PhD Candidate, Community Nutrition

Chen Seong Ting, 2002

Hello, I’m Seong Ting! I am in the second year of a PhD (Permanent Head Damage :D ) program, researching on Community Nutrition. My focus is on Nutrition for Persons with Disabilities, e.g. cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, autism, mental retardation, intellectual disabilities. Because I work a lot with local communities, I get to interact with people of different cultural, social and economic backgrounds.

My goal is simple – improve life for the disabled through better nutrition.
My research project can be divided into 2 phases.

In most cases, Phase 1 outcome is malnutrition. What I find interesting is Phase 2 – the intervention stage! We have to find creative ways, to improve or prevent worsening of conditions.

I have chosen to focus on ‘Community-based’ rehabilitation centers because it provides a good platform for the project.

At these ‘sekolah cacat’ the disabled learn songs, ABC’s, arts & crafts and the teachers prepare 1 meal for them everyday. We target the teachers by holding workshops for them, to inform them about nutrition and how to manage OKU (orang kurang upaya).

Simple board games are also used to influence OKU’s (and their parents’) food habits and choices.
Because this is a “fixed” group, data collection and analysis also becomes easier.

I find my work fulfilling, but it can be challenging.

Every year, I have to re-apply for funding for transportation to rural areas, reimbursements for respondents, assessment tools, teaching aids etc. It becomes very difficult to get these grants when respondents drop out or when I don’t get good data. But I haven’t quit!!!? :mad:

I’m still here because this work is meaningful.When I was defending my project proposal for admission into this postgraduate program, the panel commented that OKU is ‘golongan tak ada harap’, “Why do you still waste your time and money on that?!?” To me, even though OKU are the bottom billions mostly in the rural area… their welfare is still important and should not be neglected. Economic transformation plans should include these rural areas and the disabled.

If we want to be a ‘well-balanced’ nation,
NO ONE should be left behind.? ;)

Click here to read about my journey.

My Journey

I decided to do F6 Bio after SPM. Private colleges were too expensive even with scholarships, and I wanted to give myself another 2 years to think about what I wanted to do in the future. My time in F6 was very meaningful. It was not a waste of time (like I was told) and I learnt a lot.

I was offered my 3rd choice – Dietetics at USM Kelantan, which is the health campus offering medical, dentistry and allied health courses. At first, I was reluctant to take the program because it was in Kelantan.

BUT… I took the offer and survived the 4-year program in miserable Kelantan. The beginning was 超级 tough! Accessibility and availability of entertainment in Kelantan is super lacking. After crying for the entire first semester? :cry: ? I finally settled down. When I look back though, I am grateful that I was placed there, because…

When you are forced out of your comfort zone, you are
FORCED TO GROW! Living in Kelantan made me a stronger
and more mature person.

After graduating, I returned to Ipoh and started my first job as a dietitian. Serving in the private health care sector as a health care professional (but not as a doctor) was not easy. I was in the dietetics and food service department. Being so ‘fresh’ in the industry, I ‘kena’ many complaints, even though I was just trying to do my job…

Actually, it was quite disappointing to have so many complaints.? :sad: ? At that time, my boss was about to quit and she told me that I would be appointed as Head of Department (HOD) when she left in a year. But I received an offer to further my studies.Knowing that getting a PhD would provide greater stability and better pay, I decided to pursue the program. (Can anyone guess where it was?!?)

And so… I went back to ULU Kelantan,
where once again,
I faced many challenges.

I found out that a PhD is not EASY! Research needs a lot of determination. In community nutrition, I have to work a lot with volunteers. Finding participants who are COMMITTED is super hard. When participants quit, my data is affected and all my hard work can be lost. Sometimes, it can also be hard to get good guidance from supervisors, so I must learn to be independent. All this stress increases when I have to re-apply for scholarships at the end of the year, but I have ZERO RESULTS!

In my first year, I kept wondering if I should quit. Sometimes, I even regretted giving up the HOD position. All these negative feelings were strongest when I had disappointing research results.

After one year in this ‘Yo-Yo’ state, I made a decision –
I cannot turn back and I have to move forward.
No more ‘Yo-Yo-ing’!!!

I had to renew my conviction: (1) I recalled my initial goals, aims and wishes, and kept reminding myself of why I chose to be here in the first place. Whether it is passion, money, status, interest, peer pressure, mother’s wish… I had to give myself a thousand reasons to persevere. (2) I had to learn to be positive and manage stress. (3) Lastly, I had to remind myself of what I had gained from my journey thus far. For me, my fulfillment came from chances to attend local/overseas conferences, presenting my work at the international level, collaborating, brainstorming and meeting new friends with the same research interests.

In other words, I found that life was better after I changed my
? :wink:

Currently, work is ‘so far so good’. Research and results are still uncertain (that’s why PhD = Permanent Head Damage), but life too… is uncertain. The only thing we can control is our attitude. Now when life gets tough, I tell myself that “it’s ok” and keep fighting to achieve my goals.

In my second year, I am slowly starting to enjoy research. I am starting to see my hard work ‘reach’ my target population and they are also starting to appreciate my work. For a malnourished cerebral palsy teen. We try to help with his nutrition by introducing feeding aids food texture modification, etc Sometimes this is not enough. I will act as a counselor by encouraging and giving moral support to the family.

I also work with a disabled obese Down Syndrome subject, Mr. ‘A’, who was also diagnosed with diabetes. He can’t control his appetite and knows nothing about healthy or unhealthy food, so we explained to him that he has to control his eating habits. With cooperation from his family… he is doing quite well… Although the results are not obvious, I can feel that his family appreciates it.

I feel satisfied not because I can get data from from my subjects
so that I can graduate and ‘bye bye…’

It’s the trust, empathy, passion, relationships built… that give me satisfaction. ?? Sometimes I feel like what I did was sooooo out of my ‘job’. But we are researchers, we search for new findings, we innovate. If we face a problem, we have to look for solutions, even if it is out of my ‘job’.

Let me tell you another secret… I am also starting to like Kelantan… It’s so different from the days when I was working in the ‘high-class’ hospital.

Life is simple here. You may call it a ‘kampung life’ but it feels good sometimes. People here have no ‘udang di sebalik batu’. They are friendly, simple and helpful, not competitive or ‘kiasu’. They respect you, even if you are just a student.

To juniors, this is my last ‘cheong hei’ advise…? In my opinion, you can dream but at the same time you have to be practical and realistic. Everything happens for a reason. If your parents cannot afford to send you to a private college, please be considerate. Do not ask them to mortgage the house just to let you do medicine in IMU (I have seen this before). There is always another path. Be focused and you will excel in it.

The best way out is always through.
The only disability in life is a bad attitude.? ;)
(This is the last sentence in one of my presentations)

Best wishes,

Seong Ting

  1. nice, really nice.I congratulates you.I am also trying for PhD(permanent head damage)in community nutrition but i dont know when i will get admit in any university.

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