As many academics will let you know the academic journey is one that will teach you a variety of life lessons that will make you look at life from an appreciative glance. The academic journey is more than just working towards obtaining the degree; it is more of an emotional, physical, wallet(ical) and spiritual journey with numerous learning curves and fantastic milestones. So far for me, it has been a journey of the following lessons…
It is a journey of patience, learning soft skills and learning to adapt
We make plans, life happens and plans do not always go according to how we have planned. Staying in the right and positive state of mind amidst all the unplanned delays and waiting periods with one’s self and the rest of the universe requires patience. Combining agricultural extension and media has brought to me a few humbling lessons firstly: Patience will take me far in life particularly because the main focus of my research is people. I must be willing to read their emotions, how they like to be approached and treated, learn to listen and accept their opinions without upsetting them. Secondly, never underestimate the knowledge of the people I am interviewing about the topic I am investigating, especially the smallholder farmers (they be loaded with theoretical and practical knowledge) however, sometimes they are not forthcoming with it, meaning I must be patient until they are comfortable enough to share the knowledge. Thirdly, if I want people to speak to my camera and be at ease while doing it, I must be myself and respect their views on the matter at hand, let them respond to the camera in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Fourthly, I must pay attention to how I dress so that I do not offend the people of the community I am working with. There are communities where women (exempting young girls) are not allowed to wear pants and to be seen with their heads uncovered and so I have “when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do”. It takes a while for some people to be at ease in front of the camera and this requires me the researcher to be patient.
It is a journey of receiving humility and kindness
While pondering about the subject of humility I remembered a conversation I once had with a friend where were we spoke about unexpected, perhaps unforeseen challenges of data collection and how these humble us to the core. He shared with me how he once ran for his life and for a moment “survival of the fittest” became his reality all because a dog caught sight of him and unleashed its barking and chasing powers. In an attempt to bring the dog to a halt he ran and screamed for help in the middle of a dusty village road. His saving grace was villagers who at the sound of his cry or rather scream for help could not help but aid his rescue by diverting the dog’s attention away from him. According to him (luckily he lived to tell the tale), that act of kindness from the villagers humbled him.
During my data collection period when I was doing my Honors and Master’s degree we (me and my friends who were assisting) were offered food, water, juice and sometimes even shade to stand in while filling the questions. People would open not only their intellect to us but their cupboards and their kind hearts. Whether it be the kindness of strangers or people we are familiar with, humility is taught to us in different ways in the academic journey. We just have to be willing to recognize it.
It is a journey of humour and good laughter…
One of the funniest stories I have heard so far is about a researcher who needed human urine samples from people in a particular community (I will not lie, I did not ask what he was going to test the urine for). He narrated that one of the challenges he had was convincing people that he was not going to use their urine for witchcraft. One day while desperately trying to convince one respondent to give him his urine, the respondent adamantly replied that he would rather urinate on the ground than give his urine to a stranger. The researcher then responded, “I will wait for you to urinate and then I will pick up the soil on which you urinated on because that is how much I desperately need your urine” but even after such attempts the respondent would not budge. Just imagining the conversation in my head killed me. The challenges we meet in the world of academics can be overwhelming especially because research is an unfamiliar exercise in some parts of the country and because of this the responses are sometimes hilarious. Of course, sometimes carrying out research of this nature is easier when one is a local at a particular place however, one can never be too certain about which curveball research will throw their way.
It is a journey worth sharing
More often than not the most shared and celebrated time of one’s academic journey is during graduation. When in actual fact it should be all the time when one feels like doing so. We should not be shy to express how we are feeling and the good and not so good times we are going through because everybody’s experience is valid and worth a mention. Why? one might ask, firstly to avoid being overwhelmed and thinking that you are alone. Secondly, because it is not only challenges that we come across in academics it is also victories such as beginning and finishing a chapter, publishing an article or presenting at a conference you have always wanted to attend. All these experiences are worth recognition.
Knowledge creation, recognition, packaging and delivering are not always the easiest of things to do. This is the challenge that most researchers come across. The need for sharing the experiences that academics come across is just as important as delivering the results of the research to those who intend to use it. Sometimes it is in the small-talk, blogs, and vlogs that linkages for better communication of research and the wellbeing of researchers are formed.