All Posts Filed in ‘Student Lifehacks

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Welcome to Wageningen

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The Annual Introduction Days start this week. Blogger Nadya welcomes the new students to the best university of the Netherlands.

I have been doing some thorough cleaning in my lovely attic studio to welcome new master’s students, who are going to crash this week for the AID on 18-23 August 2017. During the AID they’ll probably cycle around Wageningen and its surroundings to get a proper introduction to this idyllic Dutch countryside. Doing your master’s, how exciting! You are going to make new friends from around the world because Wageningen University and Research is full of international students.

Indeed, Wageningen needs international students. That’s a fact. As reported by the Student Alliance Wageningen on 14 May 2017, Wageningen University was struggling because there were too few students before 2000. At that time, Utrecht University was interested in taking over the Life Sciences faculty. Naturally, increasing the number of international students was proposed as one key solution to revitalize the university since nobody could expect the number of young Dutch citizens to miraculously proliferate overnight.

When I talked with former students of Wageningen University, they confirmed this story and pointed to the stark contrast between then and now. The university worked very hard to attract international students. The stigma of a dying agricultural university was replaced by the reputation of being ‘the best university in the Netherlands’, for the twelfth time in a row in 2016, according to its own students. We even got a chocolate medal to celebrate this accomplishment. However, Wageningen’s hard-earned reputation also translated into high pressure on its students.

As new students, you might be overwhelmed by the intense expectations at this ‘best university’. But in my opinion, the best university is a university that provides you with the best educational service to equip you with the skills that you need. Bear in mind, the university needs you. You can reciprocate by communicating what you need from the university.

Some of you, especially international students, might think that this attempt is a waste of time in your two-year stint (or even less). But do it anyway, for the sake of practicing the art of negotiation. This is an important life skill. I might argue that it is even more important than any study materials that you will get in the classroom.

Good luck, and welcome to Wageningen!

As seen in Resource online 16 August 2017

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Unplanned Expenses

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Things to remind blogger Nadya Karimasari and other PhD candidates to be aware of unplanned research expenses lurking behind every moment of carelessness.

Unbelievable! When I was about to take a picture of my beautiful and fast-growing garden to show to my husband and son back home, the camera shutter failed to click. What’s wrong? Apparently there’s no battery inside my camera. How come? I remember that I’ve charged the battery just before I flew to the Netherlands. i have the charger is with me, so the battery should be inside my camera, but where did it disappear?

Of course, a battery would not disappear just like that. I lost it due to my own carelessness and less-than-enough obsessive checking of all my equipment. Damn! My family back home couldn’t find the battery. A new battery, another unplanned research expense. May I remind myself that this is not the first time?

During my preliminary fieldwork, I fully trusted the driver. Three different maps were kept nicely inside my backpack. Don’t expect any GPS, there’s no internet signal in this remote area – I’m looking at you my tech-savvy friends. He had brought me to the destination before. I should be able to sit back and relax because he would be much more knowledgeable about the route than me or my co-promotor, right? Wrong. I should’ve been obsessively aware and checking our map and asking people question along the way. That midnight, we should’ve reached our destination on the mountain six hours before. Instead, we were lost along the coast, where the road was broken and full of cracks from the water. And I had to pay the driver and the rented car for an extra day. I thought my co-promotor was almost crying! But at least I could use this information for the methods section in my proposal: the area was not chosen due to the damaged road and difficulty of access!

Last but not least, I lost my phone! This happened just before I returned to Holland after my brother’s wedding in Indonesia. It’s a cheap brick phone, but I love it, and it works best in my fieldwork location. I assume my elderly mother-in-law brought it back to her hometown, because we have exactly the same phone. You might know that a brick phone is synonymous with phones for seniors (I am not a senior – yet, but I also don’t use a smartphone; at least I don’t use a banana phone). I called her, but she said this or that grandchild was taking care of her phone and she had no idea. Things got complicated and I had to accept that I might not find my dear brick phone. Which means I lost most of my research contacts that I painstakingly collected during preliminary fieldwork. I double-save my contact numbers on my sim card and phone, but I should’ve made additional back-ups. There was a little bit of fear that if I backed it up and the police or the intelligence agency found it somehow, they would know the phone numbers of ‘rebellious’ farmers, so hey, let’s just memorize it the old-fashioned way. Anyway, I also lost the number of the VIP head of district and the person from which I was about to rent a family house for my fieldwork. Oh, man! Shit happens!

This story is for all of you who feel undeserving as a PhD because you don’t feel good enough. If you thought that a PhD candidate is somehow an exceptional human being who always got their shit together, think again. To err is human, to forgive is divine – so let’s do it all over again.

As seen in Resource

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Back

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Blogger Nadya Karimasari has just come back to the Netherlands after some intense physical and mental travel.

It’s good to be back in the Netherlands. My landlords are still as lovely, my 125-year-old home is still as charming and cosy, the cat is still fat, the sheep are still smelly, the birds are still chirping cheerfully and the rooster is still crowing. The plants in my small patch of garden started growing. I took a deep breath of the clean air of this idyllic Dutch countryside. Ahh, it’s so good to be back.

I have been ‘all over the place’ lately, not only in terms of location, but also in terms of experience. Earlier this year, I did my preliminary fieldwork in Indonesia. My admirable long-time friend whom I used to stay with when I was in Jakarta visited Leiden from Harvard. We shared an uninterrupted day walking and talking. In Spring, I was a teaching assistant for Rob Fletcher’s Research Methodology course. I have a fond memory of the experience and the students. Then, a sudden death. The next day, with trembling knees, I went to Toronto for a Summer School with Nancy Peluso, Peter Vandergeest and Libby Lunstrum. The North American graduate education system was completely different than in the Netherlands. Afterwards, I organised a panel at the international conference of the Center for Space, Place, and Society at the Wageningsche Berg and gave a (chaotic) presentation, met my co-supervisor from Melbourne and other new and old friends. I also gave another (chaotic) presentation for my proposal at the office. Last but not least, I went to my brother’s wedding in Indonesia where I met most of my extended families. And back I am.

For many of us, doing a PhD is a cultural experience too, with a lot of moments of ‘taking up challenge’ and first-times that may or may not be directly linked with our research and may or may not be having an immediate ‘productive’ effect for our writing process. On the other hand, life goes on beyond our research, and a lot of times, it’s hard not be taken over by momentary shock. As a PhD student, it’s equally hard to ignore your research that is poking you and saying hello from the back of your mind from time to time. The result is a mess. But, it’s okay. We’re gone, and back, and we’re always where we’re supposed to be.

as seen in Resource online

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Academic Celebrities

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Many academic celebrities in the social sciences visited Wageningen University and Research in the past year. Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares her latest encounter with one of them.

I’ve lost count of how many academic celebrities I’ve met at Wageningen University and Research. I couldn’t imagine a better timing to do a PhD. Earlier this month, James Ferguson, a well-known anthropologist from Stanford University, USA, gave a public lecture at Orion about share, presence, and social obligation. A couple of days after, other famous names participated in the two-days Hauntology seminar on psychoanalysis and political economy. Don’t ask me about the seminar, I swear I have no idea.

While having my daily dose of sunbathing on the outdoor bench in Leeuwenborch, a participant of the hauntology seminar casually sat down next to me. My half-closed eyes were transfixed by his beautiful shoes. They must be expensive, I guess. He opened the lid of his cigarette box and asked me what I thought of the seminar. I looked up and my jaw dropped in disbelief. It was Erik Swyngedouw, a world-leading political economist from Manchester University.

Keeping my cool, I answered him in shameless honesty, ‘I didn’t understand a single word.’ Why pretend, not everyone is familiar with Lacan. A slight smile curved up in Erik’s face, ‘I still remember what that’s like.’ And that’s the beginning of our jovial conversation.

‘When I was teaching at Oxford, I was a regular participant at the monthly seminar of Amnesty International. I was a supporter. I always attended their seminar in order to purchase the ticket so they would get money’, he said. ‘In 1998, Slavoj Zizek was one of the speakers. I came out of the seminar, thinking: what a bloody circus!’ he told me.

‘I owned two books by Zizek because everybody said he was so good, but I just read the back covers and put them right back on the shelf. That day, after the seminar – I remember it vividly, it was May – I went straight to a very beautiful bookstore …’ I cut him off, shortly, ‘Blackwell, was it?’, ‘Yes, Blackwell’, he continued, ‘I bought more than ten books by Zizek and paid around 400 pounds.’

‘Later, during the summer holiday, I spent three months reading all his books at a house by the sea. I read from morning to evening, just having a break for lunch, and I still didn’t understand most of it. Only around ten years later, in 2007, did I start to understand half of it. And now, once I got it, I can do whatever I want with it’, he said animatedly with his hands flipping up and down.

‘Learning is slow’, his words sounded like music to my ears. ‘Sometimes, students would think I’ve got it all easy. They only see me now. But I was also a student like them once. Nothing is easy. It was also difficult for me. I also took a long time to learn to finally get to where I am now’, he confessed.

‘The most important thing is to not give up on our enjoyment, and not give in to fear’, he added passionately. ‘I remember when I studied Marx when I was a student like you. Everybody said it was an academic suicide. But, I am still here’, he smiled victoriously.

‘I followed my enjoyment, and not gave in to the fear.’

as seen in Resource online

PS: picture of James Ferguson during his lecture, not Eric Swyngedouw – ‘coz I didn’t take pics of him

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Don’t Panic

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Don’t panic when things don’t seem to fit. It might be your contribution to science! – Self-talk

Today as I finished my proposal I’m freaking out and shedding tears – woman, the joy was very brief, shit, okay back to – … tears because I am looking at my two different set of papers, one is my proposal and one is my reality notes from preliminary fieldwork, in which both seem to be world apart and not relating to each other at all (underlined, bold, highlighted, italicized: at all).

What the hell am I going to do with this piece of concepts that I’ve just written, what the hell am I going to do in my long fieldwork. Why was I painstakingly writing theoretical concepts if it didn’t seem to resonate with reality or it might be tentative or it might still be very vague or it might not be directing and narrowing my focus in any way during fieldwork. Maybe I’m still confused about what the hell is a proposition and why do I have to think about proposition at all, and the proposition might collapse in the field and right now I can’t be relaxed about that very inevitable thing going to happen.

But, as I am writing this, I ask myself, why am I worried, why? … This is why I’m worried: this proposal doesn’t fit and I will be left with nothing (conceptual lens) to comprehend what’s going on during fieldwork. In other words I might be lost and return to a blank page without a clue of how to make sense of what happened during fieldwork. And also just the horror of having to cramp up a new write up on the theorization in two weeks (because that’s just how I did it). I have done it twice so why am I wasting energy. That was what I thought ….

Then just while writing this post status I see a silver lining. I am writing the conceptual framework to learn new things – well at least it’s new for me. It’s not about applying that conceptualization to reality. No. It’s about understanding that the concepts – as they are presented right now in the academic literature – is still very full of holes and unclear and contradictory etc. My job is to try to understand how and why the academic understand it that way – and differently, where’s the difference and why, etc, and then use my preliminary understanding as a tentative shadow that still needs to be furnished more and more through dialogue-ing it with fieldwork.

And in the field, when I am trying to comprehend stuffs, as people do stuffs or say stuffs, this universalized concepts in my mind are being refurnished and refurnished again and constantly to make it contextual and incorporating the lively mind and action of the people that I will be interacting with on fieldwork. Hence the people’s knowledge would gain a little bit more of a level-playing field in relation to the dominant academic way of thinking. It would enrich our understanding and trim the paralyzing conceptualisation and perhaps poke the power relations that keep the misunderstanding and misrepresentation persist over time.

So, I really do need to understand the abstract spirit of concepts, to let it enter my intuition and hence provide a lens that will make me notice stuffs that might not immediately seem to relate, also to have a dialogue to say why it doesn’t relate, what’s missing. So, anyway this is the reason why I had to write and learn that damn theoretical concepts, keep learning and might be rewriting it all over again from scratch or whatever. Destructing, constructing, it’s never a waste of energy, and I thought the process would be like laying one brick over another, but no, it’s not.

This piece of mind is also tentative though. Now, drinks. Thanks mom for loving me unconditionally.

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March for Science

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Did you join the March for Science last weekend? Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares her thought on this first-time event.

Some of my friends in Wageningen, like Suzy Brandon, Lea and Tabi, went to Amsterdam last weekend to join the March for Science. This event was a protest against Trump’s administration in the US that routinely shows a blatant disregard for science.

Looking back, I would like to scrutinise what kind of science I would wholeheartedly march for. Will I march for science? It depends. Just using the word ‘science’ is not specific enough for me, because there are awful, unethical and dangerous forms of science – and I do not mean the subversive type of dangerous, but the lethal type of dangerous. I will share my personal experience on this matter.

When I finished my master’s degree, I was asked to assist in research on the social-economic recovery of disaster victims in my hometown, where a mountain had just erupted. I was shocked when during my first meeting, the scientists of this research team – mostly economists – complained mercilessly about how stupid and lazy the disaster victims were. ‘They have a beggar mentality! They are too dumb to understand our intention to help them!’ said these economists.

According to them, this was the reason why their business plan to recover the economy was rejected by the community. My blood was boiling when I heard them loudly scorning, condescending and blaming the disaster victims. I wanted to pour lava into their filthy mouths and minds. And they said they were scientists.

In disbelief, I wonder what kind of science allows them to behave as such. How their label as scientists could let them get away with such an attitude that does not hold the slightest spark of empathy. What kind of science buries them in such ignorance of their own scientific flaws and limitations. What kind of science makes them perceive themselves as know-it-alls in their narrow-mindedness. What kind of science restricts them from comprehending that actually, the problem was their faulty business plan, and the community was too smart to let their economy be wrecked by another, not any less destructive disaster.

I wouldn’t want to march for such science.

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Social Science @ WUR

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In the spirit of New Year’s celebration, blogger Nadya Karimasari looked back on what she thought Wageningen University and Research was and compared it with what she has experienced so far.

After completing my master’s degree in Den Haag, the Netherlands, I always wanted to come back, but I never thought that it would actually happen. And I never imagined that I would return as a PhD candidate at Wageningen University and Research. As an agricultural university, WUR is a famous place to study natural science, but it is not traditionally associated with social science.

That impression no longer lingered after I experienced first-hand what it’s like to study social science at WUR. I came to know that social science in Wageningen is famous with its distinct ‘Wageningen style’ or ‘flavour’: a strong tradition of actor-oriented approach, pioneered by (Em.) Professor Norman Long. I am still trying to understand what it entails, especially from the numerous social research it brought about, but of course, WUR hosted several other approaches too. I’ve also started to recognized that some of the literature that I’ve read for my master’s syllabus were written by great social scientists based at WUR.

Although the grade of social science at WUR is lower than that of natural science, it does not matter to me. What matters more is the interaction that WUR stimulates, not only between social scientists, but also between social and natural scientists. This interrelation and multidisciplinarity are what WUR is currently striving for.

It is also funny how,­ whenever I bump into someone, it seems like that person is always doing some form of fascinating research that relates to my own research in various ways. But maybe it has something to do with the fact that my research topic is agricultural and environmental issues, a topic that is the specialisation of WUR. Sometimes, I am still in awe and disbelief when I casually meet legendary social scientists at the bike rack, the photocopier, the coffee machine, the lift, or in the canteen. I feel incredibly lucky to be in Wageningen because it gives me the opportunity to learn as much as possible from the people I admire academically.

I came to WUR at the right time, when a lot of exciting events were taking place. I’ve met important yet humble social scientists from around the world. ‘Emerging’ is the word I would use to describe social science at WUR, not ‘hip and happening’. It’s great to be part of the process in which social science at WUR is still trying to find its shape and identity. It’s the sign that social science is developing and growing, not stagnant nor declining.