How the University of Queensland is helping this doctoral student defend refugee rights
Aslam Abd Jalil is one of the thousands of international students currently excluded from Australia due to the country’s strict border closures. The University of Queensland doctoral student is currently studying refugee rights at work.
The impact of the border closure, as well as the challenges of pursuing a doctorate, have not been easy for the Malaysian, but he continues to persevere.
âThe main reason I came back to Australia for the PhD was because I wanted to be guided by leading scholars in refugee and political studies,â he told Study International.
The scholarship recipient is under the stellar supervision of a refugee policy expert at the University of Queensland and is grateful for the opportunity to conduct research in an area close to his heart.
He shares his thoughts on pursuing a PhD in Australia below:
Hi Aslam! Tell us about you.
I am a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia, researching refugee rights at work by combining my university education in business studies, public policy and anthropology.
How has the pandemic affected your doctoral studies at the University of Queensland, especially since this is your final year?
In November 2019, I returned to Malaysia to do my fieldwork. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a mental health issue due to many factors related to my studies and my life. Doing a doctorate can be overwhelming because sometimes my impostor syndrome undermines my self-confidence.
In addition, working with marginalized refugee communities who have endured so many challenges has also touched me. The multiple blockages during the pandemic created a major obstacle to visiting the field sites and getting to know my research participants.
Despite this, I still managed to conduct my ethnography and interviews both online and offline, which led to a wealth of data collection in the field.
Currently I still cannot return to Brisbane due to the Australian borders being closed. It’s a real struggle for me to be away from campus in the absence of face-to-face interaction with supervisors and academic peers.
Thanks to the support system I have, I have managed to progress and reach the milestones of the doctorate. I plan to graduate by the end of next year.
We hope things will improve soon for you! Why did you decide to pursue your doctorate abroad?
When I was seven, I always saw “foreign” children roaming the town of Kota Bharu selling different things. I sympathized with them, but didn’t know much about their plight.
Thirteen years later, when I continued my studies at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, I was exposed to the problems of (in) voluntary migration. It was only then that I discovered that these resilient children were forced to flee their homes and become refugees.
It was ironic that I had to travel far to Land Down Under to realize that there were thousands of refugees living in limbo in Malaysia. I felt responsible for helping them thrive, not just survive. So, for my MA at INPUMA, Universiti Malaya (UM), I focused on the political aspect of the refugee issue in Malaysia.
The main reason I came back to Australia for the PhD was that I wanted to be guided by leading scholars in refugee studies and political studies. My supervisor, Dr Gerhard Hoffstaedter, is an expert in the field of refugee policy and became my mentor even before starting my doctoral journey.
In addition, this is a good opportunity to network with stakeholders from academia, civil society groups and government agencies for meaningful collaboration.
On top of that, as a country of immigration, Australia is a gateway for me to make friends from various nationalities and backgrounds.
It’s an interesting story! Have there been any difficulties in doing your doctorate abroad?
- Funding – Studying abroad involves exorbitant costs for tuition fees and living allowance. I kept constantly updated on scholarship offers and application processes. Finally, I had the privilege of receiving a scholarship from the government of Malaysia. I have to be responsible for my expenses because so much of the taxpayer’s money has been invested in my education.
- New environment – It was my first time in Brisbane. However, having lived in Australia before, I was able to adapt well to the new environment. Getting to know new local and foreign friends definitely gave me the support system I needed. I believe that forging friendships with people from different backgrounds is the key to peaceful coexistence in today’s world.
If you had the option to pursue your PhD in Malaysia, would you want to do it, and why / why not?
Yes. Malaysia has several internationally renowned higher education institutions which have attracted many students and scholars from all over the world.
The global environment in local universities allows for a healthy exchange of ideas. Cutting-edge research from universities means you’re ready to compete in the real world.
However, academic freedom in Malaysia needs to be improved. Academics and students should not be discouraged or even prosecuted for their constructive criticism, because critical thinking is an integral part of a civilized society.
Is it worth doing your doctorate abroad?
Definitely yes if you have funding because a lot of people cannot afford an education abroad.
I am taking this golden opportunity to get involved in various activities outside academia as well, such as volunteering, to equip myself with soft skills. I used to volunteer with Amnesty International Australia and Multicultural Australia to advocate for human rights, especially for refugees and migrants.
With the knowledge and experience that I gained during my studies, I hope to contribute to the world. by developing better and more humane asylum and migration policies.
Do you have any advice for future doctoral students?
Find your research interests. Next, explore the disciplines that are related to your research interests.
Get to know the researchers in the fields – through their writing and in person, if possible. It will be easier for you to find the right supervisors for your doctoral studies.
Finally, what do people need to know about you besides being a doctoral student?
I am still unable to provide a specific answer if people ask me where I am from in Malaysia. I grew up in different places and am always on the move.
This confirms my belief that âeveryone is a migrantâ and therefore we must embrace diversity in our society.