Dr Siti Uzairiah Mohd Tobi
Bringing industrial expertise into academia obviously has its benefits, but for the individuals involved, the transition can involve a bit of a mind shift. Add to this the challenge of studying full time whilst looking after a young family - in addition to being thousands of miles from home - and you face a tough task! For Dr Siti Uzairiah Mohd Tobi single mindedness and the ability to call on her support networks when needed were essential, and her advice to current PhD students is to take a similar approach.
Before embarking on her PhD, Siti worked in the fields of valuation, property management and facilities management for 8 years; starting with Shah Alam City Council as a technician, then becoming Head of Property Management at Universiti Malaya. Whilst working she also completed her degree and Master’s programme as a part time student. At the time Malaysian universities were keen to recruit staff with industrial expertise, and Siti was offered a lecturing position at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. It was a career change that Siti relished, as she says “Although I have no academic background... because I love to share knowledge with people, I found that academia suited me well.” As UTM requires all lecturers to obtain a PhD it was decided that she would complete her doctoral studies at Salford’s School of the Built Environment. Siti cites the reputation of the school’s Research Institute for the Built and Human Environment as the reason for studying so far from home, “Also lots of experienced Professors in my field at BuHu, like Professor Keith Alexander and Prof Dilanthi Amaratunga (my supervisor).”
Siti describes the move to an academic way of thinking as a “turning point”. As she explains “The knowledge that I appreciated the most during my PhD is ‘research methodology’: the core that holds your research together. With that you can convince people; either they look at things objectively (quantitative) or subjectively (qualitative).” And it’s this knowledge that has since shaped Siti’s career path, “After completing my study at Salford I’m keen to share this knowledge with other young researchers, particularly in Malaysia.” On her return Siti recognised that the lack of expertise in the qualitative field in Malaysia would give her an opportunity, and so invested her own money into self-publishing a book on the topic, as well as working to promote understanding of research methodology through her Facebook
page and website
. This has worked so well that she now receives invites from other universities to deliver training on qualitative research - in addition to her academic career at UTM - which means that she has had to hire employees to handle her extra-curricular activities! “From this I look myself as an entrepreneur and able to provide employment opportunities to others. This is aligned with my knowledge in the social enterprise field and I’m so grateful with what I have right now and looking forward for more to come, in order for me to add value to others.”
With an academic career and a social enterprise on the go the future is looking bright for Siti, but it must have been hard work to get to this point? “The most challenging part was taking care of my family because I had a 9 month baby when I first enrolled at Salford, together with my 7 year old son.” After 3 months of study Siti decided to call in the cavalry, and so her relatives came on visits to the UK to help with child care. The cost of airfares, expenses and nursery fees meant that Siti didn’t have many opportunities to see much of the UK or Europe while she was here, but she turned this into an advantage “I needed to set my priority and my priority was ‘graduate on time’. I think students should set their priority and focus towards achieving it. Thank God (Alhamdulillah) I completed everything; the viva with minor corrections and submitting my hard bound copy within 42 months.” To anyone struggling with focus the advice Siti offers is simple, but demonstrably effective “Don’t compare yourself with other students... Be clear about what you need to achieve and keep track of your progress. If you have a problem, do something about it, make a decision, don’t just sit there and keep quiet.”
As soon as she had finished her PhD Dr Mohd Tobi returned to her position at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and immediately pursued her interest in methodology by delivering training in Nvivo, Literature Reviews and Case Study Design Applications (amongst many others); culminating in her appointment as Research Methodology Coordinator for Social Science. She is grateful to her employer for funding her time at Salford, describing it as “a great opportunity for me to improve my English language and change my mind set to speak English with others in public.” She is also full of praise for her supervisor with whom she continues to collaborate; they are currently working on a bid for the British Council. As to her plans for the future Siti is typically focussed “My plan for the future is to be an excellent academician, as well as a successful entrepreneur.” From all her achievements so far, we’d say Dr Mohd Tobi is well on her way already.