First Published Paper: Things I Learned

When the editors accepted the manuscript in March for publication, I was already over the moon. And seeing the paper being published in August, I was flooded with euphoria. I remember vividly the whole process, from deciding to start writing until it was finally published. Writing, for me, will always be a learning process. Writing the next paper wouldn’t be too much easy just because I had done it before. However, there are things I had learned from this experience.

1. Just start writing as the first few drafts will not be perfect.

It all began in December 2015 when I made up my mind to write a paper and hopefully, to get it published eventually. However, I did not have experience in writing/publishing a paper so I wasn’t quite sure what I should do, or where I should even begin. All I know is there were photographs of sea turtles collected by our team and citizen scientists, allowing us to study the sea turtle populations at Perhentian Islands. Nonetheless, I started writing but got confused many times of how the outline of the paper should be. The idea was to share about the sea turtle populations, but in addition to that, a big portion of the paper would also cover photo identification and citizen science. There was so much to share about the methods, not just the findings, and it seemed difficult to put everything in a paper. Still, surprisingly the first draft was completed in about 3 weeks. During that period, a lot of time was spent analyzing the data and reading papers on photo identification. Looking at the first draft now, it was terrible!

2. Find people to collaborate from the beginning of the research, not during the writing stage.

Not knowing what I should do next, I thought of collaborating with other researchers in writing the paper. I approached one researcher, explaining about our data and seeking for his advice on how to write a paper, and ended up telling him I would email him the first draft. I also emailed it to a lecturer to get some feedback. They never wrote back, and I was too shy to ask again after. At the same time, I also emailed it to a few friends, and thank God, some of them took the time and gave me really constructive feedback of what was lacking. By that time, three months had passed since December.

3. Decide on the most appropriate journal before writing

I did not have a target journal in mind when the first and second drafts were written. However, to find the most appropriate journal, I listed all the journals according to the papers I had read on photo identification and sea turtle population studies. Not all journals were suitable due to the aims and scope of the journal. Some required paying a publication fee, which I could not afford. It was also important to consider the target audience. When I finally found one, I realised I had to rewrite after reading the guidelines for authors. All the sentences had to be rewritten in first person, not third person. There were also changes to made to the format of the draft. That really took time, as it was not easy to change from third-person to first-person writing. Therefore, one thing that I would do if I write a paper again is to first decide on the journal I target to submit.

4. Don’t work on the manuscript forever, just submit it to the journal, together with a cover letter.

Another two months had passed when the manuscript (the fifth draft) was finally submitted to the journal in May 2016. It would be pointless to sit any longer on it as I did not know what else more to write or improve on after incorporating all the feedback I could get. The best thing about submitting a manuscript is taking the mind off it until the editors reply.

5. Revision means room for improvement.

One month later, the editors replied, and the manuscript was not accepted. The editors also provided very constructive and insightful feedback to revise and resubmit. It was actually good news as I wouldn’t have learned so much on revising the manuscript without all the comments! I got excited, knowing what to add/edit. All in all, another 3 months went by.

6. Only resubmit if all the comments (for major or minor revisions) have been addressed.

It was September when the manuscript was resubmitted.  This time around, the manuscript was sent to two annonymous reviewers. Less than two months later, the manuscript was accepted with major revisions. The reviewers and editors also provided detailed comments, which added up to almost 150 comments. I started working on the manuscript by addressing every comment and realised that (OMG!) it was indeed a MAJOR revision which seemed all to overwhelming at that time. I started off with minor edits as the major edits required looking for and reading up more papers or study site information, as well as analysing the data again. Some figures, like the maps, also took time, especially to include all the sighting numbers for each location on a map. I remembered working on it for almost two months, and finally sending it off before Christmas holidays in December.

7. Revise, revise, revise until it is accepted.

After two more minor revisions, the manuscript was finally accepted in March 2017, which was then sent for copy editing (by another editor). Due to the number of papers in queue for publication, it was scheduled to be published in August. In July, a few edits were made upon the request of the copy editor, followed by proofreading of the gallery proof in August before the manuscript would be published.

8. Yay!! Published!

The journey is finally completed. It is indeed very true that to publish paper takes months, or even more than a year. So from the day when writing  began until it was published, that would be 20 months (1.67 years)! Long but a very important learning experience.

So, if you are interested to read the paper on sea turtle populations at Perhentian Islands using photographic identification and citizen science, click here!

I will always be grateful to Daniel Quilter, Neil Hinds, Sabina Gramaglia-Hinds, Thomas Horsell, William Forster, Thomas Brown, Yun, Nicholas Tolen, Petros Persad, Azri, Charlotte Babbs, Terissa Ng, Csaba Szilvási, Kevin Heitzman and Department of Fisheries rangers. This wouldn’t happen without you all! Thank you!

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Turtle Art

Sometimes I wish I could squeeze out time to indulge in anything that requires creativity, not that I have much of it but it is my wish to do so. For some reason and by chance, I had the opportunity to do some turtle art in August, and by some, I mean more than what I had planned or intended for.

While volunteering for SEATRU at a hatchling release programme at Laguna Redang Resort, we sold merchandise which included turtle figurines. There was also a space for people, mostly kids, to paint the turtle figurines. It was a 3-day programme where we spent most of our time (10am – 6pm in rotation) at the booth, registering tourists who wanted to donate and participate in the hatchling release activity, selling merchandise (i.e., button badges, keychains, postcards, mugs, books, turtle figurines, t-shirts, etc), talking about sea turtles and painting turtle figurines. Since there was ample time to spare, I started painting a leatherback turtle figurine and ended up painting another bigger leatherback plus a green turtle figurine. I thought I would know how to paint leatherback and green turtles after learning so much about them. Yet, I had to google to get a more vivid picture to paint them. Initially, the intention was to paint them for display but I ended up buying two of them while Meena bought one.

Throughout my stay at Redang Island, I had been watching Meena doing watercolour painting every other day. I really love her painting and what amazed me was how fast she could finish one! There would be times where we would be sitting outside by a cliff or on the beach, watching over the ocean, and she would start painting while I would either read a book or just chill. The next thing I knew her painting was done. Watching her paint made me want to give it a try. It wasn’t as if I had never tried it before but I just couldn’t remember when did I last do it. During our last few days, I finally put off procrastination and started looking for something to paint in her book. I scrolled through all the photos we took at Redang to draw something on her book. I decided to draw a male turtle we frequently sighted when snorkelling at Teluk Dalam. I tried to sketch the facial scales as exactly as they were because these are the most important features in order to recognize any individual turtles. Watercolour painting isn’t something I’m good at but I did my best. Thank God, it looked like a turtle.

After my one-month fieldtrip at Redang Island, I was back in Kuala Terengganu, just in time to join the Peranakan Festival. I got a message from Pelf looking for volunteers to help out their booth at the festival. I wasn’t sure if I could come volunteer every night but I decided to put aside one night on the weekend to volunteer. Little did I expect to be doing anything creative but we had doodling session at the booth. I started on the big mirror where anyone could try doodle on it. After doing it for a while, I gotta say it is addictive. In a positive note, it was like doing meditation as all the focus was on doodling. It was fun doing it, also fun watching people doing it. I ended up doodling on one turtle-shaped mirror, which I also ended up buying as it could be a gift one day.

I realised I actually enjoy this but I could barely get myself to do it on my own if it wasn’t for an awareness programme or festival. So as much as I like it, I doubt I would do this very often but I always feel that I should. Let’s see what I will do next, when I can.

All in a Day’s Work

I thought it would be a leisure and relaxing day to go to Long Beach today. Lala was getting a boat back to mainland while Meena was supposed to meet her supervisor. Meena only found out later that her supervisor got the dates wrong and he would only arrive the next day. Thank God, Lala’s departure was smooth. Our plan was to snorkel after Lala left. Least did we expect a boatman informing us about a dead turtle. He saw us arriving on SEATRU’s boat. They had brought the turtle back. When he showed us, it was a hawksbill, still in the juvenile stage. So we brought the turtle to Laguna’s dive center. However, they did not have facility and tools to perform a necropsy, not even a measurement tape to take measurements!

We waited until the tourists left the dive center. Then we started checking on the turtle. There was no external injuries but blood was dripping out from its mouth. I tried to open the mouth but couldn’t. We measured the turtle using a rope and marked it using a masking tape. Before we left, we kept the hawksbill in a black plastic bag so that we could pass it to Mann from SEATRU. We went snorkelling after since we still have about one and a half hour to two hours to spare.

When we first entered the water, visibility was bad. As we swam further out, the visibility got better. We saw at least 4 baby sharks swimming around. So beautiful! We snorkelled at the other side after that, which had more boulder corals. We swam out until we found the underwater postbox. To the right, there was a big group of fusiliers. There were just so many of them!!

We left at about 2pm. We slowly walked back to Laguna Jetty. On the way we took many photos. While waiting for Mann, Asma tried to get in touch with Marine Park officer regarding picking up the dead turtle. Since we didn’t hear back from them, we left when Mann came. On our way to Tarras Jetty, Asma called and said Marine Park officer was going to pick the turtle up. After speaking to them again, it was decided to hand it over to SEATRU. They would do external examination and take measurements, but not performing a necropsy.

We were dropped off at Tarras Jetty. On our way walking back, Asmadi’s boy drove past and gave us a lift back. We went for a birthday party after shower. Giulia and Jurita came later. About the same time we started speaking to the father of the family, who is looking after the hatchery under Marine Park. By the end of the day, it felt like so much had happened in one day.

No matter what, snorkel is a must!

Week 1 @ Redang Island

I am finally here, after all the time of postponing the trip to Redang Island. Everything happens for a reason, I supposed. I could have been here on my own if I had come earlier. Now there are three of us – Meena, who is a TROPIMUNDU masters students, and Lala, my friend who is here to help Meena with translation.

1 Malaysia Team

Although I have been to Redang village a couple times, it is still a foreign place. We are renting a room at Asmadi Guest House for a month. The village is not by the beach, therefore it doesn’t feel like I’m living on an island. Interestingly, there are sheep, goats and cows everywhere. It is almost impossible to avoid their droppings that are literally everywhere!

Sheep and their dropping everywhere!

We went to the nearest beach (Teluk Dalam) on our first day, which is about 10-15 minutes walk from our guest house. Teluk Dalam is also known as Turtle Bay as there is where people snorkel with turtles. Here, they feed the turtles so that they come closer so that humans can touch them. I am not very certain if feeding is good or bad to the turtles. We did see a turtle swimming away as a snorkel guide approached it with food. There were also some that swam towards the guide for food. It was during times that they were feeding that the tourists got to touch the turtles. There were quite a few individuals there. We saw at least four individuals, one with a tag on its left flipper (5756). However, we didn’t know which one was the famous JoJo!

A glimpse of Teluk Dalam @ Turtle Bay from the pathway.

On our second day, we started mapping the village by counting the number of houses. We counted 242, however some told us there are about 260+ houses here. They are also building about 160 new apartments for the second generation. Every house has more than one household, some up to four households. The village is relatively big. People usually ride a motorbike or bicycle. However, neither of us could ride a motorbike. I tried a scooter for the first time and it felt scary. I wasn’t sure if I could balance the motorbike.

Just like any other village…

Asmadi also invited us on a snorkel tour. It was definitely one of the best ones I have ever been at Redang. We went to four places, Turtle Bay, Long Beach, marine park and another site next to marine park. At all places (except Turtle Bay), we were the only boat there. We were the only ones in the water. Everything felt so calm and peaceful. We saw quite a lot – green turtles (a male with two tags), black tip reef sharks, boxfish, squids, moral eel, filefish, etc.

Snorkel with turtles @ Turtle Bay!

Pulau Pinang where the marine park is.

Watching sunset while snorkelling and I could see Lang Tengah and Perhentian from far…

For the following days, our routine has been the same. Apparently none of us are a morning person. We stay up quite late, sometimes past 2am so we did not wake up until past 9 or 10am. Our visit to local houses usually began at around noon. We would walk around the village and interview anyone who happens to be sitting outside their house. The villagers have been very friendly and welcoming. Some even offered us drinks and food. In the beginning, we managed to go to three houses and now we could interview six houses a day. Most of them are not at home during the day.

Always nice hanging out at Kak Pah’s stall!

We also met Giulia, an English Teacher working for SOLS. She teaches local kids and adults English every day, except the weekend. We met up once for dinner near the jetty. The jetty area is more happening than any other places in the village. A lot of local people hang out there. It is far from the village and not within walking distance, otherwise we would like to hang out there more often. We also met a few Chinese uncles who are working on a construction project in the village. They stay near our guest house and have been here for five years!!

Apart from swimming with turtles at Turtle Bay (as it reminds me so much of my time working at Perhentian), one of the most memorable moments was learning silat. A family invited us to watch silat in the evening. Meena was really interested to learn and I thought, well might as well learn together as I know I would never learn it if I were on my own. It was hilarious as they taught us using mainly in Malay and some English. It was a good experience, however I doubt if I could actually learn everything in less than a month.

Today is our 10th day here and time really does flies by quickly. As the days passed, we met more villagers and made more friends. I believe by the time we have to leave, we would feel sad to go.

Advice on Finishing Your PhD

A PhD study often feels overwhelmed with the workload. So much to do, lots more to read, and even more challenging to write. Throughout this journey, I occasionally receive motivation, sharing from people who had walked the journey. Everyone’s journey is different, full with different challenges and excitements. Here are a few pieces of advice, which I find really helpful in getting me through the down or stagnant moments in this journey.

 

1. Life is a struggle

There are always challenges in whatever you do in life. Nothing in life comes easily. You face different difficulties when you study, when you work, when you get married, etc. Doing a PhD has its hardship too. When you feel that what you do is hard, remember that even if you are working, there are things that you will find hard as well. Once you decide to take up a PhD, face the challenges and learn to deal with them. But if a PhD is not what you are looking for, then do something else. Either way there will be struggles.

 

2. Find your best time to write

Everyone has a different best time to write. Some find it best to write in the morning whereas some prefer to do it at night or even after midnight. It is important to find your best time to write. No matter what, write something during that time. Even just a little but do it every day. This helps so that you don’t feel the need to sit in front of the laptop the whole day, which is not so productive since you can’t write the whole time anyway. It is okay to do other stuff at times other than your writing time. I need to start adopting this. I don’t know what is my best time to write but I am a noctural person who feels more awake at night then in the morning. My writing motivation is driven by the task on hand, rather than writing at a specific time. Say if I have an assignment to finish, all I do is write that piece of assignment when I am awake until I finish the assignment. The only time when I’m not writing is when I am eating, taking a shower or sleeping. Knowing my best time to write would help so that I don’t feel like a zombie and totally burned out by the end of it.

 

3. Find your best place to write

Not only that, it is also equally important to look for the best place to write. Surprisingly, writing in a cafe or fast food restaurant like Mc’Donald works perfectly for some people. Some people need to write in places where it is quiet such as in a library. Believe it or not, home may not always be the best place to write since you can always find something to do at home. It is easy to stop writing and start doing house chores. I have yet to find my best place to write but I can write just fine at home once the momentum is there. Just that I can’t do transcribing at home. I tend to stop after transcribing a few lines and start doing something else – surf the net, watch movie, get some snacks or play the piano – which is why it takes days for me to transcribe one interview. So far I found it productive to transcribe in the postgraduate room or library where there are people around (but not noisy). I guess it is the sense of “yay, I am also doing my work” that prevents me from doing any other thing except transcribing.

 

4. Always bring a notebook (and don’t forget a pen too!)

I have this habit when I work. A notebook is like my life. Out of the blue, even during lunch, there is always something important to remember. I would never leave the house without my notebook. As a PhD student, I carry a notebook too but not as often as I should. Since I use a voice recorder for my data collection, I start to record conversation, as well as any thoughts that come to my mind. I find it easier than writing on a notebook but listening to the recording after that takes time. I use both – a notebook (mostly) and a voice recorder, depending on what I am trying to record. Funny thing with ideas is they often appear when you least expect them to. When I am sitting on a desk with a laptop and a notebook, all I sometimes do is stare at the notebook. Nothing comes. But say, I am driving or playing the piano, suddenly something would come to the mind. Mostly it happens when I am half-asleep, or maybe half-awake and “ting!” the idea comes. If I don’t write or record it down, I sometimes don’t remember it again after. So yes, always bring a notebook (or recorder) as you never know when you need it!

 

5. You have not failed until you quit

I always feel the struggle while trying to understand my conceptual framework, to figure out my research methodologies, to improve my interview skills, to make sense of my data. Not easy. But then I realised it has also never been easy while I was working. My supervisor once said, the easy way out is to quit. Rather true. No matter how tough it is, quitting is the easiest solution. It is okay to make mistakes since PhD is all about learning and discovering new things. Nothing about these two is easy. It will always feel difficult and frustrating until you get it right. As long as you keep progressing, eventually you will reach the destination.

Together we can protect the (turtle) eggs

5th June 2017, World Environment Day

I was chatting with a friend over dinner while waiting for the heavy downpour to subside so that we both could get to our car and leave. We quickly ran towards our car when the rain began to ease off. Just as I started the car engine, a phone call came in and I saw “B” on the caller ID. B is from Lang Tengah Turtle Watch and his call caught me by surprise as I didn’t think he would call me, at least not at this hour. Then he broke the news of a turtle landing at Long Beach but he could not reach the Perhentian Turtle Project’s manager. Instead he rang me up. I always think it is a small circle of people working in conservation. It is just a matter of time that one will eventually know everyone in this field. Anyway, the next thing to do was to call someone from the project so that they could inform the rangers to collect the eggs.

Since the manager was out of reach, luckily I had R’s number saved on my phone so I rang her. “Hi R, how are you?”, and she replied “Hi Seh Ling, are you okay?” I burst into laughter. Thing is R and I don’t talk on the phone. We don’t call each other. We rarely even send Whatsapp messages. Still, her response cracked me up. But yes, the turtle! No time for catching up. I relayed the message to R after realising that the manager was not available as she was praying in the mosque. R said they would do something about it.

All this while, it has been rather difficult to save any nests at Long Beach. Most of the time, we received reports of turtle landing and often not in time to get there before the eggs were taken by someone else. Turtle eggs are sought after delicacy, as well as a source of income to some. Other than protected beaches, turtle eggs on other beaches really depends on who gets there first. The eggs are protected if the rangers get there first. However, that is not always the case.

Meanwhile, B continued texting, providing updates of the situation at Long Beach.

“From how L described it she is body pitting. She is under Oh La La Bar.”

“L is still with the turtle, so is there someone I should put her in contact with?”

“She is laying now.”

I just kept forwarding his messages to R. I was relieved when R managed to get in touch with one of the rangers, and they both were going to go over to Long Beach. Then I informed B that R was going and gave him her number. It was funny that B and I were not at Long Beach but the texting continued as we couldn’t reach R after she texted me that they were going to Long Beach.

“I have told L to expect R and apparently there is a group protecting the nest.”

“How far away is R?”

“Looks like R is there now though.”

Meanwhile, I managed to get hold of the manager, who had also received the news from Turtle Bay Diver. It wasn’t until more than an hour or more later that R replied saying that they managed to get the eggs. There was even a second turtle that came ashore when R was there but it did not nest.

We really appreciate and are always thankful to the staff and tourists from resorts and dive centers calling us to inform on turtle landing, as well as “sheltering” the turtle from the crowd. It is through such collective efforts that we can protect the species. Despite not working at Perhentian anymore, it was really good to be able still help to save the turtle eggs yesterday.

Plan Your Trip to Perhentian Islands

Friends always contact me when they are planning a trip to Perhentian Islands. Most of them would have done their homework, knowing that the Perhentians consist of two islands – Perhentian Besar (big island) and Perhentian Kecil (small island). So, their questions are…

Which island is better? Perhentian Besar or Perhentian Kecil?
Both islands are beautiful. Each offers different attractions. Perhentian Kecil is known as a backpackers’ paradise where Long Beach is the only place for beach party. The two main beaches at Kecil are Long Beach (on the East) and Coral Bay (on the West). Mira Beach, Petani Beach, D’ Lagoon, etc, are a few other smaller beaches that are less crowded, thus giving you more privacy. The only village is located in the Southwest of Kecil. You cannot sunbath or walk around in your bikinis in the village but it is worth visiting the village. Most of the tourists staying in the village are Malaysians (packaged groups). Almost all the beaches on Kecil are accessible by foot. Perhentian Besar is more peaceful, especially at night. The two main beaches at Besar are Teluk Dalam (on the South) and the whole stretch on the Eastern side, plus two smaller beaches at Teluk Pauh and Tanjung Tukas.

Where to stay?
Most of the accommodations are situated next to the beach, except those in the village and along the pathway between Long Beach and Coral Bay. I’ll list the accommodation available on the islands.

Packaged tour or non-packaged tour?
Malaysians usually opt for packaged tour as they are easier to organise and cheaper in price. A packaged tour usually include boat transfer, accommodation, meals and 1-2 snorkel tours. If you do book for a packaged tour, please book through the resorts/chalets or a registered travel company. There have been many cases where customers showed up but there was no booking at the chalets. Don’t be fooled by package that is too cheap to be true. Nothing cheap is good and nothing good is cheap. Always ask for the name of the accommodation (so that you can compare the prices) and double check with the resort/chalet that your booking is confirmed. Non-packaged tour, on the other hand, offers more flexibility to your trip. You can plan your daily activities. You can go diving instead of snorkelling. You can eat at different places.

How to get there?
You need to get to Kuala Besut Jetty before 4pm in order to catch the last boat to the island. There is a direct bus to Kuala Besut bus station from most cities (e.g. Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Johor Bahru). If you are flying, fly to Kota Bharu Airport and take a taxi to Kuala Besut Jetty. Alternatively, you can drive to Kuala Besut Jetty and park your car there.

How much is the boat transfer from mainland to the Perhentians?
A return boat transfer from Kuala Besut jetty to Perhentian Islands costs RM70. Some offer as low as RM50. The earliest boat departing from Kuala Besut jetty is at 8am (sometimes earlier) and the latest boat is at 4pm (sometimes later). It is important to know the name of the resort/chalet that you are staying. The boat will drop you at the beach where you are staying. Times where the waves are strong at Long Beach, they will drop you at Coral Bay and you need to walk to Long Beach. To leave Perhentian Islands, you call the boat operator on your boat ticket a day before. Some resorts/chalets offer to make that arrangement for you. You can either leave at 8am, 12pm or 4pm (not always on time). This is because the boat picks up tourists from different beaches so better be there early. When it is near the monsoon, the only time available is at 8am. Always check with your boat operator.

How much is the boat taxi in the Perhentians?
It is quite common to take a boat taxi from one beach to another beach. There are taxi stands/huts on most beaches. The price varies between RM5-30 one way, depending on the distance. The price doubles after 7pm and triples after 12am. If you are travelling on your own, you need to pay the price for 2 person. Check if your resort/chalet offers taxi service for free.

How much money do I need?
There are no ATMs/banks on the islands so bring enough cash. Only a few resorts/chalets have credit card service. If you are on a packaged tour, you probably don’t need much. However, if you have only booked your accommodation and boat transfer, do put aside RM10-20 per meal. Food is not cheap on the islands as everything is transported in from mainland. Buy snacks and mineral waters from mainland and bring them with you to save money. Boat taxi and alcohol cost the most (if you are not diving). One can of beer costs RM10.

What can I do there?
– Snorkelling: The Perhentians have many nice snorkel sites. The most common snorkel tour brings you to 3-4 sites, for example Turtle Point (a green turtle foraging site), Shark Point (black tip reef sharks), Fish Garden, Coral Garden, Lighthouse, etc. Another snorkel attraction is Rawa Island, which is located to the North of small islands. There are also day snorkel trips to Redang Island.

– Diving: The Perhentians is one of the islands that offers cheap diving package. A few of the more popular dive sites are Tokong Laut, Sugar Wreck, Batu Layar, Shark Point, Vietnamese Wreck, D’ Lagoon and T3. Of course the list continues.

– Kayaking: Since the Perhentians consist of two islands, kayaking is a good way to go from one beach to another and from one snorkel site to another.

– Sunrise and sunset: There are a few places to watch sunrise (before 7am) from the windmill, Long Beach and D’ Lagoon. All the beaches facing the West are suitable for watching sunset (before 7pm). My favourite place is at Teluk Keke and the rocks by Shari-la Resort at Coral Bay.

– Visit the turtle hatchery at Turtle Beach before 3pm. Look for the staff members from the Perhentian Turtle Project who are happy to talk to you about sea turtles and conservation.

– Round-island hike: All the beaches with resorts are connected through a pathway or jungle trekking.

– Hike to windmill: It is a 15-20 minutes walk uphill from Long Beach and the view is magnificent from the top.

– Clean-up: You will come across trash when you walk around the islands. Bring your trash with you and pick up the trash you see along the way. Throw them into the bins. Together we can keep the islands clean.

– Stand-up paddling: Only seen it at Long Beach and Bubbles Dive Resort at Tanjung Tukas.
– Wind-surfing: So far only available at Alunan Resort at Petani Beach.
– Surfing: Usually near the monsoon season at Long Beach.
– Malay dinner: Experience a Malay meal in a local house in the village.

Other things worth sharing:
– A waterproof bag is useful at all occasions.
– Never underestimate the sun. Apply sunblock before getting into the sun and some aloe vera gel if you get sunburned. Sunblock is not good for corals so best is cover up (e.g. putting on rash vest, wear a hat, sunglasses, etc).
– Most of the snorkel areas are shallow and calm. Even without fins/flippers, you can snorkel just fine.
– There is a clinic in the village. Bring along your I/C or passport, and money.
– Try the doughnuts at PILA Cafe in the village.
– Always snorkel within the buoy line and look out for boats.
– Never leave your belongings unattended (sandals too!), especially when you party at Long Beach at night.
– Try Monkey Juice, which is a mix of Orang Utan (cheap rum) and 7Up. Never mix it with Coke, Pepsi or other carbonated drinks!
– Help build a turtle database by submitting turtle photos to turtle@ecoteer.com. The facial scales of each individual turtle are unique. You can name the turtle if it is a new turtle!
– Check out for volunteering opportunities with Perhentian Turtle Project, Perhentian Community and Conservation Project, and Perhentian Marine Research Station that are based in the village, as well as Bubbles Dive Resort’s conservation project.

Perhentian Islands have a lot to offer so take the time to explore and immerse yourself in the nature!

New resolution in life

PhD is my Disneyland. It is a goal to finish it, but yes, how much longer? Am I there yet?

Along the journey, I discover that I am a novice in social science research, who often feel that I lack the skills and experience to do interview-based research. As I transcribe the interviews, I can see what went wrong with the way I phrase my questions as well as when I asked the questions. It bothers me because then I think, shit, will I be able to eventually get it right and gather the information I need?

After watching this video, I realised that I feel like that because I focus so much on the goal that I missed out on the values I gain throughout the journey. What went wrong in the initial data collection provides an opportunity to learn and improve. The more interviews I did, the more I get to practise and improve. I learn not to interrupt or ‘fill in the blanks’ to their answers. I learn to phrase open-ended questions to understand the meaning of their words. I learn to keep my conservation views to myself and not to have any preconceptions about their conservation perspectives. It did not occur to me how much I have learned from just doing the research as I am too occupied worrying when I will complete the study.

I am the kind of person who needs a fixed structure, following guidelines of how to do (which is why I like reading step-by-step instructions). But then there is no direct step-by-step guideline in conducting in-dept interviews. It is not like using a washing machine; first, I press the on/off button, then I choose the programme (speedy, water level, etc), pour in washing powder/liquid and click start. Voila, it starts washing my clothes. All I do the next time is repeat the same steps.

However, qualitative research using interviews is not like running a washing machine or any other machines. When the machine does not work, then something is wrong, and there will be no data. When that happens, I need to set it right, e.g. setting the parameters to ensure that the machine runs accordingly. Well, it is just not like that in research involving humans where nothing is really under control.

Since I am not doing questionnaire surveys, my questions are not fixed, meaning my questions are rephrased when I interview different people. It is something I learn, not just to listen, but to know how to ask the right questions while still being sensitive to their and my body language. There are no step-by-step guidelines to that. A lot of times I think, damn, it is easier studying animals. I trap squirrel A and I collect biometric data. Then I trap squirrel B and do that same. Different squirrels may respond differently to physical capture but what I do is repetitive.

Hence, I do not find social science research particularly simple or straight forward. Well, studying humans or anything human-related is neither simple nor straight forward since humans are complex and complicated, filled with emotions and whatsoever. Nonetheless, it has been an enlightening path and the values I get would probably help in one way or another to deal or work with different people in conservation.

Well, I am not trying to set new year resolutions merely because a new year has just begun. It is just something that struck me while I watched this video about goal-focused life and value-focused life. So I’d say have goals in life and also value the process of achieving the goals. I guess that is what mindfulness is, or in other words, live in the moment!

Goodbye 2016!

2016 came before I was ready for it and it is ending before I am ready for 2017. A year seems long and there is so much one can do but I have not really felt like I have accomplished a lot. It is the year where my life changed from working to studying. If I am honest to myself, work has been more fulfilling than doing a PhD. Nonetheless, it has been a unique experience, and most of the time, a learning process.

First is attending conferences, which is something fun, especially meeting people. It’s a great way to get more exposure, learn about what other people do and gain new perspectives. It also provides a valid reason to travel!

Second is writing. It probably comes naturally to some but not so much for me. It requires intense thinking to do good writing. It takes me so long to figure out how to structure what I want to write so that the story flows. Sometimes I can’t find the right vocabulary and sometimes the grammar just doesn’t sound right. I find reading other people’s work particularly helpful, such as the way the authors present their arguments in a way that flows nicely.

Third is reading. I enjoy reading to know the content. Now, that’s not enough. I start to pay notice of how the authors write. The vocabularies they use and the way they phrase their sentences. I also start taking notes as I will never know if what I read could be useful when I write. I might need to cite their work, and if I don’t take note, I usually end up reading it again. Of course, nothing wrong with that but it just takes time to read and process.

Fourth is learning to be a social scientists. Many, including me, probably thought what’s so hard about interviewing people. In natural science research, designing the methods is important. And doing social science research is the same. How interviews are conducted requires careful design too! Plus interviewing people itself is a skill, especially for research. It is a lot about talking to people, just that non-research related talking can be random and full of crap.

Since I am living a postgraduate’s life, it is not surprising that my learning process revolves around the academic world. From times to times, I do other stuff, but not much. That is because every time I do stuff that is not related to my study, I feel guilty. Every time I think of the vacation I want to make, it remains a dream, and I tell myself, after I finish my study. PhD is really like a marathon. From where I am now, I can’t see the end. I just keep moving or stay put. I dare not do other stuff as I am afraid I will go off track, which may lead me further from the end destination. Therefore, my life in 2017 would most likely be similar to 2016, but let’s see as one never knows what lies ahead in life!

Do we really want to volunteer?

thank-you-volunteers

I have met volunteers from all walks of life while managing volunteer-based community and conservation projects for the past few years. Everyone has something to offer, bringing different invaluable skills and experiences, providing manpower, coming up with suggestions and recommendations to solve problems, etc. It is about having a wonderful volunteering experiences, not just to share and contribute but also to gain insights and experiences working with the community in conservation.

Putting fun aside, there were also times when having volunteers is challenging. I often asked volunteers the reason(s) they volunteer. Volunteers who did their research about the projects before signing up had a better idea of what they would be doing at the project. But, there were also those who came because they or their parents thought volunteering would look good on their CVs, they just wanted to volunteer but were not keen on doing much, they had some time while travelling and did not know what to do or where else to go, they wanted to help turtles but did not know it involves patrolling on the beach at night, etc. Then I wonder, why would they sign up to something without knowing what they were signing up for?

I am writing this as I think that there are a few things people who plan or want to volunteer should know before signing up for it. This is so that projects and volunteers can meet each other’s expectations.

First of all, ask ourselves why do we want to volunteer and what do we want to gain?

This is important because it helps us to know what to look for while searching for projects and decide whether or not a project is suitable. For example, if we dislike children, we should not volunteer for a project that requires us to spend time every day with children. Not only will we struggle to work with children, the children also sense it that we don’t like hanging out with them. The reason we want to volunteer will be our motivation that decides how much (more) we want to be involved while volunteering. If we are there just to pass time, that is what we will do. However, if we want to learn about something, we will make sure we utilise our time there to gain those skills.

How much budget do we have? How long can we volunteer?

Look for projects that are within our budget. Anything less than one week is probably not sufficient to learn or contribute much, especially when it involves work that needs specific skills. Most work that the projects carry out require a certain level of skills and experiences, which can be acquired through training (with time). Unless we have the skills and experiences, we need to allow us some time to go through the training and practice. For example, it is overly ambitious to think that we could get certified as an open water diver and do dive surveys in one week period, even if the project tells you otherwise. Some people are natural divers but some become one with experience, plus it requires training to do surveys for research. Understanding this means we are able to tell if we have the skills and experiences to volunteer for a certain project, or we probably need to pick up the necessary skills first and if not, stay longer.

How much time are we willing to spend on volunteering every day?

Not many people put much thought about it. At most projects, it is a full working day every day. However, if we have in mind, from the beginning, that we only want to volunteer half a day and have the rest of the day free to explore the area, then look for a project that gives us the flexibility to do so. Some projects have more rigid schedule that requires volunteers to follow through a fixed itinerary. Find out as early as possible whether or not certain arrangement can be made.

Once we know what we want, do the homework!! There is no shortcut to have a good volunteering experience. In most cases, volunteers do not have a pleasant experience because the project has not met up to their expectations. At the same time, projects also feel the pinch as they have to put up with unhappy volunteers. This could happen because volunteers do not receive full information about a project, finds out later that what is happening on ground is far from what it is on the brochure/website or they do not take the effort to find out more about the project. Be more cautious of anything that sounds too good to be true. If we are booking through agents, make sure we get the right information. I personally prefer to get in touch with the project I am interested to volunteer with, rather than booking through an agent. Look online, find out more about the project and read up reviews by past volunteers (if any). Project’s website only explains briefly what they do and agents probably tell us what we want to hear but it is from volunteers’ reviews that we know more about the day-to-day work and living conditions. Every volunteer has his/her standards so be smart in gauging the reviews.

Good projects tend to have certain requirements when looking for volunteers. Be honest. For instance, if we are not swimmers, don’t say that we can swim. This is because for projects that do snorkel surveys, instead of us helping them in the surveys, they have to constantly look out for us and make sure we don’t drown. Projects have risk assessments and safety measurements but it is also our responsibilities to inform them about our health conditions so that they can take appropriate measures when necessary. Not all projects have good or any medical facilities in proximity.

All of this is essential, if we are serious about volunteering. Take the initiative to get in touch with the project before arrival to find out if there is anything else we should know or prepare. Every project differs, some are organised and some not, which is why we should take the time to look for projects where we can share experiences and learn new skills. Lastly, having the right attitude is utmost important while volunteering. Volunteer because we want to help. Having say that, Happy Volunteering!!