The PhD Is Not the Best Work You Will Ever Do; It Is the Most Important
"Your PhD is not the best work that you'll ever do as an academic but it is the most important"
- Shireen Hassim
The above words by my PhD supervisor, Professor Shireen Hassim, perfectly encapsulate and reflect my experiences of doing my doctoral research so far. An experience informed by challenges and opportunities have exposed my inexperience as an emerging academic but also given me the necessary tools to eventually evolve into an African academic of exceptional quality. Being awarded a Next Generation Social Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship has been a fundamental aspect of this evolution. As I write this, it seems surreal to be halfway through my fieldwork when six months ago I was considering abandoning the PhD. My proposed research project not only required extensive time away from teaching but needed substantial funding that would allow me to remain in Rwanda for six months and live away from Johannesburg in Cape Town for four months. My dissertation examines the relationship between the high presence of women in post-transitional Rwandan and South African parliament and parliamentary outcomes that address gender inequality in Rwandan and South African society. Without significant funding, this research would be impossible to complete. While my research proposal was accepted by the faculty, funding has provided me with much needed affirmation about the importance of my research and its potential impact. One of the most disempowering aspects of the PhD process is the constant crisis of faith in one's ability to complete the degree. This award essentially renewed my faith in my own abilities, not just to finish the PhD, but also to become the first member of my family to earn a doctorate.
Participating in the doctoral workshops with my fellow cohort group members has been the most exciting aspect of the fellowship. More than anything I got the sense from the workshop that I was part of an African cohort, a group of peers with a mandate and a responsibility not just in knowledge production but a specific responsible kind of knowledge production that was directed at the development of the continent. Experiencing other academic institutions in sub-Saharan Africa besides my own, through the workshop, has made me cognizant of my own responsibility as an academic on the continent and the need to invest my own skills back into the institutions where I initially developed them. The doctoral workshop also allowed me to create invaluable friendships within my cohort group and offered me opportunity to explore collaborative opportunities. The PhD process is an incredibly isolating experience that has been made so much easier by the mutual support that cohort members provide to each other. There are no words that can accurately convey my experience of having been awarded a Next Generation Social Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship. In many ways, it has presented me with as many challenges and responsibilities as it has equipped me with opportunities but all of these have been challenges that have enriched my PhD experience and will enable me to be a better scholar, specifically a better African scholar. I think more than anything the SSRC fellowship is about less than gaining money for fieldwork and more about accepting a responsibility to an ethical knowledge production. The opportunity to wholly devote myself to the PhD process without stressful teaching responsibilities and without wasting the opportunity has been intellectually and personally rewarding and enabled me to undertake my fieldwork in a more productive and reflective way.