In this storyline, I am glad to share with you my experience and lessons learnt during the post-doctoral fellowship that started since 2018. The two-years journey has been an interesting one for me as the upcoming young scholar in Sub-Saharan region. Before I tell you a full story about the post-doc fellowship, let me first tell you about myself in details such that you get to know who you are interacting with as you read this story. First of all, I am Dr. Karubanga Gabriel, Lecturer at the Department of Extension and Innovation Studies, School of Agricultural Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Makerere University. I hold a PhD in Agricultural and Rural Innovation of Makerere University, Uganda. I have been a Post-Doctoral Fellow with support Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) through Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) at Makerere University from 1st March 2018 to 28th February 2020. I have research interests include agricultural innovation systems, agricultural extension and education, communication for development including ICT-based approaches to stimulate agricultural innovation. In addition, I have special interest in knowledge management and communication, community outreach, action research, planning, monitoring and evaluation of agricultural and rural development programs. To contribute to my professional growth, I have published diverse research journal articles in different fields of agriculture, extension, education, outreach, plant health and ICT for rural development.
My story of a post-doc journey!!
After getting to know the person you want to read about, I take this opportunity to share with you my experience in details and I appreciate the time you will take reading this storyline. I hope now you are ready to ready my story. Please, note that, what I present here are my own experiences derived from the implementation of the fellowship and some of the examples I will provide will be touching. Basically, this storyline will be built around the following key questions i.e. How it started? When did it start? What was the focus? Why did I pick interest? How I was supported? How did I design the post-doc? How I was mentored? What were the achievements and lessons learnt? What were the challenges encountered and how were they mitigated? Is there any way forward for future post-docs and who to acknowledge? The storyline clearly is well-articulated below.
How and when it started? My post-doc fellowship started when I had just completed the PhD studies in January 2018. I graduated on 16th January 2018 and immediately I saw an advert on RUFORUM website – https://www.ruforum.org calling for post-doc applications (call ID: RU/2018/Post Doc RTP/01). This was an opportunity for me to take up. Immediately I consulted my mentor – Prof. Jacob Godfrey Agea where he advised me to apply. I developed a proposal and prepared all the required documents and submitted to RUFORUM before the deadline. Upon review of the applications I happened to be among those 19 scholars who were granted a post-doc fellowship (grant award number – RU/2018/Post Doc RTP/17). I was excited and happy to receive such good news. After attaining the PhD, I asked myself what next? And good news from RUFORUM provided the answer. This was an opportunity for me to grow personally and professionally as an upcoming early career scholar. The fellowship started on 1st March 2018 and it is expected to end on 28th February 2020. Two years have really moved very fast and I cannot imagine that the fellowship is soon closing!! Completing the PhD is one thing and getting start up grants to help you strengthening your research and capacity skills is another thing. It is like becoming a ‘Priest’ when there are no churches for you to practice what you are meant to do as a servant of God – this example is applicable to other religions. That is why I say thank you, CCNY and RUFORUM for impacting on my personal and professional growth. You really acted as a ‘shock absorber’ and provided soft landing for me after attaining my PhD.
Of course, like any other person who wants to become an expert in a particular research field, I anchored or build my post-doc fellowship on the PhD work but this time focusing on potential of participatory approaches, and Information and Communication Technologies for Rural Development in Uganda – dealing with issues of agricultural and environmental education. I can confidently say I have gained a lot of experience and expertise through this post-doc fellowship as I will present them in the sub-sequent sections.
Why did I pick interest? The most interesting thing that triggered and motivated me to
apply and undertake this post-doc fellowship was to gain more knowledge and skills in supervising and coaching undergraduate and postgraduate students; of course, under the mentorship of a senior university scholar. I can now confidently supervised and guide students given the coaching I have acquired from the university mentor – Prof. Jacob Godfrey Agea. I am kind of person who has the ambitions which sometimes I see as being too high for me but because of this fellowship, a certain milestone has been attained which finally will lead me to the higher desired goal. I know as reader of this paper you must be wondering what are these higher ambitions I am talking about. I feel I should be a Professor within a period of six years as stipulated in the universities policies. I am happy to report that this fellowship will lead me to Senior Lecturer as I now have all what it requires to be one. The way the post-doc was designed, it required individuals to conduct it in their home institutions and country which provided me an opportunity to keep close to my family and social network as well as directly contributing to my Mother Country – Uganda. Regarding the fellowship was supported, I was provided a total budget of united states dollars equivalent to sixty thousand (USD60,000) to cater for research and stipend. Happily, the stipend (USD1200 per month) I was provided was another motivation factor to undertake the fellowship which allowed me as a fellow to pay house rent, buy home items, feeding, pay tuition fees for my siblings and needy children in my community, arrange for career mentorship in schools in my community and pay medical bills. The students who were recruited on post-doc were partially supported to conducted research work and they were happy and excited about the grant which they never anticipated but received it as an opportunity to enable them progress well in their graduate studies. In a nutshell, the post-doc grant was sufficient for the home-based post-doc fellowships.
How did I design the post-doc? Failure to plan means planning to fail. The way the post-
doc was designed helped me much to ensure that the study is conducted following the systematic procedures. What was interesting most is the recruitment of the students on the fellowship which provided a chain of supervision where everyone was a supervisor of at least a junior. I was supervised my mentor to supervise PhD and Masters students. What made the supervision interesting is when PhD students supervised masters and the latter supervised undergraduate students. This kind of design capacitated even the mentees with good supervision skills and promoting peer learning within a team. Supervising and coaching five graduate students by me and the mentor would not be an easy task which required recruiting other supervisors – at least one per student. Interestingly, this brought together academic faculty with different expertise to strengthen the supervisory team. Thumbs up to the team!!!
What is the actual experience of the fellowship? Participation in this post-doc as a fellow has seriously impacted on me in terms of strengthening my research, supervision and coaching skills. Personally, through the mentorship of Prof. Jacob Godfrey Agea, I have been mentored to supervise and coach students with diverse academic background and training. Some students had limited capacity in research concepts which caused academic supervisors to provide hand-on capacity building to make the students understand research concepts better. For example, Dr. Florence Kyazze Birungi tried to make one of the PhD students – Mr. Kifuko Richard to understand some of the concepts and how they related to influence each other. Some form of guidance is critical for effective mentorship. Another candidate had limited computer skills and quite often when we met for discussions, the student presented work written in the exercise book which to some extent complicated the mentorship process. What is gained and learnt out of this experience is to be patient and welcome the students the way they are and struggle to cause the technical change. It is quite ashaming when you supervise the student and does not progress given the financial support provided. I enjoyed working with Mr. Kalule Stephen Wamala (PhD) shown in plate 1, Mr. Ekulu Emmanuel (MSc – plate 2) and Mr. Asasira Gilbert (MSc – plate 3). These three students were amazing given their faster steady progress. Happily, Emmanuel and Stephen have already submitted their dissertations for examination waiting for the outcome. Gilbert’s has written intent to submit and the dissertation is final check. The other two candidates – Ms. Acom Janet (MSc – plate 4) and Mr. Kifuko Richard (PhD – plate 5) are still writing their dissertation. However, this worries me much because they will not be able to submit their dissertations within the fellowship period about to end on 28th February 2020. Supervision and mentorship are like soccer where team spirit is very crucial. I am proud to tell the readers of this storyline that I have enjoyed working with the mentor and the mentees during the post-doc fellowship. We have kept ourselves as brothers and sister given the way we have interacted and treated each other. I was so amazed and happy seeing the student I supervised and mentored bring me groundnuts as my Christmas package. This showed me that I had impacted on the academic life of this student and I am proud of you Janet and your family for thinking about me as your academic supervisor. My mentor and mentees, have always checked on me to see whether everything is going on well through phone calls, mails and WhatsApp, a sign that mentorship goes beyond being academic. Conversely, publishing is a tiring process and requires commitment and time to pursue it.
The guidance of a mentor to publish has impacted on me the necessary skills of writing and publishing and because of this during the period of two years I have published eight journal papers; I can proudly say this is a great achievement as an upcoming young scholar. However, most of the research funds were provided to students and this compromised me being a first author of the students work which is a key requirement for me to get promoted. With a key question of sustaining supervision and mentorship in mind even after the end of the post-doc fellowship, I have also been grossly engaged in responding to calls for proposals of course with guidance of my mentor. A good mentor should always link mentees to available opportunities and help them achieve them – Prof. Jacob Godfrey Agea has done all the necessary linkage and mentorship into this. I am proud of you my academic mentor and father. Mentors of your caliber as rare and difficult to find. He has always encouraged me to look ahead and progress as an early career academic. To assure you, I take your words cautiously and this explains why I am progressing. Thank you and may the almighty God bless you abundantly. This follows the
advice I got from the Executive Secretary, RUFORUM – Prof. Adipala Ekwamu where during our conversation he said ‘Gabriel you are still a young scholar and if you want to live relevant stay around students and supervise and mentor them to follow your steps’. Prof. Adipala, I still remember this statement and each time I mentor students I find myself very relevant and contributing to the world of professionals. To add on, you, CCNY and RUFORUM team have always blended me well with diverse actors in academic, leadership and other relevant professionals during grants writing meetings, leadership training, conferences and workshop which has widened my social network even beyond Uganda. For example, during the post-doc fellowship I have been able to attend international conferences and workshop in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and USA which has led to establishment of local and international new networks. I cannot take this for granted but appreciate your role contributing to this healthy network. For instance, it was my first and an interesting experience participating in the grant proposal writing responding to the European Union call entitled ‘Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme’ – Call for proposals EACEA/03/2019. The call targeted African universities where it was a key requirement to form consortia for effective implementation of the projects. A consortium consisted of the following higher institutions of learning; Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) of Botswana as a lead applicant, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya, Nelson Mandela Africa Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), Tanzania, Makerere University (MAK), Uganda, University of Eduardo Mondlane (UEM), Mozambique, University of Lomé (UL), Togo. It was my pleasure and happiness working with people from these institutions of higher learning. Thank you RUFORUM for inviting me to participate and look forward for more future invitations.
Struggles to attain success sometimes is hampered by some challenges. Vast challenges were encountered during the post-doc fellowship more especially when my academic mentor got sick and was referred to India for medication. To some extent this His sickness to a greater extent affected the progress of the mentees as well affecting effective coordination and communication between the mentor and the fellow. I thank God that my mentor is getting well and pray for complete healing. During the implementation process of the post-doc fellowship, it was learnt that for supervision and mentorship to be effective, resources should be adequate to procure equipment such as computers for students to help in typing, analyzing and preparing their reports in a timely manner rather than taking their research work to secretarial bureaus, which violets the principle of confidentiality in social research. This as well delayed the students to have their deliverables in a timely manner as the bureaus were busy with assignments from other students. Annoyingly, the quality of work produced by the bureaus was generally poor with many spelling errors. Some students are too busy with work at their places of duty especially those teaching in universities and secondary schools. This affected their steady progress with both fieldwork and writing their dissertations.
What is the way forward for future post-doc fellowships? The way forward I provide here is my own feeling about how the future post-doc fellowships should entail and look like. In order to provide a conducive environment for the mentees, it is necessary that they are provides with the necessary equipment such as computers since they enroll for graduate studies with basic computer skills and this will allow for timely delivery of outputs. Post-doc fellows should also be provided with research funds to allow them to actively engage in field work to meet promotional requirements. Finally, I look forward for future engagements in similar initiatives.
Special thank you – I would like to pay special gratitude God for keeping me healthy throughout this post-doc fellowship. Thank you to CCNY and RUFORUM for the financial support rendered to me for the success of this post-doc fellowship. Special thank you to Prof. Adipala Ekwamu for the constant technical support rendered to me. Without this financial support, this would have not been possible. Still, let me thank my beloved, focused and committed mentor – Prof. Jacob Godfrey Agea for his warm heart he rendered to me while pursuing this post-doc fellowship. Also, gratitude to Makerere university for hosting this fellowship and the entire faculty for the technical support. My mentees you have made my standards high and I cannot regret being your mentor. Farmers and those I interacted with during field work, I appreciate your valued experience and expertise.
Dr. Gabriel Karubanga is Post-Doctoral Fellow at Department of Extension and Innovation Studies, College of Agricultural and, Environmental Sciences, Makerere University, P.O. Box. 7062, Kampala, Uganda: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org