This new series tracks the progress and priorities of our full-time PhD fellows. Some are new recruits living here in Maastricht, others are working abroad while waiting to defend. This time we caught up with Jemal Adem, a PhD fellow from Ethiopia who won a Nuffic scholarship in 2014. NB: the next application deadline for our full-time PhD programme is February 2019.
How did you find out about the PhD programme? What were your first impressions – and did the institute and programme meet your expectations?
I found out about the UNU-MERIT PhD programme through an online scholarship subscription. Initially, I was a bit surprised that governance and economics could be combined to form a single PhD programme – but then I saw how the two tracks work side-by-side in a complementary way.
At first, I was offered a three-month internship to attend the core courses from September to December of 2013. After completing the first semester, I went back to my home country, Ethiopia, with a heavy heart, as I needed funding to continue the programme. It was then that I applied for the Nuffic scholarship, which was of course successful! I joined the 2014/15 group in January 2015. Now, in late 2018, I am close to completing my PhD research, which draws heavily on behavioural economics and investment in human capital formation in low-income countries.
Overall I’ve found the programme very interesting and innovative. I particularly like its emphasis on the nexus between innovation, technological change and institutions on the one hand and economic growth and development on the other. The programme is very intensive and initially I found it quite tough to keep up with the pace of the coursework; but I’ve enjoyed the challenge and soon became more focused.
You won a Dutch Nuffic scholarship halfway through your first year. Was this a game-changer for you? What would you advise potential applicants in terms of securing funding?
Finding an original and feasible research idea is perhaps the most important thing in a PhD, and, put simply, the scholarship made my research idea feasible. Its research fund helped me collect my own data for my PhD research — but also not to obsess too much about the availability of data. Having sufficient funding also enables you to join important conferences and workshops outside the Netherlands: to meet and debate with other researchers, policymakers and development practitioners. Using funds from my Nuffic scholarship, I was able to attend the 2018 PEGNet Conference in Cotonue, Benin, where I presented a paper from my PhD dissertation and got the opportunity to interact with people who are interested in the same research topic as mine from all over the world. Therefore, I strongly recommend prospective applicants to consider applying for the Nuffic scholarship.
One of the main challenges of applying for the Nuffic scholarship, I think, is that it requires applicants to be recommended by an employer institution based in an eligible developing country. It may be difficult for candidates to get a recommendation once they have left their home country and organisation. I would recommend potential applicants to start looking and applying for a scholarship before they have left their home country.
How do you find the research community at UNU-MERIT? How important is it to study in such a high-ranking but also diverse institute, with people from so many different backgrounds?
I think UNU-MERIT has found an innovative way to set high academic standards and at the same time be accommodating. Students come from different academic backgrounds. But the institute provides them with plenty of opportunities to quickly learn the institute’s way through coursework, seminars, skills trainings and peer-study groups. In fact, the institute is so flexible that it allows students to work with external supervisors if needed.
The research community at UNU-MERIT is truly international. Here, you can find people from all over the world, as well as from different social and academic backgrounds. The remarkably diverse but strongly bonded community of the institute makes me and my colleagues feel very much at home.
Overall, being part of this community has provided me a good opportunity to learn and appreciate different cultures and expertise. Over the course of my stay here, I have learnt so much more than just science from the many conversations and debates that take place here every day at UNU-MERIT.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / Herman Pijpers