Cynthia James

Matriculation year: 2018

Degree: MPhil in Education


"I am passionate about enhancing the quality of teacher professional development in Malaysia, and in exploring how better understanding of teacher’s learning can help address the problems of educational inequity caused by digital divide. As a Sabahan from the Kadazandusun ethnicity who has experienced growing up, living, studying, and teaching in some of the most resource-scarce areas in Malaysia, studying educational inequity and digital divide is more than just a research interest. I see my study as my small way of contributing to advocacy work in this area. The Tunku scholarship has certainly afforded me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kickstart this aspiration."

Life at Catz

"One of the highlights of my life at Catz would be the Graduate Symposium in 2019 where I had the opportunity to share my experiences of working with primary school teachers in rural areas of Sabah, Malaysia. To be able to talk about Sabah, to share inspiring stories about dedicated Sabahan teachers (to a Cambridge audience!) was a huge blessing, and one that I will certainly remember forever.

"For someone who loves music, I believe Catz is the perfect college to be. The Kellaway concerts series – available for free for all members – showcases the best instrumental and choral music in the university. I attended every single concert during my MPhil years and am looking forward to attending more of them in future."

Life since Catz

"Upon completing my MPhil, I went back to Malaysia to teach English language in a government primary school in the village of Serusup, Tuaran, Sabah from September 2019 to February 2022. The timing coincided with the nationwide school closures brought about by the pandemic. I witnessed how moving classes online magnifies and exacerbates issues related to educational inequity and digital divide. I had to learn how to conduct online lessons for students who live in a household with only one device to share among five or six siblings. I read news coverage about students staying overnight in a makeshift treehouse and on a dilapidated bridge just to get access to the internet. I knew then that my work should not stop at my MPhil.

"Now I am back in Catz to do a PhD in Education, with the intention to expand on the work I have started during my MPhil. My hope is to contribute to the field of educational technology and sociology of education in Malaysia. In future, I also hope to expand the work to other South-East Asian countries with parallel sociological and educational contexts."

Advice for potential applicants

"Due to life circumstances, I was only able to complete my Bachelor’s degree when I was in my mid 30s. In the process of applying for my Master’s, I realised that it is not easy for mature students in Malaysia to get a scholarship for studying abroad. I was offered places in four top universities in the world but, due to age requirements, I was not eligible for most funding opportunities in Malaysia. This makes me even more grateful for the Tunku scholarship and its inclusiveness, as without funding I know I could never be able to do my MPhil in Cambridge.

"I believe there are plenty of mature students who are like me, who might think that they have missed the boat. To these people, please know that instead of being a liability, your age and maturity are valuable assets that you can harness and leverage upon. You may find that your life and professional experiences have blessed you with unique insights on approaches to research and issues related to your field. If you are someone with a deep passion, the right vision, and a great enthusiasm for contributing to the world, your age should not discourage you from going after your dream."