Queen of Perseverance or just a Bad Academic Writer

I started my academic career on a high – so much potential, so high hopes. I immediately started working on a systematic literature review on a type of behavioral intervention for students with autism. Here is my long trek in the valley of despondence.

October 2013: Submitted manuscript to Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
March 2014: Decision – revise and resubmit, but reviewers wanted statistical analyses which we were not willing to attempt, so decided not to resubmit

March 2014: Submitted to Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ETADD)
June 2014: Feedback came – manuscript too long, need to shorten. Took them three months to tell us that!

July 2014: Submitted shortened version to ETADD
October 2014: Decision – rejected

January 2015: Submitted to Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice
April 2015: Decision – rejected

July 2015: Submitted to Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs
September 2015: Withdrew manuscript from the journal. Editorial board was going through editor change and the manuscript was just sitting there.

January 2016: Submitted to International Journal of Disability, Development and Education (IJDDE)
May 2016: Decision – revise and resubmit

September 2016: Resubmitted to IJDDE
December 2016: Decision – rejected

January 2017: Submitted to International Journal of Special Education
October 2017: Decision – accepted. I found out by accident that the paper was published in IJSE. The journal did not inform me of their decision.

Each submission to a new journal took more work. Some journals do not follow the APA format, and I had to reformat the whole document. Some journals use British spelling, and I had to recheck the document. Furthermore, since it was a literature review, it was also nearing its expiry date before I had to add newer articles.

I’m a little heartbroken that the manuscript that I worked so hard on went to an unranked journal. But my perseverance was running out.

Perhaps I should write about my slog in the swamp of despair next? I have yet to see the light at the end of that swampy tunnel yet.

On Writing

I have to write so much in my work. Emails and reports, grants and papers. Spent the past few days revising a manuscript for the third time.

I also have to give feedback to students’ papers and often times the feedback comments are writing related.

I tried to read those writing books and brush up on my grammar. Even with all that, I wish I could be confident to know when to use “behaviours” and not “behaviour”. The plural and singular stuff always trips me up. Commas are also tricky. Can I blame my lack of grammar usage confidence on the does-it-sound-right strategy that I grew up with?

Maybe I should go for a professional development course on grammar usage. Or maybe I should just reread those grammar books again.

Work-life balance

I was reading some online posts about tips for work-life balance. On one site that lists multiple tips, one of the tips is to work from home on some days, but the following tip is to leave the work in the office, don’t take it home. Seems contradictory, right?

For me, some tasks, especially writing tasks, are tied to a major chunk of procrastination. When I plan to do writing at home, I am so prone to procrastination and will often end the day feeling really bad because I “wasted” the whole day. If I do this on a weekend, I would totally burn my weekend — no work done, no true rest.

This year, I would like to rid my home of I-should-be-working guilt. It’s Saturday 12:13pm, and I’m in my AC-less office, revising a manuscript.

Wintery wetland

I don’t remember it ever been so cold for so long in Singapore – below 22C for several days now. It’s nice, I like it.

One of my new year goals was to — Not do any office work during the weekend, and not feel guilty about it. Unfortunately, this weekend I had planned to do some work but ended not doing it anyway, and felt a lot of guilt because of that. Pretty much spoiled my weekend…blah 🙁

Contemplations on being someone’s boss

I went through many years as a student, graduate student, and then working in universities under department heads. Never really had someone work for me, or directly under me, until I hired two research assistants (RAs) for my research grants. I’ve learned a lot about being someone’s “boss” in the close to 2 years since I had my RAs.

I’ve learned that I am accountable for their errors. I had to apologize to a school principal for one of those errors.

I’ve learned that I have to correct them when they make errors. Sometimes this involves having difficult conversations with them. One time a young RA brought up an issue in front of a group of teachers, who were our research participants, but that issue should only be discussed among the research team and not with the teachers. So it was awkward to have to answer her question in front of the teachers. I was annoyed, so was my colleague, by this awkward situation. I was thinking of letting this indiscretion go, but my colleague insisted that I must address this matter. I’m a non-confrontational type of person and dreaded having this talk with the RA. But I did it, had the talk, pointed out her error, and she was surprisingly receptive to the mild reprimand/constructive feedback.

I’ve learned that I need to put people first, and not my research grant first. At the end of 2016 when my first RA’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my RA was devastated and had to support her mom and family during that time. She missed several weeks of work. It wasn’t an intense time yet for the research project but I was quite worried that she would not be able to do the work, and whether I would need to let her go and find another RA. Research projects have tight deadlines and there isn’t much room for delay. But when I met with her and listened to her stories I empathized with her. So I pushed back all my grant worries, removed the “principal investigator” hat, put on my “friend” hat, and tried my best to support her then. Eventually things stabilized and she was able to get back to work.

I’ve learned to trust them and not micro-manage. Let them do their work, not check on their progress so often, and be ok if they are not in their office all the time. Both of them are dependable and do good work, so this is easy.

I will miss working with them when the research grants end this year.

December 2017 Fitness Tracker

* 2 Dec 6:29pm 49:00 *374cal Ave129 Max163 — FB HIIT cardio & upper body workout
* 3 Dec 4:18pm 49:00 *360cal Ave126 Max155 — FB Brutal butt & thigh workout — I did it!
* 11 Dec 6:47pm 49:00 *237cal Ave103 Max125 — FB Upper body workout for people who get bored easily — Slowly getting back into routine.
* 16 Dec 5:40pm 41:00 *326cal Ave132 Max161 — FB Best butt workout — Felt so out of shape after several days of cough and congestion 🙁
* 17 Dec 3:26pm 54:00 *385cal Ave124 Max159 — FB Abs workout for people who get bored easily + Fast paced total body cardio & strength workout
* 19 Dec 7:22pm 35:01 *256cal Ave126 Max157 — Day 2: FB Upper body workout challenge for busy people — surprisingly I could do the tricep dips

I’m tired of posting my monthly fitness trackers on Facebook. Noone’s really that interested in seeing how many workouts I had or how many calories that I burned. But I still like to keep track of that, so I’m moving the fitness trackers here.

December 2017 wasn’t a productive fitness month. Two trips to Malaysia truncated my month, and lots of excuses and laziness.

I’m going to start off 2018 magnificently with a 1000-calorie workout on new year’s day!

2016: What happened to my June and July?!

Time pass by too quickly. I had a long list of writing projects to complete during the June and July break but only accomplished two 🙁


I completed the grant application. This was quite an extensive writing project. I think it is pretty good. I hope the grant committee feels the same.


I revised the manuscript by my masters student. It is now with the 3rd author for checking. I hope I can get it out this Wednesday.

I should get a draft of the paper on the equine-assisted learning project done before I leave for Melbourne. I hope to submit this by mid-September.

Then I have to revise the autism literature review paper by the end of August. I am not confident that I can revise it to a state that will satisfy the reviewers 🙁

Then there is that paper on special educators’ perspectives on evidence-based practices. Maybe that can go out in October? Sigh…

Reflecting on my budgies, TJ and Maxx

This is therapy: writing about the budgies as I deal with the loss of TJ.

In August 2013, when I had the birds for about 2 months, I described TJ as being unstable, would peck unexpectedly, would readily step on my finger even outside the cage, and would try food that I offer him. I described Maxx as cautious and loved to eat.

After having them for close to 3 years, their personalities have developed and are quite distinct.



TJ was the leader. He was the bully. The skinnier flightless bird would boss the bigger bird around.

TJ was the touchable budgie. He would let me pat his belly and wing area. He loved to be scratched around his neck and head. I’ve forgotten that it took a long time before he would let me scratch him. He enjoyed bath-tub baths but only occasionally. He would swim like a duck in the plastic container of water. During shower baths, he would turn his back to me and face the wall instead. Sometimes when he hasn’t showered in a long time, he would climb to the top corner of the cage and wiggled his wings and fluffed out his feathers to get more of the water sprays. It was always so fun to see him do that.

Whenever I pulled out the box underneath their cage, TJ would be the one to climb down and eyed the contents of the box eagerly. If I pulled out the spray millet, he would go bonkers. He was always the more curious and cautious bird, always very observant.

TJ was not much of an eater. He was the pickier eater. It was harder to get him to try new food. He loved corn, oranges, apples, sweet beans, pea sprouts, broccoli, and seeds. He was the seed junkie.

TJ had a weaker beak so it was fun to play with him because his bites were not painful. Because he was flightless, he was also the one that depended on me more to bring him back up to the cage when he accidentally fell (or not-accidentally jump) off the cage to the floor.



Maxx is the bigger bird but tends to follow TJ’s lead. When TJ refused to try a new food, most of the time Maxx would not try as well. When TJ jumps from the cage to the ground, Maxx would usually follow.

Maxx loves to eat. In the evenings, he is the one who would be going up and down the cage to eat the seeds at the bottom of the cage. He would readily eat pellets, and probably could be converted to a pellet diet.

Maxx does not like bath-tub baths but is very agreeable to shower baths. He faces the water sprays and takes the direct hit.

Maxx is not a touchable budgie. He tolerates light pats on his beak and chest occasionally. No scratching allowed for Maxx. He has a strong bite but lately hasn’t bitten me to the point of pain. More like playful-but-don’t-push-it bites.

Maxx pees a lot. I was very worried about this for a long time. But then in January this year, when I brought TJ to see the Avian Specialist, and Maxx got a free consultation, the doctor said that birds do pee and that’s normal! I haven’t read a similar statement on the internet but since the doctor said so, I have been assured.

Maxx is a little less aware and tended to watch for TJ’s reaction to things before he reacted. In terms of things, TJ might be the one to approach new things first. Maxx is also more nervous and jumpy compared to TJ. But then Maxx was also the first one to climb up my shoulder and hang out there!

Maxx is a beautiful budgie. Very regal English-looking!

Getting to know them

I have had the birds for close to three years. We have our set routines. I’ve forgotten that things were not always like these. At the beginning, they would not climb on my finger or eat food off my hand. They refused to eat fruits and veges and acted as if they did not see the food in their cage. They refused to go into the shower cage in the beginning. They did not like to be touched. But over months and years, we changed and adapted to each other.

Shower routine: TJ would be the first to get into the shower cage, followed by Maxx. TJ would stand on the left, Maxx on the right. Maxx would be the first to get out of the shower cage, then I have to coaxed TJ to come out.

Outside perch: TJ would be standing in the front, Maxx at the back.

Bedtime routine: When the living rooms lights were turned off, both of them would get into a fight as to who would get the chosen swing.

Morning window routine: TJ would stand on my right hand, Maxx on the left.

Food cups: TJ would eat from the front cup, Maxx the back. And after eating for a while, they would switch cups.

Vege/fruit/treat: There wasn’t a preferred location. The other piece of fruit/vege/treat was always better, so there would always be small fights and run-arounds in the cage.

Fights: I couldn’t say for sure who always won the fights. I think Maxx was often the winner during beak battles. But for some reason, TJ continued to be the boss.

Watching TJ die

TJ was already rather lethargic the day before. When I woke up in the morning, I was afraid that he might already be dead. I came out and couldn’t see TJ on his usual perch. He was standing at the bottom of the cage by the food bowl. For a while, I was a little encouraged thinking he might be hungry and was eating. But he stayed at the bottom of the cage the whole time. And as per usual, I took the birds to the window to look outside. TJ was still so eager to climb on my finger for our morning routine. He even flapped his wings a little.

I quickly got some sweet corn ready and placed the corn on top of the cage. Maxx went for it immediately, but TJ just turned his back and looked away from his favorite corn. I realized then that things are not good. I decided he needed his own space to recuperate and so I set up a hospital cage for TJ. I placed a wooden perch near the bottom of the cage, with food and water. Placed him in there and covered the cage partially with a towel.

But he wasn’t eating or drinking. I gave him the antifungal medicine because it’s supposed to be taken without food. I couldn’t give other meds because he wasn’t eating. I even placed spray millet in the cage but he wasn’t eating.

I started to google and read that I could grind some of the bird pellets and add apple juice and handfeed it to TJ. I ground up some pellets, added water, because I didn’t have apple juice at home, and tried to feed TJ. He refused to eat. I placed him back in the cage and hoped that all he needed was peace and quiet rest.

I had wanted to stay home to write. But I was so worried about TJ that I walked out to the mini-mart to get some apple juice, or Pedialyte or baby food to try and get TJ to eat. The mini-mart only had apple juice so I bought that and some coconut water.

By 6 pm, I tried to give him the antibiotics and antacid. Hardly got any into his beak. Tried to get him to eat the ground pellets with apple juice or even drink the apple juice. No chance. He wasn’t eating. I soaked a cotton wool with apple juice and let him bite it and perhaps get some juice into him. Placed him back into the cage and he was still standing on the perch.

I went to observe him again later and saw him jumped down from the perch and wobbled around, like his legs were too weak to hold him up anymore. It was at that very moment that it hit me that TJ’s end was very near.

I quickly got a cloth, took him out, and held him in my hands. From that moment onwards, I pretty much cried the whole time.

But he didn’t go so quickly.

I held him for quite awhile, even brought him to the windows to look outside like how I would usually do in the morning. After a while, he started to struggle again, so I placed him back in the cage.

It was so painful to watch. He could hardly keep his body upright. He would lie in weird positions in the cage. All this while, he struggled to breathe. At one point, one of his legs straightened out and he was chest down and couldn’t stand up.

I had to go to the bedroom because it was so hard to watch him struggle like that. Finally at around 8:15pm, I found him lying on his back and his two legs horizontally straight. I touched his chest and did not feel any heart beat.

I took the hospital cage to the kitchen without letting Maxx see TJ in the cage. The whole time they were separated, Maxx would climb down his big cage and look at TJ. All the time, always looking for his buddy.

I wasn’t sure of what to do with his body at first. Considered burying him but didn’t know where. Finally, I took a small cardboard box, lined it with paper towels, placed a sprig of spray millet (his favorite treat) and some chew toys, and placed TJ’s body in it. Wrote a goodbye note on the box, tied a string around it, and placed the box in the rubbish chute.

Watching TJ die was agonizing. So much pain and tears.

Today, when I brought Maxx for a much needed shower and there was only one bird in the cage, I cried a little 🙁

And then when I brought out a sweet pea and realized I didn’t need to break it in half and put the 2 halves at different locations in the cage because there was only one bird, I teared a little 🙁 But I still broke the sweet pea in two and put them at the usual locations in the cage out of habit.

And when I brought Maxx to look out the window, and there was only one bird on my hand 🙁

Whenever I look at the cage, and there is only Maxx standing in there 🙁

I miss my cutie-bird TJ so much!