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Why Are You Studying in the First Place?

Every so often I find myself looking for freelance writing jobs that I can add to my day job, especially for when I need to save up for an upcoming splurge. I never like the idea of purchasing something when I cannot afford it, so instead of using a credit card (which I’ve given up in late 2015, thank God!), I find ways to earn more when I need a bit extra.

As I was searching on Onlinejobs.ph, my go-to for when I’m on an online gig hunt, I came across this job ad which to me was disturbing at best:

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Screenshot of a thesis writing gig post

For one, this person is offering a mere $50 for this job. I’m not sure if there is anyone THAT desperate to want to accept this lengthy and challenging job for a few pesos. Secondly, I’m not sure, too, if this person has any idea of the task he/she requires from the contractor. To research + write an entire thesis for $50? If he/she made the fee more acceptable, I’m sure more people would have wanted to take the job.

But I don’t take these kinds of jobs. I don’t like it when the client doesn’t give at least a 5% effort on what is required on an academic requirement. I don’t like it when all the client does is to take a photo of the assignment, to have you, as the contractor, figure out everything that he/she might want you to do, and for you to negotiate with the fee suggested. Based on experience, these super lazy clients never negotiate their prices and would be the first to ghost you out when you start asking for their data input. They simply go to school to get others do the stuff for them, something that I don’t want to support.

When I started out taking online jobs in 2011, the market was dominated by clients who wanted to pay a cheaper fee to do technical and blog writing for them. It is disturbing that these days, more students are willing to shell out a chunk of their allowances to pay people to do the job for them.

Back in 2013 I had a client who was a Ph.D. candidate at– gasp!– The University of Chicago and she hired me to help her out with her thesis. I was happy to accept it because she did all the data gathering and analysis; all I had to do was to weave together the information since her notes were all over the place. She was very hands-on throughout the entire process. And although I have no way of verifying if she indeed was busy with her full-time job that’s why she needed help, she knew the ins and outs of her entire research. Working with this client was a great feeling because it felt like I was graduating, too, from one of the world’s top universities– too bad I’m still stuck with being a Philippine graduate which translates to less pay 😛

Sadly, I never come across a client like this anymore. From typing their assignments, lazy students are now just taking photos of their homework, sometimes even straight from the whiteboard! I’m not sure if this trend is due to school being increasingly passé with now self-learning made easier by the internet; or, if it is because of students getting more distracted. Whatever it is, I hope these students don’t make a habit out of it. If they think they can get through life by paying someone, then we, contractors, also have a role to play by choosing not to accept these kinds of writing gigs.

“Why are you studying in the first place?” You may get into moderators’ and clients’ nerves but asking this question to a potential client goes a long, long way.

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Note: This post contains an affiliate link for Onlinejobs.ph. It does not cost you to sign up with them through this link, but it contributes to the upkeep of this site 🙂

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Saving a Date: Why I Choose to Keep It at 120

Why is it that people almost always correlate “adulthood” with distancing from one’s family? It seems to be a badge of honor for “grown-up” children to say that they are now living on their own (or with their partner), can’t attend family events because of personal or work reasons, or hardly ever talk with their parents and siblings? And why does it seem to be a badge of honor for parents, too, to say that they don’t give advice to their kids anymore because they now have a mind of their own, let them live on their own, or hardly ever talk with their children because they have their own lives now?

I accept all family dynamics and individuals in all forms and sizes, but what’s bothering me is the lack of appreciation for the “Other,” meaning, for whatever else does not fit into your truth. There is nothing wrong with being a 30-year-old living with your parents, not having savings, or not finding your path just yet. There is nothing wrong, too, with parents wanting to keep the camaraderie alive by going on weekends together with their “grown-up” children, or with controlling their children (I personally do not agree with this, but you will see below why I don’t push my truth so impulsively). On the same note, there is nothing wrong with an 18-year-old wanting to live with his girlfriend, wanting to take time off school to find oneself, or to choose to work early without getting into university.

My whole point is, we human beings tend to be so judging without intending to. We tend to believe that our truth is the ultimate truth, and anything that falls outside of it is “uncivilized,” “backward,” or point-blank “wrong.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with living by one’s truth. I personally strive to live day-by-day grounded on my truths, but I’m telling you it is hard work in the midst of this world of overinformation and overabundance of rules.

So to make my life a life worth living for me, I’ve said my goodbyes directly and indirectly to people who choose to run their lives around themselves alone. I’ve chosen to block people from my life who find satisfaction in stroking their superiority-founded truths at the cost of others’ freedom, integrity, and happiness. I am being judgmental right here– and I accept that– for I accept, too, that life is so fragile and short. Every learning curve causes a lot of pain and self-doubt, and now I’ve chosen to only welcome people who are willing to go through the fire with me so we can both come out better based on our personal standards.

And you know what, I’ve never been happier saying goodbye to these people. Nothing has changed, except of course that now, I invite less people on get-togethers. Happier times well-spent with people I love.

On my way back to the Philippines, I’ve made a list of people whom I would love to be with all the time. These are the people whom I would not second-guess being in a party or outing with. And these are the people whom I will not be afraid to say and do what I want to say and do. I ran through the list again and again and asked myself if I am truly happy being with these people. I’ve crossed out some people, and added some more.

My total list came to just 120. Imagine, I currently have 1,000+ contacts, and I truly enjoy sharing my life with only 12% of these contacts.

Life shouldn’t be THAT complicated, really!

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The kind of happiness that you gain by surrounding yourself with people whom you love and love you in return 🙂 With my lovely cousins! Photo courtesy of Ate Aidni.

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My First Job after University: Desperate Freelancer

A professor once told me that “While the body is shared, the mind is ours alone.” It didn’t make much sense to me back then, as a freshman caring more about my free time for reading and running over acing my classes. I went to classes taught by my favorite professors, missed classes that didn’t interest me, and made up for the absences by doing extra readings. I loved working towards my anthropology degree because it’s a subject that thoroughly interests me. We were only eight in our batch, with almost everyone believing that a good and stable future awaits upon graduation.

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I had such high hopes after graduation, only to find out… (Photo Courtesy: Jefferson Villacruz of Diliman Information Office)

Two weeks since I graduated, I still couldn’t find a job. I’ve applied to 25 jobs at this point and couldn’t get past beyond the first screening. I graduated with good grades and was pretty active outside school work. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I left job search websites and gave Upwork a try. Being a freelancer was something that I never thought I’d pursue as a career. Signing up for Upwork was clearly out of desperation.

Since I was new to the site, I was desperate to get clients as fast as I could. At this point, I was a month into unemployment. So, I browsed through other freelancer’s profiles and checked their rates. I placed mine at a measly $3 per hour since getting my first client was the top priority. Not surprisingly, I immediately got an offer to write a 10,000-word essay on acai berries. I was to deliver the paper in two weeks. Health topics interest me and so I wasn’t fazed at all.

Now as an alumna, I did not have online access to academic journals any longer and so I opted to reference from what I could mine from the internet. There are over 20,000 articles written on acai berries, but sifting through all these pages was more difficult than I thought. For one, it was quite difficult to verify information since I’m only basing my understanding on secondhand information. Trained as an anthropologist where living in subject communities for as long as it’s needed is the norm, I certainly lost confidence in what I was doing. After every sentence, I would cringe and think, “Is this even accurate?” I kept on questioning my work up until the moment I handed over my final work.

After a few days, I received a complaint from the employer saying my work is full of erroneous data extracted from non-academic journals, and that my work is plagiarized. Therefore, this person is demanding a full refund. Of course, I stood up for myself saying that I referenced my sources well and my work has passed Copyscape. Sure, I had doubts with the information I was putting on the work, but proper citation is something that I value highly. My aptitude for referencing is something I never question.

The complaint got escalated to Upwork and the employer wanted to bring the case to court. That seriously scared the hell out of me as I could not even afford my own rent, let alone court fees. I decided to just back down and give the full refund of $300 which was such a huge amount for me at that time. I knew I should stand up for myself until the end but with financial constraints, I chose to back down.

After that experience and a negative review on my profile, it got difficult for me to get clients. It took at least six more months since I got my next client, but this time I was already employed and so landing contracts sporadically wasn’t a problem any longer.

Although my first writing gig was traumatic, it taught me such valuable lessons for my professional and personal life. For one, shortcuts don’t work well in life in the long run. Although it was so convenient for me to source out information from online resources, I would have saved more time and energy finding the best journals even if that means going to public libraries or asking for a one-off access from my former professors. I could have looked beyond the confines of my laptop, but I got too comfortable working on my parents’ couch.

I’ve realized that plagiarism is not just about violating citation rules, but also about not giving justice to the importance of quality sources when picking references. When I source out from unreliable sources, I become an accessory to plagiarism by supporting content that is unfounded, erroneous, and most likely reworded from someone else’s work. Plagiarism is not just about stealing ideas, it is also about not being conscientious enough to know the difference between reliable and unreliable sources.

I’ve grown so much since my first job after university. I haven’t run away from that experience, and I am still working in the research industry. Every time I have a paper to write or edit, I look back on that first nervous attempt to finish a 10,000-word essay in two weeks. It’s a project that isn’t that difficult to complete as it seemed back then, after all. And I’m happy because I can now say with full confidence that it’s a job that I can fulfill without self-doubts and inhibitions.

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They Who Paint Our Roof White: The Price of Cheap Labor

Looking back on this journal entry as a reminder to give thanks to our everyday heroes 🙂

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Yesterday upon waking up, I headed straight to our garage to jog on the treadmill a bit. Not so much of a routine; just something I thought of doing since I haven’t done it for a while. The unbearable heat tempted me in every way to go inside our room again and enjoy the air conditioner, but somebody suddenly caught my attention.
Race
I looked around: only Chippy, the family dog, was beside me.
Race
I looked around the second time, then a drop of white paint fell innocently on my right arm—I looked up.
Uy, Mang Temmy, andyan ka pala!
I seemed surprised but really, I was more afraid of the unaccountable calls earlier on.
Ang hirap dito sa taas, ang init! Pero mas matangkad na ‘ko sa ‘yo!
I just smiled, then laughed, not knowing what to say. As much…

View original post 684 more words

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Publishing My First Book (Dream Come True!)

I’ve been on and off with updating my blog for the past eight months because I’ve been working on… my first book!

Life Book

A sneak peek of my first book 🙂

The fun part was, R didn’t have the slightest idea I was working on it although we’ve been working side-by-side since June of last year.

The book was officially published on March 19, with a rather short email I’ve received in the wee hours of the morning saying the book was finally released! I had to read the email thrice to make sure I was understanding everything correctly.

HOWEVER, I used a pen name and have no intention of divulging it at this point. Save for eight people who have signed an invisible contract of secrecy 😛 The reason being I’m not that confident just yet with my work and I’d like to receive reviews and comments objectively.

Why am I sharing this? 

First off, I’d like to say it IS possible to publish a book, especially when the subject is something you are passionate about. The key is to write every day. Even one sentence a day if you get the so-called writer’s block can help out in producing the content that you want. Since English is not my native language, I also wrote my first manuscript in Filipino, then I translated it to English. I felt more confident in doing so.

Secondly, this is not about length. This first book is rather short and something you can read in two days. I wanted to focus on quality and I wasn’t too confident just yet with weaving together a complicated story with 20 chapters.

Thirdly, it is so liberating to write under a pen name! I am not sure if I can try to publish again had I published this first book under my real name. With a pen name though, I am able to roam free and to put off the pressure of making it ‘big’ just because I have put myself out there rather prematurely.

What now? 

On the first 48 hours since the book was published, I got 40 purchases. It’s amazing to think that people would be willing to buy ‘that’ book. It may not be much but it meant so much to me. I wonder how J.K. Rowling would have felt selling out millions and millions of copies on her first HP book!

Still a long, long (read: long) way to go for me. But for now, I’m happy to be walking, talking and breathing behind the mask 🙂

Resources

There are so many free writing guidelines online, and sifting through them can get a bit overwhelming. My favorite, and one which helped me out tremendously, was Annie Neugebauer‘s Plotting Worksheet with Prompts. She has generously made the content available for free, but users are given the opportunity to donate on her page.

As for manuscript format, I used Microsoft Word’s Manuscript Template, downloadable for free.

Biggest thanks to the Internet for leveling out the field for everyone in pursuing their dreams 🙂

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Expensive, but Not Always Worth Much: Higher Education in the Philippines

via Expensive, but not always worth much: higher education in the Philippines | D+C – Development + Cooperation | Alan C. Robles

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Higher education in the Philippines. Image Credit: Ron Giling/ Linear

It is a cruel paradox that a college education helps to escape ­poverty, but Filipinos have to be rich to afford one. Furthermore, those who do manage to go to college run the risk that the education they pay for may turn out to be sub-standard or defective. By Alan C. Robles

Critics say the root of the problem is that Philippines’ system of higher education follows the American model. Most universities and colleges are private and profit-driven. JC Tejano, the national spokesperson of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), says: “All schools want to do is earn money.” In the SCAP’s view, they do far too little to ensure quality.

According to government data, there are 2,247 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Philippines, and 88 % of them are private colleges and universities. Of the country’s 2.9 million higher education students, 1.74 million (60 %) are enrolled in private schools. Though they are smaller in number, public HEIs tend to be crowded, underfunded and overstretched.

Cost issues

The government’s Council on Higher Education (CHED) currently estimates that, on the average, a student in a private school will pay 237,600 pesos (€ 4,200) for a four year course. On average, however, public schools, are not much cheaper. The CHED reckons that tuition for a complete four-year course will cost 233,600 pesos.

At a top tier university, however, the costs will amount to 400,000 pesos. The best and most expensive schools are in the private sector – but that is equally true for the worst and cheapest ones.

Compared with what a typical Filipino household earns, the costs of higher education are stiff. According to the official Philippines’ 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the average family’s annual income is a mere 206,000 pesos. The survey notes that for the families in the bottom 30 % the average is only 62,000 pesos.

HEIs tend to increase tuition every year. In the Philippines, college subjects are taught in small “units”. In 2005, according to the online magazine Bulatlat, the average cost per unit was more than 330 pesos. By 2011, the average tuition per unit had risen to more than 500 pesos.

Tuition isn’t the only financial worry of college students of course. The CHED figures do not include board, lodging, transportation and other expenses. These are not trifling outlays. For example, professors tell stories of students skipping classes because they cannot pay for transportation to go to school; there have also been reports of students who can’t focus because they’re weak from not having eaten properly.

Aggravating matters, HEIs are creative in devising ways of padding their bills. Among other things, they levy fees for “laboratories”, “energy” and “development”. Last year, Antonio Pascua Jr., an official of the youth group Anakbayan, claimed one school was charging a “restricted fee”, the purpose of which was not clear to students. He says this is “completely baffling”.

Patricia Licuanan, the CHED chairperson, wants “all HEIs to carefully study their tuition and fee increases each year”. On behalf of the government, she insists that every HEI should “spend wisely and judiciously in order to lessen the costs to its most important stakeholders – its students”.

The sad truth, however, is that many students discover at some point or another that they are no longer able to afford tuition and drop out of the HEI they have been attending. They either stop studying altogether or transfer to a cheaper HEI. The new schools are worse, of course, but they are also in the habit of increasing fees.

In 2005, the Bulatlat report stated the dropout rate was as high as 73 %. Today, student leader Tejano demands a freeze on tuition and other fees. His organisation wants the burden on ordinary people to decrease. It also wants to ensure that more youngsters get a good education.

Private HEIs respond by saying they have to raise tuition fees or go bankrupt. CHED’s Licuana agrees and says that “quality education has a price”. She points out costs for faculty salaries, laboratories, equipment et cetera. Therefore, she argues, tuition hikes are “necessary”. At the same time she wants them to be “justified, reasonable and transparent”.

Quality concerns

Apart from the cost of education there is also the matter of quality. Among the private HEIs, there is a handful of top tier universities. Their graduates can probably compete with those of other elite schools around the world. Most other private-sector HEIs, however, basically seem to seek profits at the expense of substance.

A university faculty member, who asks not to be identified, says: “Some of them shouldn’t even be schools at all – there’s a proliferation of HEIs which are not qualified.” This educator speaks of fly-by-night operations” and “diploma mills”. While some do not charge high tuition, their quality is below standard.

Other teachers, who decline to be identified, tell disturbing stories too. One school, for instance, does not stock books in its library because its president argues that books are obsolete and everything can be downloaded from the Internet. A few semesters ago, another HEI was still using a textbook on international studies dated 1976. The world has changed since. 1976 was one year after the Vietnam War, 13 years before the fall of the Berlin wall and 25 years before September 11.

Another professor tells of a school that refuses to give faculty members money for photocopying exam papers. They either have to pay for copying themselves or write everything out on a blackboard.

The government of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is not blind to the problem of low standards in higher education. In fact, it has ambitious reform plans for the education sector. They include adding extra years to primary and secondary schooling.

There is indeed room for improvement, as CHED Chairperson Licuanan says: “The Aquino administration inherited a chaotic higher education system.” In her view it is marked by too many higher-education institutions and programmes, a job-skills mismatch, oversubscribed and undersubscribed programmes, deteriorating quality and limited access to quality higher education.

For these reasons, the CHED is pursuing a Higher Education Reform Agenda. Among other things, it aims to improve standards and expand access.

At the same time, the commission’s political clout is being tested at the ground level. For some time, it has been trying to close down a Manila school called the International Academy of Management and Economics. This school uses the acronym IAME, which sounds a bit like the vastly more prestigious Asian Institute of Management (AIM). The CHED accuses the IAME of “gross and serious violations, continued defiance and failure to comply with existing laws, rules and regulations”. Nonetheless, IAME is still in business. It claims to have close ties to President Aquino himself.

Shady schools, however, are not the only challenge. Because secondary education tends to be poor in the Philippines, HEIs take off from a rather low level. The writer and scholar Isagani Cruz, who is a visiting fellow at Oxford University and has taught at various top-tier HEIs in the Philippines, asserts that first year college in the Philippines is really only equivalent to high school in other countries in academic terms.

All these issues prevent education from effectively contributing to economic growth and national development. The issue is well understood. Bill Luz of the National Competitiveness Council states: “Many in the business community have complained about our state of education. Indeed in global competitive indices, we have been rated poorly in terms of quality of basic education, quality of science and math education.” He points out that cooperation between industry and academia must improve.

Indeed, many graduates lack the kind of skills and knowledge that employers expect of professionals. “A large number of college graduates are taking low productivity jobs,” was the assessment of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a country study of the Philippines in 2007. In the same document, the ADB bemoaned a “scarcity of skilled workers in industries such as information technology and business process outsourcing”.

Earlier this year, the World Bank made basically the same point about the Philippines in a report on higher education in Asia. It argued that there was a disconnect between the education system, government programmes and private sector needs. Unsurprisingly, the report recommended improving the quality of higher education in order to boost the professional competence of graduates.

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My thoughts on why it pays to rethink the meaning of education:

I’m sure I’m not the only one frustrated by this. But what can we do to be part of the solution?

If anything I’m not against education; just with the highly archaic system that puts a premium on tried-and-tested systems over innovation. Most of our schooling is based on grades and that one right answer; but when we go out we realize that there is more to life than getting straightforward answers. Life is not black and white, after all.

I’m not yet a parent but I think it’s important that parents nurture their kids to treasure learning rather than formal education. It starts by leading by example. What’s a degree when we cannot even stand up for ourselves when we lose our jobs, experience a state financial meltdown, or when conflict strikes?

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Note: Since I am reposting this article, I used rel=”canonical to properly attribute the work. This means, blog traffic goes to the original source and not to Anthroonfoot. I encourage you to use this when reposting someone else’s online work.

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Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 3

(If you haven’t read Part 1, you’ll find it here; and Part 2, here.)

So the question remains, Why am I proud of my parents? 

First off, my parents taught me that life should be dealt with head on with an open mind. They taught me that life has its ups and downs, and so I should develop the resilience to deal with it. An open mind, coupled with an open heart.

My parents taught me that in life, there are absolutely no double standards. Principles remain and so if these are challenged, I should be ready to speak up for what I believe in.

My parents taught me that hard work is key to success. Despite their well-off backgrounds, they chose to build their own lives together even if this meant having to live together secretly for a year until I was born. They lived in a small rented apartment, then when I was born moved to a house which was eventually paid off on my 25th birthday.

My parents taught me that there is nothing wrong with saying “No,” and that the key to failure is to try to please everybody. I am free to strive for things that I want to achieve even if that meant they couldn’t guide me professionally because the path is very different from theirs. But knowing that I’ve got their back 100% all through the journey is all I ever need.

My parents taught me that when people say not to do things because of what other people will think, I should put the comment in one ear and push straight to the other ear. This is the best advice I’ve ever received in life, and I’m glad they led by example.

My parents taught me that it’s okay to feel ugly, fat, and a failure. It’s not a mental issue. It’s these feelings that make us human.

My parents taught me, most of all, that life is indeed simple to live in. It is not as stressful, mean, or f****d as it is deemed to be. But if I put into the equation the want for fame, power and prestige, then I cannot expect my parents to wave their magic wands to make my life better. It’s a choice to make and many people are drawn to them. At 27, I should know by now life is a waste to be leading down that path.

… And these are the reasons why I’m proud of my parents. They taught me valuable lessons that I would never have learnt in school, read in books, or watched in documentaries. I may not have the best-paid job in the world, but I know I am complete. I am fulfilled. I am content. And that’s because of a grounded, liberating and nourishing life I was brought up in. Thanks to my parents. I’ll forever be grateful.

Dad and Mom.jpg

32 years and 30 pounds later.