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

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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