Where My Head’s At: Research Update

Part of my rationale for starting this blog was–in addition to being a space for reflection–also as an additional accountability tool. As I mentioned in passing in my first blog post, I have decided to set up a “community advisory committee” in addition to the required academic advisory committee.

I see this as an important way to hopefully ground my project more meaningfully as part of ongoing conversations based in and relevant to communities in Nairobi (rather than in/for academic conversations at the University of California – Irvine). I feel strongly about this because I am not doing my PhD project solely for the service of advancing theoretical knowledge about Africa. Rather, I’m keen to have it be grounded in topics/areas of research of interest to people living/working in “Africa” (using scare quotes here because I always feel squeamish about referencing the continent as if it is/were a singular whole — more on this in future posts!).

I came to my project because of what I experienced first-hand myself being the subject of repetitive research questions time and time again in my job as research manager at the iHub in Nairobi. Why weren’t those who came to interview me more prepared? Despite having done a “literature review,” why had none of them ever read any of our papers and work? (Answer: because a lot of it was “grey literature” that was not in the top-most prestigious peer-reviewed journals and also particular ideas about who is doing “expert knowledge”?). Why–despite my explicit request–did not a single one of them ever send me follow-up material from our talk or even at the very least a transcript of the conversation (which I wanted to use to forward to future research requests!)? I must emphasize (and I’m sure I will continue to say this): my project doesn’t seek to fling blame or critique, but rather to understand more broadly how these behaviors may be better understood through the structures of contemporary (global) knowledge production. More interesting to me is how to move beyond critique and towards potentially expansive and imaginative work.

In line with such experimentation, I am attempting to set up a local advisory structure analogous to the academic advisory committee (which for me is based at my academic institution of University of California – Irvine). I’m calling this a “community advisory committee” for now, but haven’t figured out the details of the engagement yet. I’m drawing insight from Montoya and Kent (2011) and trying to figure it out as I go. (Any suggestions/experiences/ideas always much welcome!)

I’m envisioning an annual or twice/year face-to-face meeting with the 2 – 4 members of the committee to whom I will send short updates (to be also cross-posted on this blog!). I also hope to engage with the different members on one-on-one basis as needed / when relevant. Thus far I’ve asked and received acceptances from two members of the CAC. As with the announcement of the chair for my orals last week, I’m going to refrain from giving out identifying details yet until I’ve spoken with them about posting the information publically.

I will have a section in this blog for these regular updates for now and invite my CAC members (and also the wider public) to review and offer any suggestions/feedback/thoughts you may have!


Milestone – Chair of Orals Committee Accepted!

A key part of the PhD journey is figuring out who you want to walk along with you to guide and support your growth as a thinker, especially when times get tough, (but also people who will question you when you think everything is going fine!). In other words, choosing your advisors is a key decision because they should be your biggest critics and also hopefully your best cheerleaders.

My PhD program is a bit different as compared to other Anthropology programs and doctoral programs more generally in that we do not choose who we will work with when we come in. We might have a general inclination about who we would want to work with, but just as the department assumes that our projects will change over the first two years of the program, they also assume that those we will work with may change as well.

But once you hit your 3rd year (cue next week, when I officially start the third year of my PhD program… eeek! where has the time gone?!), suddenly everyone is like… so… who’s on your committee?

Luckily, today I finally decided to make the plunge (after so many months of anxiety about making sure I chose the right advisor – my enneagram 7 type coming in for sure…) and today I asked a faculty member to be the chair of my orals committee… and she said yes! Should I have brought a ring and/or handcuffs?? hehe… Not sure yet… but having that sorted out definitely feels like a load off my shoulders. I’m so happy to have a key role filled by someone I highly respect and look up to and I will keep you posted on how the relationship moves forward.

One thing that I decided last year (Fall 2016) was that I would set up a Community Advisory Board to whom I will also be holding myself accountable to much like I do with my Academic Advisory Board. I plan to write more about this soon because I hope that this will ground my project with key project stakeholders outside of the academy.