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you),

I've been back in Brunei for a few months now. It's great to be back, if at all to be near family and friends, as well as the peace and tranquility of Brunei. In short, it's home. If you've followed me for some time, I'd also like to share I am edging towards the end of my PhD journey, with the finale being the congregation this coming winter. Alhamdulillah. 

I've had people congratulating and calling me 'Dr' and all that stuff, but I'm not sure what accomplishments I've done. Yes, in the university, there's a certain 85,000+ word document embedded in the e-theses network, but what does it mean? So what? I do acknowledge it's a contribution of sorts, and I've learnt some research bits, as a research apprentice. The logical conclusion is naturally to use those bits to contribute to research in my field.

So here's where I'm at, at the moment; amidst the conversations about doing post-docs, undertaking administrative roles and doing collaborative research, I'm tentatively interested in pursuing a pilot project based on my thesis, which generally translates to 'Can financial planning work for the poor?'.

I'm working on writing a proposal for the pilot project, to share with interested stakeholders including research collaborators and funders perhaps, but I feel that it would take time as it's a solo effort at the moment and I'm still trying to ascertain the optimal way to get the proposal in its best shape and form. And in trying to expedite the process, I'm also locating or attempting to locate and reach out to clusters dealing with poverty and finance in Brunei, hoping to learn more along the process. What frustrates me is that this proposal bit is slow-going but better to get it done right than face key issues in the pilot implementation stage, I feel.

I'm also toying over the idea of setting up an online presence of sorts, a proper website, for all things poverty and finance related aspects, especially related to Brunei. I think it would expedite locating all the researchers, students and other interested individuals, current and future ones, in a centralized online platform. But I'm not sure yet if it adds value, or that I have time.

Anyway, these are my thoughts since I've been back. Take care all.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Musings of a Post-Submission-Pre-Viva PhD Student

Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you) all,

It's been some time since my last post. Such is life that a number of things have changed, yet some remain the same. I'm still a PhD student, it seems (and for some time now, it seems like an eternity).

Since my last post, I've submitted my thesis for examination, and to date, I am still waiting for the examination. I currently dislike the 'V' word. Nowadays, I nearly dread every time I get asked 'When is your viva?'. It's next to my dislike to the 'W' word, as in 'When is your wedding?'. I feel an 'X' word is forthcoming (Good luck with coming up with a word beginning with 'X', you people-with-all-sorts-of-questions).

I've been partly productive and partly less so ever since I submitted my thesis. I have been less productive, as I feel somewhat lost without the schedule that I had pedantically worked with for the last 3-4 years. During the more productive periods, I've given myself a pat for writing up 1-2 papers, and attending a seminar or two. More recently, I've been preparing for my viva, asking myself what my research is all about, how original it is etc., which led me to think about my PhD topic in general and why I've lost some drive or motivation on my PhD.

How does one determine the success of a research? More specifically, how does one determine the success of a research on poverty? Just before my thesis submission, the only person who truly understood my research was my supervisor. However, in the past year or so, I've presented the gist of my research or part of it in a conference and seminar. When I look back at those conference/seminar, I realize the reception of the audience on my topic/presentation were similar: There were near silence, with very little posed in the Q&A session. I don't know if it's because I'm usually the last or second last speaker for the day (which is interesting in itself hmm) or there is something 'wrong' with my topic.

And that essentially, or at least partially, explains why I am somewhat less than enthusiastic about my research at the moment. So how does one determine the success of a research on poverty? I'm not looking for the audience to stand up, clapping like mad and cheering my name (though in a parallel universe, that would be quite a sight). I'm also not wanting to win a Nobel Prize (though the million dollar prize would come in handy). Perhaps the real success of any research is:
  1. Whether somewhere along the line, someone will use my research/thesis to build upon something more substantial.
  2. Whether in practice, my proposed approach could work along the lines of a pilot project or attached to a project of some kind.

In all honesty, I don't know.

I do realize this post is heavily pensive, if not partly depressing. For that, I apologize but I cannot help to wonder if the 3-4 years accounts to nothing, especially when it comes to my viva. And that in itself is a different topic altogether.

Please wish or pray that I get through my viva. I do not ask for much really; just for the fact that I get through and that somewhere along the lines, someone even if it is just one person finds my research valuable, or at least one person in need or in poverty benefits from it, in any shape or form.

Thank you.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Fears

Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you),

I fear a number of things and in no particular order, I'd like to share some with you...

...I'm in the midst of reading my chapters again for the umpteenth time. After working on them for three years and a few months more, there's a point where I get tired of reading them. It's not because their arguments appear valid or they're supposedly well-written; I fear the longer I read them, the less likely someone else will. If Allah wills me to die tomorrow, I wonder what will happen to these papers, these points and sentences...So I thought of some of my other fears:

I fear I do things not because of Allah, but of others; I fear I will lose the points I gained, or did I ever really gained them?

I fear I will look back when I'm 60 (if I get there), regretting the lack of trying in my younger years.

I fear I made mistakes I can never correct. For some, I hope coincidentally they somehow read this post, and would forgive me then.

I fear I may or had dissappointed my parents once-upon-a-time; I pray they'd never be accounted for.

I fear my aging laptop monitor goes blank, and I forgot to save. What would become of my sentences? They had once existed, read by one but never many...if Allah wills.


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Dark Side of Research

Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you),

In February, I was disgusted to know instances of unethical research behavior by those involved in the area of Islamic economics/finance and poverty. I do acknowledge that ethical issues such as plagiarism for instance, are committed not only by students in general, but researchers too, as highlighted in the highly publicized cases of the German Defence and Education ministers. But I feel, it is much more frustrating if it is carried out by 'researchers' who are involved in poverty and ethical finance.

In the field of poverty, it should be painstakingly clear that researchers being stakeholders involved in issues of such a delicate matter, should be especially mindful of their research implications. The poor are already in a dire situation themselves and to play around with research does not bring benefit to anyone, especially the poor, even if the results appear to skew or benefit the poor. The end does not justify the means.

When I heard about it, I struggle to know what could and should be done. Personally, I feel such behaviors should lead to their doctorate degrees being withdrawn, to avoid them undertaking further unethical research behavior.

Here and now, I guess the best I can do is wish/hope/pray that apprentice researchers like me, as well as experienced researchers do not get their priorities distorted, for whatever reason, unable to spot the ethical line that is blurred by one's own intention and resulting action. Although, right and wrong might be clear for me or us now, I am aware that for some of us, myself included, there is always a chance that we become tempted in the future to cross that line. Let's hope that we stay true in our intentions and help remind one another, as I had recently been reminded, that in the Day of Judgement, Allah will judge us for all that we do, whether it is seen or unseen by others.


Friday, March 1, 2013

How I survived data analysis (so far)...

Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you),

Recently, I was talking to a fellow Bruneian about ways to analyze fieldwork data and the write-up that follows. It made me think about the challenges I had last year, when I first analyzed my data. Below are three basic tips/suggestions for anyone doing research for the first time.

1. Keep track of everything!

Go anal! Be pedantic!

I now keep a research doodlebook (the technical term is probably 'research journal/diary'), a statistics logbook and I maintain strict version controls of every word document and SPSS file I create. 
  • The research journal is one of the more common things research students are told to keep. It's where we write notes, jot down ideas (that we fear may escape our thoughts at any second), and where we doodle some rather ugly or scary-looking diagram that might help our research. 
  • The statistic logbook, on the other hand, is less common. When I run statistical tests, I'm easily lost in what I had done, what the variables are, whether I tested all assumptions etc. So the logbook keeps me sane, happy and acknowledge that life is good...(until some statistically insignificant findings comes up!).
  • I used to work in a company where version control is important, i.e. the first document is named, for instance 'Umar's Recipe for Disaster v 0.1' and further changes are '.... v 0.2' until the first complete draft is '... v1.0' and so on. Doing this makes life simpler when you need to backtrack to a previous version, to re-instate that scary-looking diagram back to your latest draft.

2. Foot pedal
Aside from statistics, I also did some interviews which I had to transcribe. I used a foot pedal (which I now treasure and will bring with me, should I get secluded on an island, for no other reason than to call it 'Wilson'). 

A foot pedal lets you pause, fast forward and play the conversation using your foot, whilst your hands are free to type away, cringing at the sound of your own voice or that lame joke you told the interviewee. I use the infinity USB foot pedal, which is available at Amazon. A must have for interview-related research!

3. Credo reference
If your university subscribes to Credo Reference, you should definitely try it out and see if it works for you. It's the Wikipedia of the academic world. I use it to get a first grasp of an unfamiliar concept. It's essentially an online reference that provide entries from encyclopedias, dictionaries etc. 

I hope the above helps, in one way or another. 

Till next time.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Conflicting Intentions

Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you),

I like this Hadith or Saying of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):
Actions are but [judged] by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus he whose migration was for Allah and His Messenger, his migration was for Allah and his Messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some world benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated.
I know I've mentioned this in a post some time ago, but I can't help mention it every now and then, especially when my intentions or goals seem to conflict over one another. The context of intention here is not that one intention is good and the other is wrong. Rather, it is that one intention is for Allah while the other is a worldly intention. What if these two are in conflict, and the latter, the worldly intention, feels more dominant than the intention for Allah and His Messenger.

[Note: At this point, readers of this blog who find themselves reading a near-philosophical rant is more than welcome to log off, esp. as I can't/won't give a good example...I'll pretend not to feel insulted. For those still around, you'll probably regret not logging off  :) ]

For me, alhamdulillah, I believe such conflict of intentions are rare but it troubles me when they do occur. In a world of social media (blogs, twitters, instagram, facebooks etc.), I feel there is a cause for concern, and need for heightened awareness that my (or our) intentions could be in such conflict. In others, it's possibly a sure sign that I'm thinking too much and need to stop writing blog entries, when insomnia hits.

In any case, this post/entry is an attempt to clear my head (or cure my insomnia, whichever comes first)...so bear with me...The most instinctive approach is perhaps to be aware of the conflicting intention, and act decisively. In many cases, insya Allah, such a basic approach works for me, whilst in those few minor exceptions, perhaps a prayer or two wouldn't be a bad thing. To pray that our hearts be hardened, not by violence and the negativity that life brings, but by the steely attempt to ensure that our intentions stay true to serve Allah.

After all, at times, Muslims do say "...To Allah we belong and to Him is our return." (2: 156). And so, our heart and intentions are to Allah, while other intentions may not necessarily be contradictory, they are secondary in nature.

Allah knows best. Just my thoughts (for now).