Redacting Papers & Wonderful Professors

The last several weeks (I’ve lost count of how many) I’ve been primarily occupied with writing, then submitting, then revising, then submitting, then revising… you get the idea. There are 2 articles that I’ve been working on for publication. One of them, An Examination of Project Work, is a more academic/scholarly article meant to be a chapter in an internationally-contributed book about education reform in the Asia-Pacific region. In it are discussions about the theoretical foundations and recent research on Project-Based Learning, an overview of the Project Work initiative in Singapore and an analysis. The second article, Project Work As Praxis: The Challenge for Singapore’s Educators, is more of an essay than a scholarly paper, and it is likely to be a chapter in a Singapore edited & published book on Project Work. I particularly enjoyed writing the second piece because the editor gave me quite a lot of creative leeway, and I was able to write about something I believed in. And because the main audience for the second paper would be teachers and other educators in Singapore – you see, I think over time I’ve developed an ever stronger bent for application rather than staying purely in theory.

I am very fortunate in that my virgin encounters with publishing are relatively painless. (That’s probably because I haven’t tried submitting any articles to those cut-throat international refereed journals yet. I’ve seen some of the scathing, even insulting reviewer’s comments that people, even my profs, have received in the past.) I’ve already been asked to revise that more scholarly paper twice by the editors… and with each revision I have to admit that their suggestions are ‘right on’. And it is a joy to see my own paper becoming more robust with each revision. It has been such a great learning experience!

Word to the wise among friends who are considering graduate studies: Choose your supervisor wisely. This cannot be stressed enough. You have no idea until you’re in the middle of it, just how much a supervisor can affect your graduate student experience, and even your future employment prospects.

Don’t just go for somebody famous in the academic world. There are a lot more things to consider. There are many screwball profs out there who exploit their graduate students to do research work, and who even compete with their students. There are profs who are never available to meet you, or who take forever to return your work without even having really read it.

A good supervisor not only can give good guidance in your area of research, but is also someone who will mentor you. Some may even proactively introduce you to people they think will be good for you to know. They look out for your interests, critique your work closely, and respect your work. A good supervisor can be a very strong wind in the sails of a graduate student. So if you’re ever in the position to find a supervisor, make sure you ask your seniors about the professors. That’s where you get the most honest stories!

I’m very lucky to have encountered not just one, but a few wonderful professors.

Prof. Michael Vertin of SMC UofT was someone who read my work so closely that his comments and critiques had page and line numbers, and his suggestions always guided me to make excellent improvements in both my philosophical thinking and my writing. I’ve also since found out from my department that he is a very skillful writer of reference letters. His letters got me admitted into 3 graduate programs so far, and also played a role in getting me 2 scholarships.

Prof. John Portelli, who is my current supervisor, is a rare gem. He is well-known in both the fields of Philosophy of Education and Educational Administration – the domains that I am currently also straddling. Yet, he is warm and personable (food always features in his classes, and there is always a pot-luck during the last class), and very supportive. When I’m in a fix (and I have been just recently), he takes care of things so efficiently from his side that he even does menial administrative things for me that I would be embarrassed to even think of asking him to do. He also shares my Roman Catholic faith, and that gives us something in common with which we approach our work.

Dr. Ng Pak Tee of NTU/NIE was a math teacher in Hwa Chong when I was there. He taught my seniors, and my juniors, but not my class. He has since become my contact at NIE, and is a member of my thesis committee and will be acting as my supervisor when I am in Singapore. Since we met up again 3.5 years ago, he’s helped me get resources from NIE, introduced me to half a dozen other professors at NIE, included me in a meeting he had with a publishing agent (for a book for which he was editor) so that I can observe, notified me of publishing opportunities, and has given me personal advice on various aspects of academia. I remember one summer when I was particularly overwhelmed by how kind he was, and I thanked him for being a ‘true teacher’. (I still call him 老师,much to the amusement of his colleagues.) His reply was, “This is what a teacher does. Just remember to do the same in the future, when you are in the position to help your students.”

Wow. Inspiring huh? I’ve got three great professors and teachers to learn from. I hope that I will imbibe their teaching values and one day be able to do the same for my students!

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