Mesia Ilomo, Tanzania

Last changed: 18 December 2018

I am one of three PhD students in the Engendering Agribusiness Entrepreneurship (ENGAGE) programme, funded by Sida and carried out in collaboration between the University of Dar es Salaam Business School (UDBS) and the Department of Urban and Rural Development (SOL) at SLU. The focus of my PhD project is on ‘Gender and Functional upgrading in the rice value chain in Tanzania.’ I am carrying out my fieldwork in Kyela district, Mbeya region, in the southern highlands of Tanzania.

What are your most important reflections on participating in the ENGAGE programme that is led by UDBS and SLU?
I benefit from the interactions with supervisors from the two institutions (SLU and UDBS), who happen to differ in areas of expertise. I have been exposed to the academic world through academic courses and seminars (mostly at SLU) including the opportunity to attend a PhD defence, which is uncommon for PhD students in Tanzania. I am connected to the PhD group at the Department of Urban and Rural Development (SOL), which makes my life in Sweden more comfortable but also provides an opportunity for potential global-south cooperation.

How do you find it being supervised by both UDBS and SLU scholars? Is there an added value in your opinion? If so, please elaborate.
It is very helpful to have supervisors from both UDBS and SLU. My SLU supervisors are more informed on gender issues while my UDBS supervisors have more business knowledge and may also challenge any aspect on the context of the study, which may not be so easy for my SLU supervisors. My SLU supervisors are interested in exploring and understanding local norms and practices as well as the life experiences of the research participants, thus they prefer a qualitative approach while many supervisors at UDBS are inclined to quantitative approaches. I see a difference in the way I conducted research prior to this programme (mostly applying quantitative approaches) and now where I am carrying out my qualitative research.

What has been the most significant change in your academic life coming about from your participation in the ENGAGE programme so far? This might relate to e.g. new skills, methods, ways of thinking or doing things.
Through a series of academic seminars, I now know what it means to review a scholarly article – I initially read and reported what was written without any critique. It was therefore difficult to identify gaps and any lessons from the article. I have learnt to interactively and gradually work with supervisors in academic work. In the past, I used to focus on perfectionism rather than sharing the progress. SOL PhD group retreats were useful in connecting PhD students, socially and academically. I wish to emphasise the same at our university.

If you can send a message to a prospective SLU PhD student, what would that message be?
SLU is a perfect place to be for PhD studies. It is located in a cool area, people like to interact which provides an opportunity to sharpen your research ideas, there are several academic seminars, and you have access to most literature. It is important to note that you have an opportunity to attend and comment on others’ PhD thesis defences, something that is uncommon in low-income countries such as Tanzania.

Of all the countries that I have visited in Europe, Sweden is the friendliest country where one can always get assistance in case of challenges to cope with the environment.

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