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Ethiopia student experience-sharing programme reloaded

Unisa’s Ethiopia Regional Learning Centre (RLC), housed in the College of Graduate Studies (CGS), hosted another round of the student experience-sharing programme on 7 August 2021.

This particular programme was arranged for master’s and doctoral (M&D) students who are based in Ethiopia. Its aim is to encourage students on their journey to attaining their degrees and to make them aware of some of the challenges that lie ahead.

In this session, three Unisa doctoral graduates, from different fields of study, were invited to share their extensive experience and to provide encouragement to those who are currently enrolled for their postgraduate studies and following in their footsteps by obtaining a qualification.

Dr Zekarias Wolika Derara

Dr Yerasework Kebede Hailu

The doctoral journey is an unfinished journey

The first speaker of the session was Dr Yerasework Kebede Hailu. She has a PhD in Development Studies, MA (Cum Laude) in Development Studies and an Honours Degree in Development Studies from UNISA. She did her BA in Political Science and International Relations, at Addis Ababa University.

Dr Hailu currently serves as a staff member at the UNISA Ethiopia Regional Learning Centre, as an Assistant to the Regional Director. Before she joined UNISA, in 2007, she worked at the Embassy of Nigeria in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as Social Secretary to the head of mission, for more than ten years. Dr Kebede also worked as a Project Coordinator at the NGO, Concern – Ireland in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and as a Purchasing and Supplies Management Officer at the College of Urban Planning.

To get access to better opportunities and to learn something new, Dr Hailu did her doctoral studies and, in so doing, she also hoped to fulfil her ambition of finding joy in sharing knowledge and to achieve something significant. In her presentation, she indicated that the attributes that helped her in her studies was a willingness to learn, flexibility, motivation, self-discipline and, moreover, recognising one’s limitation and being self-reliant.

Dr Hailu explained the importance of having a framework and how vital it is to develop effective project management and time management skills, to ensuring that your doctoral journey will be a success. She explained to the participants how she divided her time by creating various folders for her doctoral studies along with time for her family, spirituality and work. She advised the students to set realistic goals and not to be discouraged when things get bumpy. She emphasised that the doctoral journey is not a straight line, as there are ups and downs, but she reminded students that they have to be strong and courageous to overcome all the obstacles.

Hailu’s doctoral journey in four phases

Dr Hailu described her doctoral journey in four phases. The first phase, namely the “Dying” phase, she described as a period of struggle. During this time, she developed her research project outline and project timeframe, which was a very difficult process in the proposal development phase.

The second phase is the “Surviving” phase, which she experienced as an uplifting and assuring period, where she was able to work on the content of her doctoral studies. In this phase, she did the literature review and the methodology, which required lots of reading and writing.

The third phase is called the “Progressing” phase. She characterised it as the stage of hope, wherein she did the data collection and analysis.

Finally, the fourth phase is the “Accelerating” phase. During this phase, she worked on the conclusion, recommendations and final submission. She emphasised the importance of balancing your work, family and life with your doctoral studies.

Dr Kebede related that during the course of her studies, she faced challenges such as stress, self-doubt, anxiety and feelings of isolation, and she assured the students that they are likely to face similar challenges. She concluded her session by highlighting that doctoral studies is a very demanding undertaking and a long journey, which needs, courage, good planning, understanding of the requirements and the ability to identify the right tools to address the challenges, and the ability to acclimatise and persevere to gain the ultimate reward, earning your PhD. She added that students should be aware that the doctoral journey is an unfinished journey, the thirst for knowledge and learning is a lifelong undertaking.

Excellent advisory service and student support

The second speaker that was invited to the experience sharing session, was Dr Girum Sebsibe Teshome. Dr Teshome has a PhD in Public Health from Unisa. He has an MSc in Paediatrics and Child Health Nursing, from Mekele University, and a BSc in Nursing, from Addis Ababa University.

Dr Teshome is one of the graduates from MOSHE (Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education), a major stakeholder for Unisa, in Ethiopia, who has a bilateral agreement to build the human capital of the country. Currently, Dr Teshome works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, at the College of Health Sciences, at Addis Ababa University. He is an experienced researcher of 14 years and a coordinator for MSc in Paediatrics and Child Health Nursing, as well as MSc in Neo-Natal Nursing, at Addis Ababa University.

The testimonials of Unisa doctoral graduates and his personal interest to further his studies motivated him to join Unisa for his PhD. He appreciated the coordinated support he generally received from the university, mentioning the information supplied by and the responsiveness of the Ethiopian Regional Learning Centre staff, who ensured that his application and registration were facilitated smoothly. He also lauded the timely assignment of a supervisor at the headquarters.

Enabling research support

Dr Teshome underlined the importance of attending the workshops organised by the university. He shared his experience of the face-to-face workshops he attended - before the advent of COVID-19. Dr Teshome said the workshops helped him significantly in the timely selection and approval of a topic and in the proposal development, he witnessed the commitment of Unisa professors to assist students in such workshops. In particular, he mentioned that he appreciated the excellent advisory support he received from his supervisor. Because of the support he was given, he was able to get the proposal approval and ethical certificate within one year. Moreover, the bursary fund (research fund) from UNISA helped a lot to enable him to do his research successfully.

He further discussed his experiences by referring to his research paper and sharing his research objectives and findings, along with the strategies he has developed to eliminate MTCT in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This initiated further engagement with some of the participants, who are studying in his discipline. They had the opportunity to raise questions that were specific to the subject matter and some discussion ensued. He also mentioned the challenges he faced with data collection, and how he used his supervisor’s support, along with consultations with experts, like statisticians, to solve the challenges. Dr Teshome has, to date, published two articles since obtaining his doctorate. He emphasised the role his supervisor played in the successful completion of his studies, by exemplifying his ongoing smooth relationship with his supervisor. He advised the students to develop a good working relationship with their supervisors.

Setting timelines

The third speaker of the session was Dr Zekarias Wolika Derara. He completed his doctoral and master’s studies in Business Leadership, with specialisation in Finance, from Unisa. He did his BA in Business Administration, at Addis Ababa University.

Dr Derara is a certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and has extensive work experience in the oil product sector (auditing, risk management, account and finance). He has been working in sales and marketing management in retail, B2B, B2C, aviation, lubricants and non-fuel businesses. He also served as auditor and internal control reviews in Africa, Europe and North America. Currently, Dr Derara is a General Manager at Naztech Petroleum, a lubricant manufacturing and distributing company.

He discussed his doctoral journey by dividing his experience in three phases. The first is the “Proposal Writing” phase, which requires lots of reading, to determine how your research relates to already existing studies, how it compares with the existing body of knowledge and how you could contribute.

He also underlined that the subsequent chapter, namely the literature review, as an important milestone in the study journey, as it requires you to adjust your focus, since you may be asked to amend your topic and scope. “Both the research topic and advisor selection process are critical for your success in your PhD journey,” he emphasised. He encouraged students to attend the research proposal writing sessions and read all documents provided. “These are the steppingstones of your research work and contribute to the timely approval of your proposal. If you write a good proposal, life will be easy in developing the methodology and collection of your data, and prove or disprove your hypothesis or propositions.”

The second phase is the “Methodology Development” phase. This is where the student will be expanding on what they have written at the proposal phase. In this phase, the student is required to go deep into data collection procedures, the sample size, the type of analysis and the method that they will be using and how you are going to conclude. These all need the approval of the supervisor, in order to get to the research method that would best fit your topic. Moreover, during this phase, students will also need to finalise the overall research design and draw up the project time plan. He also advised the students to be wise, by being open to discussing their research paper with experts, statisticians and consultants in the field of research, to get valuable comments and share knowledge.

The third phase of his discussion was called, “Thesis Result Writing and Defence". He indicated that this was the most challenging stage. He strongly advised students to develop a good working relationship with the supervisor assigned to them, from the beginning, to set up a timeline for communication and to follow up with the supervisor, to avoid delays on various issues, for instance, finding a language editor in South Africa. In this regard, he suggested that students liaise with the supervisor or other UNISA staff to identify a language editor. Moreover, he shared the challenges associated with finding ways ensure payment for the language editor. He strongly encouraged students to follow up with the supervisor if there are any changes with procedures, such as thesis submission in the department. He mentioned the challenges he faced regarding this aspect, which delayed the process as well as with assignment of external examiners. Accordingly, he advised the students to contact the supervisor for feedback, straight after the defence of the thesis, or examination from examiners, and to attend to the amendment and revert back to the supervisor to discuss those aspects that need to be revised or to convince your supervisor on those changes you don’t find acceptable.

He concluded his session by highlighting the important points that students should keep in mind to be successful in their doctoral studies, drawing from his own experience, which are: building professional relationship with the supervisor and regular communication; handling the supervisor’s feedback timeously; resolving disagreements amicably; setting timelines; and teaching yourself some necessary skills to get things done such as access to SPSS, and other reference writing software; to do the plagiarism check (Turnitin) and to do the necessary correction. Most of all, he advised the students not to be discouraged when things are not going well, but to stay determined to reach their goals. Finally, he shared a practical framework to direct the steps of the journey among the participants.

Engagement session

The participants then had an opportunity to raise questions. The questions posed related to aspects such as access to various free Scopus index journals, supervision-related issues and challenges, ways of acquiring the assistance or services of experts like consultants and statisticians, bursaries, workshop-related inquiries and about research tools such as SPSS. The staff of the regional learning centre, including Dr Tsige Aberra, the Regional Director, were engaged in providing answers to various questions and comments by the participants.

The Regional Director explained various points in relation to turnaround time with supervisors, advised student to make use the MS Dashboard and to craft ways to attend the various workshops organised by the university to fast track their studies. As well as emphasising how important it is to build a working relationship with their supervisors, students were reminded to work hard and remain focused on their studies.

* By Gelilawit Belay Mekonnen, Student Advisor, Ethiopia Regional Learning Centre


Publish date: 2021/09/14