Tuesday, December 2, 2014

PhD: 10 Truths a PhD Supervisor will Never Tell You


There are some important dos and don’ts to bear in mind when choosing someone to oversee your doctoral thesis, advises Tara Brabazon

My father used to tell a joke, over and over again. It was a classic outback Australian, Slim Dusty joke that – like the best dad jokes – I can’t remember. But I do recall the punchline. “Who called the cook a bastard?” To which the answer was, “Who called the bastard a cook?”

This riposte often comes to mind during discussions about doctoral supervision and candidature management. Discussions go on (and on and on) about quality, rigour, ethics and preparedness. Postgraduates are monitored, measured and ridiculed for their lack of readiness or their slow progress towards completion. But inconsistencies and problems with supervisors and supervision are marginalised. In response, I think of my father’s one-liner: Who called the supervisor a bastard? Who called the bastard a supervisor?

To my mind, I never received any satisfactory, effective or useful supervision for my doctorate, research master’s or two coursework master’s that contained sizeable dissertation components. I found the supervisors remote and odd. A couple of them tried to block the submission of the theses to my institution. Indeed, on three separate occasions in my career, academics informed me that if I submitted this thesis, it would fail. The results that followed these warnings were a master of arts passed with distinction, a master of education with first-class honours and a dean’s award, and a PhD passed without correction. I was left with the impression that these supervisors had no idea what they were doing. The worst supervisors share three unforgivable characteristics:
  1. They do not read your writing
  2. They never attend supervisory meetings
  3. They are selfish, career-obsessed bastards
I am now an experienced supervisor and examiner, but I still remember my own disappointments. For the doctoral students who follow, I want to activate and align these personal events with the candidatures I have managed since that time. Particularly, I wish to share with the next generation of academics some lessons that I have learned about supervisors.

As a prospective PhD student, you are precious. Institutions want you – they gain funding, credibility and profile through your presence. Do not let them treat you like an inconvenient, incompetent fool. Do your research. Ask questions. Use these 10 truths to assist your decision.

1. The key predictor of a supervisor’s ability to guide a postgraduate to completion is a good record of having done so

Ensure that at least one member of your supervisory team is a very experienced supervisor. Anyone can be appointed to supervise. Very few have the ability, persistence, vision, respect and doggedness to move a diversity of students through the examination process. Ensure that the department and university you are considering assign supervisors on the basis of intellectual ability rather than available workload. Supervising students to completion is incredibly difficult. The final few months require complete commitment from both supervisor and postgraduate. Make sure that you are being guided by a supervisor who understands the nature of effective supervision and has proved it through successful completions.

2. You choose the supervisor. Do not let the institution overrule your choice

As a postgraduate who is about to dedicate three or four years to an institution, you have the right to select a supervisor with whom you feel comfortable. Yet increasingly, as the postgraduate bureaucracy in universities increases, administrators and managers “match” a prospective candidate with a supervisor. Do not let this happen. Do research on the available staff. Talk directly with individual academics. Ascertain their willingness to supervise you, and then inform the graduate centre or faculty graduate administrators of their commitment.

3. Stars are attractive but may be distant. Pick a well-regarded supervisor who does not spend too much time away

It may seem a tough, unusual or impossible task to find a supervisor who has a strong profile but rarely goes away on research leave or disappears to attend conferences. Postgraduates need to be supervised by people with an international reputation whose name carries weight when they write references. But they must not be jet-setting professors, frequently leaving the campus and missing supervisory meetings to advance their own career. They must be established and well known, but available to supervise you rather than continually declining your requests for meetings because they are travelling to Oslo, Luanda or Hong Kong.

4. Bureaucratic immunity is vital. Look for a supervisor who will protect you from ‘the system’

There is an excessive amount of university doctoral administration. I understand and welcome the value in checking the ethical expenditure of public money; a programme of study submitted in the first year and an annual progress report through the candidature will accomplish this task. But now we have to deliver milestone reports, public confirmations of candidature sessions, biannual progress reports, annual oral presentations of research and – in some universities – complete a form that must be signed off at the conclusion of every supervisory meeting.

Every moment a student is filling in a form is one less moment they are reading a book or article, or writing a key page in their doctorate. Time is finite. Bureaucracy is infinite. A good supervisor will protect you from the excesses of supervisory administration.

The irony of many graduate centres is that they initiate incredibly high demands on students and supervisors yet are incredibly lax during crucial periods of the candidature when a rapid administrative response is required. One of my postgraduates had to wait 16 months for a decision on her doctorate. Two examiners had returned timely reports and passed with minor corrections. The third academic, however, did not examine the thesis, did not submit any paperwork and did not respond to any communications. I sent email after email – made phone call after phone call – to the graduate centre trying to facilitate a resolution to this examination. Finally, after a rather intensive period of nagging, a decision was reached to accept the two reports and no longer wait for the third. The question remains – why did the graduate centre take 16 months to make this decision? If I had not phoned and emailed administrators, would they have forgotten about this student? A good supervisor must be an advocate for the postgraduate through the increasingly bureaucratised doctoral candidature.

5. Byline bandits abound. Study a potential supervisor’s work

Does your prospective supervisor write with PhD students? Good. Do they write almost exclusively with their PhD students? Not so good – in fact, alarm bells should start ringing. Supervision is a partnership. If your prospective supervisor appears to be adding his or her name to students’ publications and writing very little independently, be concerned. Some supervisors claim co-authorship of every publication written during the candidature. Do not think that this is right, assumed, proper or the default setting. The authorship of papers should be discussed. My rule is clear: if I write it, it is mine. If you write it, it is yours. If we write it together, we share the authorship. It is important that every postgraduate finishes the candidature with as many publications as possible. Ask supervisors how they will enhance and facilitate your research and publishing career. Remember, you are a PhD student. Your supervisor should assist you to become an independent scholar, not make you into their unpaid research assistant.
Katie Edwards feature illustration (11 July 2013)
Source: Katie Edwards

6. Be wary of co-supervisors

Most institutions insist on at least two supervisors for every student. This system was introduced not for scholarly reasons but to allay administrative fears. There is a concern that a supervisor might leave the institution, stranding the student, or that the supervisor and student might have a disagreement, again leaving the student without support.

These arguments are like grounding all aircraft because there are occasional crashes. Too often I see an academic “added” to the team to beef up his or her workload. I have been in a university meeting where research-active professors were “added” to a supervisory panel not because they were excellent supervisors (far from it) but rather because they needed to boost their profile for the research assessment exercise.
Certainly there are many occasions where a co‑supervisor is incredibly valuable, but this must be determined by their research contribution to the topic rather than by institutional convenience. I once supervised a fine thesis about Russian television. I had the expertise in television studies; a colleague held expertise in Russian studies and the Russian language. It was a great team. We met weekly as a group, with specialist meetings held with either of us as required to complete the doctorate. The candidate submitted in the minimum time.
At times, an inexperienced co-supervisor is added to a team to gain “experience”. That is, perhaps, understandable. But damage can be done to students through bad advice. I know of a disturbing case in which an inexperienced co-supervisor chose a relatively junior friend to examine a doctorate. Before the senior co-supervisor had been informed, this prospective external examiner had been approached and had agreed, and the paperwork had been submitted. Two years later, the candidate is still progressing with corrections. Each time he submits revisions that supposedly verify the concerns expressed during the oral examination, he is presented with another list because the inexperienced supervisor agreed to “corrections to the satisfaction of the examiner”. This problem was caused by an overconfident but inexperienced co-supervisor being added to the team and then going on to appoint an overconfident but inexperienced examiner.

Sometimes – in fact frequently – less is more. A strong relationship with a well-qualified, experienced and committed supervisor will ensure that the postgraduate will produce a strong thesis with minimum delay.

7. A supervisor who is active in the area of your doctorate can help to turbocharge your work

Occasionally students select a “name” rather than a “name in the field”. The appropriateness of a supervisor’s field of research is critical because it can save you considerable time. Supervisors who are reading, thinking and writing in the field can locate a gap in your scholarly literature and – at speed – provide you with five names to lift that section. A generalist will not be able to provide this service. As the length of candidatures – or more precisely the financial support for candidatures – shrinks and three years becomes the goal, your supervisor can save you time through sharing not only their experience but also their expertise.

8. A candidature that involves teaching can help to get a career off the ground

In Australia, teaching with your supervisor is often the default pattern, and it is a good one. In the UK, tutoring is less likely to emerge because of budgetary restraints. But a postgraduate who does not teach through the candidature is unprepared to assume a full-time teaching post. Many doctoral candidates are already academics and are returning to study. Others work in a diversity of professions and have no intention of taking a job in a university. Therefore, this “truth” is not relevant. But for those seeking a career in academia who intend to use the doctorate as a springboard, teaching experience is crucial. A postgraduate may see themselves as a serious researcher. But it is teaching that will get them their first post (and probably their second and third). The ultimate supervisor is also an outstanding teacher who will train their postgraduates in writing curricula, managing assessment and creating innovative learning moments in a classroom. None of these skills is required for or developed by a doctorate. You can be supervised well without these teaching experiences. However, if you have a choice, select the supervisor who can “add value” to your candidature.

One of my proudest moments emerged in a tutors’ meeting for my large first-year course at Murdoch University: creative industries. I apologised to my tutors for the hard work and low pay that was a characteristic of sessional university employment. Mike Kent – who is now Dr Mike Kent and a tenured lecturer in internet studies at Curtin University – stated that the pay was an extra. He was being trained to teach. That was the value from the process. I still think tutors should be paid more, but I valued – and value – Mike’s insight.

9. Weekly supervisory meetings are the best pattern

There are two realities of candidature management. First, the longer the candidature, the less likely you are to finish. Second, a postgraduate who suspends from a candidature is less likely to submit a doctorate.
The key attribute of students who finish is that they are passionately connected to their thesis and remain engaged with their research and their supervisor. I have always deployed weekly meetings as the best pattern for supervision to nurture this connection.

There are reasons for this. Some postgraduates lack time-management skills and would prefer to be partying, facebooking or tweeting, rather than reading, thinking and writing. If students know that written work is expected each week, and they have to sit in an office with a supervisor who is evaluating their work, that stress creates productive writing and research. So if a meeting is held on a Thursday, then on Tuesday a student panics and does some work. Yet if meetings are fortnightly, this stress-based productivity is halved. It is better to provide a tight accountability structure for students. Weekly meetings accomplish this task.

10. Invest your trust only in decent and reliable people who will repay it, not betray it

This truth may seem self-evident. But supervisors – like all academics – are people first. If the prospective supervisor needs a personality replacement, lacks the life skills to manage a trip to the supermarket or requires electronic tagging so that he (or she) does not sleep with the spouses of colleagues, then make another choice. Supervisors should be functional humans. They can be – and should be – quirky, imaginative and original. That non-standard thinking will assist your project. But if there is a whiff of social or sexual impropriety, or if there are challenges with personal hygiene, back away in a hurry. At times during your candidature you will have to rely on this person. You will be sobbing in their office. You will need to lean on them. You must have the belief that they can help you through a crisis and not manipulate you during a moment of vulnerability.

I knew a supervisor whose idea of supervision was a once-a-semester meeting in a bar where he would order three bottles of red wine and start drinking. The meeting ended when the wine finished. Another supervisor selected his postgraduates on the likelihood that the students would sleep with him. Yet another was so completely fixated by her version of feminism that all the doctorates completed under her supervision ended up looking incredibly similar. Any deviation from a particular political perspective would result in screaming matches in her office. This was not only unpleasant but destructive to the students’ careers.

The key truth and guiding principle is evident

Do not select a supervisor who needs you more than you need him or her. Gather information. Arm yourself with these 10 truths. Ask questions. Make a choice with insight, rather than respond – with gratitude – to the offer of a place or supervision.



Alhamdulillahi a'laa kulli hal fiulli hal Ya Allah

















Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mus'ab Dah Botak...


ya Allah... ya Allah... ya Allah...
Dengan nama Allah yang Maha Pengasih lagi Maha Penyayang...
Moga semua dalam rahmat-NYA
Alhamdulillahi a'laa kulli hal fi kulli hal Ya Rabb
Muhammad Mus'ab bin DR Muhammad Hafizuddin
dah jadi budak botak
 2 bulan
dengan moyang

dengan mama

Abi dan mama
sayang Mus'ab dunia akhirat

saham akhirat kami...

Allah bersama kita.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How to Write Your PhD Proposal: A Step-By-Step Guide

American International Journal of Contemporary Research Vol. 2 No. 4; April 2012

How to Write Your PhD Proposal: A Step-By-Step Guide

Dr. Qais Faryadi 
Faculty of Science and Technology 
Department of Computer Science 
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) Malaysia


This appraisal argues that a piece of investigation must pass through a set of rigorous tests such as scientific methodology (quantitative, qualitative, experimental, observation and so on), validity, (logical procedure to answer a question), reliability (Quality of measurement) and unbiased conclusion (accurate measures are taken to make sure that it is free from individual interest). This guideline further examines the procedures for writing a practical and a realistic PhD proposal. Further, this critical evaluation assists PhD students by providing them with a complete roadmap on how to write an internationally recognized PhD proposal. Lastly, in this investigation, the PhD proposal writing process, such as abstract, introduction, problem statement, research questions, literature review, research methodology, research results, conclusion, discussions and implications are illustrated. 

Keywords: PhD, Proposal, methodology, research, Proposal writing process 


Research is defined as a premeditated investigations using scientific methodology (quantitative, qualitative, experimental, observation and so on) to solve a severe problem (not ordinary problem) thus creating a second (new) knowledge. Research is further delineated as an inquiry of reality about something thus testing hypothesis, answering questions, generating new queries, finding solutions and creating new knowledge. The new knowledge must be useable, reusable and challengeable by other researchers. A piece of exploration to qualify as a research must pass through a set of rigorous examination such as validity (logical procedure to answer a question), reliability (Quality of measurement) and unbiased conclusion (accurate measures are taken to make sure that it is free from individual interest). As thus, a PhD proposal must qualify the above conditions of a scientific research procedure. 

Proposal is a solid and convincing framework of a PhD thesis that must underline the originality of a research. It also must delineate a significant contribution to the existing intellectual knowledge. The proposal either must challenge or support the existing literature on the proposed problem. Proposal must also explain that why this particular PhD candidate is the right person to do the proposed research. Proposal must elucidate the originality of the problem and must illustrate what critical thinking and skills used to prove or disprove the problem. Proposal must explain how the problem going to be solved and how it going to bridge the gap in the existing knowledge. A well-articulated proposal explains the right methodology used to conduct the study and gives logical reasons why this particular methodology is chosen. Inadequately designed research proposal leads to a scantily finished PhD research. 

As evident from the above discussion, a proposal must answer these questions: 

What I am going to do? 
Who has done similar research? 
What he/she found? 
How I am going to do this study?
Why this study is so unique?

Finally yet importantly, carefully selected academic papers that converse the same problem must be referenced.

How to Write Your Abstract An abstract is one of the most intricate and the same time a beautiful part of a thesis writing process. It is the most critical points of a thesis that the writer wants his readers to read. The prime objective of an abstract is to enlighten the reader about the fundamentals of a thesis. Although different disciplines entail diverse types of abstract writing process, however, the roadmap for abstract writing is approximately remains the same. 

Vital Parts of an Abstract: 

(1) Problem statement formation 
(2) Construction of objectives and scope of the research 
(3) Construction of research methodology (theories, qualitative, quantitative) and method (instruments) used in the investigation. 
(4) Results and findings without adding any comments of your own 
(5) Conclusion and a concise outline of its significance

An Ideal Example of a Concise Abstract 

The problem investigated in this research was that the majority of foreign language classes are taught with little or no regard for the current field-tested paradigm of foreign language acquisition. The prime objective of this experimental research was to compare the effect of two different instructional design interventions in teaching Arabic as a foreign language. A Triangulation method (quantitative, qualitative and descriptive) is employed in the investigation. Instruments used to collect data were Pre-test, Post-test, interviews and questionnaires. Results signified that BAIK statistically improved students’ performance in the final exam compared to the traditional method. In brief, BAIK significantly improved learners’ attitude, satisfaction, motivation and perception about learning the Arabic as a foreign language. 

How to Write Your Introduction 

Introduction is one of the most difficult parts of a PhD proposal. Introduction opens a dialogue with your examiners or readers. Your introduction can make or break you during the presentation. Your introduction must convince your reader that you are the right person among thousands of researchers. You must also show to your reader that how you going to fulfill his/her needs and what exceptional benefits they get from you. This is how you start your PhD proposal introduction. Now you are face to face with your reader and challenging him that you are the best researcher in this field. You should start talking to them gently but without fear and favor. 

The following tips are crucial in introduction writing process:

1. Tell the reader about your problem.
2. Tell the reader who is suffering from that problem?
3. How you going to solve that problem?
4. Tell the reader that you are qualified and equipped with the right methods of solving that problem.
5. Tell the reader the benefits you offer by solving that problem?
6. Tell the reader what results you anticipate.
7. Make sure to tell what is the most important to them. No more, no less and stand for your claim.

How to Write Your Problem Statement A problem statement is a specific condition that needs urgent attention and a possible solution. Problem statement attempts to fill a gap in the existing knowledge that requires serious attention. An excellent problem statement is just a line or two. The rest of the paragraph(s) is its elaboration; a possible solution and most importantly, who says that it is a problem (cite scholarly references). The problem must generate questions for the research to answer. 

A PhD proposal problem statement must challenge to answer the following questions:

1. What is the problem? What?
2. Where is the problem? Where?
3. How to solve the problem? How?
4. Why you want to solve the problem? Why?
5. Is the problem current?
6. Will the problem continue in the future if it is not solved?
7. Who is suffering by that problem?
8. Will this problem prove or disprove the existing knowledge?

How to Write Your Research Questions 

Your research question must be brief, relevant, focused and arguable. Good research questions create a corridor to your research. Good research questions are the spine of your proposal and later, in your thesis. The following few tips may help you to write your research questions:

1. Choose a topic that interests you and your readers.
2. Make an investigation on your topic by going through scholarly journals and see what questions are raised by your peers. Take note of what questions are not raised so that you elevate it.
3. Your research questions should not be answered by simple facts; it must require critical analysis and field tested research. It must be provoking and requires significant examination.
4. Your research questions should be neither very broad nor very narrow. If too narrow, you will have difficulty in finding relevant information.
5. Do not forget to show your research questions to your supervisors before going into details of it.

How to Write Your Literature Review

Review of the literature is the life cycle of every proposal writing process. Literature review connotes a systematic account of documented literature by qualified and accredited scholars and researchers. When writing review of the literature you must show to your examiners and readers that what knowledge has been documented about your problem statement and what knowledge has not been documented yet so that you are about to document it. Your piece of literature must speak loud and clear about your research objectives, questions and your problem statement. As thus, your literature review should define and strengthen your research. It should not be a long list of bibliographic references or a summary of rearticulated materials to persuade your readers.

When evaluating literature review in PhD proposal defense, you must ask yourself:

1. Does the literature review discuss about authenticity of his problem statement?
2. Does the literature review significantly support the severity of his problem statement?
3. Does the researcher agree or disagree with existing knowledge, and why?
4. Is his/her final judgment or conclusion is sound, logical and persuasive?
5. Does the researcher find literatures that prove or disprove his problem statement?

How to Write Your Methodology 

Methodology refers to the theoretical analysis of your research while method refers to a systematic and orderly arrangement and measuring of your research. The Method of a research designates that how you going to demeanor your research. It also leads you on how to advance with your research. Method is just like a tool utilized by a researcher to measure the activities of the study. Different methodologies are used with different studies. Thus, methodology indicates rational and idealistic postulation of your study while method refers to the how to do of it. 

For example: Research on human feelings: 
Methodology: Triangulation (Qualitative, Quantitative and Descriptive) mixed. 
Method: Research design, population, sample, instrument, validity, reliability and result and so on. Some useful points when formulating your research methodology:

1. Choose your methodology based on the type of research you are conducting.
2. Institute a clear and concise affiliation between your study and your methodology.
3. Ask yourself whether this methodology answers your research questions?
4. Provide meaningful reason for choosing your methodology such as literature review.
5. Divide your method into research design, population, sample, instrument, validity, reliability, results and implementation phases.
6. Most importantly, are you comfortable with it?

How to Write Your Results 

Your PhD proposal does not need elaborative results at this point of time. At this stage of PhD proposal writing you have not proved or disproved your problem statement and research questions yet. At this juncture you only hypothesis or anticipate your results in the future. For example let say your topic is about magnesium chloride, you may state hypothetically that this experimental research will prove that magnesium chloride regulates the activities of insulin the hormone that helps control blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. Our discussion about result is still relevant when you come to the result chapter in your PhD thesis, hopefully.

Let us presume that you are in result chapter of your thesis: Congratulations! Now the time has come to reap what you have sown. You have to declare your findings with text as well as with illustrations. You have to illustrate your findings with evidence so that your problem statement and questions are answered clearly. Your results might be negative or positive. Even though it is a negative finding, still is a significant contribution to the existing knowledge. When you are declaring your results never mention the words such as I, We, or I found that…, we found that…, because it is unprofessional for a scholar to boost. Instead you may state, this research has investigated….., this study has found that…. and so on. Consider the following when reporting your results:

1. Make an introduction (Few lines) at the beginning and a summary (Few lines) at the end of your result chapter. It is nice to inform your readers that what you are about to do and what you have done so far. Make a habit of doing the same to all of your chapters.
2. Analyze your qualitative data (interviews, survey responses, emails, your own notes, observations, feedback, questionnaires)and quantitative data (statistics, percentages and numbers).Use Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) to analyze (means, S-D, Frequencies, percentages) your data. If you are not expert in SPSS, hire an expert to do the calculation for you.
3. Use deductive (from general to specific) and inductive (from specific to general) to organize collected data. Organize your data based on your research questions and hypothesis.
4. Display your data based on relationships among the collected data and look for supporting evidence.
5. Cross check your data few times for reliability and validity.
6. So, what did you find from your experimentation? Report without adding any comments of your own.
7. What were the differences? If you are making a comparison. Use T-Test to compare.
8. Analyze your findings to see if it answers your research questions and finds a solution to your problem statement. Again, avoid making any comments of your own.

Save your energy for the conclusion and discussion chapter. Do not forget to report your results in the present form because it sounds soothing and original. Example: The interviews indicate that…….result shows that.. How to Write Your Conclusion and Discussion Writing a conclusion is as difficult as writing your introduction. One big difference between your introduction and conclusion is that in introduction you pose questions to your audience while in conclusion you answer those questions. However, one must remember that a conclusion is not a summary of your introduction even though a paragraph may be the summary of the whole proposal. In discussion, you interpret your results and bridge the gap that you promised to do when formulating your Hypothesis. 

In summarizing your conclusion and discussion, the following may be of help:

1. Explain in plain English what we understand now that we did not understand before. Write for your readers not for yourself. Never mention the words I, We or I found that and so on.
2. Interpret your problem statement and show with evidence from your literature review section that you have indeed bridged a major gap in knowledge.
3. Interpret your hypothesis and problem statement with evidence from your literature review section and give logical reasoning that what you have claimed is in fact true (Don’t worry; if it is negative or positive still significant). For example, a study claimed that Magnesium chloride is not the solution for depression. However, your experimental results show that magnesium chloride is in fact the solution for fighting severe depression. Here you are! Start reasoning and give evidence from scholarly publications that support your hypothesis. Those supportive references should be in your literature review chapter.
4. Discuss and reason about the significant contribution of your experimental research and argue that you have solved a major problem if not it would have continued in the future.
5. Make sure that you reconnect your claims with lots of documented evidence from your literature review to interpret your findings. Lastly do not forget to be concise and to the point, no more no less.


It is evident from the above discussion that a piece of research must pass through a hard tests such as scientific methodology (quantitative, qualitative, experimental, observation and so on), validity, (logical procedure to answer a question), reliability (Quality of measurement) and unbiased conclusion (accurate measures are taken to make sure that it is free from individual interest). As thus, a PhD proposal must describe a significant contribution to the existing academic knowledge. The proposal either must confront or sustain the existing literature on the proposed problem. Proposal must also explain that why this particular PhD candidate is the right person to do the proposed research. Proposal must elucidate the originality of the problem and must illustrate what critical thinking and skills used to prove or disprove the problem. Proposal must explain how the problem going to be solved and how it going to bridge the gap in the existing knowledge.


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