My story up on the PhD Career Stories Podcast

Kajsa is holding a mic.
Photo: OP studios

Do you want to know…. what a morning in my home office sounds like?

What I did when I wanted to quit the PhD program?

How activism and teaching are very good companions to research?

…and what I did after completing my dissertation and finally sleeping properly again?

Yes? Then what are you waiting for? Tune into my story on the PhD Career Stories Podcast.

Summing up the Blogging Year 2016 – From VR to #GhanaDecides

What a year!

I started a project on virtual reality in the classroom with colleague Kabiru Seidu. I taught Social Theory and Written and Oral Communication.

I had my PhD viva and graduated. Whew!

I brought my readings and my kids to the blog which celebrated 10 years.

I was interviewed on a podcast and featured by Pulse in a video and wrote an article for a major Swiss newspaper (I am Swedish, not Swiss, so this I think is an achievement!)

I traveled to Dakar, Cape Coast, Sweden (twice, writing from an amazing xmas get-together in the cold just now!), Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Washington DC.

The world experienced Grand Bassam, Trump, Seinabo Sey, and Ghana its election.

Now I need to rest and come back in full force next year! See you in 2017! 

Graduation and my CV of Failures

screenshot-2016-11-19-17-45-15doctorkOn Friday, I got my poofy hat which signifies that after five years of study, I have been awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in African Studies. You have heard a lot about that already (and if you haven’t, its all here on the blog under the category PhD).

However, what you have not heard about is all the failures that led up to my PhD graduation. Here I am inspired by Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer’s CV of Failures (PDF) (in turn inspired by Melanie Stephan’s article in Nature), who both argue that keeping and sharing a CV of failures can inspire others to be reminded that you have to just try again.

When starting to think about it, I see CV’s of failure everywhere. In my favourite Netflix Show, Chef’s Table the amazing chefs that cook the best food in the world all had to overcome obstacles and fail repeatedly.

When I recently read comedian Amy Schumer’s book with the hilarious title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, she devotes a chapter to “how to become a comedian” and it reads similar to an academic CV of failures. She did smaller gigs, sometimes so small that she had to find the audience herself on the street first, for 10 years before her break-though.

My favourite poet Wislawa Szymborska, also has some critical words on all the things a conventional CV hides (rediscovered courtesy of QZ): Preparing a Curriculum Vitae. She says:

“Write as though you have never talked with yourself.”

So, yes on Friday I wore a poofy hat and made it look simple. It wasn’t. So I will now talk to myself and to you and say: Here is my (likely incomplete) CV of Failures or Curriculum Mortem. Hopefully, it can inspire you to both keeping track of your own failures as well as when you fall, dusting yourself off and jumping in again.

 

CV OF FAILURES

Degree programs I did not get into

2010 PhD Economic Geography, Lund University

2009 PhD African Studies, University of Ghana (I was told my application was lost. I resubmitted the next year).

2007 PhD Political Science, Uppsala University

2003 Politices Magister, Uppsala University (I ended up getting the degree never the less but having to reapply every semester).

2002 BA, Stockholm School of Economics

Jobs I interviewed for but did not get…(Most of job applications got no response. However two jobs come to mind where I got to the interview stage, did fine – or at least that’s what I thought- , but still did not get the job).

Bank Switch Ghana, 2008.

Swedish National Audit Office, 2007.

Academic positions and fellowships I did not get

2013 Global South Workshop – a perfect workshop that would have given me a network and valuable input at the exact right time in my PhD.

2013 REMESO Workshop – A specialist workshop in my specialist field of migration aspirations organized in my home country of Sweden.

2013 Nordic Africa Institute PhD visiting scholarship (but despite not getting the money, I was invited for a one-month stay which I funded myself)

 

Awards and scholarships I did not get (or sometimes it does not help to apply again)

2013 Fredrika Bremer Förbundets Stipendiestiftelse

2012 Gemzeus Stiftelse

2011 Fredrika Bremer Förbundets Stipendiestiftelse

2011 Gemzeus Stiftelse

Research funding I did not get (most research funding I was not eligible for as belonging to the unusual group of Swedes in Ghana, hence I only applied to this one and did not get it).

2011 Codesria Small Grant

Conferences I was rejected to

ASA 2015 for the panel  “Migration and Belonging in Ghana and Abroad.” (was later accepted for a general panel)

ECAS 2015 for the panel the panel “Epistemology of research on migration : the contribution of African studies” and “International migration and organised forms of collective resistance to barriers for entry and stay: perspective from Africa”. Yup, I applied to two and got none.

Migration Research Center at Koç University (MiReKoc), Istanbul, 2014

ECAS 2011

 

But hey, I jumped in again. That is what brought me to the poofy hat!

doctor-jump

 

The PhD journey: the Viva

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PhD Viva. Photo: Jeffrey Paller

On Thursday 28th April in the morning, I did a 40 minute presentation of my dissertation “On a course to migrate? Migration aspirations among University Students in Ghana” and took questions for another 40 minutes or so. After a brief adjournment by the examiners, the verdict was in: I had passed.

Now there are some formal steps left, like making corrections in the final documents, and trying out a silly hat, but if they run smoothly, I am looking forward to graduation on July 23rd. This year!

The feeling at this point is one of great happiness and relief, pride and exhaustion. Happy to have completed well. On the day, I got into the presentation and just flowed, despite being nervous – almost cripplingly so –  the weeks and days leading up to the presentation. ( I did a mock viva two weeks earlier that I think I did not do well in, so I’d say I know the difference between flow and just making it thru). On the day, the questioning part also went well, save a few stumbling answers to unexpected questions.

I am grateful for all the people that have been supporting me in this transformative journey over the last 5 years. I am proud of myself for making it over all the hurdles and trying tasks. I am exhausted and try to be kind to myself.

I did it.

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With colleagues and supporters in the graduate seminar room just after my presentation.

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Relieved and happy after the viva with my student Dorcas who came to support me!

Dissertation Completed!

 After eight years with this topic, five years at University of Ghana, countless notebooks, redrafts, and seminars, my manuscript is now finished, printed and submitted!
The feeling is indescribable.

  
    

 

My Only New Year’s Resolution 2015

…is finishing my PhD.

photo5 years in, two kids later, one pending extension of program, 100s of pages written and 1000s of articles read – this madness must stop so I can summarise what I have learned and move on to other projects.

This year it is therefore happening: I will submit my dissertation! And I am telling everybody! My family, my boss, my friends, now you!

You can help me by asking how it goes, offering to entertain my children and please just stop giving me “interesting stuff” to read.

I will be chronicling my progress weekly over at the blog for my research website Student Migration Aspirations.

What resolution have you made for the new year?

Read some other academic new year’s resolutions.

One Month At the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden

Today was my first day as a guest researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. I have been given the opportunity to stay for a month and will be spending the time writing on and thinking about my dissertation.

My first day was great and hoping to get a lot done!

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In the first photo the NAI Director and administrator with my PhD colleagues in the park just outside our building, the second photo an interior snap shot from the lunch room!

PhD Update: Seminar Season

Supposedly, I am in my last year of my PhD-studies. That means trying to write up, conclude and present, present, present!

It is scary and taxing to display your work, try to explain three years of thinking and researching, including mistakes and weaknesses, but I feel it is absolutely necessary.

I have already had some aha-moments when rushedly going over my work again to prepare. As my brother aptly put it, it is like cleaning your house before the guests are coming.

Suddenly, it all comes together.

Research Update – Winning Choices or Hacks for PhD Productivity

Research collage

As readers of this blog knows well, I am a PhD candidate with the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana currently doing my data collection for my dissertation. My research moves very slowly, but this semester, I can see I have gotten over the “what is it really that I am doing?”-stage and entered “this is what I am doing!”-stage of my research degree. The feeling is swell. Some of the winning choices I have made this year includes:

  1. taken help from research assistants Ibrahim and Esther (and maybe Seth). They need to learn about the research process, I need admin help. They could use some extra cash, I could use some more hours in my week. Win-win.
  2. spent many more hours in the UG Balme Library as graduate students now have a lovely Research Commons there. The space is just so beautiful, I am collecting for a photo post on the sublime building that is Balme library.
  3. transferred my research library onto Zotero (finally! it took me three full days and it is not 100% yet, but just going through my readings was useful!)
  4. thinking about my research every day. In the car, the first 30 minutes in my office in the morning or after dinner. Solutions only come after much thinking.
  5. grabbed every opportunity to publish or present. I decided to do this as the main purpose of doing a PhD is to learn the craft of research, however when feeling slightly overwhelmed with just your regular work – extra stuff seems…crazy! But it is not, in new constellations, be it with conference participants, abstract reviewers or a taxi driver, I have learned more about the craft.

What good choices have you made in your career this year?

 

 

Guest Post by Kweku Ananse: Why Your PhD Supervisor is Not Reading Your Work

I am happy to introduce my first guest writer on this blog. This guest post is written by fellow graduate student Kwaku Ananse, one of my readers:

Just like most things in life, conventional wisdom posits that graduate school life is a linear process: you apply to the program of choice, you get accepted, you take and complete core and pertinent elective class classes, pass all those classes mostly with As (and Bs), and then you focus on completing your proposed thesis or dissertation. Even within the process of completing the thesis/dissertation, the accepted thinking posits that those committee members you select are the ones that eventually lead you to the finish line.

However, within my experience, being a ‘traditional graduate student’ who wants take the routine routes to complete a program should reassess such taken-for-taken ideas. One should realize that your supervisor most likely will not be the ‘ideal’ supervisor to deliver on the assumed responsibilities that he/she is supposed to provide.

There are many problems relating to why responsibilities are not fulfilled:

  1. Lack of time to read your work (but makes you to believe that all is well);
  2. Unwillingness/inability to provide you regular important feedback;
  3. Too many other ‘senior’ graduate students he/she might be attending to etc;
  4. The person reads,but doesn’t challenge you in your thinking/writing etc.
  5. Also committee members, understandably, will not like to step on a colleague’s toes (your supervisor’s) by seeming to provide research guidance that contradicts one’s supervisor’s (perhaps outmoded) suggestions.

Another reason to always be wary of the traditional route comes in the guise of ‘just complete your course work and dissertation advice’. Such advice doesn’t take cognizance of recent trends. Nowadays, having a transcript, a diploma/certificate and a dissertation under your armpit doesn’t cut it (unless of course, you already have a job security in a university/college).

In our times, employers want graduates with experience, widely interpreted either as teaching, research experience as evident in a publication, or both.

So, what should we do? Look out for Kwaku  Ananse’s next blogpost.

 

Informal Supervisors : Surviving a PhD

I cannot stress enough that you need more people than the one(s) on your panel if to succeed with your  PhD – well this is what I think, anyways, halfway into the project. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with three of my informal supervisors.

Ironically, the meeting I had scheduled with my official supervisor was cancelled as I missed our deadline last week. These are the three types of supervisors I have managed to get for myself totally outside the structures of  the university.

1. The Mentor

Here is a person who knows university politics, who remembers what it was like being in your too large PhD shoes and always shows support interspersed with some practical advice.

Will ask you: How are you?

2. The Senior Researcher

The Senior researcher has seen it all before and will suggest you look at the bigger picture, read the classics and start planning for the next step of your career.

Will ask you: What are your main variables?

3. The Visionary

The visionary points you to interdisciplinary related readings that you didn’t know existed, briefs you about the newest methods on the block with a YouTube video and asks some uncomfortable questions about your work.

Will ask you: Have you read Spivak?

Ideally, I think the culture of the academy starts and begins with sharing information, roadmaps and ideas, however I am still amazed at the generosity at which my informal supervisors have approached and challenged my work. If you read this, thank you!