If it isn’t quite obvious from the picture above, I have passed my viva examination with minor corrections!
While I understand having nerves would be natural in times like this, I was initially shitting hard, concrete, rigged bricks. My viva was scheduled to be on Friday morning and I have scheduled a practice with a friend two days before so I could pretend-present my slides and she could become my pretend-examiner and ask hard questions, but I had to cancel it because I caught a fever of which I realised was largely psychosomatic. I had a call with my supervisor earlier in the week, of which I conducted with no holds barred — I literally lamented to him of how nervous I was, that I was afraid I might freeze in the middle of a question and the examiners might find me a fraud, and that despite having gone through the thesis again three times before the exam, I might lose sight of the important points and said something contradictory of which the examiners might catch and mark me as a fraud again. It was a vicious pattern! My supervisor, calm and collected as he always was, assured me that I had nothing to worry about, and adding into the pressure, said that “I’m sure you will do great.” He did not just say well, he said great. I walked out of the call convinced that he wouldn’t take anything less than great, and if I were to perform anything less than great, then, what kind of a mentee would I be after he had invested so much time and effort in my development?
A week before the exam, I decided to text a couple of friends who had defended their thesis to ask about their experiences, and what advice they might have to deal with nerves. I collected more wisdom than I expected, which is a given because I am blessed to be surrounded by people with much self-assurance, kindness, and intelligence I could ever aspire to have. Someone I looked up very highly to mentioned that the morning of her viva exam, she walked into the room telling herself saying, “So if I fail, I fail.” situating herself in the fact that she had done her best, and that a PhD, however a monumental event in one’s life, does not define your life entirely. I talked about it with my mother, and while she obviously looked worried — “but, you’ve done the job, they should pass you anyway,” then 10 minutes later, “RIGHT?” — I think about the notion all the time. I decided that I was going to adopt that confidence, in hopes that in some ways it would seep into my bones and become mine.
The day itself, surprisingly, was rather breezy. I signed into the Webex call initially nervous of course, but my examiners, in all their unbridled wisdom and experience, had made the session so comfortable I realised I had SO much to talk about my research when prompted. They have proven again and again that what it takes to dispel all the nerves in amateur academic researchers such as myself is to believe in them and their hard work, and I was very grateful for that. The questions they posed to me were more around their curiosity about the research more so than the horror stories of ‘grilling’ and ‘scrutinising’ of every chapter that I had often heard of. After an hour, I was ushered out of the call, and when I came back in, I was inundated with a flurry of congratulations.
My work isn’t quite over. On top of the list of minor corrections, one of the examiners suggested my thesis for an award and a book publication, so there’s more work. My thesis has survived three significant events in the history: a government change within electoral means, a government change with non-electoral means, and is currently surviving a global pandemic. Which is to say in extension, the whole journey is also a test on my character, my professional and my personal growth, and what good I shall do with this knowledge now. That was the question that had kept me grounded throughout my doctoral journey: What good shall I do with this knowledge now? In all its vagueness of what ‘good’ entails and how wide the scope is, I know for once the focus would be on minimising harms for all diversity of people, and that requires a great deal of unlearning and framework building of which I needed to find out where to start.
In my list of questions I prepared for myself before the viva, one of it was: “What advice do you have for researchers entering your field?” My answer, although I did not get asked this in my viva, was: 1) When it comes to writing research about technology and politics, always critically analyse every issue from the point of the intersections of gender, race, class, and other possible human diversity in your thesis, because if we fail to do this, we fail to see how technology could harm people in the margins, and 2) Cite less white men, and re-center the work and experience of others who would be largely affected by technology, which is to say, not white men.
In my journal, I wrote a reminder to myself to write about this word when I had successfully defended my PhD — opsivo — which is Greek to describe “an act of arriving too late to the feast, or to feast today with the weight of all the wasted yesteryears”. I had ‘kept’ the word tucked between the pages for months, convinced I was going to write about it to describe my feelings today. Little that I know today that I would not describe the yesteryears — filled with failed relationships and severe work burnout and friendships gone awry out of different directions — as wasted, but more so as a journey, a test that had contributed to my growth to who I am today. I wouldn’t say I would thank all of these people involved in these experiences, but I would say my resilience and tenacity was also what bounced me out of all them. I am not late to the feast, but rather, I am exactly where I needed to be.
The word more apt for the journey so far today, I guess, would be — phlotimo — literally translated as “love of honour”, essentially “at its core, is about goodness, selflessness, giving without wanting anything in return and the force that drives individuals to think about the people and the world around them”. Although still virtually untranslatable, it is what I would aspire to achieve in my journey of what good I shall do with this knowledge that I have earned.
- “Thus, contact tracing hinges on deeply human exchanges. There is no app for that. Digital technologies do have a role to play. They will be crucial to successful contact tracing programs. But they must be intentionally built to assist, rather than replace the people in the health care loop vital to success.” How human-centered tech can beat COVID-19 through contact tracing.
- How had the pandemic affect places so differently? Four elements: demographics, culture, environment, and the speed of government responses.
- Another great piece from Naomi Klein: under cover of mass death, Andrew Cuomo calls in the billionaires to build a high-tech dystopia.
- And the question following the above article: What does it mean to do “ethics” in the technology industry?
- In this data-saturated age, we also need to exercise solidarity with people who might be more affected by and less protected from the coronavirus, but whose stories might not be heard. This means choosing carefully what data to collect, what assumptions we make, and whose stories we tell.
- The Center for Feminist Foreign Policy is maintaining a library of feminist perspectives and key considerations on the coronavirus.
- ‘Immunity passports’ could create a new category of privilege.
- In today’s why are men: During the 1918 influenza pandemic, officials had to design new public-health messages specifically targeted at men who thought a lot of the anti-flu measures were too feminine.
- Instead of asking “how are you?”, instead ask “Are you still holding up OK?” I have taken to ask friends, “What have you been up to today?” then we’d find ourselves discussing our day-to-day activities and it felt like a relief to be able to talk about what we did, however mundane they might be.
- ‘Allostatic load‘ might be the reason why we are even exhausted staying alone.
- How pandemic seeps into literature.
- 37% of jobs can actually be done at home.
Reading in my tabs:
- “Increasingly, designers are also losing sight that their primary role is to advocate for human beings. Design has become more and more corporatised over the last decade. We think so much about business metrics and technical solutions that we’ve forgotten our main role is to fight for the humans and to improve people’s lives.” The hard work of design is still ahead of us.
- Verification handbook for disinformation and media manipulation.
- “The primary purpose of the internet had changed from supporting a knowledge economy to growing an attention economy. Instead of helping us leverage time to our intellectual advantage, the Internet was converted to an “always on” medium, configured to the advantage of those who wanted to market to us or track our activities.”
- Join the Data Feminism reading group!
- “The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.” 68 bits of unsolicited advice — although I don’t quite understand about the land war in Asia bit…
- Madeline Miller’s Circe is being turned into a series for HBO Max. Can’t wait!
- More walking tour videos: daily tour of historic sites, Nuclear Weapon Instructional Museum virtual tour, and an aquarium that invites you to videochat with their eels.
- “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
- Reading: Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self-Regard and Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of My Lives.
- Listening: Ezra Klein interviews Madeline Miller, author of Circe.
- Viewing: I don’t see myself making bread anytime soon, but I am intrigued by the appeal of sourdough bread, “… with a timeline that stretches over days, where you’re expected to be on hand to tend to its whims, prod it and fold it, and lay it gently to rest in a basket at seemingly random multi-hour intervals”, having read Robin Sloan’s Sourdough over the weekend.
- Food & Drink: Ordered the panini oriental duck again for iftar!