2016 marks my second year working as a Research Assistant in NUS, even though I had wanted to leave since the first year. The scope was okay, I love science and hands-on work. My colleagues are good. And I made it clear I wouldn’t work overtime or come back during weekends like how my boss pushed for everyone in the lab to do.
I didn’t dread going to work everyday. But after finding out what my ultimate interest is, I simply couldn’t settle for the second best. I wanted out. I want to go for what I truly love, to actually feel happy and motivated to drive my own project. It was a chore to do Journal Club every month, reading papers that don’t spark my interest at all. That itself was already wrong. Journal club is a time when we share research papers that we read, discuss about them, get ideas on their approach and results, then improve on our own project. It is a time you get excited about papers that can help you, or be interested in a new method.
That didn’t happen to me.
But getting out wasn’t easy either. I applied for many jobs, first focusing all out on the field where my interest lies. Most rejected due to funding limits. Some I went for interviews, even second round of interviews. But none succeeded due to my lack of academic background and research experience.
I would’ve left the job without securing the next one, but I couldn’t. I had my study loan to pay. And there’s rental, transports, phone bills. So I stayed, and stayed, and stayed. This is all part of growing up right?
I left my job.
I turned down the invite for the year end cum farewell lunch that my boss organized. There was no farewell party, no farewell cards. I am perfectly fine because this is how my lab works. Plus, I can always walk over and have lunch with them. It also wasn’t a clean leave, as I still need to wrap up my paper for publication.
But I’m happy.
I left the place without looking back. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this job. But I don’t like it either. I am grateful of what this job brought for me: research experience, good colleagues, publications, and most importantly, money to pay off my loan.
People come and go in this lab. Thank you all for the great memories.
Many people ask me,:
“Why you still want to study?”
“PhD?? You want to get permanent head damage ah?” (To which I always roll my eyes and ignore this lame question)
“4 years? Wa! So long ah? Then you still want to study!”
Yes. 4 years is very long. It is longer than my diploma, it is longer than my bachelor’s. But no. I didn’t choose to get my PhD because I think I’m damn smart, or I want to “upgrade” myself, or I have a lot of time to spare and got nothing better to do.
Truth is, I didn’t really have a choice. I would’ve been happy to simply settle as a RA or even a lab tech in one of the labs that work on wildlife. I’ve applied to research labs in DBS, labs in TMSI, vet clinics, WRS and AVA.
I didn’t get any. Lacking relevant experience is one thing, my nationality as a foreigner is another. I spent months trying and trying, went for interviews and get rejected, waited for replies that never come. After one big round, I came down to a conclusion and also a decision:
Further studies is my easiest way in.
So I started applying for schools. I shortlisted overseas labs, spent weeks drafting letters, took up TOEFL and GRE at the very last minute, sent in emails, and wait.
This time, I faced even more rejections. A handful of the PIs replied saying their lab has reached the maximum capacity while encouraging me to keep trying. A few were kind enough to reply with a few sentences of rejection, while the others just outright ignored my email.
I was disheartened, because it seemed to me even the easiest way is so much difficult. Many times the thought came that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Though I have to admit, I was a little too specific. Because I thought since I’m going overseas, might as well go for something that I really want to do right?
NUS wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t even my second. But it was the easier choice. After countless rejections from 2015 until 2016, I received my acceptance letter.
To be fair, this surprise didn’t come smack up my face. I had already went through one interview with my potential supervisor and also with the department. One day before this email, my supervisor notified me that I was accepted and should be receiving the official letter soon.
I wasn’t thrilled to the bones. I didn’t jump up and down and started squealing. I didn’t start texting everyone and announcing the news. Partly because it wasn’t a project that I had wanted at the first place. And it wasn’t DBS who offered me a placing because they want me as a graduate student in their department. Long story short, I wouldn’t have gotten in if not for my supervisor.
I remember feeling very upset after realizing this fact. It seemed to me that no matter how long I tried, it is never enough. The papers that I willingly read, the extra measures that I took. In the end, they only want people who have the academic background and experience.
But hey, two months later and here am I, happy with how things have turned out, and looking forward to school starting in a couple of weeks. Zul was right. Any step forward is a step forward. I can’t simply jump two blocks at one time to enter a different world. I need to first get out of the old field, and at least put one foot in the new one, then work my way up.
And so I did.
Guess who’s ready for school?
In 2016, I almost lost two very dear friends. It wasn’t something that we want to talk about anymore, but it’s not something we will forget either.
Going through the year like that hasn’t been easy. Heck, it was damn hard. We all cried our share, have our doubts, and was on the verge of letting it go. I chose to take a step back and wait it out, because we said we needed time. Occasionally we took little steps forward, then retreated back again because it didn’t seem to work. We scrolled our feed and slowed down at each other’s post, wanting to know more but stopped asking, wondering why had it ended up this way.
Time didn’t make things better. Turns out, communication was what we needed the most. I am forever grateful of the day when she texted me and said we should do something about it, and she was ready to patch it up.
We are back in each other’s lives now. We had our first bake- and cook-off few weeks back. We talked nonsense like how we always do. We bicker and mock each other. And we are going for our first overseas trip tomorrow.
It sounds easy, but we all know it isn’t. Certain things are still there, and might be forever. Essentially, we all are still trying.
And I am grateful for that.
My parents are healthy and well, and I couldn’t ask for a better thing than that. My mum and I talked more, sharing things from recent news to skin care to korean stars and food places. It wasn’t used to be like this, but I’m glad for this change.
Dad has been busier after quitting his job. He is doing full time volleyball coaching now and finally getting paid for it. Lots of commuting is involved so it’s more tiring. But seeing him do what he loves is a happy thing. He is never a person who can sit still at home anyway, so it’s good for him too.
Sister as usual is working hard. She told me work has been getting mundane, and it only gets busier and busier. She do have plans to further studies and leave Sabah, though that will have to wait until she passes her final exams.
Looking back at my photos and realized we celebrated all of our birthdays almost together.
Video called the sister on mum’s birthday celebration.
Dad turned 60 this year! Sister and I went back home to surprise him.
Zul surprise me with an air ticket to fly over to Sabah.
Parents treated me to a yummy Korean BBQ dinner!
Continue to stay healthy and happy okay?
The most remarkably travel will be my first Helpx trip at Australia.
Helpx is a website that works like Wwoof. If you have no idea what any of them are, basically it is a network where people provide labour in exchange for food and accomodation. Wwoof is generally on farmwork, whereas Helpx includes everything, from farmwork to art galleries to beach resorts to horse ranches.
I absolutely love the idea. Our host, Carolyn, is a lady who owns a 100 acre farm.
See all that land? All hers.
She has an olive groove, a handful of chickens, sheeps, alpacas and an overactive cattle dog.
We miss you Bundy boy!
We were there during winter, so we get to experience wood chopping and fire starting to keep the house toasty.
Everyday we made the fire first thing in the morning, let the chickens out, fed them and the sheep and the alpacas.
She has the cutest animals.
Then we had breakfast with Carolyn. It was always toast with homemade jam and honey from her bees, washed down with tea or juice.
We did chores like pruning her olive trees, getting rid of one thorny pest plant while having our fingers stung, set up a soil patch for new plants (it was really like harvest moon), and cleaning one of the abandoned gardens.
That was about all we did in return for our food and accommodation. Carolyn is really nice. She would bring us out to town whenever she have errands to run and left us there for a few hours to explore. She drove us and show us around. We even followed her when she was up at Perth for family visiting. She cooked us amazing meals and taught us how to make fluffy scones.
In short, she’s an amazing host, and we were really lucky to work for her for our first Helpx.
One down during this unforgettable experience would be the passing of Zul’s mum. Just one day after we reached Carolyn’s place, we received the news. I forever remember the devastated look on his face, to receive this sudden news when we were miles away from home. We haven’t been at Carolyn’s place for 24 hours and we were already packing to leave. We rushed back in time for the burial, and I stayed with him for the entire funeral. I didn’t mention this to anyone except for my family. On my part, I’m glad I was able to be there for him during this difficult period.
We went back there again few days later. I guess Zul knew that I really wanted to. I like to think this trip helped distract him for a bit. It was truly one of the best trips that I’ve been to.
We’ve been through too many ups and downs for me to keep track. Our relationship is not perfect. We still quarrel and we fought. Still cry and get mad. Still have doubts if we are the right one for each other.
But in the end, we stay. We wiped our tears, made new compromises, and try again. It hadn’t been a smooth sail, but we learnt along the way.
He has been my greatest support, pushing me to go for it when I was hesitating about my studies, comforting me when I felt down and doubt myself, wanting to take care of me when my life was in a mess, looking at possibilities instead of pushing away my random thoughts or goals.
He said this before:”Because with you, we can be dreamers”.
We talked about going overseas once he finishes his bond. With me going for my post doc and he will take a Masters degree.
We talked about owning our own farm, getting Peking chickens and sheep, having our own orchard on my side and a hydroponic farm on his.
Then we talked about life on sea. Living in our yacht or having a trawler for a living.
We also talked about buying a house in Malaysia and transform it into our workshop.
We want to travel the world, one country each year. Want to try wingsuit flying, paragliding, hiking volcanoes, scuba diving.
I said I want to bring my family for a caravan trip in New Zealand. He told me then let’s do it next year. If we can’t afford to, we will got for my second choice, which is Blue Mountains at Australia. And if even that is too expensive, we will bring them to Chiang Mai, where my dad has been yearning to go.
Not once has he told me it is not possible and waved me off.
I know, because I have been with someone who always brush it off.
Because with you, I can dream.
May more wishes come true in 2017.