My PhD Lifestory: Interview with Danladi Abah, PhD.

Tell us about yourself.

I am Abah Danladi, from Akpanya community in Igalamela/Odolu Local Government Area of Kogi State, Nigeria.  I attended Community Secondary School Akpanya and graduated with flying colours in 2006. I studied History and International Studies at Kogi State University Anyigba and graduated in 2010 as the top best student with best academic result in the department and faculty.  After completing the mandatory National Youth Service in October 2012, I moved to Benue University, Makurdi in 2013 for my Master’s degree in Economic History, which I completed in 2015 with distinction. In July 2016, I enrolled for a PhD in Economic History at Benue State University and successfully defended my thesis in March 2019 as the youngest and fastest ever to have successfully completed a PhD on record time in the department and University.

Why did you choose to do a PhD in Africa?

The desire to pursue a PhD in Africa and Nigeria in particular was both a personal and collective decision.  Personally, as an undergraduate made year ago, I made up my mind that I wanted to earn a PhD  early in life. There were two young scholars whom I admired so much.  These were Professor Okpeh Okpeh Jrn and Prof. Patrick Ukase both based at Benue State University Makurdi and Kogi State University Makurdi respectively. Secondly, I will say that my Master’s degree external examiner, Prof Sati U. Fawshak from the University of Jos played a decisive role in my choice of doing a PhD here.  After my MA viva voce, I met him to thank him and he told me that I should pick  a PhD admission form immediately. He told me that he saw raw academic potentials in me and that I should endeavour to keep my ‘head straight’ and pursue further studies.  Fortunately for me, two Professors at Benue State University had told me same. I hided to the advice of these scholars and luckily for me it paid off. I am grateful to them and God.

Describe your PhD experience.

I will say my PhD experience was good. Though I knew from the start the research problem that i wanted to investigate but my supervisors were very helpful in guiding and refocusing my thoughts. Asking critical questions related to my research. Besides, they were always available to attend to me. Even when they travelled outside of Nigeria, they responded to my unending questions via emails.  I started my PhD in 2016 and successfully defended my thesis on the 26th of March 2019. If not for the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike which lasted for four months, I would have even defended earlier. I had supervisors who were always nudging  me always to seek fellowship/grant opportunities and to also attend summer schools and write publishable papers.  Luckily for me, their efforts paid off. Within three years, I won six fellowships/grants and many fully funded conferences in addition to over thirty (30) publications in reputable journals and book chapter collectives.

What has helped you to get to this stage of your doctoral studies?

That God has helped me to complete my doctoral studies in three years in is incontrovertible. I put God first in all I do.  During my one session course work, I registered for ten (10) courses and scored nine distinctions (A’s). I garnered a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.90. I was the first candidate ever to have made such cumulative Grade point since the inception of the University.  Reading and Writing was all I did and still do except when in the house of God or ill. I had no time for distractions.  Determination, persistency, hard work and the gift of good friend all helped me to triumph in my doctoral studies.

What would you do differently if you had the chance to start your studies over?

If I had the chance to start my doctoral studies afresh, I will focus on topics within the areas of peace, conflict and security and also apply for pre-doctoral grants.  I really did not know much about the Social Science Research Council African Peace Building Network Grants until I had submitted a short proposal and admission offered. I missed the opportunity to apply for the grant because my topic was not directly related to peace and security issues. If I had the chance to start my studies over, my interest will shift to peace and security. However, my strategy, in terms of pursing the program will be same.

Do you have any survival tips for other colleagues?

Completing a PhD within record time requires brutal dedication to studies.  I had no time for anything apart from God and my studies.  Immediately I enrolled for my PhD, i stopped supporting English and European football championships which hitherto took my precious time.  When you have your PhD research topic approved, the first thing to do is to map out about 200 or more published works to read. Spend 4 to 5 months reading and taking notes of key issues in each literature.  After this, visit the archives or carry out preliminary ethnographical surveys/observations. Though this may not apply to all fields, but, for PhD researchers in humanities and social sciences, I think, this strategy will help.

Also, look out for research fellowships, fully funded conferences/summer schools. CODESRIA, SSRC, African Humanities Program (AHP), French Research Institute for Africa (IFRA), and many other international agencies provide viable platforms to support doctoral students in Africa. The key to winning lies in trying.  The more you try,  the more chances of winning u have. Another survival tip is to look for established scholars in your area of research and connect with them. Send emails/sms or phone calls and notify them of your thesis topic and how you have found some of their publications useful. For me, I had direct links with scholars from the University of Michigan at Arn Arbor, SOAS,  Bernard College New York and several other scholars within Nigeria. Luckily for me, So many of them sent me useful literature and offered useful advice. You necessarily need not inform your supervisor(s) about such link(s) except upon request.

Another tip is to cultivate the habit of effective time management.  Spend less time on social media.  It is unfortunate that many PhD students do not know how to tap from the positive potentials in social media to advance scholarship.  For instance,  almost all research institutes and departments in Universities all over the world has a social media page(Facebook, twitter, etc) where relevant information on fellowships, grants and conferences are shared.  All that a smart student needs to do is to Like or follow such page.  Personally, I follow over one hundred right now across different Universities in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

What informed your decision to join the group, Doing A PhD in Africa? What has been your experience so far?

My decision to join the group was informed by my quest for academic opportunities. Before I joined the group, I had always wanted an outlet where I could easily access current research grant/fellowship opportunities and Doing A PhD in Africa presented that excellent platform, so I quickly joined. Personally, I have had wonderful experience so far. I have applied for several opportunities advertised on Doing PhD in Africa and luckily for me, I won many. The most recent was the fully funded Institute for French Research in Africa- Nigeria 2019 Masterclass held at University of Lagos and University of Ibadan. The fellowship brought advanced PhD students and accomplished scholars from France, Belgium, the United States of America and United Kingdom. I also won the 2017 and 2018 council for the Development of Society Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) laureateship courtesy of Doing PhD in Africa which was the first to rebroadcast the flier from COSEDRIA website.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to go for postdoctoral studies and work towards converting my PhD thesis into a book. I am in touch with publishers in the United States and UK to see how we can get this done within the next one or two years. I will settle for the publisher with the best offer.

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