No matter your PhD needs, PhD Twitter has you covered…

In keeping with the spirit of being a millennial…I’m going talk about PhD Twitter and how great it is 🙂 . Before I did my PhD I hated Twitter. I found it too random, for lack of a better word. And not even lists and carefully curated content made a difference. I would login once and forget to come back for another six months. Until I started my PhD…

It started off with following the organizations I like, and then I got into PhD Twitter hashtags. #PhDchat #PhDlife #PhDadvice, #PhD… you name it. The information was still random, but now I felt connected to it. I was entertained, encouraged, and sometimes even enlightened. You cannot go 2 tweets without something that brings an emotional response out of you. And that’s why the platform is so addictive. Follow with care!

PhD Twitter can encourage you just as much as it can freak you out. Often people share horror stories of their experiences, or their disillusion with the PhD and academia…and you will wonder why you logged in. Here are some of my favourite (and not so favourite) things to engage with on PhD Twitter:

  1. Practical advice

This is a checklist on dealing with supervision. The best part for me is the comment from the PhD student, who balances this neat checklist with a little dose of reality. Some advice out there will miss the nuances of your situation, or your motivations at the time. As one of the responses state, sometimes your desperation to get into a program makes it hard to make sure your supervisor and project meet some criteria.

When you feel you can do the research and the supervisor seems nice enough, you do it.  We settle for the acceptance letter, and plan to solve all other issues later.  For better or worse. But it is good to always have this kind of advice around. PhD consultants abound on Twitter. There’s a checklist for everything.  And we don’t mind… we are begging to graduate and we are not choosers.

  1. Solidarity

Sometimes it takes only a few words to express it all, when others have had that same experience. And that is one of the most comforting feelings for any human — more so the PhD student. This person expressed a challenge without getting into detail, and was able to get support and sympathy from other PhD students. With every little word of encouragement, retweet, and heart, she felt a little better.

Even old acquaintances reached out to suggest a little coffee break…

…you can tell our PhD student hasn’t been all that reachable on the phone.

  1. Much. Relate.

Sometimes you stand in solidarity with others because you know you might need it someday, or you know how it feels to need those words of encouragement. But sometimes someone’s challenge seems like an exact replica of yours. And a comic strip captures everything that you go through or feel. When someone out there tweets about something this real, we can’t help but testify.  We say things like “I feel so attacked right now” (this is a good thing), “stop talking about my life”, and like this person, “behold, the gospel”.

  1. The dark side…

Sometimes someone will give you a little dose of reality regarding the PhD journey – the low paying academic jobs awaiting you, the poor job prospects overall, how overqualified you are for most positions, and how unsuitable you are for industry. When this advice comes from a well-rounded source it is palatable – perhaps a current academic trying to find their way in the milieu, someone who quit but found something valuable to do (“industry”, their own passions etc.).  Anybody who is not all doom and gloom.  But then there are pages like this:

Is not having any more PhD students the solution to all of challenges facing academia and society? With pages like these you don’t even do an example tweet. Just do a quick scroll through the timeline and if you are a PhD student, tell me if you aren’t scared. And discouraged. Or at least mildly concerned.

  1. PhD secrets. How many secrets can one field have?

PhD secrets are like PhD advice 2.0. They aren’t regular advice; they are things Big Academia is hiding from you! Sometimes they are educational; sometimes they are to the tune of number 4 above. These secrets are multifaceted. Some hide in plain sight…

Some are really, really magical hacks you would otherwise have not uncovered…

Who knew changing the name of a file you have been working on forever could give you a new lease on life? Changing your perspective on something changes how you deal with it for sure. Sometimes we make things harder for ourselves by thinking they are more complex than they really are. And little mental hacks like these are the little miraculous things that we didn’t even know could unlock our creativity and keep us going.

  1. Big ideas on the PhD in the 21st century…

Through PhD Twitter you get access to all of the latest ideas on how universities can reinvent the program and stay valuable to society.  Through these ideas, we as students can also see where our careers are headed. We know that change is inevitable, and graduate programs will have to continually evolve to fit better into their contexts. This means negotiating our own place in it, thinking about the meaning of what we do, and because we are the custodians of the future PhD …maybe even think ahead on the best way to advance science and the PhD in the future.

These are just six of the multitude of things you encounter during a brief session of PhD Twitter. Sometimes I get tired of the self-obsession of the platform. But sometimes it’s the only thing that can keep me going. A little bit of hope goes a long way. And virtual hugs sometimes work.  PhD twitter is great. Anyone, big or small, can have a say in things. Get advice. Feel connected to a bigger picture. All at the tap of an app…

Collaboration: It’s the African way!

Africa is a very beautiful continent with vast possibilities, especially when it comes to research. This is because of our natural resources, something in which we can take great pride. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, we run the risk of over-exploiting our own resources as we’re slow in taking up research to address environmental degradation and climate change. I think, however, there is a solution.

Collaboration. The classical definition of the word is working with someone to produce some shared end result. But how can this benefit Africa and its researchers? Let me firstly reflect on the “great” (and rather pervasive) idea of a solitary scientist.

One of the most momentous discoveries of the modern era was the discovery of penicillin. History has it that penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming,

Sir Alexander Fleming at work.jpg
Sir Alexander Fleming at work

who was a professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. After realizing that many soldiers were dying from festering wounds during the 2nd World War, Prof Fleming decided to go to the lab and try to find a remedy. As history now tells us, he was able to isolate a rare strain of Penicillium notatum which was able to inhibit the growth of bacteria. This was the greatest discovery that  paved way for further development of antibiotics. Today, Prof Fleming is celebrated as one of the greatest scientists to have ever lived. But was Prof Fleming really alone in the lab? Formal history rarely acknowledges that it was his assistants, Stuart Craddock and Frederick Ridley, who successfully isolated pure penicillin from the mould juice that Fleming had observed.

My argument here is not that these people should be credited but rather that even the greatest discoveries were a team effort – a collaboration between two or more people. Today, this is what Africa needs. Internationally, collaboration is increasing at an incredible rate. These consortia between multiple institutions and even countries ensure maximum access to resources and further advancement of all team members’ work.

In Africa, I get the impression that we believe in making the name for ourselves, as individuals. It is almost as if not being known as a solitary researcher discredits one’s work. Sure, you can protect your ideas and discoveries if you’re working in isolation, but there are major drawbacks to keeping to yourself. Limited funds, resources and slow processes are just the beginning. We often forget that science, in its nature, is collaborative.

Let us look at what will happen if Africans were to collaborate more, instead of working in isolation.

African scientists will have access to cutting-edge technology which will open up vast possibilities for research. The networks and consortia will help with access to bigger grants that are tailored for improving the African research.

Capacity building in terms of retaining skills, more knowledge and tools will also be born from these collaborations. This directly leads to the last important element of collaboration – critique.

Much of science works better if it is critiqued. You may have two people from the same field with the same set of skills but I can bet that their opinions will not be the same. This is the reason why collaboration works. The scientist whose ideas are critiqued and pass through some amounts of fire comes out golden on the other side.

It is high time that we get these collaborations going as Africans, otherwise we are doomed to stay where we are in research. As with the true spirit of Ubuntu, we become better by working together and helping others. I do not believe that the developed countries have the intellectual capacity that we don’t. For us it just takesgoing back to our African way of being – collective action – to ensure that we see a better tomorrow.

 

Ubuntu-The true African way of being.jpg
Ubuntu-The true African way of being