On 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).
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)
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
But hey, I jumped in again. That is what brought me to the poofy hat!
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.
5 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.
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:
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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?
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:
Lack of time to read your work (but makes you to believe that all is well);
Unwillingness/inability to provide you regular important feedback;
Too many other ‘senior’ graduate students he/she might be attending to etc;
The person reads,but doesn’t challenge you in your thinking/writing etc.
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.
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.
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!