Tuesday, 10 April 2012

To Do Or Not to Do

Just received the professor's comments on my PhD application. At first glance it does not seem to tell much except that my MA degree is not good enough. Without any undergraduate training in history the faculty does not confide in my capabilities to conduct proper research.

Fair enough. But this is merely one of the points.

The second point, which I personally think is the key, is that "the research topic related to Song-Korean relations, which is a huge deficiency" of the professor, in his own words.

My research interest lies in the diplomatic relations between Song China (960-1279) and Goryeo Korea (918-1392). Apparently this is not a very common topic of historical research – not just in Hong Kong but also worldwide. A main reason could be, as I reckon, that few know the Korean language and thus don't bother. There are plenty of stuff to work on in the history of Song China. At the same time, Korean historians don't seem to be very active in the international arena. Few people out there know what they have done and have been doing. Some leading scholars have their books translated into English and Chinese, but those were done decades ago.

I know too well the topic is a bit unusual, but this is precisely why I want to do it. Rather than repeating what many others have been spending years and decades, I would like to focus on something else that have received considerably less attention. I want to create more value and add to the reservoir of knowledge instead of doing something of little value for personal gain but nothing. Scholarship to me is lofty dedication. Personal interest and enthusiasm aside, I really want to do something innovative and useful.

After reading the professor's comments my instructor did share some insightful feedback as well. Firstly, "They felt your approach would cause you problems, hence their dubious comment about you not having a background in history." Point taken, and I will have to re-work my research proposal anyway.

Secondly, and more importantly, "The subject area they cannot handle, and in other words it was not attractive enough as it is to the Prof and his research interests. This is normal: profs want students to be cheap research assistants to further expand their knowledge!"

Well, if the only history professor who specialises in Song China and takes postgraduate students in Hong Kong does not find any interest in my research, it seems there is little, if any, alternative. Either I change my research topic to secure a place in the game, or just do it on my own as an amateur.

So now the question is: To do or not to do? Which way?


  1. Anonymous2:46 am

    get into the game first, and think about later.

    In first year, fufill their requirement, and do a lot of thing about your interesting (under cover), find any chance to exposure yourself by means of paper, books etc.

    It is a hard work and long journey.

    good luck. JUST Do It!

  2. Samson4:16 am

    From your blog it is obvious that you have a genuine interest on the subject that you want to pursue. This is very admirable in today’s world.

    I also believe that it is a lame excuse for the rejection of admission that you do not have an undergraduate background in history. Keep in mind that you are going to do a Ph.D study that is meant to break new ground. How much academic instruction you can possibly count on from your supervisor? Possibly very little. In postgraduate studies the professors are meant to tell students his/her limits of knowledge and must not spoon feed his/her students. I may be thinking too idealistically. I know in the real world it does not work that way. Politics, self-ego, academic status, financial interests etc. all come into play in the institutions of high learning.

    One advantage for you to consider is perhaps that you can have easy access to the facilities, archives, libraries, contacts and services available to students. In the West it is not much a problem to have such access. Say a writer wants to do research on a topic for the book he/she is working on. Most public and private libraries will be glad to help. The same may not be true in China or HK. You have to identify yourself what “Unit” you belong to first before they grant you access. Of course it will be a different story if you have a connection other than a university.

    I think for a Ph.D programme, you are basically on your own. That is the way I see it.

    If you so decide to do it on your own, it is still quite possible. You may set yourself a goal to write a book on the topic or some articles for academic journals. You may find that is equally satisfying when you see your article published in a reputable magazine.

    Intellectual pursue can take many forms. I can tell you my own experience. For years I have a keen interest on a subject that categorically is called “Historical Jesus” that includes, but not limited to, the bible and how it was written, historical background of Judaism, Christianity in the past 2000 years, church history, the interpretations of the bible etc. The subject has nothing to do with my profession that I have to depend on for a living. My interest is by and large a hobby. Mind you I am not even a Christian and never attended a Christian school. Over the years by reading other scholars’ books I am pretty good on what the Christianity is all about. My knowledge is better than 98% of the Christians. Do I want to go to a university to enhance my knowledge and satisfaction? I had thought about it. But it never gets materialized because of the reality of life. It will be quite a challenge if I did go because I know no Hebrew and Greek, the two languages essential for the bible scholarship.

    I suppose you have to assess your own situation and decide. I wish you come up with a decision that suits you the best.

    Ontario, Canada

  3. Anonymous and Samson, thank you very much for your comments. I will have to ponder my options and constraints of reality and hope I can come up with something that best suits me.

  4. 個人認為高麗與宋代的關係雖然冷門,但卻甚有可塑性。除清外,宋朝是一個與外族接觸最多的民族,宋朝亦是一個文學藝術,工商科研發達的朝代,試想高麗一向深受中國文化影響,我們許多古本的醫書內容都可以在韓國藏書印証真偽,故博士論文用這個題目很有創意。但困難是資料搜集和審核你論文教授的知識,日文他們可能熟些,至於韓文在他那輩,應該有困難。Anyway,可以想想在韓國大學修讀韓中關係。

  5. 謝謝Pat。這個真的要暫時按下不表了,有些事情不是自己堅持就可以,還要天時地利人和的配合。

  6. p.s.really support you not to be a cheap assistance of the topic which those so called professor interested. Otherwise,no matter what effort and what contribution you made will become the achievement of others. For academic area, personally thinking, one will never regret to work for one's interest.


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