Are you prepared for a research postgraduate study (Masters or PhD) in Malaysian universities?

Update (15 May 2013): I was interviewed by Samantha Joseph from the New Straits Times newspaper on my views on postgraduate studies in Malaysia. “The realities of postgraduate education” was published today in NST Postgraduate Supplement issue (pg. 2).

Some students go through a self-inflicted torrid time during their Masters or PhD programme in local Malaysian universities. There are many reasons for this, but they can be grouped into two issues. These students often have: 1) a wrong evaluation of their interests and capabilities, and 2) a wrong expectation of the amount of self-reliant work required from them in their postgraduate studies.

Yes, you are interested a research postgraduate degree in a Malaysian university. But are you ready for it? (photo from

Yes, yes, you are interested in a research postgraduate degree in a Malaysian university, but are you really prepared for it? (photo from

So, before you fill in the postgraduate study forms, you need to ask yourself the following questions.

1. Why do you want to do a research postgraduate study?

This is the most important question students should to ask themselves, but yet, students often neglect to do so. Doing a postgraduate study is not a customary progression after completing your first degree. And you should not do a Masters or PhD simply because some of your friends are doing it, or because you cannot find a job, or because you feel aimless after graduation.

Research work often involves plenty of lab analyses (photo from

Research work often involves plenty of work in labs (photo from

Unbelievably, one of my former (and failed) students once disclosed that she wanted a PhD simply because she like the title “Dr.” to precede her name! Some students also do a PhD with the belief that their employers would increase their salaries or their social status would rise.

A research postgraduate study should only be pursued if (and only if) you are interested in research or academic work. What you might be unaware is doing a research postgraduate study would limit your career options to only those in research and teaching. And even if you do find a job that is unrelated to research, do not expect your employer to pay you according to your highest training level. In other words, you would be paid according to your first-degree level. But in most cases, your job application would likely be rejected because you would be deemed over-qualified.

2. Do you have sufficient money?

Another often neglected question is to ask is if you have sufficient funds to support your postgraduate study. A Masters study would take two years, and a PhD four years. Shockingly, some foreign students have little qualms coming to Malaysia with insufficient money. God willing, they might say, part-time work or additional money would come later.

Shockingly, some students pursue their postgraduate studies with insufficient financial means. Although plenty of scholarships are available to local Malaysian students, these scholarships are typically unappreciated. These scholarships actually act to cause students to be lazy and slow down their work progress (photo from

Shockingly, some students pursue their postgraduate studies with insufficient financial means. Although plenty of scholarships are available to local Malaysian students, these scholarships are typically unappreciated. These scholarships actually act to cause students to be lazy and slow down their work progress (photo from

When you are stressed out thinking of money, is there any room left in your concern for your research?

To put it simply, you must have sufficient funds to pay the tuition fees, accommodation, food, and other expenses.

And, no, part-time work is never a good option for additional income. The job, even though part-time, steals your precious time from research work. You must be fully focused on your research work. My students who have part time jobs have never been able to give their best effort in their research or to complete their studies in time – never.

But what about scholarships?

3. Can you get a scholarship? And would you even appreciate the scholarship if you get it?

Supervisors in Malaysian universities are blessed with ample research projects and with ample financial support for student scholarships. However, these scholarships are competitive. There is no guarantee you would get it because supervisors often have more than one student under their wings. Do not be surprised that a supervisor can have as many as five to twelve students at any one time.

My university, UPM, along with five other universities, is recognized as a Research University. This means, UPM gets additional funds to offer scholarships to postgraduate students. Local Malaysian students find it relatively easy to obtain one form of scholarship or another. Now, ironically, comes the problem with abundant scholarships. With plentiful of scholarships available to Malaysian students, you might think this would make these students work even harder and more appreciative, right? Wrong. Easy access to scholarships only makes some Malaysian students lazier and slower in their research work.

Foreign students have it harder. The only scholarship available to you in Malaysia is through your supervisor’s research funds. You need to ask your prospective supervisor even before you apply for a postgraduate study if he or she has sufficient funds to support you.

4. Is your family or partner supportive of your studies?

What most students fail to realize is doing a Masters and particularly a PhD can disrupt your family life and social relationships. I have seen more than one case where parents threaten to disown their children because their children wanted to pursue a postgraduate study. This is because some parents fail to appreciate or are naïve about postgraduate studies. These parents think a postgraduate study is an unnecessary and additional financial burden to continue to support the children’s seemingly never-ending studies.

Support from family members and/or your partner can be crucial in your postgraduate study. They can derail your studies as easily as they can support you (photo from

Support from family members and/or your partner can be crucial in your postgraduate study. They can derail your studies as easily as they can support you (photo from

I have seen one of my former students receiving ridicule from relatives and even from family members when they compare her to her ex-course mates who have already graduated (from Bachelor) and who are earning good money while she still slogs through a Masters programme.

I have seen a marriage end up as a divorce because the wife cannot stand being alone for long periods whilst the husband was busy at the field or lab. I have seen a long-term relationship break up due to one partner (girlfriend) pursuing a PhD, while the other partner (boyfriend) was not. Intellectually, it appeared, they grew apart. On a personal note, my own ten-year-old relationship with my former girlfriend broke down because of my long absence while I pursued my PhD in the UK while she remained at home in Malaysia (no, long distance relationship do not work).

I have seen one student who was so completely stressed out from his PhD that he was admitted to a hospital mental health ward … twice. And I have seen both husband and wife (both PhD students at the same time) stressed out of having to take care of their newborn baby, their financial difficulties, and their respective research; so stressed the husband was that he was close to tears as he disclosed his troubles to me in my office.

Doing a research postgraduate study is stressful because it competes with your family or your partner for your time, energy, devotion, and concentration. So, you may be ready to do a PhD, but is your family or partner ready?

5. How is your English?

English is the lingua franca in academia. Unfortunately, the level of English among students (both Malaysians and foreigners) in Malaysian universities often range between poor to atrocious. Yes, English courses (even from British Council) are easily available, but the level of English proficiency required in science is much higher than what can be taught in these English language centers. It is one thing in being able to read and speak conversational English such as:

“I would like to see my supervisor. May I know when he is free to see me?”

and wholly different in being able to read scientific text and actually understand what the whole text is saying, such as:

“…factors of aggregate stability can interact with one another; meaning that a factor may not, by itself, have a unique contribution to aggregate stability. Instead, it jointly contributes with another factor or factors to affect aggregate stability. Such jointly contributions cannot be measured by simple linear regression or by correlations…”.

So, if your command of English is less than desired, how far are you willing to work to improve it? You simply cannot escape achieving at least a good level of English language proficiency in science.

6. Are you willing to learn to read and write a lot?

Laziness to read and write scientific papers is a key problem among postgraduate students. Part of this problem is the poor level of English proficiency among the students.

Plenty of reading is required in research postgraduate study (photo from

Plenty of reading is required in research postgraduate study (photo from

You need to start reading—and read a lot—early in your research work. You need to understand the problems, gaps in knowledge, issues, and latest findings in your research area. When you read enough, you feel more confident and competent in your work. Instead, students often start to read only when it is time to write their thesis.

And how much should you read? One journal per day, as once pledged by my former (and failed) student? No. You read as much as you can or as needed. Contrary to a common notion among students, you do not have to read a book or journal paper from front to back like a novel or story book.

You only read parts of a book or paper that are relevant or for information you require. Yes, there would be books or papers which you will read front-to-back and many times over because they are most relevant to your research, but certainly not all documents should be treated as such.

Unfortunately, poor comprehension and low concentration skills hamper reading. Students may understand the individual words that make up a text, but yet fail to understand what the whole text means.

Lastly, you need to write. You must get your research published, but not just in any journal, but also preferably in high impact journals. Unfortunately, there are many so-called scientific journals out there, ready to publish your work, sometimes as fast as within a week. These journals require payment, which itself is not unusual because some high impact journals do carry page charges, but the problem is these so-called journals carry low quality research papers, sometimes complete with grammar and spelling errors and missing references.

Students must publish theirs work in good journals (photo from

Students must publish their work in good journals (photo from

7. Are you self-reliant?

Self reliance is a very essential ingredient in all good research students. Masters and PhD study is a test on independent work. You must plan your research work and keep to the schedule. It isn’t your supervisor’s duties to accompany you to the lab or to the field all the time.

Self reliance is crucial in research. It means able to go out to the field to collect data, for example. Research planning and schedule are crucial.

Self reliance is crucial in research. It means able to go out to the field to collect data, for example. This was one of my previous research with my former student.

It is your supervisor’s duties to provide financial support for your research (such as to purchase chemicals or research equipment) or networking assistance in any research collaboration with external organizations. But, ultimately, it is you who have to plan and setup the lab and/or field experiments, collect and analyze the data, and interpret the results. This includes solving problems that often crop up unexpectedly in research work.

Your supervisor guides and advises you in your research but not do all of your statistical work and interpret your analyses.

Self reliance is such an important criterion that it cannot be stressed often enough. Used to being spoon-fed with information and work being carried out for them, students often struggle to prepare, let alone execute and complete, a series of experiments on their own. Deadlines are never self-imposed, so their work is often completed late and shoddy, lowering the quality of research.

Self reliance also means self study, where you learn to overcome your knowledge deficiencies through reading, consultations, and hands-on practice. No one knows everything or is talented in all aspects. The crux is being able to seek out the relevant information and to do it diligently to overcome our knowledge or technical skill weaknesses.

Consequently, these seven questions are essential questions you need to ask yourself. This article is not about the nitty-gritty details about postgraduate application, as universities’ websites carry those information, but it is about whether you should be pursuing a Masters or a PhD programme.

My PhD student, Mohsen, and I discussing some finer points in our research.

My PhD student, Mohsen, and I (left) discussing about some finer points in his research project.

Stress, difficulties, sleepless nights, and delays are part and parcel of any research work. In fact, they are to be expected. But what becomes an unrewarding Masters or PhD experience is when students come unprepared in terms of insufficient financial means, wrong attitude and expectations, and inadequate basic knowledge and skills.



  1. Dear Dr.Teh,
    i am a fresh-graduated student and i am planning to continue further study..May i know are you encourage student apply for a Master degree or Fast track PhD?

    • It can be a culture shock for those pursuing a fast track PhD because the demand and workload in a PhD is very high. It depends on yourself on how confident, independent, motivated, and determined you are. My faculty’s experience is students who fast track often have great difficulty in coping and end up taking longer to complete their PhD.

  2. Dear Dr Teh,
    Currently, I am considering to start processing Master at UPM.
    The thing is my bachelor degree required no thesis rather I did project report and I have very poor knowledge about research. Everyone around me has been advising me to take up masters by coursework . But, what motivates me is that I am very familiar with my interest study area.
    I always ask my self whether I apply by research or coursework and I do not have much information about master by research preparation courses.

    May I get your insights on this?

  3. dear Mr Teh,

    I am currently a third-year student studying in industrial biotechnology from a public university. I do have plans on going into research fields and becoming a lecturer. However, my current cgpa is only upper second class (3.3+)which I am feeling insecure that I might not be eligible for the science field even though that the cgpa is enough for master studies(almost all of my coursemates are getting first class) and i been struggling to handle my thesis currently. I have been working hard to improve both of them as well because i still have 1 semester. Hence, I am currently quite lost in deciding between going into the workforce or study master first because i am going to have my internship soon.

    hope to hear from you soon.Thank you for the inspiring article.

    • Your CGPA is sufficient for a Master degree, and you should not compare yourself with your friends. What is most important is you need to ask yourself why you want to be a lecturer. Are you really interested in research and work in academia? Research is a comprehensive test of your abilities to plan and carry your research, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, and report writing and presentation. It also tests your ability to solve problems that almost always come up in research work. It also tests your ability to work independently, with little supervision. If all these excite you, then go for it, regardless of what your friends have achieved or what they are planning to do.

  4. I am very appreciated that article has written by Mr Teh, and currently in my senior year of bachelor degree of Biomedical Science. To be frankly, I still being confused about my future path, but for now i am sure that i have interest in doing science research. If so, i was suitable to pursue Ms degree program without PhD to become a reseacher in local?
    Best regards

  5. Hi Dr Teh,

    Thanks for the article. It gives me good explanations about Master Degree in Research mode. I’m currently planning to do Research in Malaysian History. I did my Bachelor in History from UKM in year 1999. Now I would like to resume my studies in Research. As per your article I need upgrade my English proficiency as my Degree in History is in Malay language. And about finding the supervisor, how shall the process goes, I need to register in particular university before I get my supervisor. Is the research mode too difficult to do it. I’m in the mode of preparing myself as well as my family about the time contribution. So please do advise me on this research mode for beginner like me. Thanks

    • It would be better if you could contact one or more lecturers first before making an application to determine your potential supervisor. Discuss what you want to do or what you are interested in. This is so that your research proposal (which you will submit together with your application) can be carried out in your targetted university. Once you identified your superi=visor and agree on the proposal, you can then make a formal application.

      As for English proficiency: only you can answer whether your English is good enough. But frankly, the English proficiency of university students in Malaysian universities is not very good, so you won’t be alone if your English proficiency is not of the Queen’s standard!

  6. Hi Dr Teh,

    I am a PhD student in UPM. I am thinking of the possibility of being a postdoc in advanced nations to build up my academic profile.

    I would like to ask if a PhD with proper publication history in a local university would stand a chance in application of postdoc in more advanced nation?

    Thanks for reading my message.


  7. Dr Teh,

    I am a PhD student in UPM, focusing on ecotoxicology and plant physiology. I entered UPM after gave up on a successful scholarship application from China. I’m not sure if this decision will tarnish my future.

    Anyhow, I would like to ask you if a PhD in UPM with good publication record would stand a chance in application of post-doctorals in more advanced nations.

    I would like to seek you advice on this matter.


    • Your rejection of scholarship in China will not tarnish your future. Why should it? You can accept or reject their offer. Post-doctoral positions require a good record of publications; that is, many publications in good, high impact journals. Where you studied, whether in UPM or overseas, is much less important. In the end, it is the publications (and any research awards) that matter.

  8. Respected Mr. Teh

    I have completed my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and now I wanted to pursue a Masters and a PhD degree, but to my amazement I have come across a variety of Masters program in Malaysian universities. The degree goes as follows:
    1. By course work
    2. By research
    3. By mixed mode

    This all new to me. Like USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia) was offering MS in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with a research thrust areas in 4 topics and their was no course outline. Can you please explain me what are these programs structure so that I can take a wiser decision.


    • By coursework means you attend classes, just like you did during your Bachelor degree days. There might be a simple or mini research project. By research means you will fully do research. You may need to attend a few classes to support your knowledge in your research, but these classes are very few (like one or two courses per semester).

      My university does not have a mixed programme but I can only guess it is the combination of coursework and research, where both aspects are equally stressed.

      Depending on your ambition, you should opt for research based degree if you want to be in the academia, else by coursework if you have no plans to teach or research.

  9. Hi,
    This article is really helpful. Would you mind to answer few questions?
    I am an engineer with chemical engineering degree working at semiconductor industry for 8 years.
    I would like to pursue master of research in applied statistics at upm (hopefully would be able to pursue career in education).
    I still haven’t found a supervisor who will replying my emails. Not sure if it is due to I’m not a graduate in Mathematics.
    Would it be troublesome if I just call them to ask?
    Do I need to propose a title for a research proposal before meeting them?
    Thank you

    • Nothing wrong calling them up, but be clear in what field you are interested in. Try to avoid being too open-ended or vague in your options that some lecturers have difficulty in finding out your interests and strengths.

  10. Dr Teh,

    Good day.
    I was Malaysian & graduated my Bcs with 1st class honor GCPA above 3.75 from UTM in 2015. (all semesters dean’s list award)
    Soon, I was going to resign work from oversea (done cleaned mortgage loans & enough study living cost fund) and back to Malaysia in order to pursue my postgraduate study on this December 2018 in UTHM, Batu Pahat, Johor.
    I had goals of my life and would like to enter research & patent & commercialized + academician career in future after completion of the study.

    However, I had been informed that the fast track Ph.D. programme had been canceled by MOHE Malaysia, do you know about it?

    Would UTHM (not a research university among others public uni’s.) an ideal university to pursue my postgraduate study for future career prospect in academic (lecturer, senior lecturer, associate prof, prof)?
    If not, would you suggest me to pursue Master degree full time research in UTHM and later, Ph.D at oversea or local prestigious universities?

    Do UPM or UM or UTM would employ UTHM graduated or more preferred on prestigious universities that world ranked in top 100?

    Do you mind to share some minimum criteria set by Malaysia University to become Senior Lecturer, Associate Prof and Prof?

    Appreciate your reply.

    • So sorry for the late reply. Your comment was buried in others, and only now I noticed it. I am not sure about the fast tract to PhD programme being scrapped. My experience is not to recommend you to choose this path even if you are allowed to do so. Since you are interested to become an academician and researcher, going through the research work of a Master then PhD programme will be vital to you, to ensure you are experienced in research and publication work. Most students who fast track in the past often cannot handle the sudden change in expectations and workload.

      Choose the right university for you to do your Master or PhD. Worry later if that university is the right place for you to become a lecturer. Do your research well, publish in good journals and then apply for work in any university you like. By default, graduating from a good university overseas carries a higher standing, but this does not mean graduating from local ones is in any way a handicap. If you can afford an overseas study, then go for it. You can choose a Master overseas then local for PhD to save costs — or do both overseas. But if costs is too much, you can safely do one locally.

      Different universities carry different requirements for Senior Lecturers, Assoc/Asst. Professorship, and Professorship. It is easy to get Senior Lecturer. Usually just a few years of experience, reasonable number of publications, and a research grant or two should see you through for the Senior Lecturer. Getting Assoc. Professorship is slightly more difficult but getting Professorship is much harder. Whatever it is, focus on getting research grants and publishing papers in journals.

  11. Hi Mr Teh!

    Thank you for the insightful post. I just got an offer to read the MPhil in Chemistry in the UK because I’m super interested in the research area currently run by the supervisor.

    I graduated from one of the korea universities majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. However, we only had articles-based theseses in our final year, meaning that we didn’t even go to the lab to do experiments to do our research but instead we completed our theseses by finding information online etc.

    With the lack of laboratory and research skills, do you think if the supervisor/ PhD students for the MPhil in chemistry will guide me on how to use the lab equipment and such?


    • Any postgraduate degree will be challenging and yours will be no different. Whatever the degree is, you still need to work very hard because you will encounter many things you lack experience or knowledge. I am sure your university has already vetted your CV and application and deem you to be suitable for the MPhil programme.

  12. Good evening Dr Teh,

    Just want to enquire, let say I studied Information Technology during my degree and after a few year graduated I developed strong interest in sports science. I know it sound ridiculous but can I pursue a Masters in Sports Science or do I have to begin a bachelor’s degree in sports science in order to do the masters programme.

    Thanks .

    • I recommend you check out universities that offer Master in Sport Science and check out their entry requirements. Some Master programmes are developed specifically to cater for those with little or no background in that field — but this is not usual occurrence, so please check thoroughly. Otherwise, you may have to choose some sort of Sport Science certificate/diploma and work in that field for a couple of years (to gain work experience) before pursuing a Master in Sport Science. Some Master programmes will consider applicants with related work experience.

  13. After more than a decade in industry, I decide to join academic recently and continue to study PhD after finish my Master last decade.
    How do I balance between family, work and continue study while try to balance by not letting off one of it ?

    • It is not easy to find a balance. Having an understanding family helps a great deal. They need to give you time and space for you to finish your work, as well as take up part of your responsibilities during this time. You have to explain this to your family but you also need to be very discipline and focus in ensuring you finish your work on time.

  14. Dear Dr Teh,

    I studied Biotechnology for my Bachelor’s Degree. Currently I am working in the quality assurance domain.

    I would like to ask, if I were to take masters program, is it possible for me to do program that is not related to biotechnology (ie psychology or social sciences).

    My aim is to be a lecturer in the psychology field.


    • You would have to check with the relevant university if they have a special Master program for those with little or no ba ground in social or psychology studies. Whatever it is, be prepared to work very hard to overcome your shortcomings in these fields.

  15. Hi Dr Teh,
    Thank you for your insightful article. I’m currently working full time as an assistant principal at a kindergarten and I’m considering whether to pursue Masters Degree in Special Education with part time mode.

    According to your experience, if I want to be a lecturer in public universities after my masters, would a mixed mode (half research, half coursework) masters program meets the requirements? Or it has to be fully research in my masters in order to get the post?

    Thank you.

    • If you are thinking of being a lecturer at public universities, I encourage you to do a research-based (not course-based) postgraduate degree, preferably all the way up to PhD. Of course, you should try to apply for a lecturer position even before your PhD.

  16. Recently,I have been offered to pursue master of science in research .so ,I contact my supervisors through email since it’s better to meet n discuss face to tooks her 2 weeks to reply my,she reply my email and gave her number and wanted me to set an appointment to meet,I texted my supervisor to set an appointment but until now which is already two weeks and she hasn’t reply my WhatsApp neither my call. What should I do now? What are the process as a research student. Considering this thing happen ,I started to consider to change to coursework. But,if change it would be good for me. In you opinion Dr,which one are better in term of research n coursework.

    • If you are pursuing a career that requires high technical skills in research then a research-based degree is much better. Some opt for course-based Master degree because it is just to gain a promotion at work, though their work requires little or no research. If your selected supervisor is so slow to respond to your emails and text messages, then it is best to choose another. Choosing this current supervisor will just bring you more grief when you actually start your research. You will have difficulty in meeting her or even making appointments with her. All supervisors are busy — the good ones are those that make time for their students.

  17. Dear Dr Christopher,

    Thank you for informing that PBS is no longer under UPM. But how is it possible for them to keep on using the UPM logo on their website? Isn’t it consider as cheating in certain way…or rather all the way?

    Thank you & best regards

  18. Hi Dr. Teh,
    First of all I’d like to personally thank you from the bottom of my heart as your article helped me to evaluate on my future career choices. It also helps me to have a clear view of what it would be if I’m continuing my studies for my PhD.
    Second of all, I hope that from your knowledge and experience, what are your advice regarding doing PhD research whilst working on a full time career. I’m currently working as a mechanical project engineer as it requires me to expense my daily hours from morning until 6pm. I’m currently thinking of either to further my studies by part time or perhaps pursuing to have me became a professional engineer through BEM.
    So as currently I’m on a cross road as I do miss my time doing research reading all those journals, conducting simulations. But at the same time due to my lack of industrial experience, I’d also would want to have a solid base for me and my future careers as it is an important thing to have within engineering field.
    So, it would be amazing that if you would able to advice me on this matter according to your opinion.
    I apologize in advance if there’s any grammatical mistakes since I’m typing through my phone.

    • I do not recommend pursuing a PhD whilst working full time as you will face great difficulties juggling between your work and study load. I recommend talking to a colleague about pursuing a professional engineer registration and why and when it matters and how becoming one helps in your career. And who says you need to choose either one? You can always pursue a PhD later if you feel it will help in your career.

  19. Dear Mr. Teh,

    I am in my final year studying chemical engineering at the moment. I enjoyed carrying out research work and am interested in pursuing post graduate. However, my long term career goals align more with industry rather than academia.

    And after reading so many discouraging articles on the matter that PhD graduates are only suitable in academia and will find it most difficult to get hired in the industry, I was wondering if it’s a real situation in Malaysia and whether I should pursue postgraduate in that case. I just want to study to satiate my thirst for knowledge but not at the cost of jeopardizing my career.

    Was wondering if you have any input on that matter. Thank you for your time.

    • Your best bet is to talk to your lecturers. They would be better to advise you, based on your goals and interests. Some companies may have little interests in research, so you may find them not looking for PhD graduates. Highly skilled workers are always in demand; it is just you have to find companies or employers whose work is in research.

  20. Hello sir!
    I was reading the answers given by you & I thought i was looking for a person like you for guidance.I’m from Pakistan having a masters degree in English literature & Linguistics.I want to do Mphil in the same filed as as I don’t have any experience of research to enroll for PhD.What if I study a masters degree by research from Malysia,will it be ok as I already have a masters degree in the same field by thought course.
    My second query is what will be the title of the masters degree i.e MS (masters of science or Masters of Arts).
    Please do inform me about the duration of the masters degree by research.
    Looking forward for your kind guidance.
    Kind Regards

    • We don’t have MPhil degrees in Malaysia, and it is possible to have two (or more) degrees in Masters in different fields. But I recommend a PhD rather than a second Master degree unless you are pursuing a very different field from that for your Master. Whether the degree is Master in Science or Arts depends on the field, but it seems to me that your background is Arts as you did your master in language and literature.

  21. Thank you so much for your good advice concerning studied abroad. I personally want to do my PHD in management in malashia University. I am lecturing in a federal college of education in my country. I need a scholarship I’m malshia to do the research program programme. How will I go about it?

  22. Hello Dr. Teh

    I am currently in my final semester of Bachelor’s Degree at USM majoring in English Language and Literature Studies.

    I am interested in pursuing masters in philosophy from overseas as I found it interesting ever since I took Philosophy and Civilisation as my minor. However, I can’t help but feel insecure as my knowledge regarding the subject area is not very wide. I realise that changing a different field than my major would be risky but my general reason for wanting to further my studies in the subject is the interest of learning and wanting to be part in the academic world.

    After reading your article, it is clear that it would not be advisable for me to further masters in research mode since I don’t have any particular subject interest to research due to lack of knowledge and experience regarding the subject area.

    I just want to know if there would be any differences in outcome if I take coursework or mixed mode. How does it affect my prospect regardless of whatever mode I opted?

    Do you have any advice for my situation?

    • If you have a strong desire and interest in a field and willing to work hard to acquire knowledge and overcome your shortcomings, then you should do the postgraduate study in that field. Yes, I wrote that some students face great problems in their postgraduate, one of which is from having a weak background in a certain field. But this does not mean students must be experts before pursuing a postgraduate. If one is an already expert, then one shouldn’t need a postgraduate degree! Postgraduate studies are, at the end of the day, to train students. My article is to warn students on the risk of “biting more than they can chew”, for instance pursuing a field that is very remote or very different than their training background. Even then, some students are able to overcome this gap by self-learning, so it really depends on you and your self-determination.

      Perhaps a talk to some lecturers will help. They can advise if you have the sufficient skill set to pursue your field of interest.

      Coursework degrees are more suitable for non-academicians. If you want to be a lecturer or research, it is much better to pursue a research-based degree as it would expose you to research, not just bits of it.

      • Yes I did consulted a few of my lecturers. What they point out is to have a good MA transcript so that I would be able to be admitted into a PhD program.

        I figured given my background, I should at least establish some basic knowledge in order to develop some experience and interest in a particular subject area. So the way to do this is by taking coursework or mixed mode. After that, then perhaps I can further into a PhD research mode.

        Would this be possible?

  23. The only thing I would like to add is that it is possible to make it while having part-time or full-time work. I completed my Industry PhD with MyBrain15 sponsorship. Took me near 5 years. The company I work with endorsed my enrollment, but the research scope is far enough from full-time work. I had to find my own time, i.e. nights and weekends. Turning it effectively a part-time program.

    Contrary to most suggestions to pursue PhD if interested as soon as possible after grad, I am glad that I signed up 10 years after getting MSc. I talked to 2 universities and 4 prospective supervisors during the time. The 10 years allow me to build up soft skills, as well as to think thoroughly the right subject suitable for research. Can’t imagine the pressure I would have to endure should I pursue the program earlier.

    Nonetheless, I value the training PhD program offers. No classroom course would substitute what it provides. It is very much student-driven to train oneself an independent researcher. The way the program runs set it differently from bachelor degree and masters. Be prepared and good luck!

  24. Dear Mr.Teh,

    I have just graduated with 1st class honours from a local university and was offered a masters in social science by research. My aim is to be a lecturer and I plan to further my studies to PHD right after masters.
    The thing is my bachelor degree required no thesis and I have very limited knowledge about research. Everyone around me has been advising me to work instead or take up masters by coursework cause according to some people art students’ research are useless (I am no sure how to respond to that) and coursework is easier than research. May I get your insights on this?

    • If you are planning to be a lecturer and furthering to a PhD later, I *strongly* recommend that you choose Masters by research. Research-based degrees will give you the experience to carry out research: data collection, analysis, and interpretations; statistical analysis; designing your experiments; review of studies; and writing — valuable skills that a research-based degree can only offer. Coursework degrees are easier, yes, but less helpful if you are looking for academic experience. Coursework masters are for those who are already in management level and do none or very little research in their office/work.

      But for academicians, this is not the route. You should shoot your friends for advocating shortcuts, lazy, easier, and dumbdown pathway to your ambition.

      • Dear Mr.Teh,

        Thanks for your reply! Just a further question: I like teaching, but I am not so sure on research as I have not done it before. If I am set on the academic route, is that what I am going to do for the rest of my career? May I know what is it like for life in research? Getting unemployed after PHD as a lecturer is also one of my biggest concern as it will be deemed ‘overqualified’ for most commercial companies and I will be left with only degrees…

        • If you are planning to work at universities, be they private or government, overseas or local, then experience in research is essential. Getting a PhD does not mean you have to work at universities, you can work in think tanks or research firms.

    • I am afraid I don’t understand what you mean by “get the family status”. Are you asking if scholarships will sponsor your family when you go overseas for a Masters? If yes, you need to ask your sponsors if they will do this. Some scholarships provide some additional living allowance for family members — but not always.

  25. Good article.. Hello Sir, i’m a teacher in government high school in KL.. i have taught for only about 3 years right now but have already been thinking of pursuing masters degree.. the reason is simply because im bored with teaching high school students these days.. teachers need to lower their knowledge level as well as expectations since students’ nowadays lack of efforts and thinking skills.. as educators, we tend to challenge ourselves and wanted to gain more knowledge but instead, we end up lowering our level to fulfil the students’ need.. however, reading your article made me realized that one simple reason is not what it takes to do it.. thanks for all the reminders. need to plan really carefully..

  26. Great article!
    I have a few questions for you:
    I graduated with First Class Honours from a Malaysian public university.
    I’m interested in furthering my studies at a graduate level. This is because I have a long-term plan of becoming a lecturer one day.
    I’ve been hearing/reading that because my result, I can actually skip Masters and go straight to PhD.
    I never considered this option before due to my lack of research background/don’t think I am mature and ready enough for the kind of challenges faced by a PhD student.
    Could you give your thoughts on this matter?
    Also, I thought of trying to further my studies overseas. I’ve been wondering are there any overseas institutions (US, UK, Australia preferably) that actually recognise a Bachelor’s Degree with Honours from a Malaysian public university?
    Appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

    • Some local universities including Uni. Putra Malaysia do allow for First Class Honors Bachelor students to skip Master and go straight into a PhD. However, our experience is that many such students struggle badly when they skip one level. Even when they do finish their PhD, they often take longer than students who did not skip a level, so savings in time may not be appreciable. I urge you not to skip a level and to continue with Master first, then a PhD.

      However, if during your Master study, you find that you have done some excellent work and got some good results, you may opt to promote to a PhD. Even then, that would depend on your supervisors and faculty if your work can be promoted to a PhD.

      So, there is some allowance to promote to a PhD without Master — but this is not a normal or even recommended route.

      Yes, overseas universities do recognize our local Bachelor degree.

  27. HI ,

    i would like to join Post graduate in Malaysia by part time .

    how i can check ? is university certificate approved by Malaysia or any other overseas country ?

    because im from INDIA And working in Singapore . so my certificate should approved or recognized by other country (like India , Singapore and Canada ) .

    im worried ,
    if certificate didn’t valid in other countries .
    after i did my post graduate ( Msc in material engineering ) in Malaysia . its not worth for me .

    so looking for your best suggestions to choosing right university ?

    • I am unclear if you have done your MSc before (but you found it is not certified?) or you have not done any Masters yet but are planning to do one soon.

      Anyway, go directly to the faculty offering the intended degree and ask. To clear any confusion, why not see the Faculty management? In my faculty, for example, the Deputy Dean of Postgraduate Studies handles the Postgraduate programs. He would be the right person to answer your question. But the person would be different for your university, so please check. It is a simple matter of calling or going to the faculty office one day.

  28. Dear Mr Teh,

    I would like to ask if it is possible to apply to an overseas PhD programme (UK, US etc) using a malaysia public university degree with good academic performance?

    • Yes. You will find that gaining entry for a postgraduate degree much easier even for overseas universities than for a Bachelor. However, you will need to find sufficient funds for overseas study (not cheap) and a supervisor with research you are interested in and he or she has the funds to support your research.

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