I have had a very good relationship with my field assistant, drivers, young farmers, and friends for the past four months. What’s outstanding in our conversations all the time, is the position they always give me by asking some kind of questions that I always respond in an ontological manner. My research assistant perhaps had the most interesting and thought provoking questions I ever answered.
1. How is your writing going?
I tell her the usual answer every scholar will give to her/his peers: ‘it is going’. Of course, what else can you say? All you have done for the past months, is plan for interviews and fieldwork, and rarely read academic work. However, since she is your junior, you dare not reveal to her that writing is very difficult at this very stage of your PHD. You keep her focused, and maybe even thinking that a PHD venture is a tough one- with writing and planning fieldwork all at the same time! Maybe I should disclose to her, that I mostly write short stories on my journal, text messages, and comment on people’s FB status (mainly using smileys) rather than write another paragraph of those overdue conference papers!
2. How do you raise finances for your upkeep?
She wonders a lot how I manage to pay my bills yet I am unemployed. She does not understand why I have no sympathy for spending money. When I complain that I might be short of cash, she wants to know how I will make ends meet. She is yet to get to this world, where being a PHD student is not just about reading, fieldwork, and writing. It is also the ability to engage in multiple projects within or outside your field of experience so that you can raise extra income as you gain experience and enrich your PHD.I cannot tell her exactly what I do on the side, but I do hint her. In fact, she cannot tell what time I actually spend on these side-jobs because I am forever telling her about my research. but she may have an idea, because every week I take at least one day ‘off’ to attend to ‘side-jobs’.
3. Do you ever get challenges in relationships now that you are a young lady doing her PHD? What? No. is the answer I give to her and many others who ask me this question. Frankly, my social life has only been limited by my absence from the social gatherings – as I have spent a lot of time in the field. I am in very healthy relationships and I cannot regret whatsoever. None of my friendships has been broken because I am enrolled into a PHD- it’s not a crime, right? The marriage question obvious follows, and I remind her there is time for everything. As soon as the PHD project is finished, a family and baby project is in line! She definitely can’t believe this, maybe because I have made sure that between me and her it’s purely the PHD project, what I do when not with her is none of her business.
4. Can I remind you to call X and to send me information B? Or; what time would you like to call X, and remember to send me B.
Of course yes my assistant, that’s why you are my assistant. I have realized that I can do very well with personal assistants in my life. They not only make sure I am more productive, they also keep me excited about the things I do in life, and they end up learning a lot about me. They end up looking like me. I always like when she produces the list of people I need to call, send emails to, and then ask if there is something else we have forgotten. Sometimes I think I am too young to have this kind of person, but then I realize I have always had an assistant since 2009 when working with AYICC.
5. Oh my God! I should teach you how to cook some food!
Damn! So you think because I have #phdcrisis I have no idea how I kitchen and recipes look like? Have you forgotten that I am always shopping for food whenever we travel? I found this an irritating question. Just because I can’t prepare a particular dish in the right way, does not mean you dismiss me for not being good in the kitchen at all! The next time, I will bring you a dish prepared by myself and you will have to eat it, just to proof I can cook- and I seriously enjoy this activity.
6. Sincerely, you have really lost weight!
She forgets that she only met me in February and has no idea how I have always looked like before our paths crossed. She has no idea if I have been going to the gym with an intention of losing the weight.
7. I would really want to improve on my grades so that I can also get a scholarship after my degree.
Go! Go! Go! But, don’t do it because you can see what I am doing. Each one of us has a talent and a passion. What is yours? If mine is talking to people all day, reading for a month non-stop, or writing forever and ever, it does not mean all those I come across should be the same. I get irritated when I meet some of my peers who similarly start complaining how they have not even started on their masters- of course we are not in a competition! In addition, we are not meant to achieve the same things in life. We shall need to support each other in our diverse workplaces in future. Don’t struggle with a PHD just because I seem to be having a blast in it! We are all uniquely fashioned for this world, what is it that you are good at?
8. Eish. Which place don’t you have a contact? Every place you go, there is someone you know.
Maybe, none. She forgets that despite my age, I had spent nine years of my career accumulating contacts. I have colleagues, friends, and family who know people whom I need to know and keep in my network. I am teaching her to be a serial networker - just as I am. She is just starting, and she might get there soon. I do enjoy my serial networking skills during these times of fieldwork.
9. The accounting for fieldwork? I will help you with that.
Of course, yes! This PHD has not made me love accounting for Travel Advance and anything that concerns money. I actually leave most of these details to her, because she is swift and is money-minded. I definitely would want someone like that working with me in future- wiling to learn from me, but also support me with the skills and capacities I lack.
10. How did you manage to book an appointment with journalist J, farmer K and organization V?
As I said in 8 above, I am a serial networker, and you might be just surprised when I call you one day, and tell you to get ready for an interview with the president. I happen to have amazing communication and networking skills (thank God, I have such a sweet tongue) and I professionally make use of them. It’s one of the expertise I really cherish in my career and that I see myself getting to a very unique position later on, if I keep doing it the right way.
In summary, my journey is just as it ought to be, life questions will have life answers, and nothing makes the PHD project a unique venture. Keep on, rock on!