To get back into the start of it all, I've enrolled in a full research Master level study here in the field of science (geology) for about a year now. There's so much time that has passed since... and yet - lets not mince on words here - very little real work has actually been done.
So what happened?
To put things simply, I simply did not put enough effort into finishing my study as soon as possible. It's only through recent inquiries (although I've had the thought for a while - more on that later) on how my study is going that I've actually went full steam with my work.
So, going back into the beginning: a full research Master study entitle me to hours and hours of free time for me to finish my study. There's no class to attend (except for one class last semester), there's no work (in the usual 9-5 desk job kind of work) that I need to dedicate my time to... and, most dangerously of all, there's no fixed timetable that I have to follow like those in degree level.
Being in the field of geology means that whether I like it or not, fieldwork remains my largest data collection step throughout the study. I did went through various fieldworks, yes, but... I end up returning with a collection of data which I am not very clear how they relate to the whole picture of my research. Add to the fact that my study area lies in relatively close proximity to my hometown, there's that sense of 'eh, I can always return later' lingering at the back of my head.
That was that. In the meantime, I occupied my time by learning some new knowledge, meeting new people, going to some places (non fieldwork)... but still there wasn't much progress on my work.
Eventually, I had the thought of 'well, I can't continue going on like this all the time...', but still I couldn't find the way or motivation to change my ways.
Now, the real wake up call was when one of my supervisor voiced his doubt as to whether I'm actually doing any work in the past one year. It was there and then, faced with the realization that I can't keep going on forever doing what I'm doing, the realization that I have to finish this - it was a moment of epiphany, and it was then that I realized I made the right choice in choosing my supervisor.
It was around that time that various people suddenly remarked on how long I've spent on my work without really achieving anything, that I realize I have to buck up - or I'll just fade out into nothing. All the time, energy, effort - all for naught.
It was through heart-to-heart talk with my supervisor that I've asked on how is it that so many previous postgraduates dropped out of their research. To put it simply, it's because the mindset of those students itself which lead to their drop out. He put this aptly by asking this question: 'why do you see those oversea postgraduate finishing their research in two years?'
Apparently the mindset of us being local students have caused some to trip up. It's the thoughts of procrastination ("Well, I can always do it another day"; "I can work in between my study to support myself" "There's still plenty of time to finish my work... later" etc) which eventually pile up all those works until it reach a point where... breakdown is imminent. As another lecturer commented on that, the problem with those students is when they don't write out their thesis, and when they are to arrive at an ultimatum - publish or perish, to borrow the cliché in academia - that they are so overwhelmed that they break down.
So I have no other choice now, but to buck up and proof them of my worth. One year might be wasted, perhaps, but that's not an excuse for continuing that trend.
One thing I can say about research is that it can proof a big journey for understanding yourself. When you are left with independence on how you conduct your work, you'd need a very strong sense of purpose, good planning, and the will to stick to your plan.
I've discussed with my friend how some people had suggested that perhaps for postgraduate work, it's better to carry it out elsewhere (other university, or even oversea) for a change of pace, and to get out of your comfort zone. Well, if what I've learned from my stint in postgraduate so far, it is that it wholly depends on the person itself - if they're determined to finish their work, they will ace it no matter where they are. Whereas if they have no desire to do so, no matter how removed they are from their comfort zone, the work will most probably remain just a distant daydream.
I've learned about myself in this period: it is fear that motivates me. Now, faced with the prospect of not finishing in time - hence wasting on time and effort - it really cause a good revamp on my part of doing my work for my research. And it helps that my supervisor is direct and honest in his criticism - had I had a supervisor who simply does not give a toss on what I'm doing, I might still be drifting apart, unaware of the imminent danger of dropping out... until it's too late.
Why I carried out postgraduate work in the first place, when I could be in a job somewhere?
Truth is, I'm interested in teaching (lectureship), and with that line of work in mind going through postgraduate will give me the necessary qualification (and experience) to get there. I don't really have too high ambition as becoming the next Professor in the field or whatever - it's the simple fact of teaching which really interest me.
Now, I shall delve more into the subject in later writing. But as for now, I would like any postgraduate students out there to really think for themselves:
What do they want out of involving in postgraduate studies? Are they doing all the work that they need to be done? And if not, how do they plan to rectify the problem?
Different people have different motivation. Some might be reward driven (they look forward to what they will receive by taking the work), while some like myself are more risk drive (they dread the risk faced if they do not carry out the work). Keep that in mind as you get on with your studies.
Stop for a while to smell the roses, but beware of the thorns - and always not lose focus on the journey that you're undertaking. I foresee a rough road ahead... but hey, it's the road not taken, is it not? :)