In 2010 after the completion of my PhD, I was invited by the Department of Journalism Studies, the University of Sheffield to run a workshop for new PhD students. Professor Martin Conboy, and my supervisor Dr. John Steel where behind this idea. They wanted me to share my experience over the period I was a PhD student from 2005 to 2010. It was an experience I must admit was rich and full of lessons for myself and I believe to other students.
After running the workshop, Professor Martin Conboy once again asked me to write a summary of the workshop for the website of the Department of Journalism Studies. That was how I wrote the article ‘How to complete a PhD successfully’. At the end of the workshop, Professor Martin Conboy asked me a question, Jameel are you planning to develop a career out of this?
I had no direct answer at the time. As time goes by, I took a part-time teaching role for postgraduate students at the University of Sheffield, and later moved to Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Over this period, I have interacted with several PhD and other postgraduate students from different countries. Some at a formal level, while others were simply friends or former students who needed support on how to write a PhD proposal, identify funding bodies or simply get an advice on how to write their thesis.
What I found interesting in this process was that the challenges faced by these students remained consistent. The challenges they face range from inability to identify a topic, how to write an effective proposal, problems with supervisors, securing funding for research, academic writing and sometimes personal challenges due the pressure of being a researcher and a family person.
At the back of my mind, I have been thinking of how to address these challenges. In the age of the internet, I couldn’t think of a better way than to establish an online academy that would address these challenges. This, coupled with my desire to impart knowledge, and learn from others as well gave birth to UniFocus Academy www.unifocusacademy.com
Platform for postgraduate students
UniFocus Academy is intended to serve as a global platform for postgraduate students. It is aimed at being the repository and the first-stop-shop for students in higher education, particularly research students who are looking for direction on how to start the wonderful journey of pursuing a PhD and contributing to the body of knowledge for the betterment of society. Students will find several courses on how to write a proposal, manage a supervisor, secure funding and learn the requirements of writing a thesis. The idea is to simplify the process and help students to stand on their feet. The academy has a channel where interviews with senior academics have been featured, providing quality advice on the research journey. At the moment, there are interviews available on the channel with Professor Robin Mansell of London School of Economics, Dr. Winston Mano of Westminster University, Professor Charles Okigboof North Dakota State University, Dr. Brilliant Mhlela of Hertfordshire University and Professor Tom Jacobson of Temple University.
Enhancing the quality of PhD research
Several universities offer postgraduate programmes. However, one challenge that senior academics would tell you is their concern about the quality of the research being produced, especially in developing countries where universities suffer from lack of funding. One unique thing about postgraduate research is that the student is in charge of the process. So if the student receives the right coaching, and gets access to quality research materials, this can ease the pressure on the supervisor and the university at large. A key component of the role of UniFocus Academy is to help in producing high-quality research by guiding prospective students to understand what it takes to produce high-quality research. Universities are also interested in receiving high-quality researchers. At Uni Focus Academy, the right foundation would be given to the students so that they can be ready to embark on a research journey without much difficulty.
Address challenges faced by PhD students
Studying and spending hours in the library is only part of the story for research students. The life of a PhD student requires a lot of support from the family, friends, fellow students and even the community itself. Many students drop out of PhD programmes for non-academic reasons. They simply couldn’t cope with the pressure that comes with research. This can be family-life balance, cultural shock, lack of funding especially towards the end of the research, or abandoning the study due to the constant change of supervisors, or the students simply takes more than he can chew. One of the role of Uni Focus Academy is to guide students on these challenges and give them the tools to handle such non-academic pressure.
Desire to contribute to society
Producing a research work is only the beginning. The outcome of the research has implication for policymaking or pioneering inventions that could change people’s lives. Beyond that, in the 21st century, high quality research can be transformed into start-up that could create employment or help societies to address major challenges. A key role that Uni Focus Academy will provide is career guidance, so that once the student finish the research, he would have a clear idea on how to enter the job market and make a difference.
Dr. Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u is the founder of Uni FocusAcademy. He can be reached at [email protected]