It’s all about answering the call to adventure, rather than sticking with a cushy job and stability.
UNLIKE past Septembers, this year I approached my birthday month switching roles from educator to student. More excitingly, this is my last column written on Malaysian shores as from next week I will be starting my one-year study at the University of Oxford under a Chevening-Khazanah Scholarship.
It was not an easy decision to make. I joked with friends that since I did not do a Master’s degree prior to my PhD, this Chevening award is my chance to “complete the set” of having undergraduate, Master’s, and PhD degrees – a trio coveted by many.
The truth actually runs deeper than that. While my PhD journey was fast-tracked – Australian universities allow for graduates with a First Class undergraduate degree to enrol for PhD programmes without the requirement of a Master’s degree subject to each university’s conditions – it took me many years of experimentation with the local workforce before deciding to pursue a Master’s programme in a completely different field from that of science, that I am most familiar with.
In retrospect, it would have been more prudent to experience the workforce for a few years before formulating a proposal for a PhD and deciding what field one wants to philosophise in. As my journey attested, however, one does not necessarily need to follow the masses.
While I had a great experience studying science in Australia, what I didn’t foresee were the psycho-sociological challenges of re-adjusting to life in Malaysia as a working adult, more so in an economically challenged period, following graduation.
Despite having a PhD from a top Australian university, a job as a local academician, and knowing that I was doing the “right” thing by returning home to serve the scholarship bond, I was not fulfilled.
Many among my family and friends have expressed caution that I am risking too much with my decision to leave Malaysian academia. To many, working with a public university means stability, a cushy job and ensured pension, securing oneself a good, well rounded, middle-class life.
Even the tax officer who handled the filing of my last income tax returns was anxious for me. I had to reassure him, and myself in the process, that the options were between being comfortably stuck where I was, contorting myself to fit within a system I know well, or answering the call of that flighty temptress of adventure.
I chose the latter. I started researching possible career options two years ago, having meetings over coffee and exchanging countless emails with head-hunters and certified counsellors, tailoring my curriculum vitae to what each organisation demands, submitting job applications and enduring countless rejections that almost always included the terms “overqualified” and “too niche” in the process.
This culminated in a decision that the best option for me was to go back to study. This decision is not unique, with data from the Education Ministry citing a 14.8% increase in students earning Master’s degrees in various fields between 2014 and 2015, as reported in a Sept 3, 2017, article in The Star.
Thus, began my Chevening journey. The application process began a year in advance, and applications for 2018/19 enrolment are currently open with a Nov 7, 2017, deadline.
Chevening has no age limit for applicants (allowing old farts like yours truly to apply), thus providing an opportunity for those in their mid-careers to reinvent themselves.
I would advise future applicants to exercise patience: start the application early, write the essays in Word document before copying and pasting them into the online application, and do your application in stages. The website allows you to save your application and log back on to make necessary updates.
The interviews for short-listed applicants are usually held around March, with results expected around June. There is ample time to research Master’s programmes of interest and submit the applications for your enrolment into such programmes while waiting for the results of your Chevening application.
Note that there are a number of financial requirements prior to receiving a Chevening scholarship, which is why it took me two years to save up and apply. These include fees for applications to universities [around £75 (RM413) per application], a deposit of 10% of the school fees to secure your place with a British higher institution once you have successfully been accepted into a Master’s programme, and necessary deposits to secure accommodation.
The Chevening award is generous and covers tuition and visa fees, return flights, and monthly living allowance that include stipend and accommodation.
Currently, Chevening only covers one-year Master’s programmes and has a tuition fee cap for MBA programmes.
I am currently mentally preparing to study at a university recently ranked by the Times Higher Education Survey as No. 1 in the world. However, rankings and university’s reputation aside, I shall shape my own exhilarating yet indubitably fulfilling journey – and ensure I will visit all Harry Potter-related sites!
As risky as this life-changing move is, taking calculated risks may just be the right thing one needs, if only to be a better citizen for this nation and the world.
Lyana Khairuddin is a Chevening-Khazanah Scholar pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
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