This series tracks news and views from our ‘Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods’ (EPRM) course. Many participants work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other parts of the UN system. They come to Maastricht for this unique blended learning programme, covering three weeks in class and 10 weeks online. This time we speak with Agata Petrelli, an award-winning child rights researcher.
Congratulations on winning the Mac Robertson Scholarship from the Universities of Glasgow & Strathclyde as well as the BASPCAN Anne Wingate Paterson Scholarship / Award from the Association of Child Protection Professionals! I understand these scholarships funded fieldwork in Madagascar and will allow you to further share your work. Can you tell us more about your research trip to Madagascar?
Thank you! I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve received for this research project, which I designed during my Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods (EPRM) course. This study concerns child labour in mining and quarrying in Madagascar, a topic that lacks quantitative data despite the efforts of the ILO and UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey to collect information over the last decade.
My research uses a methodology developed with my three supervisors: Prof. Sebastian Vollmer from the Georg-August University of Göttingen, Dr. Hannah-Louise Clark from the University of Glasgow and Prof. Aurelia Mañé-Estrada from the University of Barcelona. They’ve given me incredible insights from their different fields of expertise, enabling me to build a holistic approach based on a mixed methodology. The quantitative analysis makes use of Geographic Information Systems to compare demographic data on children, on the one hand, with data on mine coordinates, substances, size and typology on the other. Nonetheless, the data collection, especially on mines and quarries, warranted a research visit to Madagascar.
Serendipity played a fundamental role in this research. While searching for mine coordinates, I was put in touch with Dr. Dominique Rakotomanana, Senior Geologist and Lecturer at the Polytechnic High College of Antananarivo (ESPA), Madagascar, who had earlier worked on the joint Mineral Resources Governance Project of the World Bank and the Malagasy Ministry of Mines and Strategic Resources. He offered me a unique opportunity to strengthen North-South cooperation between the Social Sciences departements of my three universities and the Geology department of ESPA – specifically by co-organising a geological expedition with the Head of the Geology Department, Dr. Anick Ratefiarimino. Together, they supported my research with their scientific expertise, provided me with contacts in the mining sector and offered me the technical and linguistic support of two of their brightest students.
You started developing your research idea while enrolled on our EPRM course and doing a Master’s degree. What made you decide to do both at the same time and how well did that work out for you?
The reason why I took this decision stems from two different, yet interconnected considerations. In summer 2018, I found myself at the same time strongly motivated to strengthen my research skills and highly committed to write my Master’s thesis on poverty in Madagascar, a country that I’d already visited three times. So when I found out about EPRM, I realised that this was the perfect course for all my purposes. A professional, intensive research training programme to design, develop and disseminated evidence-based research through which I could immediately start to work on my thesis on Madagascar.
Yes, the course overlapped with my last university term but this helped me to improve my time management skills while anticipating the workload for my thesis research. I took the EPRM course at a time when I had to think about my thesis. Without EPRM I’d never have developed this research topic and probably never have been awarded these scholarships. In the end, the course enabled me to present my research project two months ahead of the deadline and I was able to hand-in a much more in-depth proposal than what was required. Working on my thesis during the EPRM also gave me the time to apply for the scholarships to fund my research trip. In short, this combination worked amazingly!
The EPRM is a full-time course when you’re in Maastricht and requires around 15 hours when you’re working remotely. How did you manage to combine that with your usual study workload?
Luckily, the first three modules of EPRM started before the beginning of the third semester (and two had already finished). The real challenge for me was module 2, the research proposal development, which runs in parallel with module 3 and 4 (which focus on specialisation courses and research analysis, respectively). Although I was forced to skip module 4 so I could catch up with my Master’s, this did not affect my overall performance – mainly because my university covered some of the issues discussed at EPRM, such as STATA, statistics and economics.
As I did not miss any class in Göttingen, I was able to participate in the last face-to-face module in Maastricht without any adverse consequences on the workload of my papers. Overall, I achieved first and second grades for my third semester, so I think working on both EPRM and my Master’s worked rather well.
EPRM targets working professionals and while you’re in the early stages you’ve been a top performer of your cohort while finishing your Master’s degree. This signals a bright future ahead. What’s next for you?
Thanks to a £2,000 award from the BASPCAN Association, I’ve been given the opportunity to present my research at international conferences and to publish a scientific article in The Child Abuse Review. What I could not develop in my thesis for reasons of time and focus constraints, I would like to research further, yet this would require enhancing my technical and analytical competences. So I’m now looking for certified trainings or Master’s degree programmes in geospatial analysis, remote sensing and drones, while also searching for internships, traineeships and consultancies at international development agencies worldwide.
What I’ve learned is that it’s better to leave doors open wherever possible. When we only focus on one direction, we often miss other avenues to explore. This can also be a metaphor for research – and not only written research but also artistic research. For example, a painting, which potentially is endless. Especially an oil painting, because it never dries. What tells us that our painting is finished? Nothing. That is the problem – but also what keeps us going!
- PhD Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis, Dual Career (GPAC²)
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers