How Gritty Are You? A Reflective Note

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The most gritty people always want to improve themselves, no matter how long and how hard it takes. Salim, our columnist, will share his experience and also some take-away points he learned from his friends about grittiness. Let’s check our this article!

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“You took IELTS six times?” I responded surprisingly when Arfan, my fellow Indonesian students at University of Queensland (UQ) Business School, told me about his experience in sitting the IELTS exams. I never imagined that the father of two had struggled that hard to score 6.5 in IELTS, the minimum requirement for admissions to a Master’s program at UQ Business School.

“Did your institution cover funding for all of your IELTS tests?” I asked again. I had noticed that an Indonesian public sector institution, where Arfan worked back home, was the sponsor for his postgraduate study in Australia.

Arfan smiled and then answered, “My institution only covered one IELTS test, Salim. So I had to pay the rest by myself!” My eyebrows were raised when he said so. What a struggle! Not only did he have to prepare himself to be successful in getting a good IELTS score, but he also had to allocate his own budget to take the relatively expensive tests.

Arif, a colleague of mine, had a different story. He had long dreamt of pursuing a Master’s degree overseas even before I joined our institution. He prepared himself and tried very hard to win a scholarship, but he was not as lucky as his colleagues who could secure a scholarship after their first try. But all he did was keep trying. And after the fourth try, Arif could finally win an Australian government scholarship and received an offer from an Australian university.

In such cases, I might be luckier than Arfan and Arif. I could secure a Master’s degree scholarship after my very first try. I needed to sit the exam once only to obtain an IELTS score of 6.5. Further, I did not have to apply for a Master’s program to multiple universities since I received an offer from UQ after my first try. I was very grateful to know that the universe supported me in those endeavours.

However, from Arfan’s and Arif’s experiences, I could learn a very important lesson that would definitely be relevant in all facets of my life, namely the importance of ‘grit’. The term ‘grit’ has been increasingly well-known after being popularised by Professor Angela Duckworth in her best-selling book. Duckworth defined grit as ‘passion and perseverance applied toward long-term achievement’. And I saw such a positive personality trait in Arfan, in his struggle to achieve a required IELTS score; as well as in Arif, in his endeavour to win a scholarship.

I might not need to demonstrate a high level of grit  in succeeding in IELTS and winning a Master’s scholarship. However, I then learned that grit was absolutely required if I want to succeed as well in my postgraduate study. Becoming a student at one of the world’s top 100 universities, I could understand that I faced a demanding academic environment.

Sometimes I envied Australian students in my classes for their being seemingly ‘effortless’ in obtaining a good result. In contrast, I had to struggle much harder only to pass a course. Such a struggle became amplified  since I was learning a new discipline, completely in a foreign language. But then I understood that I and my Australian classmates might have to demonstrate a different level of hard work to succeed in our studies.

In such a hard work to survive in a top university, I learned a lot from Nanda, my fellow Indonesian student at UQ. I could clearly see his strong will to achieve not just a good mark, but an excellent one. Amidst his busy daily schedule—he also worked part-time as a restaurant waiter and also a tutor at UQ, he frequently stayed until late at night at library to study. Like me, he also needed a longer time—compared to those smart Australian students—to comprehend what being discussed in a particular course. But he made no excuse. All he showed me was keep trying and learning, persistently and passionately. In every academic assignment, he always made his best efforts to submit an outstanding piece of paper.

And you could expect what kind of result that Nanda obtained. He got an opportunity to become a tutor in two courses at UQ Business School. He could enrol in a Master’s research project in his last semester. At the end of his study, he was listed among high-achieving students and proudly received a Dean’s Honour Roll for his excellent academic performance.

How about me? Certainly I also worked hard during my Master’s study at UQ. Out of my four semesters there, I was awarded a Dean’s Commendation for High Achievement in two semesters. But, unfortunately, I failed to demonstrate a high level of grit; while Nanda was able to do so. I also struggled and put in my best efforts, but not as passionately and persistently as he did. My final result could only be considered good, not excellent.

After the graduation day, I flew back home to rejoin my public sector institution. I wondered, could I still pursue my dream to further my education to a PhD? What are my chances to make the dream come true? Honestly speaking, I did not feel optimistic at that time. My Master’s degree was a full-coursework one. I was not the brightest student in my cohort. I had no portfolio in academic publications. I knew no professors who might recommend me for admission to a PhD program.

I was not sure what I should do next. But clearly, I refused to give up. Another hard work was soon to begin once I set foot back home…

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It was the last day of Ramadan in mid-June 2018. I opened my email account and noticed that there was an incoming email from an Australia’s leading university. I could hear my heart beating fast. Finally I found that much-awaited document: an unconditional letter of offer for admission to the university’s PhD program.

I breathed a sigh of relief. After the announcement that I was successful to secure a PhD scholarship from the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) in late 2017, I only had a limited time to secure a letter of acceptance from one of LPDP’s designated universities.

I was very grateful to find out that my hard work all these years had finally been paid off. I proved what Duckworth has said. It was not your IQ or talent all you need to be successful. Instead, it was passion and sustained persistence that would guide you to successfully achieving your goals!

That Ramadan morning, I recalled the journey that I had gone through. It was not a very easy one, indeed. Only weeks after I arrived home from my UQ study, I started to build my portfolio in academic research. I managed to collect data and write papers amidst my daily routine. To disseminate my research findings, I actively attended academic conferences. When I submitted those papers to various international journals, I sometimes experienced bitter facts: being rejected, or having to receive tough criticisms from peer reviewers.

Slowly but sure, my portfolio became increasingly developed. This brought me to many golden opportunities. I was invited as a panelist at a Kuala Lumpur international seminar and spoke on the role of women in community leadership. I won best paper awards from an international journal and two international conferences. Additionally, I frequently received invitations to be a reviewer for several international journals.

However, despite all portfolio I had built, finding a PhD supervisor was an exhausting experience. I might not the best candidate applying to a PhD program, and hence I had anticipated that such an effort could take a relatively long time. Fortunately, a professor of an Australian university was interested in supervising me. He then interviewed me and provided me with a great support and a recommendation letter.

Here I am now, preparing myself prior for commencing my PhD study next year. I am very excited, and also anxious at the same time.  I must not expect that the PhD journey would be always easy. I should anticipate challenges along the journey. Nevertheless, I remind myself to always have a high level of grit; to always be passionate and perseverant in my endeavours to achieve my goals.

And I remember one of Quranic verses my father taught me when I was young, “Verily, God will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness…”

Photo source: ADictionary