Dr. Patricia Serwaa Afrifa holds a PhD in African studies from the University of Ghana, Legon. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in linguistics and sociology and a Master of Philosophy degree in African studies from the same university. Her teaching and research interests are family studies (with specific emphasis on childhood studies), gender and youth studies.
Dr. Afrifa’s PhD thesis received five awards, including the Ghana Studies Thesis Grant and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship in 2015. She also received the Next Gen Dissertation Research Fellowship in 2017 and the Dissertation Completion Fellowship in 2018. In the same year, Serwaa got the Pan-African Doctoral Academy (PADA) Thesis Completion Grant at the University of Ghana.
A published author and an activist, she is passionate about mentoring youth and creating networks that provide opportunities for the cross-cultural exchange of ideas.
Next Gen: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Patricia Serwaa Afrifa: I was a 2017 and 2018 Next Generation Dissertation Research and Dissertation Completion Fellow. I completed my undergraduate studies in 2007 at the University of Ghana, Legon, with a combined major in sociology and linguistics. I further proceeded to do my master’s in African studies which I completed in 2010. I started my doctoral studies in 2014 and recently graduated in 2019 with a PhD in African studies from the University of Ghana. My research interests are in childhood and gender studies. As an emerging scholar with the desire to become an astute researcher and a public intellectual, I have developed over the years a keen interest in positioning myself within a stimulating academic environment by networking and engaging with other scholars and activists. In this regard, I contested for the position of Women’s Commissioner of the Graduate Students’ Association of Ghana (University of Ghana branch), to enable me to push an agenda for advancing the interest of women in a university that is slightly male dominated. Fortunately, I was elected as Commissioner. As the commissioner, I designed and implemented projects for advancing the interests of female students on campus. I am collegial and have a great sense of humor and I enjoy organizing events for youth and volunteering to support younger academics in their research.
How did you first learn about the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen fellowship?
I first learned about the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Fellowship at the Institute of African Studies (IAS), University of Ghana, during a presentation by Dr. Thomas Asher, in 2012, the then Director of SSRC’s Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program. At the time, I had finished my master’s degree and was serving as a teaching assistant at the IAS. Later, I was appointed to serve as a project assistant at the Next Gen’s hub at the IAS, to help Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, a member of Next Gen’s Advisory Board, to promote the program’s activities within and outside the university. Thus, before I enrolled for the PhD program in 2014, I was quite conversant with the work of the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program. I also served as an assistant during some of the program’s training workshops held at the University of Ghana, Legon. I had therefore already established contact with past cohorts before I got the fellowship after two attempts.
What was the focus of your doctoral dissertation?
My doctoral dissertation’s key focus was on complementary childcare in urban households. Its major highlight was on the dynamics and continuities of childcare arrangements in the context of social and economic changes, and its influence on development. My study advanced the argument that the Ghanaian family was undergoing tremendous cultural changes. The findings of my research suggested that the challenges facing childcare have implications for the socialization of children, as well as national development.
In which ways did the Next Gen fellowship award contribute towards your professional development and subsequent research?
The Next Gen Fellowship tremendously contributed to my professional development in numerous ways. Firstly, when I became a fellow in 2017, it provided me a community of scholars with whom I could share my ideas with regarding my doctoral dissertation and studies. The fellowship provided space(s) where scholars converged during the mandatory training workshops held across different parts of Africa. These also facilitated networking, cross-cultural engagements, and the exchange of ideas among and between scholars from different disciplines and backgrounds. Secondly, I found the thematic focus of Next Gen workshops particularly useful for sharpening my presentation skills, receiving and processing feedback, and receiving great mentorship from highly accomplished and experienced scholars in the field. Being a Next Gen fellow helped in expanding my networks and allowing me to learn about other opportunities. For instance, fellows who have knowledge of my research interests by virtue of our networking have shared Calls for Proposals/Conferences, workshops or writeshops, and information about publication opportunities. The constant engagement has also opened the door to peer-to-peer mentoring by some former fellows. Additionally, experienced mentors on the program have been quite generous with their time to help fellows facing challenges with their research and inspire them to produce excellent doctoral dissertations. Prof. Charles Ukeje deserves special mention in this respect. I recall facing challenges with my data collection during my doctoral studies. I had collected too much information and was feeling overwhelmed. I told him about this problem during the one-on-one sessions of a Next Gen training workshop, and he carefully explained how I could systematically organize my data. This helped me tremendously in my data analyses and dissertation writing. Professor Sarah Ssali, another mentor on the Next Gen program, generously wrote a letter of support for a one-month during a fellowship award I had applied for. In addition, she offered to host me at Makerere University in Uganda if the application was successful. Although I was not successful on that fellowship application, Dr John Mwangi Gitigaro of St. Paul’s University, a fellow in my cohort also facilitated my accommodation in Kenya after the 2018 Next Gen workshop to enable me work on my doctoral dissertation. It is equally noteworthy that the program was constantly sending us e-mails on research, conferences, and publication opportunities. I have benefited from such opportunities and have presented my research findings at major international conferences. Above all, the fellowship award supported me in completing my PhD degree. I was able to buy books, a laptop, and hire a research assistant. Apart from successfully defending my PhD, support from Next Gen contributed immensely to my professional development and put me in contact with appropriate professional and academic networks. Thanks to the program, I am well-placed to reach my aspiration of becoming an astute researcher and public intellectual.
As a former Next Gen fellow what would your advice be for current fellows and those who wish to apply for the award in the future?
To current fellows, take activities of the SSRC seriously. Be involved! Engage more! I strongly encourage you to keep interacting with other fellows as it will help you to critically engage your work. It is also important to connect with fellows ahead of you. Before I applied for the Next Gen Completion Fellowship award, I was in constant communication with some Proposal and Completion fellows, respectively: Mr. Charles Prempeh, Dr. Olugbenga Samuel Falase, and Dr. Ruth Murambadoro, who helped me fine-tune my proposal and application. Their feedback helped me craft a winning proposal for the Dissertation Completion Fellowship. Dr. Ernest Bagson, a completion fellow at the time, even went ahead to send his proposal with which he got the fellowship award with me, to enable me learn more about the rudiments of the proposal writing and application process. Another former fellow, Dr. Ngozi Ugo Ukpabi Emeka-Nwobia, whom I knew before starting my PhD program, was very instrumental in reviewing my applications even before I submitted them. To the current fellows, my advice is to make good use of the networking opportunities the SSRC creates for you- both during the workshop and informal sessions (such as the dinners, and other outings). Although I was in the same university with some fellows from Ghana (Bernadette Araba Adjei and Innocent Badasu), we were able to engage more through the Next Gen’s writeshops and workshops. Lasting friendships have been formed through Next Gen Fellowship activities. To those who wish to apply for Next Gen fellowships, it is important to note that it is a great experience for any PhD candidate. It requires that you work hard to belong to this amazing community of emerging scholars. Next Gen offers you incredible opportunities. If you have applied and not been successful, do not be discouraged, try again, and remain determined to get in there. I applied three times, before I succeeded! So, find the right networks and receive guidance in reworking your application for the next attempt. The Next Gen Fellowship is a scholarship program that does not only give you an award, but also shows interest in your progress by offering you an intellectually stimulating opportunity and space to connect and interact with other fellows from across the continent. The benefits of being a Next Gen Fellow are immeasurable! Thus, it is worth every effort you put into joining this great community of African scholars!