My Work is My Art: the PhD thesis as a reflection

Much like a painter or a sculptor moulds their soul onto a project, so does a doctoral candidate lay their very essence into a document that would forever be laid bare for others to admire or admonish. As Africans, across the colour spectrum, we often get bombarded with statistics about how South Africa, and Africa in general, does not produce enough doctoral candidates. What all these statistics and policy laments seem to forget is the human element in producing a doctoral thesis. Living in a social context that has  dual expectations of its emerging academics: put your nose in your books and figure out solutions to the countries problems; on the other hand, always keep your mind on the fact that you’re expected to plough back into your community sooner rather than later.

My journey as a black African female PhD candidate has been a very interesting one. The very nature of being black and female already socially locates you in your interactions with colleagues, and your community of practice. There is an unspoken pressure to conform to “rules” that nobody ever voices out loud: be confident but not seen as aggressive; be well read and articulate but not appear arrogant; and, take initiative but do come off as bossy… amongst other ridiculous unspoken rules.

Certainly, all women, regardless of race, have undue pressure placed upon them but the weight of the pressure is made more acute by their intersecting identities. Some identities have a heavier burden than others.

My other identities are as wife and a mother of two children, each identity with its own pressures and complications. What does this have to do with completing a thesis? A lot. Writing any piece of academic work entails you wearing two hats simultaneously: a researcher hat and that of a writer. The work you ultimately produce is a reflection of your skill, labour, spirit and how much you have been able to translate your knowledge into a piece that is capable of impacting your reader in some way. Putting it differently, there is a constant tension between the creative and the academic.

Photo credit: modul via / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: modul via / CC BY-NC

All these unspoken pressures have a way of either spurring you on to produce something worthy or pushing you completely off course. In the Atlantic’s Creative Breakthrough Series, Ta-Nehisi Coates, an author and journalist, provides profound advice on writing. I would like to share two gems, put in my own words: innovations come from pressure; and, to become better writers we need to write more.   This truth is the same for academic composition- at least in my opinion. Every thesis chapter that I write, revise, and rewrite, has made me a better writer. The academy, at least in South Africa, is pretty good at teaching research and data mining skills but not how to write. Yet, the art of writing is one of the most powerful tools of communication and provides a snapshot of who we are.

What does your snapshot reflect?

Rings are not only for birds…

By Davide Gaglio

Here we are again! I’m just back from the 2nd Seabird Conference…it was such a great experience! conference

It was literally “magic” when on the big screen of the auditorium we received a message from Jane Goodall.

And I really enjoyed the (quite funny) “Seabird (nerd) competition” during the final buffet!

I was very happy to be part of this magnificent event,

(you’ll see me from 8:35 – 8:55)

and good news, good news…I made to the top 10 of the best student talks!

Whooop whooop!!

Well, now it’s time to change the topic and get dressed… on the 28th of November I will be getting married!
Yes, you read correctly! You might ask… “getting married and finish a PhD in the same time????” Well… pursuing a PhD degree is not an easy way to go – at times you definitely just want to give up. To have someone accompany you on this difficult journey sounds like a great idea to me!

Some people have told me that having a spouse during a PhD distracts you from research. But I believe instead that, if you marry the right person, your research might even improve. PhD students decide to marry the same way every other human does, right?! Some choose to wait until they finish their degree to get married; others just after school; while some choose not to even think about relationships.

In some respects, getting married and pursing a PhD are ….same same…but DIFFERENT!!!


Marriage has been a recurrent idea in my mind since I started my PhD, as I’ve been in love with my future wife for a long time…and we finally decided there is no reason for us to wait any longer.

Of course, I’m deliriously happy, but quite busy with only a few left weeks to go; we are ticking off the things that are needed to be done beforehand. Even though we are having a small ceremony, there is still quite some planning to do…. but luckily we have support from amazing friends and family, who are making the job very easy for us. It’s easy to get distracted with all the planning but we mustn’t forget the truth of the day. It’s one day of our lives when we get to share our love with family and all friends we have picked up along the way. It can only be filled with happiness. But not only that, it also represents the start of a whole new adventure ahead for us and that’s what we are both looking forward too.

Ok I promise I will show you some photos once I am back!…now I have to run and get a suit! ciao ciao.