top of page

As I close the chapter on my first year in the PhD program, it's time to pause and reflect on my journey—the highs, the lows, and the paths I plan to tread in the coming year.


  • Celebrating my first publication as first author

  • Secured a scholarship, an award, and a summer research grant.

  • Maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA.

  • Admitted to the Master's program in Applied Statistics.

  • Outlined three potential research topics for the future.

  • Gained confidence in discussing Causal Inference, enriched by courses STAT 333 and SOC 952

  • Became more proficient with R Markdown and LaTeX through ED PSYCH 711

  • Improved my ability to handle qualitative research, thanks to insights from EDPOL 850 and SOC 753

  • Developed a deeper historical understanding from HIST 160 and following events in Southeast Asia

  • Learned to accept and utilize feedback more effectively in EDPOL 701.

  • Maintained a healthy diet, avoided fast food, and managed my workload effectively to prevent burnout.


  • Encountered setbacks with a scholarship, a fellowship, and an award rejection.

  • Did not complete two targeted certificates and faced a review paper rejection.

  • Did not manage to keep this blog as updated as I wished.

  • Focus and Health Routines: Struggle with maintaining focus and did not frequent the gym or meditate as intended.

  • Still an introvert and found it tough to talk in large crowd

New Lifestyle Incorporations:

  • Planning and Reflection: Adopted Notion for better planning and the Zettelkasten system for book noting.

  • Health and Commuting: Included regular eye and back massages and increased biking to school.

  • Tech Enhancements: Invested in new tools like a screen extension and a Remarkable device for enhanced focus during reading sessions.

  • AI Assistance: Utilized ChatGPT for coding and grammar checks.

  • New Companion: Welcomed a Jelly Cat into my life.

Top Ten Highlights of the Academic Year:

1. Best Book: The Culture Trap: Ethnic Expectations and Unequal Schooling for Black Youth by Derron Wallace

2. Unexpected Learning Experience: Gender discussions in Nancy's class, sparking a new research interest and unexpected topics covered that put me in self doubt (most of the time)

3. Most Revisited Book: The Effect By Huntington Klein

4. New Fashion Find: Isabella Fiord - great handbag brand which was discontinued.

5. Best Tech: Remarkable - Awesome for reading and note taking

6. Favorite Album: Ha Tran's Nhung Con song ngon tay

7. Top TV Series: Blossom Shanghai directed and produced by Wong Kar-wai.

8. Favorite Song: "Tell the Kids I love them" by Obito ft Shiki

9. Memorable Moment: Moved to tears by Le Ly Hayslip’s narratives of the Vietnam War in Madison

10. Best lesson learnt: Just keep applying, you will at least get something out of the process.

Top 10 Lows of the Academic Year:

  1. Doubting Research Fit: Hours lying on the floor, questioning if my research question fits the current academic dialogue.

  2. Fertility and PhD Challenges: Trying to merge my fertility journey with my PhD path.

  3. Reflecting on Marriage: Quietly questioning the future of my marriage

  4. Sharing Too Soon: Learning the importance of not revealing my research ideas prematurely.

  5. Silence in Discussions: Struggling to find words or questions during classroom discussions.

  6. Physical Strain: Experiencing headaches, insomnia, and general body aches from stress.

  7. Facing Rejections: Enduring a week filled with multiple rejections.

  8. Missed Classes: Losing sleep and subsequently missing class the next day.

  9. Unfinished Readings: Consistently failing to complete required class readings.

  10. Feeling Disconnected: Feeling out of place and disconnected in the classroom environment.

Goals for the Coming Year:

  • Launch a Substack: To review books and share monthly education news updates from the Southeast regions.

  • Organizational Skills: Develop a more efficient system for file management on my drive.

  • Language Learning: Begin the journey of learning Chinese.

  • Be more serious with exercise and wellness

27 views0 comments

As I pause to reflect on my PhD journey so far, I feel compelled to start this "Classroom Chronicles" series for my personal retrospection. In this space, I'll be breaking down my experiences into four distinct sections, each centered on a specific course I'm either taking or auditing this semester. We're already at Week 6 of the 15-week stretch, so there's a lot to unpack in this initial entry. My intention, moving forward, is to keep these reflections concise, capturing the essence of my academic musings more frequently. Diving into this self-reflective exercise, I hope to chart my growth, challenges, and learnings along the way. Let the introspection begin!

Introduction to Education Policy Studies

This class is a great introduction to conceptualize my research.

  • Elevator pitch: This is the first time I have a chance to practice my elevator pitch. An “elevator pitch” is a chance to situate yourself while attending different conferences and workshop. Normally, it should include terms about: 1) your discipline, 2) field, 3) research methods, 4) theoretical framework, 5) specific groups, 6) time periods, or 7) other key words. This is the first chance

  • Position yourself: Engaging in this exercise has been deeply reflective for me. It compels me to clarify my position on ontology, epistemology, and methodology. Following this, I needed to represent my research topic visually using a Venn diagram, necessitating a thorough review of my work. At this juncture, I grapple with striking a balance for my research topic: ensuring it possesses a unique and novel aspect while remaining pertinent to the current field. This remains an open question I would love to resolve in the future.

Introduction to Comparative International Education

The experience has been very helpful in conceptualising my study and pertinent ideas connected to my topic in the field of comparative education. It's fascinating to learn about the role economists play in this field, as well as the critiques levelled at their overgeneralizations. From the class, I'm eager to dive deeper into discussions about human capital theory. Moreover, understanding the dependency theory, neo-colonialism, and the world system theory will be really valuable if I decide to delve into the Vietnamese education system for my research.

Identity and Motivation

This class serves as a reading group for me to understand how identity plays a role in motivation. The first week reading is Jacquelynne's. Identity, according to Jacquelynne, may be conceptualised in terms of two main sets of self perceptions: (a) perceptions related to abilities, features, and competences; and (b) perceptions linked to personal values and aspirations. Identity can be malleable. Given my adulthood, I resonates with this statement. I was born in Vietnam but have studied in various countries. I notice a change in myself as a result of my exposure to various environments. That is why my favorite quote from the reading is “Within my theoretical frame, individuals have multiple personal and collective/identities that change in content, salience, and centrality over situations and over time”. Finally, there is a co-construction of "we" and "me" selves. I appreciate how Jacquelynne describes how each individual has agency in interpreting and constructing social roles and experiences that help to reinforce, redefine, or undermine certain personal and social identities. It explains how comparable situations may "generate" various identities through the "interpreting" and "creating" processes.

In the class, I was introduced to the primary theories that often serve as foundational anchors for research in the field. These include: Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), Expectancy-Value Theory, Self-Determination Theory, Attribution Theory, Goal Orientation Theory, and others. While the Self-Determination Theory tends to be more dominant, many of these theories have overlapping concepts.

One framework we would look at to think of all possible variables is Bronfenbrenner's.

Applied Regression

This is an undergraduate course for those who studied Data Sciences. Professor Hyunseung Kang was exceptional in his way of explaining and challenging student to think intuitively. From this class I have started to question my understanding of regression from basic. I've borrowed The Mostly Harmless Econometrics" by Joshua D. Angrist and Steffen Pischke for revision. One challenge I've encountered is self-studying Math and Statistics at this stage of my life. If anyone has any advice or strategies on this topic, I'd greatly appreciate your help!

Personal Project

I've finally learned web scraping, thanks to the assistance of ChatGPT. I also found the importance of understand the logic of multiple coding languages. As Rvest works for the job, it will take me years to complete the assignment without understanding Python. Google Collab is a great source for you to run multisession as well. I have learnt all these tips while sharing my struggle with my group of friends. So have the courage to share your struggle!

It's all for today,

Happy Autumn, everybody!

Other miscellaneous

  • Hidden curriculum

  • How to make semester plan

  • Teaching techniques:

    • I like how Professor Ran has groups of three individuals introduce themselves to one another. Following that, the group member will introduce their fellow group member. This strategy will help shy group members. There are nameplates to help the instructor remember the student' names, but she also instructs them to record three fun facts. It is compatible with memory joggers.

    • Low effort mini task: I appreciate how the teachers present our weekly reflections. It enables me to consolidate my learning and relate it to past lessons/readings

  • Cultivating relationship between teachers and students: From my course on Identity and Motivation, I discovered the significance of fostering personal relationships with students to enhance their motivation and learning outcomes. It serves as a reminder for me, as an educator, to push beyond my introverted tendencies to become a more effective teacher.

  • Reading tips: I like how we have instructions/tips for reading assignment. I will help student navigating through the text.

P.S: I came across this video and it reminded me the importance of education. Hope you enjoy this video with me!

47 views0 comments

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

I am finally admitted to the Education Policy Studies PhD program at UW-Madison. Out of 04 applications, I have 4/4 acceptances (LSE, Sussex, Bristol, and UW-Madison). Comparison to last years 0% acceptance rate, what did I do differently?

I can summarize my application stories into the following questions:

Who I am as a researcher?

I have always wanted to study education policy. My goal unchanged since past years. In the last application cycle, the topic I wanted to study was based on my past professional and academic experience. It is, however, not my true passion. As I cold emailed potential professors for the potentials of mentorship. I receive zero reply. Last year, I was indeed rejected in all programs I applied to.

Such failure is very hard to swallow. I decided to change my approach. First, I decided to focus applying to UK universities. The application requirements in the UK required a research proposal. As I started writing, I found the previous topic was not feasible. Data about Vietnam's public finance is pretty outdated. I will have to develop personal connections with people within the system to make it possible. As a self-acclaimed introvert, acquiring a dataset on public finance is out of my capacity. Thanks god I was not admitted last year. I would be stuck with any topic of public finance in Vietnam.

So, what's THE TOPIC? During the pandemic, most conferences were online. I was able to attend the Young Economist Symposium in the USA. I was particularly interested in the persistence studies. Reachers writings about how past and present policy interventions can affect cultural norms and social conditions attract me greatly. Finally, I found something that could spark my interests. At the same time, I have a great group of friends where we exchange ideas regularly. My friends shared Mellisa Dell, Nathan Nunn, Ho Hoang Anh etc. are doing something similar. Reading their works, I have generated my own research questions. Something interesting enough to me and probably to others. After finished the first draft, I attached it and email to potential professors. This time, I recieved many responses from distingushed professors.

Overall, I believe that the experience of creating my own research proposal contributed significantly to my achievement. It aids in confirming my interest, testing its viability, and gauging the potential interest of others. Most significantly, I have a deeper understanding of myself as a researcher in the next years.

Who will need me?

Last year, I emailed professors who I admire within the public finance domain. Someone who can help me with developing research projects. It is a wrong approach. Unless I am exceptional talented (which I am not), such professors have little interest to take me under their mentees. I look back to who got accepted to top 5 PhD programs in the USA. Apart from their academic excellency, those students chose professors who are interested in Vietnam.

Therefore, instead of asking, "Who do I need?" I pose a different question: "Who will need me?" It first start with the choice of research topic. After attending different conference and handbook, I have a rough sense of what topic is the "trending" in economics of education research. In terms of regional interest, given my lack of familiarity with the system, I am unable to respond to US concerns better than an American. I am in a position to address development issues about my own nation with relative ease. Who is interested in research in Vietnam? My country is no longer a low-income nation. As a result, development issues in Vietnam will not attract scholars in the same way that it does in other African nations. Nonetheless, I have noticed that Vietnam and other East Asian nations share a number of cultural traits. These nations are of more interest to researchers. My research proposal is set up to appeal to anyone with an interest in East Asia. The quest of finding a good research proposal, as I look back, is similar to finding my Ikigai.

Image source: Studybreaks

Following the completion of my research proposal, I seek for a list of professors from the Top 10 PhD programs that have a similar research and geographical interest. I began sending cold emails after compiling a list of possible mentors. This time, I had a considerably higher response rate. Throughout the interview process, I have a feeling that I will be admitted since my research proposal is a good fit for my possible supervisors.

Does luck matters?

Yes, and No? I always consider myself exceedingly privileged. I am tremendously thankful for previous failure. I have the best support system possible, with smart people studying in top PhD schools. They are more than eager to proofread for me. However, I still failed in the previous application cycle. This year, I resolved to be my own proofreader. I only sent my boyfriend the final version to double-check writing consistency. While others can assist me with obvious mistakes, only I can explain why I am a good match for the program and how I can be a valuable asset to the school. When it comes to application success, I am the most concerned; no one else is. As a result, I should bear full responsibility for my application.

Luck, on the other hand, takes many shapes. I am grateful to YES for sparking my research interests. I am also grateful to my friends that are eager to discuss various research ideas with me. Without my friends, it will take me longer to identify an appropriate research topic. Finally, you may wonder why I applied to UK universities but ended up at a US one. That is due to good fortune. I saw a post in Facebook that a professor at UW-Madison was seeking new Ph.D. students. I cold-emailed him, and he later advised me to apply to a more appropriate program and supervisor. After all, UW-Madison financial package and program are the most suited. Luck, therefore, comes after continuous trials with different forms and unexpected timeline.

P.S: I went to Temple Of Literature praying for luck in this application period (which I didn't do in the last year). My luck comes from my friends, the internet, and the Above.

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” - Dalai Lama XIV

Side notes

1. When it comes to hidden curriculum in academia, this person is quite useful. I recommend you to listen before committing to the following 5 to 7 years of Doctorate study.

Or this:

2. Learn to write your Statement of Purposes, CV, etc. in Latex

3. Form a reading group of some source. They will be your motivators and emotional supports.

4. Join Twitter to be updated with research trends, research opportunities or stalk your potential professor(s).

5. Try to lead at least one research project to show your works and prove that you can work independently.

178 views2 comments
bottom of page