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.

Thank you for the music … from a PhD student

It’s that time of the year where one naturally thinks about what motivates them to continue with their PhD journey” There are factors that are constantly my motivation such as my family, friends, and food and of course inspirational books.  Music is also a constant motivator in my journey It really comes through for me be it I am excited about my work or I just have no idea what the next step will be. So I would love to pay some respect to the songs that I refer to as my “soldier on songs”   since I started my PhD journey as I look forward to learning new songs throughout the year.


 The Script “Hall of fame

This is my “girl one day this PhD will make you famous” song. There is a verse in this song which says “do it for your country, do it for your name …” Embarking on my PhD has made me realize how important the work that we as researchers do regardless of the disciplines we are in. The research may seem small and insignificant at the moment, however, I believe that some of it is the foundation upon which future research projects will be established. Research is a work of service because research projects are not designed to benefit (knowledge outcomes or innovations) the researcher alone but they are meant to better the lives of those who come in contact with the project. I apply myself to research in service of the people in my community and hopefully, someday the people in my country and beyond will also benefit from the work I do. This way my name will be written in the “hall of fame” and no, this does not mean the reference section of published articles that will have cited my work but the lives of people my research will help.

In the words of The Script “Be students, be teachers, be politicians, be preachers be believers, be leaders be astronauts, be champions” and I add Be Researchers!!!

Thandiswa mazwayi “ Nizalwa ngobani” ( have you forgotten where you come from)

The inspirational women of my life

This is the one song that keeps reminding me that as a young aspiring researcher I am standing on the shoulders of great women who have been trailblazers in their own right in shaping the world we live in. Women have not always had it easy (nor do they have it easy nowadays) particularly in the workspace. They are underestimated and sometimes expected to conform to unethical behaviour just to get their feet on the doors of their career paths. Having been a victim of patriarchal behaviour myself I appreciate and applaud the women who despite the enormous challenges they face in their workspaces they have soldiered on for themselves while paving the way for those who come after them. I guess these women, like me, when the going gets tough they always remember the place of their dreams and hard sacrifices that they come from.

Towards the end of this song Thandiswa pays a special tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, it is this part of the song that always makes me think we have rich heritage of women in this country be it teachers, lawyers, cleaners, women who sweep the streets we walk on, influencers, bloggers and women in many other career paths who through their work have shaped the world we live in . That is where we come from.

Lira “be about it

“Lira puts it beautifully when she writes about one making a choice about what they want to do in the world “Think about it, Speak about it, Be about it …”I remember listening to this song and it reminded me of a Tedx Talk that I once watched. The talk was delivered by Kakenya Ntaiya, who was sharing her journey about staring at a girl’s school in Kenya.

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Kakenya Ntaiya

In her talk, Kakenya Ntaiya explains what inspired her to start a girl’s school in a village where young girls and women were not allowed to get an education. I remember thinking to myself “this woman is goals, when I grow up I want to be like her”. In my view, Kakenya embodies what Lira calls us forth to do through her song as she continues to transform the lives of young girls in her village while inspiring many across the globe like me. At times when I’m discouraged (particularly by my methodology not coming together) I do what Lira encourages us to do I think about it, I speak about it and then I go on to be about my research because I have de decided to become a researcher

Truth is we will not always be disciplined to carry out our research work sometimes we need motivation until we conquer.  “When you’re fighting for it all your life, You’ve been working every day and night that’s how a superhero learns to fly every day, every hour, turn the pain into powerThe Script