Where to now?

It is my great pleasure to announce that I passed my MSc degree and will be graduating next year in May :-D. Pretty cool right? Having worked so much to acquire such a milestone has helped me to appreciate the work that goes in having a Master’s degree. In fact, it has shown me that people who have a Master’s degree should be treated with respect and that this degree should not be seen as a pit-stop towards getting the big one (PhD).

Talking about a PhD, whilst I was waiting for my MSc results, I had enough time to think about my PhD aspirations, my concept and whether having a PhD would have any positive contribution towards where I want to be in the next 5 years. To be honest, I still have no tangible solution towards this conundrum that I call my future. However, there is no debate that I one day want to be a young Dr Mabusela.

I would like to believe that I still have a lot that I can contribute towards the poultry nutrition field and I also believe that going on to do my PhD would provide that platform to contribute.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog about how research can be used as a tool to eradicate food insecurity in our country. This is what I want to do with my PhD, I want to be able to use it as a tool to improve the socio-economic status of South Africa through the development of effective agricultural practices. I want to look back in the next 10 years and feel like my PhD made a monumental contribution to not only the research field but also the poultry production value chain.

As I cogitate on my future prospects, I think about various debates that people often have with regards to the approach needed when looking to pursue a PhD. Some people have argued that going into industry and giving your PhD aspirations a break could possibly offer more insight with regards to developing a novel concept. They believe that understanding all the finer details of the poultry value chain would help understand fully the problems as well the type of research questions to ask when conducting your PhD trials.

For a greater part, I agree with that logic but however, it contradicts my main belief. I believe that our life is like a timeline and that everything has its own place in that timeline. If not done at the right time, then the chances of that working out are reduced exponentially, leading to a rip in the time and space continuum.  This fits in particularly well with the contribution that I think having a PhD would have towards my life, 5 years from now. If I do not continue with my PhD, then I might not get to where I want to be. Granted, I don’t know where that will be, but having a PhD at that time will assist me to access an array of careers.

From http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/o/og_mandino.html
From http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/o/og_mandino.html

Talking about confusion and future aspiration, so many people aren’t where they would like to be in life; many religious individuals are starting to believe that maybe God has turned his back on them. Whether that be true or false but I believe that just like seeds in the South African dry soils, we all have roles that we have to play in order to make sure that we have a good harvest in the following year. The problem is that, just like the seeds in the dry soils, greater forces will only allow us to sprout and grow into awesome harvests when the environment is conducive for that growth. The wait might appear to be counter-revolutionary but sprouting at the wrong time will most certainly lead to destruction. So in a seed shell, waiting, and controlling things you can control is the answer and have faith that when the time is right, greater forces will play their part.

The take home message is that things will happen when they happen and that’s something we have no control over. The best you can do is play your part, till those dry soils, plant those seeds and hope and pray that you’ve done enough to ensure that you get a good crop when the good rains come.

Making the most of your time as a PhD student

Throughout my academic career I have been told that once I complete my studies the doors of opportunity would fly open for me. I have not found that to be true. Getting a secure job, or even accessing the funds to create your own job, is not guaranteed. A study undertaken by Dr Amaleya Goneos-Malka found that a PhD may actually decrease your employability as this qualification is not necessarily valued outside of academia. More than once, I have had to climb laboriously through narrow windows because those proverbial doors never just sprung open. With this experience it is strange that I haven’t been more intentional or strategic about preparing for the world of work and life post-PhD.

I recently started a process of finding out which skills I have that can be transferred to industry outside of academia – just in case my original plan does not pan out.

septemberblogGetting an academic job is no mean feat. A short while ago I read a book called the ‘Professor is in’ by Professor Karen Kelsky. Actually, I received the book as a present a long while ago, but I was too afraid to read it. In a nutshell, Kelsky lays out the skills and techniques that doctoral candidates need in order to secure a tenured position at a university. And yes, the South African market is not the American market, but we’re heading straight there. I found Kelsky’s book simultaneously comforting and frightening. Comforting, as she lays out a roadmap to follow in making yourself marketable for an academic job; frightening, because she also paints a very bleak picture for those who wish to follow the tenure track. The crux of what I got out of the book is that: to be competitive, you need to be intentional about the additional skills you acquire over the course of your degree, and you also need to package yourself appropriately; YOU are the product.

If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would have done things a bit differently from the start of my PhD, which includes being mindful about opportunities in the private sector. Below is a list of four things that I would have done differently (and I am working on correcting):

  1. Develop three different aspirational resumes: one for the corporate world, one for the NGO sector and, one for academia. These resumes would be modelled on the skills and expertise that I need for each sector. The idea is that by the time that I am done with building up my skills, I have three different areas that I have the capacity to enter based on my initial skillset and area of interest.
  2. Learn how to network better. I do not understand how networking really works although I know it is important. I am never sure what I am supposed to say to strangers and how to cultivate professional relationships outside of my area of expertise. I have made it my mission for the rest of the year to get better at building relationships.
  3. Be more adaptable and always have a willingness to learn. The reality is – the world has problems that need to be fixed. I need to adapt my skillset to meet the ever-changing challenges ahead and never say NO to learning something new. I am kicking myself for somehow Unlearning how to be adaptable:While studying towards my undergraduate degree, I worked part-time as an outbound insurance telemarketer. I was forced to learn about various insurance products, but I also had to learn how to “sell”. I earned a pretty decent commission on top of my basic salary. What I learned in that call centre is that your primary job is to figure out what your customer needs and give it them. Somewhere along the line I lost that person, who was always ready to think out of the box to meet society’s needs.
  4. Make better use of free university workshops while I can. I have come to realise that many of the capacity building workshops that are offered for free at university, such as journal writing or learning how to use the latest software, are worth a premium outside the ivory towers. All that it costs me is time and a few weeks of commitment but the rewards are immeasurable.

My list is not in anyway complete, as I am working out the details. I plan to book a few sessions with a career coach in the near future to help figure out how to navigate my post-doctoral life. I would appreciate any tips that you may have in the comments section below.