Obtaining a doctorate is an a immense achievement. Three recent OUM PhD graduates prove that perseverance and fortitude can win the day.
For Tony Halim, gaining his doctorate was not a means to an end, but instead a wonderful and satisfying journey. “I didn’t choose to pursue my doctorate because I hoped that it would benefit me at work,” he explains. “I just wanted to learn more, and reach the summit of the knowledge that I was seeking. The help that the doctorate gave me in my career, I see as just a bonus.”
No doubt the qualifications would have greatly impacted his career, as Tony holds the position of Section Head and lecturer at the School of Engineering, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore. His PhD research concentrated on the sustainability of urban ecosystems through maintenance and scheduling. “I used Singapore’s bus service and lift systems in buildings as case studies,” he says of his studies. “Basically my research looks at how to make things last longer so they don’t have to be replaced as often.” Tony hopes that this will lead to a minimisation of wastage in terms of energy and resources in urban environments.
Achieving a Dream: Tony has had a unique experience as an Indonesian working in Singapore and studying in Malaysia, and it has certainly widened his perspectives. “I chose OUM after doing extensive research about several universities,” Tony says. There were criteria that Tony expected his future education provider to meet, and this was especially crucial as he is himself a lecturer at an institution of higher education. “The faculty must have a good track record and graduates must be published, as publishing is essential to obtain a doctorate degree. Some institutions don’t require it, but that detracts from their quality.”
Sacrifices had to be made for Tony to achieve his dream, especially in terms of time and travelling. “The distance was a challenge, because I sometimes had to meet the supervisors and attend discussions. Some things just can’t be done online,” he notes. “Otherwise, everything else was done online through the ODL system.”
His time with his family during the course of his study was limited due to his research. Fortunately, Tony had the encouragement of his wife and mother in his pursuit. “At first my wife was sceptical of the choice to further my studies,” he reveals. “She wondered if it was worth it, but then agreed that since I had already obtained my master’s, why not continue pursuing my interest all the way. She understood that it was difficult for me to juggle the travelling, studying and home life all at once, and she supported me all the way.”
Lim Seng Poh
Lim Seng Poh is no stranger to OUM and its open distance learning (ODL) system, having pursued her master’s of business administration at the institution. The lecturer of business administration at an institute of higher learning in Negeri Sembilan chose to come back to OUM to continue with a doctorate as her previous experience there was a good one.
“I was attracted to the flexible timetable and the quality of the lecturers who led the courses,” says Lim. As a working student, these points were of considerable importance, and so was finding a supervisor who could guide her in her chosen field of research. “I found an incredible supervisor for my PhD thesis at OUM in Professor Dr Mohd Ghazali Mohayidin, the Dean of the Centre of Graduate Studies.”
Lim’s doctoral research on the pricing strategy of low cost airlines is both current and relevant, and has been recognised by the international academic community. “I have presented my findings at seven international conferences so far,” Lim reveals. “Participation in these conferences led to my research being published in the conference proceedings.”
Overcoming challenges: The path to her doctorate was not an easy one, as Lim faced several challenges that she fortunately managed to overcome, with some help. “As a doctoral student, one thing you should have is good time management,” she advises. “I had to work hard to gain a balance between work and studies, but I was lucky to have had a great support team in the shape of my family. My friends offered a lot of encouragement to chase my dreams, and the PhD team that met up regularly to discuss and provide feedback was crucial in keeping my spirits up.”
For Lim, gaining her scroll was the ultimate reward for all the hard work she had poured into her research. “Doctoral studies make you look at things differently, more holistically,” she states. “The most interesting and satisfying aspect of it is to convince people with your findings, and help them to understand it.”
With nearly two decades of experience in environmental health and health and safety, it comes as no surprise that K. Subramaniam would choose to pursue a doctorate in science at OUM, with research focused on community health and environmental hazards. “My thesis was a quantitative research assessment on dumping hazardous materials in municipal dump sites and how that relates to health risks amongst the residents in the area,” Subramaniam explains.
His research, which shows a link between contaminated water in a municipality and incidences of cancer in its community, has been published in several journals and earned Subramaniam an invite to the World Congress on Risk 2012, to be held in Sydney.
Subramaniam, who is currently a lecturer at UTM, compares a master’s degree with a doctorate in terms of application in his career. “Having a doctorate has made a lot of difference to my work,” he says. “A master’s degree is more of a professional degree that you can use directly in your job, whereas for teaching you must take a different approach to applying the knowledge and skills that you have learnt. It helps a lot to have practical knowledge to give to your students.”
Work Life Balance: “Balancing my work life and my studies was very difficult,” admits the father of three. “I was on a very strict schedule, but with perseverance and an excellent OUM supervisor, I managed to do it. I also received practical advice and expertise from a professor at UPM.”
Not only was Subramaniam fortunate in those instances, his family and employers were also understanding and supportive of his academic pursuit.
“My lab work was done in the UTM laboratory, and the university was very understanding about it,” he says. “I realised that I was quite stressed at times trying to balance my work and studies, as well as time with my family. Thankfully, my wife has supported me all the way.”
Subramaniam’s daughter was not surprised when her father chose to further his studies, as he had always told them that learning goes on throughout a lifetime. She knows that he will keep learning and being an inspiration to her and his students as well.