Two Things I Learnt from the Delay in Obtaining Two PhD Fellowships

This is the last of a three-part article on why it took three years to obtain two PhD fellowships, and how God used the waiting period to turn things around in my favour. You can read the first and second parts here and here. In this final post, I share two key lessons I have learned from my waiting period.

In my last two posts in this series, I wrote about my experience obtaining two PhD fellowships after three years of waiting. Here are two key lessons I have picked from this experience:

Being positive about the delays that occur in our lives and letting that positive attitude reflect in our actions and reactions is key to achieving our goals.

Yes, being positive about the delays that occur in our lives is key to achieving our goals, but it’s not just about being positive, but also letting that positive attitude reflect in your actions and reactions. In other words, be productive during the waiting period.

My first disappointment at securing a PhD scholarship was when after obtaining admission to read a PhD in Classics at Cambridge, I failed to make it to my institution’s shortlist for Commonwealth Scholarship that year.

By now, Patience was pregnant. I deferred my admission to April of the following year, and again, I was not successful at obtaining a scholarship. It was in that month that Nyamedea was born. As I have indicated in my previous post, the delay helped me to bond with our new-born baby and to be involved in his personal development. I am not sure how it would have turned out without my presence.

The second positive thing I picked up was that the delay gave me enough time to care for my siblings. Two of them were in tertiary school and in their first years. As I was largely responsible for their schooling and upkeep (including my dad’s), the delay offered me the opportunity that a PhD scholarship would not have allowed in providing for their needs, besides my wife’s and son’s. By staying in employment therefore, it helped to avert the financial burden that would have overwhelmed us.

The third positive thing is that the delay offered me the opportunity to support my wife in a most difficult period. Coming out of a Caesarean Section for her first child, the least she needed was for me to be away. My support made a lot of difference in her recuperation and offered her the opportunity to bounce back to academic life. Now my wife (who is also on a fully-funded PhD programme) and I can focus on getting our PhDs. The PhD couple? There you have it😊.

We plan our ways, but God directs our paths (Proverbs 16:9).

During our marriage counselling, one of the assignments our counsellor Rev Emmanuel Adjetey Quaye gave us was to develop two separate 5-year plans on paper. Though it was a difficult task, we prayed about it and rather developed three different plans of 5 years each—call them Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. While I cannot give out details of these plans, three things were key for us: spacing of our children, timing of our PhDs, and investment/retirement plans.

On the first two scores, none of our plans went through in the exact order, but I am happy to say that God directed our steps in ways we could never have imagined. Things just turned out differently, often in ways that we couldn’t explain.

So, was it a waste of time to plan? Not at all. We encourage everyone to make such plans. They help you have a sense of purpose and direct your energy towards common goals.

Let me give you a fair idea of what our plan on those two scores looked like.

Our plan was to have a baby in the first year of our marriage and for me to commence my PhD; then in the final year of my PhD, have a second baby, so that the following year, Patience could commence her own PhD while I paid attention to the kids.

But what happened? We had our first child in the first year of our marriage, and it took three years, counting our courtship, for me to obtain a fully-funded PhD place. But as you have read from the previous articles, God brought everything into perfection.

So we plan our ways, but God directs our paths.

Advertisements

I Caused It but God Did It: Why It Took Three Years to Obtain Two PhD Fellowships

Last week my wife Patience shared a testimony of how she secured a fully funded PhD scholarship, and she used that to communicate a very important lesson on acting on our beliefs and prayers.

Two months after she commenced her PhD, I received two PhD fellowships—a Lisa Maskell Fellowship to study Ancient Cultures in the Department of Ancient Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship to study Classics at the University of Ghana.

I was among about 18 students from Africa and 10 from Ghana respectively who were selected for these prestigious fellowships. But not many know that it’s taken me three years to finally secure a place on a fully-funded PhD programme.

In this three-part article, I want to share with you why securing a funded place delayed, what I did myself to cause the delay, how I made use of my waiting period, how God used the delay to work out His plans for my life, and the lessons I have taken from the three years of waiting.

Some background

Immediately I submitted my MPhil dissertation, I began making plans to enrol on a fully funded PhD programme. Considering the academic path I had chosen and the investments I had made in acquiring an MPhil degree without financial support, it was crucial that I secured a place on a funded PhD programme if I ever wanted to start a PhD by the end of the first year of my marriage.

Yes, I wanted to get married first but I had no fiancée (the story of how I got married two years after this will be for another day). And to get married as planned, I needed to be financially stable.

Once my work was submitted, I put in an application for Teaching Assistantship, then in August 2014 I was appointed Assistant Lecturer. It was a month prior to this—July 9, 2014—that I proposed marriage to my platonic friend of six years. By the following year, on July 25, 2015, Pat and I were married.

So, it seemed my plans had gone through smoothly, and I was ready to commence the process of obtaining a funded place on a PhD programme. Since no university in Ghana had a PhD programme in Classics at the time, my options were limited to schools abroad. However, it will take me two more years before my plan will materialise, and these are the reasons why.

I limited my options

One of my goals was to complete a PhD in a maximum time of four years, so US schools were out of the question—it takes 5 to 6 years to complete a PhD in Classics in the US.

Besides, to read a PhD in Classics, I needed to have done three to four years each of Greek and Latin at advanced level, read some primary sources in their original languages, and while on the programme, acquired proficiency in two additional foreign languages (including German, and French or Italian).

I couldn’t have met these requirements immediately and I was not ready for the long journey. I also told myself that if I was going to study outside Ghana, it would be better to do it beyond my continent. I therefore limited my options to the UK, Canada and Australia in the first few years.

But all my applications to these schools were rejected, except those for Cambridge in the UK, Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and University of Sydney in Australia. However, the admissions came without funding.

I deferred my admission to Cambridge hoping to secure a Commonwealth Scholarship, but I failed to make it to the final round. By now I had spent so much time and money on preparing and submitting applications. I was both frustrated and tired. All advice to consider other options had fell on deaf ears.

I was obsessed with the top-notch schools

I don’t mean to say one should settle for schools that are sub-standard, no! And in no way am I demoting Stellenbosch University or the University of Ghana. Both universities have reputations to boast of, especially in Africa. But during this period, no university in Ghana had a PhD programme in my field of study and there was no access to funding to even consider these places.

But I should have created a balance and not applied only to first-rate schools. There are schools which may not match the likes of Cambridge and Yale, but they may be very good in their own right. I failed to apply this principle. All the schools I applied to were leading schools in their respective countries.

What this meant was that I was competing with foreigners who might have spent their secondary school period studying Greek and Latin and other foreign languages at advanced levels—and here was I, with limited preparation in these languages, applying for a position on the same programme as them. The least I could have done—an advice I failed to take—was apply to their one-year masters programme and then move on to do my PhD afterwards. 

I did not take my time to prepare

Looking back at the whole process, I did not take my time to prepare. I was so much in a hurry. It was like I had to do this now and now! My MPhil period was a very hectic and troubling one—I was self-financing my education, studying and working full-time, and taking care of two siblings and a father.

I slept on average three to four hours a day. I went through a lot of depression. One night, I boarded a mini-bus to Madina, alighted and walked from one end of the road to the other, returned to my hostel and slept. A month after submitting my work, I started working, then a year later I got married and started thinking about PhD. After going through all that, I should have taken my time to prepare.

We failed to plan well

My wife and I may have failed to plan well. I say ‘may’ because we both wanted a child in our first year of marriage, and I wanted to commence a PhD by the end of that first year of marriage. We were very unreal about the cost of carrying forward such a plan. Even if I had secured funding for the Cambridge PhD, I doubt I would have been able to take it up, for in the very month I was scheduled to leave, Patience delivered our son through Caesarean Section.

But, we did not want to hold back the possibility of having a child while we looked for a PhD at the same time. Our plan was for me to start and finish a PhD first, by which time we would have two kids, then my wife could commence hers while I took care of the kids. So, the failure in our plan was not in asking for a child and a PhD, but in failing to calculate the real cost and failing to design realistic timelines.

God may have been trying to save me from a wrong timing

While I acknowledge the part I played in causing my own delay, I believe, to some extent, that God was saving me from a wrong timing, and He was using my own mistakes to do this since I was not ready to listen to His voice.

Truth is, while my wife and I prayed about our plans for PhD, in our hearts we were not ready for anything that would cut short our plans. I believe if God had said, “Michael, your time to leave will be in January 2018,” I would have shouted back, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Our hearts were closed to any voice that would not agree with us.

This is what desperation and lack of trust can do. I had just three years on a non-renewable contract with my employer. So, at all cost, I needed to get a PhD to stay in full-time academic appointment. Otherwise, we were in for the hard times I experienced during my MPhil. However, my timing of applications may have been wrong. In our desperation, we couldn’t trust that God will bring everything into perfect timing before the end of 2017.

Updated: 09/02/2018

Continue to Part II of the article.

God Has Done It Again: Acting on Prayer and Belief

Have you ever got to a stage in life where you seemed stuck and did not see the way forward; where the path on which you walked seemed crooked and you wondered if you would ever find the highway?

That was where I found myself. I had completed a masters degree, yet found myself without any meaningful employment because of an embargo on employment. My brain had become fuzzy with pregnancy and childbirth. I wondered if I could pursue my goal of further studies now that I was a wife and mother. My lifelong dream of being in academia was dim.

The fact that my better half also had to do further studies made the situation dimmer. The cost of pursuing one PhD is that huge let alone two. I had doubts I could put a proposal together or bring myself to sit by books like I used to. I guess you understand the depth of my hopelessness.

But I had an option—to pray, believe, and act. I trusted God for his perfect will for my life. I discussed the possibility of applying for a PhD programme with my mentor who gave me some ideas about possible places. Within a few weeks, I had put together a PhD proposal.

One morning I visited the Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS) and the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) to make enquiries about their PhD programmes.

The feedback at RIPS was not positive so I went to ISSER where I was impressed about the courses on offer. I also realized for the first time that they had few scholarships available. I informed my hubby about the courses and before I was aware, he had purchased the forms and put in an application for me using the proposal I had prepared.

I was invited with several others for an interview. There were just five slots for funding. I had sleepless nights over an interview I thought didn’t go so well, but I did what I know to do best, to pray.

And bam! God did it! I was among the five people who received DAAD funding for a PhD in Development Studies at ISSER. The funding also included a two-month internship in Germany. God did not only pay for school fees but provided for my monthly sustenance. God is good indeed! His faithfulness is for ever more. I give God all the praise. His grace I do not take for granted. His daily kindness I greatly appreciate. If it had not been for the Lord on our side, where would we be?

Set on course for the future by God’s grace, I trust daily for his provision, grace and mercies. And because he began with me I have full assurance for the grace of glorious completion.

One thing is for sure, if the Lord has not responded to your call, it is because he is working on something big. If your path seems crooked, keep pressing on, the high way is a few steps ahead. God will surely come through for you.

If there is any barrier to your breakthrough, may God’s mighty power cause it to be lifted. Receive the grace of a warrior and press on till the end. Jesus has paid the price for your victory! Walk in it.

In this new year, may God give us the grace to continuously trust him for his perfect will in our lives. May the Lord go before us and make the crooked places straight. May He break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron (Isaiah 45:2). May he give us increase and abundance.

PS: Much love to my mentors Drs Deborah Atobrah and Benjamin Kwansa for their encouragement, references and guidance with my proposal. You are a true blessing!

Shout out to my wonderful colleagues who make the journey enjoyable. Thanks for the guinea fowls, kebabs, potatoes, free lunch, and lifts. Much blessings for you all. Because God himself is our help, we will hold each other by the hand and complete this journey together. Cheers!