Personal Cost Of COVID-19

There have been many MANY articles written about the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more will be written before we get to the end, no doubt. Some people choose to focus on the science behind it, others talk about the effect it has on their own lives.

Here are two really good articles about the personal cost of dealing with COVID-19.

The first article is by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh entitled ‘COVID-19 And The Doctor’s Dilemma‘:

Doctors are usually both fatalistic and anxious about their family’s health. We know that bad things happen — we witness this at work every day — but also that bad things are, on the whole, unusual. Until you reach old age, that is. When members of our family fall ill, we have to wrestle with professional realism and anxiety driven by too much knowledge. I have little choice other than to think of the worst that might happen, work through my feelings about it, and then try to put it to one side. I suppose you could call this “catastrophising” but, I’m afraid to say, Covid-19 is a catastrophe, even though almost all of us, strange to say, will survive it.

Beautifully written, as is the second article, entitled ‘What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus‘, by Jessica Lustig, deputy editor of The New York Times Magazine. One of the most poignant paragraphs contains this moving detail about a sweater:

I am texting the doctor. I am texting T’s five siblings on a group chat, texting my parents and my brother, texting T’s business partner and employees and his dearest friends and mine, in loops and loops, with hearts and thankful prayer-hands emoji. He is too exhausted, too weak, to answer all the missives winging to him at all hours. “Don’t sugarcoat it for my family,” he tells me. He has asked for the gray sweater that was his father’s, that his father wore when he was alive. He will not take it off.

Stay safe everyone.


What Really Matters

These are extraordinarily challenging times for all of us.

Like many of you, I have been following the news constantly either on traditional news websites, via RSS feeds, or through social media. A lot of it is grim, and it’s easy to slip into depression when one is faced with this onslaught of bad news.

My advice is to talk to someone. Arrange a Skype or WhatsApp call, or send a message on Slack, just do whatever it takes…but talk to someone. More importantly, talk to your loved ones! Check on them, make sure they are OK physically, mentally, and spiritually. Everybody is going through a tough time at the moment, but tough times should prompt us to focus on what really matters in life.




The 2020 iPad Pro with the new Magic Keyboard. (Sorry Apple!)

Many of us have made (and are continuing to make) the mistake of thinking that we need more stuff in life. We dream about that job promotion, the fancy new gadget, or the shiny new car. But these things are only ephemeral. In the grand scheme of things, they hardly matter. Certainly they shouldn’t matter more than the ones I’ve listed above: Family. Friends. Community.

To all the people who are still at work during this COVID-19 crisis, to the healthcare professionals, the journalists, the Foodpanda drivers, the police officers, the garbage collectors etc, you have my utmost gratitude.

To the rest of us (myself included), stay at home, wash your hands, and be kind to each other.

Bonus link for getting to the end of the article: Coronavirus: Creativity, kindness and canals offer hope amid outbreak


Be Kind

Everyone’s attention these days is rightly focused on SARS-COV-2 which causes the illness known as Covid-19. At the time of writing, there have been a total of 182,407 confirmed cases leading to 7,154 deaths, as shown in this map by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins.

Covid-19 map

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here are 3 simple requests I have for my fellow citizens:

Get your facts right

It is said that ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes’.

That, in itself, is a lie. These days, lies travel MUCH faster than that!

I won’t even bother listing down the rumours, misconceptions, and outright fabrications that have been circulating faster than the actual virus. Suffice it is to say that if you are interested in the latest developments, then please go to official and credible sources for information. Here’s the World Health Organization website on Covid-19. And please, if you’re not sure whether something is true or not, don’t forward it to others. In fact, use this as an opportunity to educate others. Remind them that spreading unreliable information is likely to cause more harm than benefit. 

Follow experts’ advice

I’m amazed at how quickly people have become specialists in infectious diseases worldwide. Scrolling through my Facebook feed is like speed-reading The Lancet Infectious Diseases, given the amount of ‘expertise’ on display.

Sure, it’s tempting to score political points by pointing out deficiencies in how the government is handling the crisis, but this is not the time.

Sure, it’s tempting to be sarcastic and belittle our healthcare professionals for not doing enough, but try walking in their shoes (and hazmat suits) for a while and see if you can do any better. My only regret right now is that I’m away on study leave and can’t be involved with clinical care back in Malaysia.

Be kind

Last, and not least, be kind.

This is by far the MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember!

We’re all in this together. This is not something that affects only rich folks, or poor people. The virus doesn’t care what race or religion you are. It doesn’t even matter whether you are religious to begin with, for this is ultimately a test for us all. 

Can we be responsible citizens?

Can we follow simple rules for the benefit of ourselves and others?

Can we be considerate to other people in this challenging situation?

My heart goes out to my fellow citizens who don’t have the luxury of getting easy access to food, money, and healthcare. Those who have to work or else they won’t get paid their daily wage. Those who cannot take leave to look after their own children. I sincerely hope you will not be forgotten.

Until then, take care everyone.


Snow In Oxford

I love it when it snows in Oxford. There’ s a certain tranquility to it that reminds me of the lyrics to this song called ‘Daerah Ini’ by the nasheed group ‘Algebra’.

Daerah Ini

Mereka kata kau akan sayu di daerah itu

Jawab aku selalu bersama Tuhanku

Ku pasrah padaNya sehening tiupan salju

KernaNya aku rasa jitu dan mampu melebihi manusia beribu

Daerah ini daerah tenang sekalipun ada yang kata usang

Daerah ini daerah damai sekalipun sukar untuk sampai

Daerah ini daerah merdeka sekalipun ada yang memeranginya

Biarkan saja aku di daerah ini


Aim Higher

My first thought upon reading the latest political development in Malaysia is: Come on people, are you serious? Not again!

Whatever the outcome of this sorry episode is, I would like to say thank you to the few ministers who, in my humble opinion (feel free to disagree!), have discharged their duties honourably, namely Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Dr Maszlee Malik, Hannah Yeoh, Anthony Loke Siew Fook, and Yeo Bee Yin.

Ultimately, politics will always be politics. And politicians will always do whatever is necessary to cling to power. But a nation is more than just its quarrelsome politicians. The worth of a nation is determined by the quality of its people and institutions. We can have the best politicians in the world, but if people are selfish, uneducated and not civic-minded, nothing good will come of it.

That’s why I’m urging you to ALSO look elsewhere and consider other avenues when thinking about ways to help society. Becoming a politician is NOT the only way to lead the country. In fact, I would argue that as far as truly helping other people is concerned, you can achieve more by being leaders in other fields. We need better teachers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, scientists etc.

So whatever it is you’re doing at the moment, do it better. Aim higher!

And to put my money where my mouth is, here’s my offer: if you’re interested in pursuing a career as a doctor, lecturer, and/or scientist (the areas I know more about, don’t ask me about entrepreneurship!), feel free to contact me and we can discuss how to approach this endeavour. Chances are you won’t get to be on TV or in newspapers soon, but as long as you’re helping other people, I guarantee you it’s well worth the effort.

Update: I am grateful to my friend Dr Khor Swee Kheng for mentioning this post in his article in The Star (see below):

Politicians: A new threat to public health?


Lectures By Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad

Back in KL, I used to dread having to spend a couple of hours stuck in a traffic jam to go home. But ever since I started listening to lectures while driving, I began to tolerate, if not enjoy, the commute as it gave me a chance to relax and learn new things at the same time.

Here I would like to share with you some lectures I have particularly enjoyed by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College. The one I would definitely recommend is this lecture series on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

Sira: A Journey of Transformation

Sira: A Journey of Transformation – Experience the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through the Qur’an, poetry, and early sources. For only $39, you get access to 12 lectures in all. Well worth the money, in my opinion.

And once you’ve completed the series above, here are some YouTube lectures on the Khulafa-al-Rashidun:

As well as the Four Great Imams:

May Allah SWT increase our knowledge and grant us his Mercy in this world and the next.


Musings Of A Cyclist

Since coming to Oxford in April 2019, I have relied on my trusty bicycle to get me anywhere and everywhere. This in turn has led to a few observations on what it’s like being a cyclist:

  1. Cycling is very therapeutic, especially when passing through relatively peaceful areas like the Marston Cyclepath or Jack Straw’s Lane here in Oxford.
  2. People are far more considerate towards cyclists here in the UK. Cycling is possibly a suicidal activity back in Malaysia given how ‘courteous’ our drivers are.
  3. Cycling in windy conditions should be its own form of cardio.
  4. After a while you become quite good at spotting tiny pieces of glass on the road. Unfortunately, there is often quite a lot of broken glass on the road especially after the weekend.
  5. A bit of maintenance goes a long way towards making your ride a smooth one. Don’t be a fool like me and neglect to pump air into the tyres for months!

I’m often guilty of forgetting how luxurious it is to own a car. But after many journeys on the bicycle in freezing rain, I hope my future self will be more thankful for whatever blessing, no matter how big or small, I have in life inshaAllah.


Learning How To Program

Here’s what it’s like to go from being a clinician to being a scientist.

You take what you know about your topic. Let’s call that Level 6 knowledge (on a scale of 0 to 10). You think to yourself, “That ain’t bad!”, after all you are a specialist in your chosen field. Medical students think you’ve memorized the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. House Officers tremble at the thought of being quizzed by you during ward rounds, and Medical Officers bow down to your expertise.

Pretty soon after the start of your PhD, you’ll realize that what you thought of as Level 6 is actually Level 1 or 2 knowledge in the grand scheme of things. After all, you may know a little bit here and there about a variety of topics, but for your PhD you’ll need to ramp up the level of expertise. You need to push the dial to Level 11 if possible. If Level 10 is the limit of what the world knows about something, then your job is to take it up a notch and discover something new.

So yeah, in summary, it ain’t easy doing a PhD (yay it rhymes!).

Now the good news is that you don’t have to do it overnight. You have time, but seriously, there’s a LOT to learn!

One new thing I’m learning at the moment is programming. Full disclosure: I am a noob at this, so take whatever I say here with a pinch of salt. From what I can see, a lot of neuroscience research is done with MATLAB, R, and Python. Without any context available, I’d probably say that you should try to learn Python first. But the reality is you will probably end up having to learn all of them simultaneously.


I’ve heard that the best way to learn a programming language is by using it to solve a problem you’re having. My problem right now is that I need to analyze the data on working memory I’ve collected thus far and turn it into a presentation for my group’s lab meeting. Should be fun, right? What could possibly go wrong…



One of the benefits of being in Oxford is the chance to attend lectures by people who are leaders in their respective fields. I recently went to a talk given by Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. One part of his speech really resonated with me (emphasis mine):

Many people have been asking, what does it take to be a good and sustainable leader? To my mind, beyond working hard and working smart, there are three prerequisites to becoming a good and sustainable leader; Unquestionable Integrity; Competence; and Humility.

Integrity is about “doing the right thing even when no one is watching”. Competence is about having the necessary knowledge and skills to do the job well. Whilst humility is about treating people with mutual respect, about staying grounded to our roots and about being cognisant that we all serve a greater purpose in life rather than for our self-interest. Humility is also about knowing that you don’t know everything and that you need teamwork in order to succeed.

A competent, humble leader with unquestionable integrity and who works very hard will enjoy a reputation that will precede him.


Thoughts On Social Media

Social media usage is a complete disaster, mmmkayyy?

Next question!

I’m joking, obviously. It’s like the title of Ben Goldacre’s superb book, ‘I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That’. In fact, if you’re really interested in the non-glamorous side of social media, I’d definitely recommend a couple of books about the topic:

  1. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  2. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

I am somewhat undecided when it comes to social media use. If anything, I’d probably lean towards saying the net effect is to cause more harm than good. Although information is a good thing, too much information, without any kind of context can lead to conflict. I often tease my wife whenever she shares with me stuff she finds online. “OMG, apa kata netizen nanti???” (OMG, what would the netizens say about this?).

Here’s what one netizen (i.e. me) thinks about some of the social networks available these days:


Hate it and love it. I hopped onto the Facebook bandwagon fairly early on, back when you had to have a university email address in order to become a member. I have a lot of content, and more importantly, friends on Facebook that I would lose if I deleted my account. But damn do I feel like deleting my account every time I come across another ignorant comment, rude remark, or false claim there. To be clear, I don’t expect it to be any different on other social networks, but most (if not all) of my social media use is restricted to Facebook these days, so that’s where I encounter this sort of behaviour most often. And don’t get me started on their utter lack of respect for your privacy!


Used it for a while, long enough to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t getting anything out of it. Decided to switch to posting photos on my own blog, so instead of Instagram, I now have Imran-stagram! Deleted my account, and now some random guy on a motorcycle owns the account. If you were following me previously and are now wondering why I’m sitting astride a yellow motorcycle, well, that’s the reason why…


I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for Twitter as I’m pretty sure it helped me get a place to do a DPhil at Oxford. I know a lot of scientists use it very effectively. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I’ve tried various apps to make it a more useful tool, but ended up being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tweets and giving up on it.


Maybe if I worked in the corporate world? But as for now, I have zero interest in LinkedIn.

To be clear, I’m not a hermit. I enjoy chatting with people. However, I must admit I’d prefer to be in a conversation with two or three people at most. I feel like that’s how all the interesting, deep, and useful conversations begin. YMMV, obviously. Thanks for reading!