Dr. Solomon Danga is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Children, Family and Society at the University of the Western Cape. In April 2023, he was awarded his PhD in Child and Family Studies from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Solomon obtained a Bachelor of Arts in educational psychology and a Master of Arts in developmental psychology from Addis Ababa University (AAU), Ethiopia.

Dr. Danga’s dissertation was titled “Mental health of adolescents in refugee camps in Ethiopia: The development of an exploratory model based on trauma, coping and resilience.” Findings from his research conducted with South Sudan adolescent refugees in Ethiopia explores models of coping and resilience among youth who have experienced similar atrocities throughout the region. Dr. Danga has direct experience conducting research on mental health issues with vulnerable populations. He successfully applied complex statistical models to the primary data he collected. His primary research interest focuses on mental health and psychosocial intervention among migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people.

He is currently engaged in a research project on strengthening social cohesion and human capabilities through families. Solomon has received multiple fellowships and grants. He was awarded a bursary from the Mwalimu Nyerere African Union Scholarship Scheme (MNAUSS) in 2017-2020. He also received the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Next Generation Social Science Research Council in Africa (Next Gen) Doctoral Research Fellowship Award in 2019. Other academic awards received include the HUMA-LASPAD PROJECT: The State of African Scholarly Publishing and Dissemination, Cape Town University, from May-June 30, 2022, as a Country Researcher to research and write a brief report on the “The State of Scholarly Publishing in Ethiopia.” Finally, the ERASMUS Plus scholarship for student mobility exchange program with partner universities in Germany in 2022 hosted at Frankfurt University of Applied Science during his doctoral study.

 

Photo by Dr. Adane Kefale

Next Gen: Please describe the central argument of your doctoral dissertation. What is its main contribution to knowledge in your field?

Solomon Danga: My dissertation research sought to address critical gaps in the understanding of experiences of adolescent refugees who are potentially exposed to traumatic events and hosted in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Existing literature demonstrates this population’s heightened vulnerability to adverse ment

al health conditions like depression and anxiety amid forced displacement. However, the specific risk and protective mechanisms shaping refugee youth mental health remain underexplored.

The dissertation research project examined how coping strategies and individual/collective resilience mediate the relationship between potential traumatic experience and mental health outcomes. Coping strategies such as problem and emotion focused coping had significant  effect in reducing potential traumatic experience. The findings of this study showed coping strategies and resilience of refugee adolescents fully explain the linkage, significantly buffering trauma’s psychological toll. The result also revealed that extended stays in refugee or displaced persons camps erode this protective buffer over time. The moderating influence of refugee camp duration presents alarming implications which without interventions cultivating resilience and coping skills early on, may likely expose refugee adolescents to cumulative damage to their wellbeing.

Accordingly, the research makes an urgent appeal for policies and programs tailored to the needs of this group to promote their mental health in the face of continuing hardship. Strengthening personal and communal coping resources from the outset can better equip refugee youth to navigate adversity without experiencing mental health repercussions. In sum, this dissertation research project applies theoretical insights to the mediating processes affecting refugee adolescent mental health outcomes. The modeling approach and empirically based policy recommendations underscore the vital role of positive tools to support vulnerable population with the capacity to live through displacement’s trauma. The conclusions open critical directions for building resilience amid protracted crises.

 

How did the Next Gen fellowship program impact your doctoral journey?

The Next Gen fellowship was invaluable in shaping my development as a scholar and enhancing my doctoral research in several key ways. First, the workshops organized during my fellowship period in different countries of Africa offered an unparalleled opportunity to present and refine my dissertation ideas among a diverse community of experts. Receiving real-time, constructive feedback from scholars helped me improve my theoretical framing, methodology, analysis and overall research design. Through engaging roundtable discussions, I was pushed to think more critically and ensuring my work is transdisciplinary.

Additionally, the one-on-one mentoring sessions provided targeted guidance as I structured my literature review and results chapters. My writing and organization skills grew tremendously based on the incisive comments I incorporated into my dissertation. Beyond expanding the academic quality of my research, these collaborative interactions built up my confidence as an emerging scholar.

Another important experience that I have had being a Next Gen fellow was a lecture presented by Professor Sarah N. Ssali, which was about “Researching Gender and Post-Conflict Development in Africa.” This lecture significantly contributed to my fieldwork research, while I collected data in a post conflict setting of refugee camps (Nguenyyiel and Tierkidi refugee camps) in Ethiopia. The lecture helped me to be sensitive and carefully manage those participants of my study who were likely to have been exposed to traumatic events and gender-based violence. The lecture also guided me on how to approach vulnerable people like refugees in post-conflict settings. Furthermore, this fellowship program is an eye opener to opportunities for establishing scholarly network, collaboration, developing the skill of proposal writing for grant application and academic publication.

In sum, the multi-disciplinary training, exposure and relationships facilitated by this program enhanced my dissertation research and writing processes while establishing me as a well-rounded academic poised for impactful scholarship as I progress through the early stages of my career. The lessons and links will continue guiding my work well into the future.

 

Now that you have completed your PhD, what are your plans for the future?

I am a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Children, Family and Society at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa. My goal is to establish myself as an expert researcher in my field through publishing high-quality studies and building up my research capabilities during this post-doctoral fellowship. I plan to take full advantage of the learning and skill-building opportunities this fellowship provides at the Centre.

Specifically, I will focus on developing robust research projects that result in publications in leading peer-reviewed journals in my areas of interest. This includes conducting studies on mental health, conflict-related trauma, and socio-psychological phenomena impacting children and families, leveraging the Centre’s resources and collaborations to inform this research. I aim to publish at least 5 articles in high-impact journals over the fellowship period.

Additionally, I intend to translate my research into other scholarly outputs, including book chapters in edited academic volumes. I have already published two articles in peer-reviewed journals, and one was accepted with revision based on my doctoral work. Building my publication portfolio will expand the impact of my research.

I also plan to network extensively during conferences, workshops, and visiting scholar programs organized through the Centre and University. Making connections with scholars undertaking related research will facilitate valuable feedback, insights, and potential collaborations to enrich my work. I have already identified a few leading researchers with mutual interests I hope to engage with them over the next year.

Finally, the post-doctoral fellowship will equip me to supervise future graduate students in their research projects and dissertation writing. I aim to use the skills developed in research design, analysis, and writing support to mentor the next generation of high-level academics in my field. By actively working to maximize outputs through studies, publications, collaborations, presentations, and mentoring, I intend for the fellowship to launch me as an established scholar able to secure a tenure-track faculty position by the end of my post-doctoral training.

 

What advice do you have for upcoming doctoral students?

Based on my experience during my doctoral studies and fellowship program, I would like to forward some tips for upcoming doctoral students:

Build your Network.

Start building your scholar network as early as possible during your doctoral journey. Go to conferences, connect with scholars doing related research, and collaborate with faculty and peers. These contacts can lead to valuable insights, feedback, and future career opportunities.

Continue to Strengthen Key Skills

Master the key research and writing skills essential for your subfield. Enroll in advanced methodology courses, read excellent dissertations, attend writing workshops, and get peer feedback on drafts. Continually upgrade your capabilities.

Take Opportunities to Advance Your Experiences.

Submit conference abstracts, articles, etc. regularly. Build your CV and get comfortable with the publication process long before your PhD dissertation defense. Aim to have multiple publications by graduation.

Seek out Funding.

Apply for funding for your research and attending conferences. Apply early and often for campus grants, travel awards, and small research funds to support your doctoral work. Even small amounts add up and have a significant impact on your academic profile.

Tend to your Wellbeing.

Pay attention to your wellbeing. Find community and laughter with supportive colleagues. Make time for self-care through rest, healthy habits, and work-life balance. The journey is demanding but rewarding if you take good care of yourself.

I wish you the very best with your doctoral programs!

 

 

Solomon Danga’s publications.

Solomon D. Danga, Babatope O Adebiyi, Erica Koegler, Conran Joseph & Nicolette V. Roman (2022). Associations between potential traumatic experience and mental health in adolescent refugee populations: A scoping review, Current Psychology (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-022-03929-8.

Solomon D Danga, Babatope O Adebiyi, Erica Koegler, Conran Joseph, Nicolette V Roman. Associations between Traumatic Experience and Resilience in Adolescent Refugees: A Scoping Review: Youth, 2022, 2(4), 681-690; https://doi.org/10.3390/youth2040048 – 01 Dec 2022.