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Jekoniya Chitereka is a Researcher and Demographer with over 10 years of experience in Zimbabwe. His experience in research management, coordination covers community development, sexual and reproductive health including HIV and AIDS. He has worked with multilateral agencies such as UNFPA, UNICEF and UNDP. He is currently a Researcher at the University of Leeds where his project is an interdisciplinary study exploring the relationship between Science, Technology & Innovation investment and development in Africa. His research particularly focuses on the on-going Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and Development in Africa using Radio Astronomy (DARA) projects.

In this interview, I am interested in his experience of getting funding for post graduate education in top institutions which is a struggle for many Africans. Jekoniya shares very helpful tips when searching for funding. You would gain a lot from reading it.

What made you to leave Zimbabwe for post graduate Study in the UK?

I saw an advert on FindaPhd for a PhD opportunity focusing on the politics of science, technology and innovation in Africa. I reflected on the kind of work I was already doing: I was the National Coordinator for research with the National Research Council of Zimbabwe working on the science, technology and innovation system in Zimbabwe and how it interacts with other issues in terms of inputs to government and development. From that perspective, I was really motivated to work on something that has to do with the politics of science and innovation. This was of interest to me because such issues are not as straightforward or ordinary as they seem. There is politics behind the interaction between players: for example fighting for resources within budgets which are already constrained. So when I came across the opportunity, I told myself that really needed to apply. I was applying on the strength of someone who had worked in that kind of system. Before then, I was already looking for PhD opportunities but this particular one struck me because of my interest. Although I have years of experience, I strongly feel that a PhD is a step towards bridging professional development I have so far and the academia.

In your opinion, what is the difference between schooling in the UK and Zimbabwe?

In the UK, the resources in terms of journals, books and human resources available for study. In my country, yes, there are supervisors and institutions but obviously they are constrained because of competing interests. The workload of teaching is a lot and there may not be resources available for research.

Since schooling in the UK, have you experienced any culture shock?

In my country, people are direct when discussing issues. But here in the UK, you need to deduce what they are telling you: they give you various options to choose from. It now requires your insight and wisdom to determine the direction to go. During my masters, my supervisor told me exactly what to do.

What is your advice for students who want to pursue postgraduate studies in top institutions? How can they access funding?

You have to be proactive. You may not necessarily wait for adverts or opportunities to come up. Prior to getting this scholarship, I was initiating conversations with lecturers telling them of my ideas and interests. From this, you may not get the funding you want but it would actually sharpen your concept note and research proposal. From there, you might come across opportunities on different websites such as FindaPhD. I am sure that there are a lot of websites and university websites you can scan through and see opportunities. The most important thing is when there is an idea, funding follows. There are also funding agencies who have their own interests. Look at the interests of these funding agencies and those of prospective supervisors as well. You can have a brilliant idea but if it doesn’t tally with the interest of the supervisor, you may not get it. This means you also have to look at the profile of your potential supervisors to know their areas of interests. Normally on adverts, you see the profiles of these supervisors. Then look at your concept note or proposal and see whether it fits into their prospects. Remember that PhD is a journey of three or four years. There is no point of having a supervisor who does not have interests in what you are doing.

Thank you Jekoniya for talking to Desert Bloom. This is wishing you more grace as you continue this PhD journey.

Ides Ofune

Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at info@desertbloomadvisory.com

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