From One Semester to Seven Years: Fostering Connection and Collaboration with PhD Students
Spring 2022 CEGA Global Networks Intern Cheukai Makari sat down with a few graduate students who worked closely with CEGA Visiting Fellows during their time at UC Berkeley. This post shares more about our peer mentorship program, announces the current call for peer mentors, and dives into a few of the experiences of mentors and lasting collaborations to emerge from this important activity.
Research is a cumulative social process– it relies on bringing together people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and skill sets to accelerate unconventional ideas and innovative solutions. CEGA’s Global Networks Visiting Fellowship program creates possibilities for collaboration by matching current PhD students at UC Berkeley and beyond with East and West African scholars. The goal of the program is to foster peer learning on the fellows’ and peer mentors’ respective research foci; build upon skill sets; create social ties; and potentially, form a long-standing collaboration. CEGA has an open call for UC Berkeley PhD students to apply to be a peer mentor for Fall 2022 fellows Abiola Oyebanjo and James Mukoki — read more about the program below and apply by August 25th.
How it works
Each of CEGA’s Visiting and Non-Resident fellows are supported by a faculty mentor, a PhD student (peer mentors), and CEGA staff members. The peer mentor is either recommended by the faculty mentor or selected through a competitive call. They meet with the fellow weekly to discuss their impact evaluation design, provide feedback on presentations, explore career paths in research, share resources, and talk to fellows about their own research projects. In addition to the peer mentorship, there are multiple opportunities for other students to engage with fellows while they are at UC Berkeley, visiting other campuses, or engaging virtually, and new collaborations may bloom from these interactions.
Benefits of the Peer Mentorship: Personal and professional growth
Though motivations differ across the students that participate in the mentorship, a shared sentiment from this program is that the opportunity allows for both personal and professional growth. Madeline Duhon, a former PhD candidate in the Economics department at UC Berkeley, has participated in the program twice — in 2019 with an in-person fellow, Tewodros Tessema, and again in 2021 with a Non-Resident fellow, Ester Agasha. When reflecting on both experiences, Madeline appreciated the multi-faceted growth areas, including the opportunity to further explore her own research interests, the close personal connection formed with the fellows, and the ability to work with different research styles. Similarly, UC Berkeley PhD candidate, Nicholas Otis, mentor for 2022 fellow Aimable Nsabimana, expressed that it was “humbling to interact with people that have so much experience and contextual knowledge,” a learning experience that would enhance his own work in Kenya.
“I really enjoyed our research conversations — they felt like joint brainstorming sessions of questions and topics we are both interested in. While not every idea we came up with was feasible, our conversations pushed me to be more clear in my thinking of gender dynamics within the household.” Yuen Ho, peer mentor for CEGA Fellow Bezawit Bahru
Beyond the fellowship: Opening the door for future collaboration
While collaboration is encouraged during the fellowship, many peer mentors and fellows have continued to work together after the fellowship as co-investigators. Global Networks releases research grant competitions annually, which provide one potential avenue of funding for joint research projects. Nicholas shared that he was familiar with his Aimable’s work beforehand, but the program gave him a first hand look into his research process and opened up the door for future partnerships that he didn’t expect. Building off collaborations forged during the 2015 fellowship, John Bosco Asiimwe, Zachary Wagner (researcher at RAND and former UC Berkeley PhD student), and coauthors received funding from CEGA to study the uptake of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) in Uganda. Similarly, Madeline joined Tewodros as a coauthor on his project evaluating the impact of expanded payment options for utilities on fee payment behavior in Ethiopia, after receiving a grant from CEGA.
Even without being a direct PhD peer mentor, there are ample opportunities to meet and form potential collaborations with CEGA Visiting Fellows. Isabelle Cohen (Assistant Professor, University of Washington) met Fall 2015 fellow Saint Kizito Omala when she was a PhD student. Seven years later, they are currently collaborating on a research project in Uganda which Kizito initially conveived during his time at CEGA. Although there’s been stalling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have kept the project a priority and worked together over the years to design, fund, and implement a research program. The program is in collaboration with Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports and a local education department. Isabelle shares that Kizito’s “tenacity and focus on the policy issue we are studying have always been the fundamental lever on which the project operated”. She describes her experience collaborating alongside him as “one of her most fulfilling partnerships.’’
If you are a PhD student at UC Berkeley and interested in being a peer mentor for a Fall 2022 fellow, please apply here by August 25, 2022. If you are interested in being a virtual mentor in the future or looking for ways to connect with CEGA Visiting Fellows, please reach out to Chelsea Downs, Project Manager at CEGA (firstname.lastname@example.org).