It has been a…What a year!

I am still looking for an adjective to fill in the gap in the title. Probably because it has been quite a year, or maybe because although it is almost the end of the year, it still feels like the year has just started. I suppose it is hope that got me feeling like this. A lot has happened but so much can still happen. I am saying this thinking of a friend of mine who said to me “it does not matter if it happened this year or not. Surely whatever that did not happen this year can still happen next year”.  This was sparked by a conversation about the job market and other opportunities after getting a post-graduate qualification.

It has been a thrilling year, so good! So great! and SO much fun! Throughout the year I wrote a series of 12 blogs (including this one) and vlogs talking about my experiences as a post-graduate student in a South African university, surviving COVID-19 and experiencing the wrath of violence and criminality in our cities. I feel, particularly overwhelmed today, by thoughts and emotions seeing that this is my very last blog post. I am not so sure what to write about, and how to write about it. I am not sure how to feel. Perhaps I have exhausted my emotions throughout the year, particularly because it has been such an emotional year with job hunting, thinking through my PhD project, applying for funding, and sorting out application issues for placement at a University. All these have been both exhausting and thrilling.  But it was all worth it. Despite it being an emotional year, it has been an exciting year.

I have had the opportunity to leave my comfort zone, as a literary critic, and entered a scientific space as a science communicator, to bring science closer to everyone. An experience I treasure for so many reasons, one being the fact that I am now published in a South African Journal of Science. History will write me as a well-rounded character, as multidisciplined academic. My interaction with the other bloggers, Mauro, Leah, Keith, and Professor Jennifer Fitchett (and Professor Roula Ingelsi-Lotz who joined us for the first half of the year) – the editor of the blog has made me realize what is most important about being, firstly, human and secondly a researcher and a post-graduate student. I have been reminded by these individuals that my value as a person is not determined by my research although my research plays a critical role in positioning me for opportunities, both financial and in knowledge production. I am more than my research and research interest. I am more than just a Masters graduate and PhD candidate. I am human, I go through everyday life motions, I have hobbies and other interests.

And the truth of the matter is this is one fundamental aspect of our lives we neglect and miss. We miss out on being truly who we are, because of what we want to be and achieve. Blogging and reading the other bloggers’ posts truly inspired me to level up my life and all these aspects. To be a researcher, scholar, intellectual, but more humane, brotherly, neighbourly and to stay and keep in touch with what makes me truly human. I truly hope my experiences have helped one or two post-graduate students out there, I hope I have ignited hope and inspiration in someone. What a year!

Getting a postgraduate qualification is challenging, but the end results are exciting

“We” look like we have it all under control. But postgraduate studies are hard and at times frustrating. You would think we have it all planned-out. That is not true. The process of getting a postgraduate degree is tiring, circuitous, hard and at times a little depressing. Choosing topics, writing proposals, approaching prospective supervisors, choosing institutions and applying for funding… it is just a lot.  We are forever hopeful that it will get better after completing a certain degree, but it never does. It feels like the higher you go the ‘crazier’ it becomes.  When I completed my Honours, I though it will be easy to get into a Masters programme with funding but it was never like that, I struggled for a while without any funding. I only got funding towards the end of my first year of Masters.

I am saying all this in relation to my plans to enrol for a PhD. These are plans which have been in motion ever since I got my Masters. According to my timeline, by now I was supposed to have already been registered and progressing through my PhD, but it is only now that my registration processes are about to be concluded. There is still a question of funding, which is a headache. I realised during my Masters that pursing a post-graduate degree without stable funding can take its toll on a student. You worry simultaneously on your research and your finances – how to pay for accommodation, fees and your everyday upkeep. Its stressful and I hope to never go through that pain again.

I honestly think these factors and all the others we often also shy away from should be talked about more openly, not to scare prospective student away but to give them a heads-up. Often, post-graduate students struggle, especially financially, and this affects all the aspects of the student’s life.  We do say that completing a postgraduate qualification is difficult, but usually we only focus on the actual research, the dissertation that we must write, and not the financial implications of being a postgraduate level students. These two are inseparable. We must talk about them as one.

In all honesty, completing a post-graduate degrees takes a lot of courage, will, determination and passion for research. But of course, with all these ups and downs and all of that, there are those of us who never think about giving up. I guess this is the will and determination I am talking about. Getting the qualification, against all odds. I am the first in my family to get a Master’s degree and I have seen how it has brightened up those around me and have given them hope and a reason to go to university, and I am not going to stop until I get my PhD. Despite the many challenges that come with pursuing a postgraduate qualification, I want to be counted among the strong and brave, the go-getters and the intellectuals. I want a PhD and I am going to get it. Do not get me wrong, this is a two-sided coin. There are exciting and thrilling moments too.