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Benjamin Ajal

Benjamin-AjalSprinting Toward the Finish

If you set off for a PhD bolting like a one hundred metre athlete, you may very well end up crawling your way past the finish line. Setting off for a PhD has been a rollercoaster!  I would be lying to say that I have never contemplated throwing in the towel and moving on with my life. The PhD has become my life: I live it, I breathe it, it occupies my thoughts, my dreams, and even nightmares.

Uganda is well located at an intersection point where people from all over Africa are drawn to the offer of high quality education. At the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) where I lecture, we have students from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Somalia, Comoros, Rwanda and Malawi.  A doctorate and a university environment offers me the best opportunity to shape the minds of the African youth for generations to come.

I was inspired and strongly motivated to do and finish a PhD long before I enrolled for the program. Despite having access to this great university, there have been many challenges. As lecturers we were overstretched even as the departments needed new blood. Moreover, the myriad competing demands have made acquiring a doctoral degree a tremendous challenge.

Funding was also an issue when trying to finish my research. To fund my fieldwork, I had to do two jobs: one full time, and another part time, in addition to consultancy work. The more I worked, the less time I had available to do data analysis and publication and write up of my thesis. Imagine my relief when the Social Science Research Council introduced a fellowship for PhD candidates. The funding has enabled me to take nine months off from work to spend time exclusively finishing the thesis, without having to worry about the financial implications of not working for so many months. It has also allowed networking and intellectual growth. Through the program I met and collaborated with a greater number of PhDs than at any other time in my career. I also learnt from distinguished African faculty who work as workshop leaders and have helped to sharpen my research.

With input from colleagues across Africa and senior scholars who lead their fields, I am enthralled by the new possibilities and directions I now see my thesis could take. These insights are now reflected in my analysis of the data collected but had not yet interpreted. To date, I have completed four journal articles for publication since being awarded the fellowship. My target is to ensure that I have seven articles by the time my thesis is approved, and I am awarded the PhD.