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

The dreaded F-word

FUNDING. What else did you think I meant?

Finances are possibly one of the biggest concerns for a student, whether undergraduate or postgraduate.  Fees must be paid, research costs have to be met and often times we are unable to do it on our personal account (I get anxious just thinking about it). The #FeesMustFall movement has sparked many debates surrounding the cost of tertiary education, there are many opposing views but there is something we can, and should all agree on, there is a funding crisis – amidst a national and local financial crisis.

Student-Dept_t580When I was an undergraduate, I was ill-prepared for university, not in the sense of my academic skills but the associated administrative skills that accompanied it. I did not know about funding calls and applications, how to fill them out, what they meant and if I qualified. When preparing our matriculants for university we have to ensure that we prepare them for the full ride, warts and all. Part of this preparation includes bridging the knowledge gap and ensuring that students are aware of all possible funding sources and other vital support systems.

Before you even begin grant searching and writing, it is important to ask yourself what type of support you are looking for, you do not want to spend hours of your time writing a grant application for a program that does not fit your needs. You can think of it as one of those flow chart quizzes in your favourite magazine, someone asks you a question and based on your answer, you can proceed to the next relevant question.

Some important questions to ask yourself before searching for funding are:

  • What type of degree do I intend on pursuing (if you are starting/ completing an undergraduate degree)?
  • Do I intend on studying full time or part time?
  • Do I require research support or financial support for living expenses while completing my degree?
  • Do I want to apply for a more generalised grant? Or one that is specifically tailored to my field?
  • When would I need the funding? This one is important, grant calls open and close months in advance, you need to know when you would ideally like to be funded so that you can start applications in a timely fashion.

Once you have an idea of what you’re generally looking for, it’s time to start searching for appropriate grants! Here are a few links to local and international grant opportunities.

  • The National Research Foundation (NRF): Funding calls are posted regularly, the NRF funds a variety of research programs and grants for students at different stages of their careers. Be sure to check the NRF deadlines as well as the internal deadlines for various institutions (these could differ). In my experience, calls close quite early in the year so go check out the page after reading this! (Also, your funding flow chart will really come in handy here!)
    • The National Research Foundation Centres of Excellence: Under the DST-NRF banner there are also 15 Centres of Excellence that span a variety of fields and offer financial support among other things! The link to each Centre is provided on the NRF website and you can learn more about the Centre that best suits your academic trajectory
  • The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS):  NSFAS offers financial assistance to students who would otherwise be unable to afford it, applications typically open in the second half of the year.
  • Bursaries South Africa: This website is AMAZING and provides a comprehensive list of government and private bursaries. These are applicable for undergraduates and postgraduates.
  • Scholarship Positions: Another great website for finding local and international funding, search “South Africa” or browse the extensive collection of international opportunities.
  • University Financial Aid: Most South African universities have a page on their website dedicated to keeping students informed about available funding. Check out your university page for more information or Google their financial aid. Don’t be shy to call enrolment and ask for guidance.

Now that you’ve found a grant that fits your needs, get cracking on the writing! If you’re tired of reading at this point, check out the Nature Careers podcast, “The Working Scientist” by Julie Gould which is packed with a ton of grant information. If you’re still with me then read on for a few of my personal tips!

  • Keep track of your deadlines. Make notes and reminders and schedule them so that you are not panicked the day before submission. I find that I work better if I can see the deadline, so it’s written on calendars and in diaries and on my phone. Here is a great (free) online short course on Udemy to teach you how to manage your time!  These are important applications and often take a while to compose.
  • Read the funding guidelines thoroughly. I am guilty of this, in a rush to start writing I often start without reading through this very important document. Please do not do this to yourself, most times it creates more work for you as you must go back and revise or reformat! It is important to abide by the guidelines, who would review an application if the applicant hasn’t even bothered to do it correctly?
  • Don’t procrastinate! I know, again I am guilty of this, and all it ever gave me was anxiety and a loss of sleep. Try to finish your application in a timely manner! If you need a few tips on procrastination cures, check out an earlier post by my fellow blogger Joyful Mdhluli.
  • Be concise– adding a ton of jargon or trying to meet the word limit by waffling on is not a good idea. Get to the point, summarise and be clear. This requires some thinking and a lot of reworking. Sometimes it is difficult to pen down all your thoughts and plans on the first go, this is why multiple drafts help. It is always good to look at it with fresh eyes when possible!
  • Ask someone to review it, someone you trust or who you think could provide good feedback. I find that it is even better when it is someone from outside of your field of research, this is a true test of how understandable and clear your application is. This feedback can help refine before you hit submit!
  • Apply again, even if you are rejected. Rejection is difficult, knowing you invested so much time and effort in an application only to have it turned down is crushing. Do not be discouraged though, apply again even if it means changing your approach or formatting the application. You won’t get every grant you apply for, but you also won’t get any grants you don’t apply for!
  • Apply to multiple sources. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Apply to as many potential funders as possible (if you fit the criteria!).

imagesThis is by no means an answer to the crisis facing tertiary education but can provide a few people with an opportunity. We must continue to communicate and engage with policymakers in order to ensure that students get a chance to pursue their dreams without a cap and gown that come attached to a lifetime of debt.