A journey of numerous lessons

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.

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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.

Was the swan really ugly or was it just different?

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There is an old, old tale of a beautiful swan whose egg accidentally rolls to a pack of a ducks eggs that have not hatched. The swan’s egg hatches later than the duck’s eggs (first thing to be compared) and when it does the swan looks different and said to be the ugliest amongst its ‘siblings’. Yes, you guessed it this is the classic tale of the UGLY DUCKLING. The question I usually ask is “was the swan really ugly or was it just different?”  or “ugly with whose standards of beauty?”. You see, comparison is something we all face and in the journey of postgraduate studies, is unavoidable. How we choose to respond to it makes the difference.

Comparison for me, in a sense, comes with the package of twin-ship. Growing up, my sister and I were subject to a lot of comparisons, things like our height, teeth, hair, intelligence and even something as mundane as the small foot toe, silly right?  I am familiar with comparison if we could smell it, I would easily distinguish it from other smells; if we could taste it, it would be one that my taste buds are all too familiar with and if it were a certain kind of walk, I would be able to spot it from a great distance. When I was younger however, I did not care, it did not matter that I was being compared to my twin sister because she was always with me I actually thought we were being given compliments. My little human thoughts could not have been further from the truth.

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Me and my sister

As I grew older though, I started understanding the difference between compliments and comparison and realized that actually we were being compared more than we were being complimented. Comparison is rarely done to give compliments to people. More often than not, it is for setting them up against each other or to demolish ones spirit while uplifting the other person.   

Having been subject to a lot of comparison has taught me a few things that I would like to share with you. Hopefully, they will encourage to navigate your post-graduate journey being your best self.

  • TRUST YOURSELF:  It does not matter who or what your character or abilities are being compared to, trust yourself. Trusting one’s self is particularly important in postgrad studies because the entire process leading to the completion of studies depends highly on self-confidence. If there is one thing I am certain about is that part of the successful completion of my PhD studies depends on my ability to trust my decisions. Either about which methodology to use (backed by the literature of course), when and how to collect data, which method of analysis is appropriate for my data, deciding on literature is appropriate to use or ultimately writing that paper I want to publish. One of the most fashionable ways comparison is manifested in postgraduate studies is students being compared to each other, even when they are different disciplines, they still get compared to each other. Among its many detrimental consequences, comparison has the devastating ability to kill ones confidence such that you end up asking for everyone’s opinion before making even the simplest decision like which dress or pair of socks to buy. Learn to trust yourself. This of course does not mean that you disregard all forms of advice and become arrogant, it just means you must make your thoughts and decisions about yourself important to you before taking into consideration other people’s opinions. All these come from loving yourself and taking time to knowing yourself.
  • AFFIRM YOURSELF IN YOUR TRUTH:  Your truth is your dreams, abilities, vision for your preferred future, the things you have deemed are possible for you to archive. Affirming yourself in your truth will help you stay focused on yourself. Your truth is also the vision you have for the direction and the impact you want your post-grad studies to have and to take. I would like to believe that as postgraduate students, we all have a vision of the kind of impact we want our studies or projects to have. It helps to constantly affirm yourself in that vision and not get caught up in being compared to people who have their own visions about their studies. Encourage yourself in your truth. The danger of not constantly affirming yourself in your truth is that you slowly and unconsciously start believing the inadequacies and negatives that people’s opinions impose on you and eventually act accordingly.
  • DO UNTO OTHER AS YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO DO TO YOU: This principle was taught to me very early in life when I was in pre-school. Back then I just thought it was a bible verse that meant “do not bully other kids” and actually I still think that is exactly what it means. The application of this principle is quite simple, the way you treat and love yourself extend the same courtesy to other people. The same way you would not put yourself in a position where you will be belittled and your efforts being unappreciated, do not subject other people to that treatment.

Of course, there is the other side: the good comparison such as comparing people’s work to give back positive feedback, to encourage one to improve their work, someone using past results to compare their work to what has been previously achieved either by them or by someone else. Comparison done in an appropriate manner is good because it can be used as a breeding ground for healthy competition which yields effectiveness.

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So next time when you feel like entertaining someone comparing you to someone else or u feel the need to subject other people to comparison ask yourself IS IT EVEN WORTH IT? It is important to always remember (for yourself and for other people) that sometimes it is not your abilities or your personality that will make people compare you to other people for the purpose of making you feel inferior but it could be because just like the swan you are different to what they are used to, they just need some time to see your true colours.