PhD research is often a measure of the pulse of society, identifying pressing issues and inequities of our time, reflecting on drivers of change and responding to these with intensive, in-depth and timely research. Yet doing a PhD is not easy. In addition to dedicating several years and lots of money to a specific research topic, it requires hard work, perseverance and creativity.
“I’d like to congratulate Ricardo Santos, Shilpi Srivastava and Ana Solorzano Sanchez in receiving their PhDs. We are celebrating the success of our PhD researchers, who have worked on highly topical issues: the politics and practice of water regulation reform; post-conflict labour and education, and climate change adaptation for the poor. We join them and their families in commemorating this significant achievement. And proudly welcome them into the world of development research, of PhD graduates, researchers and practitioners whose work is driven by the vision of equal and sustainable societies, locally and globally, where everyone can live secure, fulfilling lives free from poverty and injustice.” Melissa Leach, IDS Director.
Ricardo Santos reflects on the challenges and highlights of his journey so far:
What does it feel like to have received your PhD?
Graduation definitely feels like the big party at the end of a really long journey! After so many steps during the journey that I had to conquer, IDS and University of Sussex really did provide a fitting celebration!
The PhD was a stepping stone, a step I felt I needed to take to transition from a 10 year long career in the private sector at a national level in Portugal, to what is now the beginning of a career in development cooperation within the World Institute of Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), overseas in Mozambique. Having my decision and investment rewarded gives me certainty that it was the right step to take.
What did it mean for you?
Celebrating, first at the graduation ceremony at Brighton Dome and then at IDS, with so many of those that were my “compagnons de route” with whom friendships were built along the way, was more than a ritual. It stirred up many strong emotions, as it allowed me to remember the challenges I had to overcome, the hardships of the first time I was called to lead a research project, my doctoral research, the missteps and corrections. It reminded me of the rich academic support given by my supervisors, Patricia Justino and Edoardo Masset, research fellows at IDS. And the support from the University of Sussex across campus in the Economics Department, the School of Business, Management and Economics (BMEc) and the Centre of International Education (CIE) at the School of Education.
Beyond the academic challenges, I reflect on the personal support I received from my dear colleagues and friends in the PhD room and staff working in the thematic clusters that I participated in throughout IDS and Sussex, at all times and especially during particularly stressful or hurtful moments in life while I was working on my PhD.
What were the Highlights?
The first highlight is definitely my fieldwork. It is not so obvious in an Economics PhD working on doctoral research to undergo such work. In my case it was a particularly high bet deciding to perform qualitative field research, something even more heterodox in Economics. I owe this opportunity to the IDS ethos of research and the space it gave me to do so. Returning to the first overseas country I worked in on development cooperation, the support received by the relationships built before and the new relationships forged are high points of my PhD.
A second highlight was the cross-campus interaction and support. Researching Economics at IDS could be an incomplete experience if one does not interact strongly with the Economics Department. Without the comments received in the PhD seminars I presented there, and support by the Economics faculty together with the many (I risk to say all) IDS Economists, the research would have been much weaker. Because my research was on Education and Development, the support given by the CIE was essential and opened doors for fruitful research relations beyond my PhD.
A third highlight was the collegiality and friendship I experienced within the PhD Room and the always full and engaging relations with the research conducted across the thematic clusters I participated in. On conflict and violence, poverty reduction, cities, business, markets and the state, and rising powers. Also initiatives such as the Global Justice Debates forged my PhD experience and took it beyond the very intense doctoral research itself.
Why did you choose IDS?
IDS was my first choice as it was the right home for me to reflect and learn on ’how to do development’ after 10 years of work in the private sector and 2 years of development cooperation activism within a Portuguese volunteering NGO. At the time of scoping where to go for my Master’s degree, I looked for research institutes that showed leadership in publishing and reflecting on “development”. The leading engagement of IDS in Action Research and the linkage between research and practice had a strong appeal from the start. The fact that IDS was then, as it is still now, leading on research in the micro-level dynamics of conflict with an interest on Timor-Leste, the country I had volunteered in, made it clear for me it would be the right choice.
The decision to undertake a PhD came during my MA in Development Studies, particularly from conversations with Patricia Justino, that ultimately lead us to believe a PhD research project could take form.
What have been the main challenges?
A PhD is a very demanding, potentially very isolating project. The fact is that PhD research is beyond a doubt the PhD researcher’s main project. Which meant that at all times I had to know (and then negotiate) how much time I realistically could dedicate to other projects, how much rest I would allow myself and how much of one’s personal life would take a secondary role. Ultimately, at moments and particularly in the last stretch, the PhD demands became the single most important part of life, with costs (including health costs) that I had to manage.
Advice for future students?
For those that are writing their MA dissertations or thinking of starting an MA at IDS, do take the time and opportunity to get to know the Institute better and to engage in the research being conducted by its Fellows. Then if you can give yourself a gap year (or so) and apply what you’ve learned and reflected as a practitioner, policy advisor, policy maker, research assistant, or project communications officer. Seek to consolidate a research theme or topic that (at first this doesn’t need to be fully precise and specific) compels you and drives you. Once you find it, this will be your guiding light and the strongest source of strength throughout your PhD journey. Then seek the right supervisors who share your passion for those topics. Do try and find a scholarship if you can; it makes your life much easier!
Finally during your PhD, use your research and the opportunities you have to widen your network beyond the research team and institution you may be in, across campus and beyond.
I feel very fortunate to have joined another leading research institution in development UNU-WIDER and in particular to join a project that requires me to pursue appropriate research at a national level in Mozambique. And to support a nascent academic research centre at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, the Centre of Studies in Economics and Management (CEEG). I look forward to opportunities to engage with IDS Alumni in Mozambique and to forge possible research partnerships with IDS and the University of Sussex, BMEc and CIE.