It was a long journey for Cheng, a long wait for us as parents, to finally see the fruits of her endeavour in pursuit of a Ph D.
Ironically, for a subject which is also relevant to her home country, Malaysia, she obtained a grant in the Netherlands to do her research there.
A few days before her public defence on November 14 (http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Main/Sitewide/Content/ChengBoonOngMScPhDDissertationDefense.htm), she held a press conference in Maastricht and the response in terms of national and regional press coverage surprised some of her colleagues and friends in Holland.
'Overwhelmed by all the press attention today. I am worried how this particular finding of my thesis will be (mis)used in the Dutch ethnic segregation debate. Data analysis always rests on many assumptions and data constraints. May it also hold true, that any publicity is good publicity.'
I Googled 'Cheng Boon Ong Maastricht' and I could see a long list of news reports relating to her thesis. Of course, all the articles are in Dutch and we can only recognise her name in those articles. Fortunately, we can get almost instantaneous translations from either Google or Microsoft.
Anyway, for those who are inclined to read her thesis, here is the link:
Ethnic segregation in housing, schools, and neighbourhoods in the Netherlands
Excerpt of her Acknowledgements:
Shortly before the start of the 20th century, my great-grand parents joined the historical wave of Chinese emigration and ventured to what was then British Malaya as low-skilled economic migrants. They were different from previous cohorts, the Peranakan or Straits Chinese, who came educated, in smaller numbers, and inter-married with the locals while adopting local customs. When the Federation of Malaya gained its independence in 1957, roughly half of the population consisted of ethnic minorities of migrant background. Ethnic segregation was a collective reality inherited from the British ‘divide and rule’ colonial policy, later sustained and reinforced by the post-independence political and educational structures. One’s choices in peers, schools, neighbourhoods, and (ethnic-based) political affiliation became unremitting conscious acts of integration or segregation. And so it was, the seed of my PhD research, sown long before I was born.'
'As an ‘allochtoon’ with smattering knowledge of Dutch, it was my privilege and pleasure to be able to dedicate my research entirely on one country that was not my own: the Netherlands. Reading my first-year notes, I was struck by how close my final thesis came (despite the long detour) to resemble my original ideas for a PhD project (e.g. looking at preferences from two different modelling frameworks: hedonic pricing and discrete choice). This reveals, to a large extent, the level of flexibility and trust offered to me by my supervisors, Henriëtte and Kristof. …'
'The PhD project would not have taken off in the first place if it were not for the opportunity, grant, and support offered by the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and later the United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT). ...'
'Cheng Boon Ong (1983) grew up in Batu Gajah, Malaysia. She read Politics and International Relations at the University of Essex in England and graduated as the department’s best undergraduate student in 2006. She received a full scholarship to pursue her Master’s degree in Social Policy Analysis in Luxembourg and Belgium, graduating with great distinction from the Catholic University of Leuven in 2007. She also holds a Diploma in Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Keen to contribute to effective, equitable, and sustainable policymaking, Cheng began her PhD in Public Policy and Policy Analysis at Maastricht University in 2007. At the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, she was also a Master programme specialisation coordinator (2008-2009) and project coordinator for a multinational training programme in social security funded by the International Development Agency of Germany (2009-2012). Alongside research and project
coordination, she has teaching experience in public policy, social protection, research methods, and international politics. Notably, she has trained UNICEF officers in evidence-based policy making, developed econometrics assignments for public policy graduate students, co-designed a one-day course on migration for social protection professionals, and delivered a lecture on ethnic segregation in schools for the Diploma in Public Policy and Child Rights (Egypt and Jordan).
She is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand assisting the regional office of the International Labour Organisation in the social protection assessment of the Southeast Asian region.'
A short interview on Dutch television channel 1Limburg:
A short interview on Dutch television channel 1Limburg:
To sum up...
One of the main findings of the thesis gained a lot of media attention. The left/liberals are quick to criticize the data or research methodology to downplay the findings, while the right-wing/conservatives are quick to pounce on it for their own anti-immigrant agenda. Prof Jaap Dronkers, had defended the thesis in a Dutch national newspaper and gave a fair assessment, concluding with a remark: 'Don't shoot the messenger.'
Further update: Dr Ong - the Movie
Compiled by her paranymphs, Paula and Jennake, this video shows the route to a Ph D could also be a lot of fun!
Photos on the day of her public defence, courtesy of United Nations University - MERIT (ie. without permission):