Slightly more than 3 months into Social Working, Everything (SWE), I realised I haven’t wrote about why this academic-personal blog exists. I kind of alluded to it in the Hello! page, but thought it would be cool to pen this down, even if it is just for myself to remember why I started on this journey in the first place.
I remember it was Vesak Day on 7 May, which was a public holiday in Singapore. But I found nothing much to be happy about because we were in the thick of COVID-19 and everyone was stuck at home. By then, I had already read news from different sources and contexts that had the same theme: COVID-19 is NOT an equal-opportunity disease. It is utterly simplistic to tackle COVID-19 from a purely medical perspective. Sociopolitical, economic, cultural and even historical factors influence how the virus spreads, and to whom (For an example out of the many, click here). With the increase of people seeking social services and cases of domestic violence in Singapore, I found myself questioning what I was doing in this PhD, when I am a registered social worker who wants to make a difference for these people?
While my social worker friends were struggling with managing the work demands, I was struggling with scoping my research topic. While they were meeting clients and linking them to resources, I was reading boring journal articles and academic textbooks. The incongruity was really jarring and disturbing… So I decided to give myself a break to seriously consider if I would just give up the PhD when it is still early (I was just in Year 1 Semester 2 then).
COVID-19 and Academia
I begin with researching on how COVID-19 would impact the careers of PhD graduates and academics. The news all around isn’t great. There were ominous predictions that the job market for academic and post-doctoral positions will be affected for not just this year, but a few years after that, judging by the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. At the same time, the advice was to change the way we PhDs spend our time- which is not to continue burrowing into journal publications and aiming for tenure in universities. One of the best and also most straight-talking articles really validated the tensions I felt, because as someone not too inclined to an academic career, I always found myself to be quite different from my peers. Having felt the disjunct between academic material and the realities of social work practice, there was also incongruence in working towards submitting papers for journal publication. So it was quite liberating to read advice from someone established in academia to quit spending so much time on journal articles but get ‘out there’ to learn and engage.
By the end of this research and giving myself time to be reflexive about my PhD experience, I was actually EXCITED. Knowing that I would regret like crazy if I didn’t pursue the questions that my mind was locked into and I will probably end up dissatisfied if I went back to social work practice without giving a shot at answering what I believed were important questions. Discovering the academic blog scene inspired me as well, as I see how academics across disciplines (attempt to) engage in the public space and shape public discourse.
One of the reasons for doing a PhD is to do research that can influence social shifts (stopping short of using the buzzphrase ‘social transformation’; it is naive to believe that a single piece of research can achieve this). And I realised that an academic blog is a good platform to have my own space and hone my writing & thinking skills.
I have also discovered fresh challenges to grow in:
1. Translating academicspeak into accessible language for general public
2. Scoping content for a single article while communicating the notion that almost all the issues discussed have a complex web of related issues that influences the particular issue at hand
3. Relatedly, the skill of knowing when to stop pulling in the threads of that complex web so that the writing does not get convoluted or I just give up writing on it entirely
Moving on to Year 2 in this PhD, I am more certain that doing a PhD has value. Perhaps it will be a long roundabout connection to making a positive difference to the disadvantaged and marginalized in society, but what I am doing has value. This is what I tell myself when I get discouraged or feel lonely, because its an open non-secret that a PhD is a lonely journey. To end off, there is this beautiful quote that I came across when reading the incisive Budi Kritik:
From the translation in the book (p.XXXIV), it means “Man can be clever as high as the sky but as long as he does not write, he will disappear from society and history. To write is to work for posterity.”