The beauty of Diversity… perspective from an interdisciplinary study

I asked some of my friends what they love about Africa (The Motherland) because I wanted to know how my friends view their communities, what makes them fall in love with their surroundings and the people around them. Why did I do this you may ask? Well a couple of months ago I fell in love, I fell bad, I was in really deep (I still am )  with Africans, their diversity, spirit, tolerance and their shared love for cultural ( food and clothes) diversity.  I mean I have always had a deep love for my own country but I did not feel the same way about other African countries until I made friends who are from various other African countries.

Currently, I am falling in love with interdisciplinary studies. Research disciplines much like Africans have their diversity embedded in them from diverse methodologies to different ways in which they impact or influence the communities they are communicated to. Contrary to popular belief Africa is not all that poor, hungry and disease infested. To us Africans, Africa is home, it is a place where we build friendships, communities and ultimately connect with each other from one country to another. It is with pleasure that I share with you what my friends had to say about Africa, our home.

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Andrianina (Madagascar)

Andrianina is a working mother of 3 who is really passionate about child and youth development in Madagascar. She works on various programs that educate the youth about the repercussions of crime and corruption. Andrianina has a lovely sense of humour, is fond of nature and enjoys having a good meal. “Among Malagasy typical lunch, what I like the most is crushed cassava leaves mixed with a bit of fat pork Huummm so yummy it melts in your mouth” (she really did write that). I recommend this to you if you ever come to Madagascar.   I also love romazavz royal it is also among the best foods”

Kevin (Zimbabwe)

Speaking to Kevin made me realize how unique and precious the spirit of Ubuntu is. He says “I appreciate the togetherness, in the sense that it really does take a village to raise a child I know this from my cousins who are in Australia. They talk about how raising their children with just the grandparents is not the same as having the community around you guide their children when they need it” Kevin also appreciates the diversity of languages and how “somehow they are organized in a way that works for all of us”. He is also a lover of good African cuisine.

Having interacted with young people from various African countries I have learned that we as Africans appreciate different things about the Africa we love. What stood out for me in the interactions is that the diversity in our way of life is the very essence of our humanity. Much like Africans, research disciplines are different they are set on different fundamentals and principles which need to need to be respected particularly if one wishes to engage in an interdisciplinary study. Since I started working on an interdisciplinary study, combining agricultural extension with media, I have found new respect for interdisciplinary studies. I have always loved film and media (radio and print media), however, working with media on an academic space has made me appreciate the level of influence the discipline of media has over people’s lives.

Interdisciplinary studies are both intriguing and challenging Starting my PhD I knew I would enjoy integrating agricultural extension with media, what I did not anticipate was me falling in love with media and the possibilities it presents for agricultural extension that really shook me. Working on this project means more than just bringing together two disciplines, it means tapping into bigger and better levels of communicating science in our streets both locally and internationally. I cannot help but stop being ignorant an unbothered about what happens in other disciplines in terms of producing and communicating information to society. Just like how every culture is unique and important to a specific tribe and yet when brought together they make up the beautiful diversity of a country and even continent, all disciplines of research are an integral part of our communities.

working on an interdisciplinary study

Within the research space, we have to work together because at the end of the day the goal is to improve our communities be it corporate, social, business or science communities. We must be willing to step out comfort zones and into understanding the complexities of existing in an academic space.

 “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. ~ African proverb

10 Things to do to prepare for your studies

Since many of us are getting back to our courses and research, I thought I’d share 10 things that I believe will help me to prepare for my Masters. These are things that will help you save time, stay organized, focus on what’s important for your research and feel more confident. While my experience is limited to being a Masters student in Astrophysics, many of these tips are broadly applicable.

Getting a research notebookWhatsApp Image 2019-02-20 at 20.30.47

A research notebook is a place to dump all your thoughts, questions, to-do lists, calculations, meeting notes and general research. I personally love pen and paper, and I’m partial to dot-grid notebooks, but any notebook or even a digital Google Doc could serve this purpose. Having a notebook dedicated for your rough work is so much easier than having dozens of loose sheets of paper that get lost. Because there’s no pressure for this notebook to be any form of neat, it’s easier to make productive mistakes in it.

Listing (academic) strengths and weaknesses

Your Masters studies are the perfect opportunity to improve on your weaknesses and take advantage of your strengths. While there are some things that I am ‘good at’ (like reading and understanding journal articles), there are several other skills in my field that could use some work (like radio astronomy, for example). Knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are can help you find a balance between the stress you can handle, the areas you would like to grow and the intensity of your work.

Deciding on research interests

At Masters level, the academic research world is your oyster. You might want to veer off into something totally new; you might want to stay where you are because of how interesting it is, or where it looks like your field is going. For example, I love extragalactic astronomy so I’m staying right here. However, I might incorporate some relevant techniques from other areas. Since MeerKAT is taking its first data, and the SKA continues to develop, getting more experience with radio observations is vital for me as a South African astronomer.

Choosing a supervisor

Your choice of a supervisor can dictate whether you thrive or survive through postgraduate studies. The best advice I ever got about research was “Choose your supervisor – not your project”. I would suggest meeting with several potential supervisors within your research interests and going with the person you feel like you can comfortably work with. Then develop a project you are interested in together. 

Brainstorming a topic

I haven’t done this (yet) but it is high up on my agenda. After choosing your supervisor, spend a meeting with them brainstorming a few possible ideas for your research project. After this meeting, you can follow up by reading research articles and thinking about what resources you have available (in terms of data, equipment, etc). Although your topic will naturally evolve and change over time, it’s good to have an idea of where to start and where you’d like to be heading.

Choosing coursesWhatsApp Image 2019-02-20 at 20.30.47(1).jpeg

My Masters’ programme requires 6 months of coursework and I have to – of course – choose my courses. One of the easiest ways to do this is to talk to students who have done the programme already and are in the same field to find out which courses are most relevant and which ones are not that great. Take your skills, strengths and weaknesses into account to choose courses that will have the most benefit!

Choosing a system to stay organized

As I mentioned in the first point, my notebook is really important for keeping my thoughts organized. However, I will need a system that can handle scheduling and the digital components of my academic life. Since we are in 2019, there are thousands of apps and programmes that make it a lot easier to keep track of papers, references, notes, meetings and classes. Choose a system you like, that is accessible to your devices, and most importantly – works for you (I will be using Google Calendar, Google Docs and my bullet journal for this).

Creating templates

A recent problem I have had is trying to create figures that are all the same size, with readable fonts and colour schemes, that work within A4 journal-article layouts. It’s awful and time-consuming to be fiddling around with plotting parameters and googling fixes for ‘how to make my errorbars thicker in Python’. To solve this, I am going to create templates that I can easily copy and adapt.

Having templates ready will ensure that your work is presented in a consistent way and will save you a lot of time. I will be creating templates for plots, presentations and my actual thesis draft (if you don’t use LaTeX – I would suggest learning it as soon as possible!). Github is a good place to store these templates, and you can have a look at websites like Overleaf for example templates of several types of academic documents.

Updating my CV & LinkedIn account

By the time this post is live, I will be able to officially add ‘MSc Student: Astrophysics & Space Science’ to my CV. It is always good to check if there is anything new that might be missing from your CV and LinkedIn accounts. You never know when there may be a conference, workshop or summer school that you want to apply for on short notice. Having your CV ready to go can save you a lot of stress in these situations.

Reading relevant books

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-20 at 20.30.48.jpegI don’t know about you, but I don’t how to write a thesis. Fortunately, I was recommended a book called ‘How to Succeed in Your Masters and Doctoral Studies’ by Johann Mouton that can (hopefully) teach me. Most university libraries will have a copy of this book or something similar. Have a look around, ask other students for recommendations and try to find a book that appeals to you!

If you are not much of a reader, there may be workshops that you can sign up for offered by your university. Learning how to write a thesis is not something that we’re typically taught in the way Calculus or Statistics are taught and there’s no harm in getting some help!

 

Even if you’ve done just a few of these things, you’ll feel much more prepared and ready to tackle anything that comes your way this year! All the best for 2019’s academic year.