2020 Next Gen fellow Asher Gamedze and 2020 APN fellow Theresia Philemon were interviewed during the APN and Next Gen’s first virtual joint workshop held form August 31, 2020 and September 3, 2020. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you heard about the APN and Next Gen fellowship programs.
Asher Gamedze: My name is Asher, and I am a cultural worker based in Cape Town, South Africa. Over the past few years, I have been working mainly as a musician, specifically a drummer (my debut album is available here), a researcher, and a writer. I’m also involved as an organizer with various autonomous cultural and political collectives. Two of my close friends and comrades had previously been Next Gen fellows. They encouraged me to apply as I started my PhD in history at the University of the Witwatersrand this year and was looking for funding.
Theresia Philemon: My name is Theresia, and I am a lecturer at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania. I am a geographer by profession, specializing in human geography and in particular natural resources governance. My area of interest includes conservation strategies and policies, natural resource use and conflicts and livelihoods. I heard about the APN fellowship from a friend who is an APN alumnus. I got more details and information about APN when I participated to the National Proposal Writing Workshop organized by the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) Fellowship programs, in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam held on December 6-7, 2019 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
In your opinion, how will this fellowship award contribute to your research?
AG: Firstly, it will ease financial pressures, as I will be able to buy books and fund other research costs more easily. Secondly, it’s useful to have direct contact with other students to discuss my work with. Lastly, it’s a great opportunity to meet and build relationships with other scholars on the continent in the interests of developing an autonomous community of African scholars in the future.
TP: The fellowship award would greatly contribute to developing my career in research and facilitate the publication of my research work coming from both my APN grant and the network I have established through APN fellowship. The virtual research methods workshop broadened my understanding on field work-related issues especially during this period of the Covid-19 pandemic. It would also provide me with the necessary writing skills needed when presenting and disseminating results/findings from my field work. Based on my experience and interactions at the workshop, I am sure that my next research report will be better than the previous ones.
The workshops were for the first time held virtually this year, what was your experience like?
AG: It was useful getting to discuss a broad range of issues and have questions asked about my own work. I also had the opportunity to engage with other fellows’ work in a similar way. I was able to clarify some issues about my own research during these discussions. However, I was a bit frustrated with the nature of some of the conversations, as they seemed too focused on the very technical aspects of research projects rather than extending outwards to consider bigger questions around what the purpose of scholarship is within our context. I would have liked it if we could have spoken about some of the broader politics of our work as scholars.
I generally find online engagements fatiguing and this [workshop] was no different. It was tough and quite tiring to sit in front of screen for such a long period of time. But these are limitations outside of our control given the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was also looking forward to hanging out with and speaking to people outside of structured sessions, but since we were online there were very few opportunities for that.
TP: The workshop was good, even though I cannot say much about this because it was my first time attending an APN workshop. With this initial workshop being virtual, I also had no way of being able to compare the differences or similarities between this and what a normal in-person workshop is usually like. In general, the virtual workshop worked better than I expected. I was able to contribute my views and ask questions to other group members concerning their research works. Sometimes I had network connection problems and get lost (offline) this made me miss some discussion, but I was still able to get valuable insights and a robust network to provide me assistance on research methods matters, who still support me to this today. Through one-to-one session with mentors, I was able to receive actionable takeaways that I used to improve my proposal.
What have you learnt about how to conduct fieldwork during the Covid-19 pandemic?
AG: Don’t compromise people’s safety and lives in the service of conducting research.
TP: I learnt how to be flexible to accommodate any changes during fieldwork as per instruction provided by authorities to fight against Covid-19 pandemic. I also learnt that it is important to take into consideration the risks of both researcher and participants when it comes to fieldwork exercise during this period of Covid-19 pandemic.
Godfrey Maringira, former APN and Next Gen fellow and Next Gen workshop facilitator for the 2020 workshop, was interviewed during the APN and Next Gen’s first virtual joint workshop held form August 31, 2020 and September 3, 2020. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement in the APN and Next Gen joint workshop? What do you find most inspiring as a facilitator?
Godfrey Maringira: I was a fellow in 2012 and 2013 as part of the first cohort of SSRC’s Next Gen fellows. I remember vividly, how we applied in 2011, and during that time we had to download a PDF form, fill it out using a pen, and scan it back to Next Gen. It was very interesting indeed, and now the application system has changed, I am told. During our fellowship period we went through the same process of having two workshops, with facilitators helping us through it all. After getting my PhD in 2014, I was awarded the APN Individual Research Grant, and we went through the same process as that of Next Gen. I was a member of a team of researchers that awarded the APN Working Group Grant in 2016, and I later on received the APN Book Manuscript Completion Grant in 2018. I have also served as a reviewer of Next Gen applications. Then in 2020, I was invited to join the Next Gen Advisory Board. I am currently a facilitator for the on-going Next Gen workshop. As you can see, this has been a journey of almost ten years. I’ve gone from being a Next Gen fellow to a Next Gen advisory board member, and workshop facilitator.
What is your impression of the first virtual joint APN-Next Gen Biannual Workshop?
GM: Some of us initially expected less from a virtual workshop. However, because of the way it was organized, we felt the presence of every participant. It was almost like we were actually meeting face-to-face with everyone. Of course, a virtual workshop is never the same as being in physical contact but the fellows themselves have said that they benefited more than what they expected. This was a well-organized workshop.
What is your advice for the fellows when it comes to conducting great field-based research during the Covid-19 pandemic?
GM: One of the fundamental ways of becoming and being an academic – yet often taken for granted – is “academic resilience.” In the face of academic adversity, one has to continue standing high above the ground.