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Views of some students who have completed their PhDs in the School

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Phd student in the (erstwhile) School of Development Studies. I was in the fortunate position to be able to study full-time and I found the School to be a highly supportive environment. I was encouraged to attend research seminars and to be a part of the School’s academic life more broadly. As a result, I took part in a number of workshops, reading groups, and social activities throughout my time as a Phd student. Moreover, as a student studying under one of the two SARCHI chairs based at the School, Professor Dori Posel, I was able to network with other researchers in my field and I benefited from a number of additional training initiatives. In short, I remain grateful to the staff of the School and I would recommend the programme to anyone interested in post-graduate research in the field of Development Studies.
Dr Michael Rogan (ISR, Rhodes University)
I undertook most of the fieldwork for my PhD as part of my work as a contract researcher in the School of Development Studies. I was fortunate to be part of the broader KwaZulu-Natal Income Dynamics Study (KIDS) team in 2004. There was funding available from the Department for International Development South Africa (DFID-SA) through the national Department of Social Development to do qualitative research that would be closely aligned to KIDS. There were five themes that were being researched as part of the qualitative KIDS study. Within certain parameters I was able to design one of the research themes on unpaid care work. Some of this research would constitute my PhD research. After the fieldwork was complete I worked in the School again, writing up the findings on non-PhD components of the qualitative study, until my first child was born. When he was three months old I started working on the PhD write up from home. I tried to be at home as much as possible so that I was on-hand for my son. He was looked after by a nanny, and as he grew older he went to preschool. What I wanted was flexible work from home and the PhD write-up was the perfect work for me for this time. Being at home meant that it was a very isolated time for me. I could not have done it without the support of my supervisor, Francie Lund. Meetings with her and feedback on my work were such an important point of contact for me over this time. Being able to talk to her about aspects of the study, bounce ideas off her and receive guidance from her made it more of a ‘shared’ journey. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work on and complete my PhD while my children were young, because I was still able to undertake further research in my field but without the pressure of a fulltime job.
Dr Nina Hunter

Embarking on my PhD studies came by chance rather than design. I came to the School of Development Studies to attend a professional course on Human Poverty Assessment/Measurement and Pro-poor Policy Development undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe in collaboration with the UNDP-Zimbabwe in 2003. From the onset, I liked the congenial-for-study-atmosphere, the overt support of the Head of School, Prof Vishnu Padayachee, his lecturing team and that of the administrative staff. After this brief experience at SDS, I decided to pursue my PhD studies. Perhaps, had it not been for this eye-opening study visit, I would have remained in Government without my PhD degree. During my studies, I tried to kill two birds with one stone – publishing and studying. During that time I could see how prolific the members of staff were, which provided me with the inspiration and impetus I needed. I am glad to have managed to publish in peer-reviewed journals locally, regionally and internationally including in the prestigious 'Journal of International Development'. During my studies I also managed to co-author 3 textbooks, in Entrepreneurship and Project Management, which are currently being used in Further Education and Training colleges. All this attests to the tradition/culture of research and academic excellence blossoming within the school. Key to the successful and timeous completion of my PhD studies was the support I received from my supervisor, Prof Julian May, who gave me the leeway to think outside the box. I was also grateful to the whole school machinery and administration whose support was immensely valuable. The lesson I learnt is to work hard, persevere, innovate and triangulate ideas traversing disciplines. – for instance, I brought in marketing concepts (perceptual map) and health models (health belief model) and some financial accounting concepts into the poverty discourse. Because my thesis was articles-based, it went under the scrutiny of many people - peer-reviewers who averaged 2/3 per article, my supervisor, and my colleagues in the PhD room, as well as the 3 examiners who delivered the final judgment. I remain indebted to SDS, may it grow in stature and become one of the best centres of excellence in social science research for which, in my view, it can lay a legitimate claim on the African continent.

Dr. O. Mtapuri: Senior Lecturer, Turfloop Graduate School of Leadership, University of Limpopo

My decision to complete my PhD under the supervision of Prof Vishnu Padayachee at the School of Development Studies must rate as one of the best I have ever taken. Every step of the way I could count on the full support of my supervisor and all the staff (academic and administrative) of the School. My feeling was that they really wanted me to succeed. Their support extended beyond the completion of my thesis, e.g. by encouraging me to publish relevant aspects of my research as academic papers while progressing towards fulfilling the requirements for the PhD. The acceptance of such papers for publication in academic journals after a peer review process served as an important confidence booster as it reconfirmed that the research was on track. From the outset of this study, I decided not to disclose to anybody the fact that I had registered for a PhD, other than on a strict need-to-know basis. I did not tell my wife, children, family members, friends or employer of this endeavour while working on it. The reason was my fear of failure. I informed all of them of my PhD only after confirmation that I had successfully completed my studies. They were all astonished and surprised; I seem to be the first person to have tackled and completed studies towards a PhD in this way. I am grateful that the staff of the School maintained this confidentiality throughout the period of my studies. In conclusion, the message is a simple one: The conditions in the School of Development Studies are conducive to the completion of a PhD, and the School comes highly recommended to prospective students.

Dr Jannie Rossouw: Deputy General Manager of the South African Reserve Bank

Completing my PhD at SDS was a fantastic experience. The support I received from the SDS’ senior academic staff over the duration of its completion was exemplary, with the unique spread of skills, qualifications and experiences within the department providing me with a very balanced perspective on an incredibly complicated challenge – securing industrial growth in a sustainable manner that builds South African society. Six years after completing my PhD, I still feel the values and lessons I learnt from SDS remain with me, and for this I will remain eternally grateful.

Dr Justin Barnes, Chairman: B&M Analysts SA (Pty) Ltd

I began a PhD in the development studies field with no academic background in the social science field, having previously acquired a civil engineering and MBA degrees. However, because of my work in the socio-economic field, I saw a gap in my knowledge and felt that rounding off my academic credentials with a development qualification gave me the unique perspective of analysing large-scale projects with a three-pronged approach, that is, a technical, commercial and social perspectives. My supervisors guided me through the strict accreditation process, ensuring that stipulated milestones and standards were met along the way. Despite doing the PhD part-time, I was determined to fast-track my studies, and I was given full guidance and support by my supervisors. Emanating out of an intense four-year period of research and the rewriting of proposals and submitting a number of draft theses, besides having strengthened my writing skills with greater clinical and analytical deconstruction, the greatest, and perhaps most surprising, achievement for me was that I disproved my initial hypothesis, which was based on a view that I had passionately supported prior to embarking on the degree. Effectively, I believe that the PhD also created a sense of flexibility in my approach to understanding projects that have significant social ramifications.

Dr Aman Maharaj: Deputy Head: Economic Analysis, Ethekwini Municipality

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