PHD Power at the GACD

GACD researchers Dr Claire Johnson and Dr Felix Limbani have recently graduated. This highlights a wider opportunity for aspiring researchers, where GACD project work is used for developing a PHD thesis. Dr Johnson works with the George Institute, Sydney and was based in Hyderabad for the data collection in her PHD, on building evidence for a national salt reduction programme for India. Dr Limbani, on the other side of the continent in rural South Africa, has been working to reduce uncontrolled hypertension by strengthening the management skills of health workers in primary care clinics. Here, both share their experiences and offer advice for future PHD potential.

Dr Claire Johnson

Question to both: Claire and Felix
•What was the benefit of working on a specific GACD project, using implementation science approaches for your PHDs?
Claire: Undertaking my PhD, which was based on the data collected from the GACD HT 09 project, was an incredible experience and an invaluable opportunity to me as a PhD student. I was able to access and learn from a broad range of leading researchers from across the globe as well a local team of experts in India.

I really benefited from the advice and guidance from the broader group working on GACD India projects which were concurrently underway, specifically SmartHealth, which operated in the same region. Additionally, it was a great privilege to attend the annual meetings across the globe and take part in the first Implementation Science workshop. I was able to meet and share ideas and interests with colleagues from the wider Hypertension groups and this was really beneficial to me both academically as well as personally – as we all know a PhD can be an isolating time!

Dr Felix LImbani

Felix: Working on a specific GACD project ensured wider support for the PhD beyond my supervisors. I participated in a series of working groups and joint manuscripts that were related to my PhD including working groups on process evaluation and task shifting. Being part of GACD Annual Scientific Meetings helped me to create lasting relations with senior researchers across the globe and I also attended the first GACD implementation science workshop early in my PhD programme. This helped to refine my approach to the implementation of my PhD research study.

• How did you manage the work/study balance?
Claire: I was lucky enough to be working predominantly on the GACD project, the data from which was the basis of my PhD – so work was study and study, work. When I returned to Australia to write my thesis I was able to liaise with the team at the George Institute in Hyderabad to finalise the project and from there it was a matter of writing papers papers papers, papers.

Felix: Combining work and study worked to my advantage. I was programme manager for the same research study I used for my PhD. Skills acquired in generating and disseminating scientific evidence made it easier to manage my work better. However, studying for my PhD beyond work was challenging as well. There is additional and demanding assignments that one must complete above the normal work. But staying focussed and with proper planning, it’s possible to succeed in both areas at the same time

• What major lessons did you learn?
Claire: I definitely learnt many life and work lessons in the time I was living and working in India, one of which was: however much time you think something will take within the Indian bureaucratic system, double it and then add a few extra months for holidays and out of station tours. Good relationships are really the very core of effective and collaborative research and I learnt that putting in the extra effort to build and maintain those relationships really benefited me both during and beyond my PhD. Also, don’t eat the seafood when you’re 5 days drive away from the nearest coastline.

Felix: I have learnt that one of the important facilitators to a successful completion of PhD is having supportive supervision. Such supervisors do not only supervise your academic work but also motivate, mentor and guide you. The PhD journey requires broadening ones networks and consulting widely. I am glad that the GACD network is part of that platform for engagement.

• Any tips for future GACD PHD students?
Claire: If you’re lucky enough to be a part of the great GACD machine as a PhD student then grab it with both hands and enjoy the ride. I can’t think of a better way to do a PhD than to be a part of this network of global experts. Be clear about what you want to include in your research, highlight your specific research interests arising from the project and garner the knowledge and expertise of the teams around you to get the very best out of your experience.

Felix: I would like to concur with one Prof. Kelani who said, the most important prerequisites for pursuing a successful PhD program are passion, inquisitiveness, creativity, discipline, persistence, perseverance and attention to detail.

For further information about the GACD Implementation Science Click here

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