The silver linings of work and study – a reflection

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Trying to finish the Sustainable Development Masters in one year is no simple feat. So when Candice Kelly (Programme Director: Food Systems Centre) told me my research funding came with an obligation to work for the Food Systems Centre (FSC) during that year (2016), I thought “farewell surfing and social life.”

There were two of us that had to manage the new workload; myself and a fellow student, Aabida Davis. Working for the FSC involved weekly team meetings at the SI, helping with other research projects that were going on, aiding Candice in the admin of running the food modules in the Postgraduate Diploma and marking assignments.

As the year began, Aabida and I started juggling these two projects: a Masters degree and a research assistant job. Both of us had Candice and Etai Even-Zahav (Research Fellow at the FSC) as our co-supervisors. What quickly became apparent was that the perk of meeting each week was that we received constant feedback not only from our supervisors but also from the rest of the FSC team. Their input proved invaluable in helping us define our research, and ironing out issues we had along the way. In addition, helping with FSC research projects allowed us to refine our research skills and get a more holistic view of the food system. The research work was fun and fascinating, particularly the research done with the Food Revolution exhibition (now setup in the SI gardens). This research involved asking people in the company gardens how the images made them feel about food.

Helping with the three modules also had benefits. Though I was sitting in on the modules for the second time, this time I was listening from the lens of my research area. The lecturers in the modules mentioned references that ended up being key in my dissertation and the field trips looked at some of the questions I had been grappling with. In one lecture, Candice asked me to explain what research I was doing and the difficulties I was having at the time, the students then gave me feedback on how they thought I should overcome these challenges. All in all the whole process was so insightful that I wondered how much I had missed the first time around.

By the time it got to assisting with marking, the pressure had begun to build. Deadlines were looming and spending more time reading assignments seemed impossible. Nevertheless, this process too came with its own set of silver-linings. Looking critically at other students’ work enables one to develop an eye for mistakes, and so through the process of marking I became a lot more critical of my own work. Also reading others’ assignments helped alert me to more key references I had missed.

Because our funding came from the African Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, one of our obligations involved visiting Dar es Salaam to present our research. While it was a daunting task, the excitement of travel and the opportunity to experience Tanzania was well worth it. After our very successful presentations, we were able to take a couple of days sipping cocktails on the South Coast of Dar es Salaam. A welcome reward after just successfully submitting our theses.

By far the biggest benefit of working for the Food Systems Centre was helping me with time management. Whether you take three years to finish your Masters or work while you try to do it in one, time management is your biggest obstacle. Meeting once a week meant that Aabida and I had weekly check-ups and encouragement to keep us on the right track. It not only enabled me to finish my Masters degree in one year, while completing all the work for the Food Systems Centre, but I was also able to squeeze in a lot of time in the surf.