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.

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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.



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!



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The PhD journey: the Viva

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.

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

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

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#SundayReads 24 Jan, 2016


Here are my first Sunday Reads for the year:

  1. Africa’s Boom IS NOT over. Mr Internet in Ghana (and now globally the African angel investor) Eric Osiakwan takes a stand and suggests the future jobs in Africa’s KINGS countries (alliteration for Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa) will be created in tech. (It was BTW published on Medium, a new form of blogging, I’d like to call it that makes excellent use of social media).

    “Africa’s millennials and digital natives, instead of looking for job or a way to vacate the continent, have caught on to the development of mobile web applications and are unleashing their creative juices and entrepreneurial prowess to disrupt traditional markets and address key pain-points for both rich and poor customers.”

    The Doctor Who Kills Doctors by Marc Parenteau. Terrible information presented with beautiful illustrations about what is happening in Syria.

  2. Screenshot 2016-01-24 22.25.28
  3. A Masters in Four years; My Ordeal at University of Ghana Graduate School. A very important text on what is slowing Ghana and higher education output down, sadly written only after graduation by one of Ghana’s top journalists, Manasse Azure Awuni.“The week after the graduation, I returned my academic gown and asked for my certificate. I was told it wasn’t ready. At the Graduate School I was given a chit after I submitted the gown and signed to that effect. I was supposed to present the chit later that week for my certificate. When I returned on Friday, I was told that the certificates were not ready.“Please, when will it be ready?” I asked.”
  4. Revolution 2.0, a 2013 text by Mohamed A. El-Erian on a book with the same name (by Wael Ghonim) which describes the Egyptian revolution in 2011.“The movement captured the interest of the disgruntled young and activists, and it secured their loyalty by engaging them in surveys, encouraging a high level of interactions on the [Facebook] page, and essentially reinventing crowd sourcing and decision-making…As important, if not more, the page administered by Ghonim and Abdelrahman Mansour (who joined the page on its third day as the second admin) achieved something that many thought improbable if not impossible: Encouraging an increasing number of young Egyptian to believe that they stood a chance at regaining a claim on their country and its destiny. In the process, they started gradually overcoming multiple barriers of fear that, both explicitly and implicitly, had relegated them to just impotent and frustrated observers.”
  5. Try Safe Mode. Apple’s support pages have been frequently visited these first weeks and days of the new year as my MacBook Pro 2011 has slowed down almost to a halt. After trying safemode (Embarrassingly, I did not even know there was such a thing!) and adding some RAM memory, I am now hoping for the best.

Hopefully I’ll last until next week when Sunday Reads will be back!

Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman, I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. I hope to make Sunday Reads a weekly feature to be shared here and on Twitter!


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University of Ghana Road Toll

 The road toll has been in effect for two weeks and as a graduate student, I am of course not happy that in addition to fees that almost double from year to year, I now have to pay just to get on campus!

However, after the first weeks of confusion and queues that stretched long (my first day to enter, I waited for 25 minutes just to pay my 1 GHC (0,30 USD), some efficiency measures have been taken, including many more attendants in reflective vests to collect fees from motorists, a new entry point into the campus, and this morning the queue was negligible.

There has been much debate whether or not the university has the right to charge Ghanaians to drive on a public road without asking the parliament for permission (they grant all taxes and fees), but as I do not speak lawyerish, I am not sure what to think. They way I see the toll is that it is a very serious statement from the university telling Ghanaians:

“we are on our own now. The government does not support us and we must do cost recovery to survive!”.

Increased tuition fees is one measure, a road toll another.

Sadly, that message seems to have been lost between reflective vests, 1 GHC tickets and first page squabbles.

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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?



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Research, University of Ghana’s YouTube Channel and Video Lecture by Mkandawire

This week I am finally doing some research at the University of Ghana. For my work – that is now really taking shape – I wanted to cite Professor Mkandawire who came to campus in April for a three day lecture that I felt was very relevant. However, surfing around on the university website, I could not find his lecture. Then I tried the strategy of just Googleing “Mkandawire and University of Ghana” and then I found not just his lecture on video, but University of Ghana’s YouTube channel!

Sadly, this great lecture has 18 views(!) and the UG YouTube Channel just over 300 subscribers, so I thought I’d share it here (in the first video from Mkandawire’s lecture there is some drumming, dancing and intro before the lecture starts about 9.40 into the clip!)

What YouTube channels have you found that you’d recommend?

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Prof. Mkandawire to University of Ghana

Every year in March (this year April for some reason), the University of Ghana gives all its students a lavish gift: The Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lecture Series. A world known scholar will give a lecture, many times on development or similar, and the community comes together and celebrates the best academia has to offer. This year Professor Thandika Mkandawire from the London School of Economics is the speaker.

Mkandewiret_85x119Earlier speakers have been Dr. Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico (2012), Prof. Wole Soyinka (2007) , but I can’t find a proper list of them all…Anyway, Mkandawire is originally from Malawi, but has lived and worked all over the world, notably for the UN (for its Research Institute on Social Development), CODESRIA (organization for African Universities), and at universities in UK, Zimbabwe and even Sweden! I have come across his work on the past and future of universities in Africa, as it is a topic that interests me. So I am looking forward to this lecture series! As this was not enough, I have gotten interesting reactions to that he is lecturing in Ghana: “he is fun/wild/crazy” is often said, so now my hopes are even higher!

The lectures take place in the Great Hall at the very top of the Legon campus this week and are open to the public:

Wed 17th April, 2013 5 PM ‘From “Recovery” to Development”

Thu 18th April, 2013 5 PM “Bringing Social Equality Back in”

Fri 19th, 2013 2.30 PM “The University and “Catching up”

I believe the last leg will be very interesting for my research and think Prof is referring to a World Bank document “Accelerating Catch-Up: Tertiary Education for Growth in Africa” (2009) where Africa’s universities (should) catch up. I am guessing he thinks “catching up” is not the best image for the process that is ongoing on the continent, maybe it suggests Africa should “follow” the West, maybe he thinks the World Bank should not be trusted when it comes to higher education, maybe he thinks Africa’s leaders should aim higher than just catching up…In addition, I hope he says something about “knowledge societies”, the newest buzz word on the block, but the one who listens will find out!

A funny detail is that Mkandawire was also chosen to be the Distinguished Nyerere Lecturer 2013 in Tanzania and seem to combine the two lectures in one trip!

Photo borrowed from LSU


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Sexual Harassment Policy – Can It Stop Sexual Assaults at Uni of Ghana?

Last week, the end of the week news focused on an event that occurred on the University of Ghana Campus. An alleged female thief was captured, undressed and sexually molested by students who also filmed the process. Fellow bloggers such as  Trotro Drama, Daixy, and CriticalPoint were leading the debate on blogs and on Twitter.

Just as these bloggers, the most publicized views of this event – online, on radio, TV and in print media were that this was unacceptable and maybe a sign of a malicious culture of sexualized violence and mob justice.

However, as clearly as this molestation was a grave criminal offense and should be handled by the police, nowhere I heard any reference to the newly instated Sexual Harassment policy on campus which is supposed to regulate and prohibit the “smaller” instances of uninvited sexual advances. Today, University World News runs a feature article I wrote on the UG sexual harassment policy, if you are interested to know more about this  progressive piece regulation. Also see the excerpt below. Clearly, it needs to be publicized more!

“It will take hard work to implement the policy,” she (prof. Tsikata, head of CEGENSA, the body that developed the policy) said. “It will take time to institute confidence in the process, faith in the system. There is a reluctance to come forward, rather than a problem of frivolous cases”.

In the policy document, sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcomed sexual advances, or unwelcome requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct or behaviour of a sexual nature”.

Illustrations of this definition can be persistent propositions for dates, sexual jokes, passing on pornographic material, comments about someone’s body etc. The policy is applicable to all members of the university community.

Read the whole article here. Find the policy in full on University of Ghana’s website here (not available yet). UPDATE: Pdf download of the policy.

The implementation of this policy means that many things (mainly) women in Ghana see as “daily hurdles” can now be reported, at least if they happen on the University of Ghana campus. In my opinion, it is a start on a very long and winding road.

What do you think?

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Free and Open Source Software for Academics

This afternoon, I went to an inspiring lecture by Joshua Kwesi Aikins as a part of a two-day lecture series for graduate students at Institute of African Studies at University of Ghana. These were some of the free and open source softwares that were recommended. I have ordered them in what I feel is the order of importance to my research endeavor.

1. Zotero. Keep all you references handy. Add more by “harvesting” bibliographic info from websites (like Amazon, Google Scholar etc.). Insert references into any document and by the click of a button add bibliography or change referencing format. Just as all open source software, there is plenty of information online on how to get started, see for instance this Zotero guide. Amazing!

2. LimeSurvey. A free tool you can use to create online surveys (they can also easily be printed). The basic results are immediately visible, and if you want to do regressions etc. LimeSurvey exports to the most common statistics programs (also as free and open software). Fantastic!

3.RQDA. A software that enhances and facilitates qualitative research.  RQDA lets you work with text documents (for instance transcribed interviews) and code them. Then you can sort your coded text fragments and analyze or even make a quantitative analysis of them. Wonderful!

These were just a few of those mentioned, but on my top list to download (I am already using Zotero).

Update: The Academic Productivity blog has more software tips.

What free and open softwares would you add to the list?

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My Spring Semester

Finally Monday!

Today I start teaching this semester’s course, still at Ashesi University College. I will be teaching one course, Social Theory, to two cohorts of 50 students each. Last year, I did a blog for my class the Social Theory Blog…although it went great and was much fun, this year, I think I will do something else. I believe in doing new stuff and developing as a lecturer. I got some inspiration from Ken Bain’s book “What the best college teachers do” (courtesy of my mother) over Christmas. Will keep you posted.

My classes will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays, one in the morning, one just after lunch. On Tuesdays I will be in my office for administration (read: grading) and office hours.

I also guide three final year students towards their final thesis. This is challenging and fun and I hope I also get to see them almost every week until April when their paper is due.

The other part of my work is research. This year, I hope to be able to spend most of Thursdays and Fridays at Legon/Institute of African Studies working towards my PhD. Thursday mornings is graduate seminars, and the rest of the time I’d spend in the library or in meetings. I am aiming for building a strong relationship with my three (3!) supervisors and putting together a questionnaire to be able to collect my quantitative data by the end of the semester. I have no idea if that is feasible, but I feel like I have been reading forever and now would like a grip on the empiry!

So, there you have my spring and my aspirations.

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A Day at the Institute of African Studies

University of GhanaToday I am spending my day at the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at University of Ghana, Legon campus. Not so strange as this now is “my” department and I “their” PhD student!

Likely, you’ll be able to find me in a quiet corner of the IAS library. Around lunchtime, I might pass by the newly opened Photo and Stamps exhibition. In the afternoon, I will go “to the hill” or central administration to find out more about Career Counseling at University of Ghana.

Photo taken last week during the beautiful hour when the sun is low and shadows long…

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