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At the 3/4 mark...

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

This is the last month of my 3rd year in the PhD program.


As of mid-Nov, I finished the semester teaching a class of undergrad students. It has been a rather enjoyable learning experience teaching 2 classes of undergrad students Singapore Sign Language Level 1 this year. Last year, I was a Teaching Assistant where I graded assignments for a Semantics and Pragmatics module. I really enjoyed working under the prof who supervised me for that, although the grading workload for a cohort of 99 students was tremendous.


In the last week of class, different groups of students asked me to take a photo with them. I admit that made me feel like a celebrity! :D I got the photos from them but will not share it here to respect their privacy, since I didn't ask for their permission to post it publicly. I will just store it away in my OneDrive for memories sake. I also received a nice text on WhatsApp from a student which really made my day.


Reflection on the PhD journey so far


I can't believe how quickly 3 years have flown by. Upon reflection, each of those years have been riddled with its own fair share of ups and downs. If I am honest, although I've experienced some joy along the way, it's also been really really hard at some points where I've simply wanted to throw in the towel. And it's not because the rigours of academia daunts me. Rather, navigating accessibility as a PhD student in Singapore has felt tantamount to moving a mountain. And, I haven't the strength to do so.


I've really struggled with some of my relationships with sign language interpreters in Singapore. I stress some, because it's not all of them. Interpreter accreditation in Singapore doesn't exist. I'm not used to working with non-certified interpreters at all. Returning back to Singapore has been an uncomfortable transition for me in this regard. I really miss some of my friends from the US who are ASL interpreters.


Some Singapore interpreters have been a delight to work with while the interaction with others have been a source of angst due to a lack of awareness coupled with limited access to quality interpreter training in Singapore. I've confronted many situations where I realise it is not fair to me nor to the Singapore interpreter. There have been occasions because of the interpreter's ignorance, where I've had to put out some fires for myself as well as another deaf friend. This has been nothing but draining and a productivity time sink. I have found myself on the verge of tears sometimes. Some of these incidences still feel so raw and fresh even up till today. When this whole PhD is over, I know the memories of this experience will be bittersweet.


To process my grief and expedite my healing process, I've resolved to write about my journey navigating the cultural maze that is my PhD and accessibility as a deaf person in Singapore in my spare time. I hope that it will spotlight the plight of Singapore interpreters such as their less than ideal working conditions and their lack of training. I also hope that my story will illuminate how this compounds the problem of limited accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Singapore. I hope that it will challenge the narrative and raise awareness on the areas that are in need of improvement. I don't know how much of a difference it will make, since everything seems to move at a snail's pace here. However, I am determined to get it published in a few years.


I believe that my PhD supervisor is one of the main reasons why I haven't given up. It is the PhD supervisor that can make or break your PhD. Mine has really looked out for me since Day 1 of my PhD. Despite all the challenges with accessibility, I chose to stick it out because I decided she was worth having as a PhD supervisor. I realised I could learn a lot of things from her and the NTU context that I wouldn't be able to learn elsewhere.


It is truly a miracle that I even passed my PhD Qualifying exam and made it this far, especially with all the hurdles I have had to cross! Simply by God's grace.


While it's been a very lonely transition (because I'm not the same person I was at 16.5 years old when I left home), I'm thankful that I haven't had to walk this journey alone the entire time. There have been friends and colleagues from the US and the UK who have journeyed with me from afar. On top of that, there have been international friends I met at Gallaudet whom I have reconnected with and who understand the challenges of repatriation.


I'm thankful for 3 hearing PhD friends (2 of whom are international students and 1 Singaporean), whom I talk to on some regular basis at NTU. I've met some new people in academia along the way virtually via Telegram chat support groups as well as in person who have a shared experience of international mobility. It has certainly made the journey a lot less lonely. I've also been very happy to re-connect with my family as well as some friends from Singapore. Catching up with them has been a good break from my PhD work.


I really will have a lot of people in my local and international network to thank when I finish this PhD! :) I realise that God never promises that the journey will be easy, but He has brought along the people and resources that I need to get through it.


Onward to 2024



All of 2024 will be spent on writing up my PhD dissertation. I hope to submit by Jan 10, 2025, as my funding runs out then. I know it's going to be like running a marathon for the entire year. I expect that there will be times where my strength will falter. However, I really want to enjoy the process of writing the entire thing and reading lots of academic papers.


My Thesis Advisory Committee has advised during my last TAC meeting on November 10, that my focus for next year should be on writing up my dissertation, especially after I shared that I applied to four conferences. They discouraged me from flying to conferences in general and advised that if I wanted to attend any, I should only pick one that is most aligned with my research.


These were the words of my co-supervisor and supervisor in an e-mail thread after I informed them of my acceptance to a particular conference which my supervisor also identified as the most suitable one for me. I was seeking their advice on whether I should go or not.


E-mail response 1:


"Phoebe,

One way to think through your question is via cost-benefit analysis:

What will participating in the conference cost you in terms of time and effort?

How do you expect to benefit from participating in the conference?"


E-mail response 2:


"The TAC committee’s advice is that the quality and completion targets of your progress should not be negatively impacted and any additional conference should have a facilitative effect on the dissertation."


Of the 4 conferences I applied to, I've received 1 rejection and 2 acceptances to present so far. I haven't heard from the 4th one yet. Of the 2 acceptances, I've turned down one and accepted the other. However, since the one I accepted has a hybrid format, I've decided to present virtually after much consideration. More details on this presentation to come on this one in a later blog post. :D


I realise that travelling can be hard on the body. My supervisor mentioned it takes time to pack and fly off as well as a while to settle back in after a trip. This results in time lost when I can use that to do more writing. I realise she is right as it has been my experience this year after returning back from the UK. If I get accepted to present for the 4th conference, I know I will have to turn it down too.


I am unable to predict if unforeseen circumstances will come up closer to the time, which can also throw my schedule off track. For instance, I've been sick a lot this year due to long Covid from April to early Sep. When I felt back to my normal self, I caught flu symptoms and had it for 2 weeks in Sep. Currently, I'm recovering from the flu bug again, which began as a sore throat last Thurs. I had my schedule perfectly laid out for Dec. But, I have had to make adjustments since I haven't been able to do anything for the past few days.


All in all, 2023 has been a fun, but difficult year at the same time. The challenges have reminded me of the lyrics of the song Blessings by Laura Story, specifically this line, What if trials of this life, are your mercies in disguise? I have had to say no to some commitments that I was offered outside of my PhD. Perhaps being sick, although it has slowed my progress, has been somewhat a blessing in disguise? Simply because it's prevented me from overcommitting myself.


To help my productivity (because I find it nearly impossible to focus at home), I've rented a dedicated desk in a co-working space in town for the period of Dec 1 to March 31, with possibility of extension after. I've only been able to go in last Fri and the days that followed were just spent sleeping at home.


I'm hoping I recover soon so that I can go back into the office to continue plodding on. 🤞



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