The purpose of the Confirmation is to help you bring your research together and prepare for writing up. The assessment is carried out on the basis that a student should be at a standard that were their experimental work to be complete and written up, they would be in a position to submit a thesis for a DPhil at the University of Oxford. The process can also identify if your plans for completion are not suitable and offers an opportunity to provide additional guidance to help you towards a successful completion.
Well, today is the day of my Confirmation viva. I’m looking forward to sharing my research work with my two examiners, but at the same time I’m also nervous as hell about the process and—like any other PhD student—basically just want it to be over as soon as possible!
This morning, I checked my Inbox as usual and came across the latest version of James Clear’s newsletter. In it was this gem of a quote, which I will put up here to remind me that there is more to life than our struggles:
“The brilliance of the stars would be invisible without the vast darkness of space behind them.
Do not wish away the difficult portions of life. They provide the contrast needed to appreciate the joyful moments.”
How do we explain the enduring passion (some would say obsession!) amongst former students of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) to return to their alma mater?
During my travels, I’ve often thought about the answer to that question. And in my case at least, the answer can be found in the tagline for this year’s Old Boys Weekend which was ‘Back home at last’.
There are many definitions of home, but the one I like the most is this one:
Someone’s or something’s place of origin, or the place where a person feels they belong.
The place where a person feels they belong. That’s my relationship with my alma mater. No matter how far I’ve travelled, or how long I’ve been away, arriving in Kuala Kangsar immediately feels like coming home at long last.
This year’s OBW was a much-anticipated event, especially since the last one we had was way back in 2019 before the pandemic. I had originally wanted to play for the MCOBA volleyball team against the present boys, but was unable to make it to the match on Saturday morning. Nevertheless, it felt really good to be able to catch up with fellow MCOBs, both young and not-so-young, over the course of the weekend. I saw loads of familiar faces, and thanks to the magic of social media, I was even able to quickly look up people’s names before marching confidently towards them to exchange pleasantries!
Nasi Goreng Ayam
No trip to Kuala Kangsar is complete without trying the local delicacies. For some, it’s cendol or rojak pasembor in Lembah, others swear by the fluffy buns that is pau Yut Loy, but my comfort food has always been nasi goreng ayam (NGA). I wrote about the NGA at Restoran Saudiah (a.k.a So’od) previously here, but because I expected there to be a million people eating at So’od during OBW, I detoured to Restoran Shah Reena instead.
Alhamdulillah, the NGA there was just as good as the one at So’od. Incidentally, did you know that you can now order So’od’s NGA on foodpanda? Me neither, but there you have it, the times they are a-changin’…
Kuala Kangsar Town
I wish I had more time to wander around Kuala Kangsar, but I had to leave by Sunday noon. Still, I took the opportunity while I was there to snap some pictures of various locations around town. Places like Kuala Kangsar have their own beauty, history, and majesty. If you don’t believe me, check out the spectacular sunset over Kuala Kangsar, or Masjid Ubudiah with its Moorish architecture in the gallery below.
Last week, my son asked me what I was doing over the weekend. I replied that I will be going to Kuala Kangsar to see my brothers. He looked slightly puzzled, but I explained to him that I’m lucky to have not one or two, but a few hundred brothers scattered all over the world. We may not have the same mother and father, but we are brothers nevertheless.
That is another sense in which MCKK is my home; it’s where I first gained my band of brothers. Who knows, perhaps one day my sons will be able to go through the same life-changing experience too, inshaAllah.
From James Clear’s latest 3-2-1 Thursday newsletter:
Life is a series of tradeoffs, and greater results usually require greater tradeoffs.
The question is not, “Do you want to be great at this?”
The question is, “What are you willing to give up in order to be great at this?”
From my own experience, training to become a medical specialist is a bit like the above. The people who succeed are not necessarily the best exam-takers, but often they are amongst the most persistent and resilient people around. Beyond a certain point, medicine is no longer about memorising more anatomical facts or understanding more physiological concepts. Most doctors know enough of the basics in order to carry out their duties properly (one would hope!). What differentiates people is how they deal with adversity:
What do you do when you’re completely exhausted, it’s 3am, and you get another referral from the Emergency Department?
What do you do when you see your peers in other professions earning lots of money but you’re still stuck in specialty training?
Put another way, the question you should be asking yourself is, “How much punishment am I willing to take in order to achieve my aim of becoming a medical specialist?”
I find this to be a more realistic way of approaching things than simply focusing on the positive side of things. After all, there is such a thing as toxic positivity! It’s the idea that you have to be happy always, as if everything is always going along smoothly when in real life, things that can go wrong often DO go wrong (see also: Murphy’s Law). One way or another, you’ll just have to find a way to deal with it.
That doesn’t mean it has to be all doom and gloom, however. Now that I am a specialist, my aim is to make the way forward better for my juniors. ‘Better’ here may not necessarily mean easier, but hopefully by providing better support and guidance I can help them to become kinder, more empathetic doctors.
The world already has enough clever people, it could benefit by having kinder ones for a change.
In the end, it was the Muslim festival of Eid that convinced me that I would not be able to quit social media entirely.
I wrote earlier in the year that one of my plans for this year is to use my time better by quitting social media. My plan was to delete everything except Twitter; I don’t actually use Twitter regularly (if at all), but I wanted to keep the username since it could potentially be useful later on. LinkedIn was easy to delete, just a few clicks and poof everything was gone. Facebook, fortunately or unfortunately, turned out to be a far more difficult thing to get rid of.
Facebook imposes a 30-day wait before actually deleting your account. Any attempt to check your account before the end of the 30-day period resets that clock. In my case, I had almost forgotten about Facebook when a friend contacted me to say one of my old teachers was looking for me but couldn’t find me on the site anymore.
So, back to Facebook it was to get in touch with my teacher!
After that, it was a junior colleague who contacted me on Facebook to ask about applying to Oxford. And one time, I reactivated my account (i.e. canceled the deletion process) in order to look up some information about a business that is only available on Facebook.
So yeah, this is me admitting that I will probably never be able to get rid of this one particular account. This doesn’t mean total disaster though; I said at the beginning of this endeavour that my reason for quitting is to spend my time wisely. I see now that in some cases, spending my time wisely means taking the time to connect with other people wherever they happen to be. If I’m serious about being part of the community, I doubt I can do so effectively without having any social media presence at all.
One good thing that came out of this effort is that I seem to have broken my habit of checking social media endlessly, like a hamster pressing a lever non-stop in order to get more food pellets!
My one concern is what I’ve used as the title of this post: the existence of digital walled gardens. Too often these days, you can’t even read what someone has posted online unless you’re logged in to the site i.e. unless you also have an account there. To a certain extent, this is by design, to allow people the freedom to post something without showing it to the whole world. But the downside of this is that a lot of information that shouldn’t exist exclusively on social media still only gets posted there. One example of this is official announcements from government bodies; I squirm a bit when I see that everything simply gets posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, or forwarded a million times on WhatsApp, but no attempt is made to improve the public-facing websites of government institutions. Many still look like they came from the Web 2.0 or, God-forbid, HTML tables age with blinking images and visitor stat counters!
Going forward, my intention is to find a better balance between being alone with my thoughts, and spending time with the wider community. After all, there is no point in being able to brag that you “don’t use social media” if that means you have no idea what’s happening with family and friends.
The key, as always, is moderation. If you are, like me, trying to strike this sort of balance yourself, then I wish you good luck.
This post has nothing to do with the delicious dish known as ‘Rojak‘ in Malaysia. Instead, I’ve chosen the title because I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a bunch of topics, without actually having the time or energy to write a proper post for each one of them.
Ready, set, go!
Ambushed With Cake
Boris Johnson is not fit to be Prime Minister. And yet, despite having zero integrity whatsoever, he will probably remain in office for the foreseeable future. How did it come to this? How did we lose our way so much that we tell children they must be truthful, loyal, kind etc. but somehow manage to make excuses for the exact opposite behaviour coming from the Prime Minister?
I wonder, if you actually talked to these people, do they even believe the nonsense that is coming our of their mouths? If their own children asked them what they were doing defending this sort of behaviour, will they change their tune or simply hide away in shame? Who knows with these politicians!
Speaking of politics, my own country Malaysia is due for a General Election. After all the backstabbing, betrayal, and party-hopping that have occurred in the last few years, I sincerely hope that we will vote out all the perpetrators. The Rakyat deserve better.
Meanwhile, work on my DPhil is progressing along nicely alhamdulillah. I recently bought a 2 terabyte portable SSD (the Samsung T7) to backup all my data.
Yes, that’s 2 terabytes of space!
It turns out that analysing MRI data takes up a lot of space on your computer; I now have about 1.4 terabytes of data for my DPhil. That’s 1,400 gigabytes of data, by the way, although most of them are a bunch of intermediary files generated by the analysis scripts.
The next step for me is to prepare for my Confirmation Viva which is the second-last stage of assessment. Basically, this viva is meant to ‘confirm’ that you have done enough work of an acceptable quality to be included in a DPhil thesis. Wish me luck!
Spring in Oxford
If you want to see Oxford at its best, come in spring or autumn. The explosion of colours, the breathtaking surrounding, these are some of the things I will miss the most when I leave Oxford. I’m toying with the idea of printing out a bunch of the pictures I’ve taken, but instead of simply printing them out at Boots or something, I’d like to find a service that can produce high-quality prints in the form of a coffee table book. That might have to wait until I’m back in Malaysia though.