Wednesday, August 28, 2013

PhD Again?! :P

Received an email from a silent reader (as she said it in her second email). After getting her consent, this entry is especially to reply to her email. ;-)

Salam Sis Amelia,

I am D**** and reading your blog. Actually I was browsing through the internet to get as much info about studying PhD in Australia before I came across your blog. So you studied in Queensland before, and I have few questions to ask if you don’t mind (related to PhD work, PhD admission, etc). I heard from others that it is quite difficult to finish PhD in 3 yrs time, is it true? If I am not mistaken, you obtained PhD on time (after 3 yrs). I better list down what puzzles me in my mind. I hope you do not mind to answer Kak Amelia.

1- Why did you choose University of Queensland instead of other university in Australia?
2- My research field is embedded system (which I believe same as yours), it is a very broad area and I really do not know where to start. But my passion is to do research that is related to reconfigurable architecture of FPGA.  There are so many researchers working on FPGA related project, do you think FPGA field has a good future?
3- What is the basic criteria for ones to involve in embedded systems project? What kind of algorithm or other knowledge they should know?
4- Any advice/tips for those want to pursue study in Australia especially in PhD?
5- How did you find supervisor that suits your research interest? 

I think that’s all for now. Hope to hear from you.

Wa’alaikummusalam wrt wbrt,


Dear Sr D****,

First and foremost, thank you for reading my blog. I am very happy to know that someone whom I never really met is reading my blog. I hope you have not been wasting your precious time. ;-)

Yes.. I did my PhD in the University of Queensland. I am not trying to scare you.. but to me it feels like 100 years for me to complete my PhD. If someone would come in front of my door today or in the future, offering me a million Ringgit in exchange for me to do another PhD, I would chase him away with my smelly broomstick telling him never ever ever to return. 

But before you go pulling your hair or having sweaty palm and regret sending me this email, rilek.. sabar.. *breath in.. breath out* :-) 

Of course, as an academician, we need to go through this. Why? Absolutely it is not for the degree. The degree is just a bonus. My former Dean once told me in which I totally agree with him - PhD is all about learning ways to do research.. to be able to work independently. Trust me on the latter. During your PhD years, you will stack a lot of techniques of survival especially when you have kids and your husband is also doing his PhD. :-D

Now let’s answer your questions. 

1. To be honest, I didn’t actually know that I could straight do a PhD in Australia with only a bachelor’s degree. I knew a couple of my friends are doing so in the UK. And so, my initial plan was to find a University in Australia that offers MPhil and later during my studies, to convert it to PhD. After some search, The University of Queensland is one of the University in Australia that offers MPhil programme. We are fortunate though that we met one Brother at the Musolla who informed us that we are qualified to do PhD. After some paper work, we were enrolled as PhD candidate. If you want to ask why Australia.. that, I have to answer in a different entry. :D   

2. Indeed, embedded system is hugeeeeeee!~ Good thing you have realized that. ;-) And for you to select a platform i.e. the FPGA means you have further minimized your research scope in embedded system. Based on this, I would say that you have made an excellent start. While there have not been many off-the-shelves household products that utilizes the FPGA as the main platform, FPGA is still one of the best prototyping platforms due to its low cost and reconfigurable nature.

3. When you defined a ‘platform’ in your research work, be it an FPGA or any other platforms, from my experience, you would expect to do some hardware development. With that the level of difficulty in the research work has somewhat increased. If you have no experience with any of the platforms, the learning curve could be steep. There’s the required language to learn and development software to play around with. In my case, I had to experiment with Handel-C and SystemC before resorting to VHDL which I’ve prior knowledge of. Why? Again this is another different story to tell. But of course, you will have to learn something new along the way. I take those as one of it. Your selection of supervisor and having great colleagues that allow you to bother them during the weekend or late at night will be super-duper crucial.

4. Allow me to combine question 4 and 5. As for tips… hmmmmmm… hmm… I guess, anywhere you go, you bound to hear scary PhD stories. And so my advice, focus more on the good side of the story. Having said that, there’s nothing to lose if you prepare a little extra. In general, this is what you should do. Do some search on any prospective supervisor. Look into his/her publication list. Read some. From there you can tell in which area he/she is expert in. Find out also if he/she has failed any student before. If yes, you need to know the reasons why. If the supervisor has huge grant, this would be a plus since they might provide you with a top-up allowances. ;-) One thing about studying in Australia, the renting can be an issue for us Malaysian. Unfortunately, in Australia the rent is per week. Thus, make sure you save some of your monthly allowances for the extra 4 weeks! ;-) Don’t spend too much at the factory outlet! :-P

I guess that’s about it Sis D****!

Allow me to add two more points. You are about to embark into a journey in which will mark another great milestone in your life. For some, the road has been clear until the end. For many, it has not been an easy road. For that, be prepared mentally. Have your love ones understand what you are about to take on. You will need their full encouragement and support. On top of this effort of yours, don’t forget to do Istikarah. HE will answer to all your needs especially the spiritual aspects. I wish you all the best D****. May Allah guide us all the way. Ameen…


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