Dr. Kajsa Hallberg Adu holds a PhD in African Studies and from the University of Ghana and is a lecturer at Ashehi University. In this episode, she shares her story about her academic career but also about her life as an activist and a blogger.
Today you will have a chance to get to know Kajsa Hallberg Adu, who was born and raised in Sweden and nowadays lives and works in Ghana.
Kajsa is a lecturer in Communications, Leadership, and Political Science at Ashesi University. She holds a PhD degree in African Studies (University of Ghana) and a Master degree in Political Science (Uppsala University, Sweden).
Her research interests turn towards the future as she studies youth in Ghana and beyond, student migration, labor migration, knowledge societies, social media in the classroom, social media in elections, the intersection of internet freedoms and democratization, uses of augmented reality and decolonizing the academy. Outside of her academic career, Kajsa is a blogger and activist.
Dr. Kajsa Hallberg Adu
Welcome to episode 67 of PhD Career Stories. Today you will have a chance to get to know Kajsa Hallberg Adu, who was born and raised in Sweden and nowadays lives and works in Ghana.
Kajsa Hallberg Adu is a lecturer in communications, leadership, and political science at Ashesi University. She holds a Ph.D. degree in African Studies (University of Ghana) and a Masters degree in Political Science (Uppsala University, Sweden). Her research interests turn towards the future as she studies youth in Ghana and beyond, student migration, labor migration, knowledge societies, social media in the classroom, social media in elections, the intersection of internet freedoms and democratization, uses of augmented reality and decolonizing the academy. Outside of her academic career, Kajsa is a blogger and activist.
Welcome Kajsa, let us hear more from you and your exciting journey!
My name is Kajsa Hallberg Adu and I’m today the guest on the PhD career stories podcast. You might hear some tropical birds just behind my voice and that’s authentically what my home office sounds like on any morning.
I have a PhD in African Studies from the University of Ghana and Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Political Science from Uppsala University in Sweden.
Perhaps I need to say also what African Studies is: it is an interdisciplinary area studies often slanted towards humanities and social sciences. My research was at the intersection between migration studies, anthropology and political science.
Today I’ll tell you about what I did when I wanted to quit the PhD program, how activism and teaching are very good companions to research and what beckons after you have completed your dissertation and finally slept properly again.
How did I choose the research topic for my PhD?
Now I feel like I almost don’t remember exactly how I was drawn into migration. Perhaps a number of factors as landing in an internship with the international organization for migration, wondering about why well-educated Ghanaians wanted to leave a country that was as lovely as Ghana. And perhaps just serendipity.
I remember a Kofi Annan quote in my first drafts. I like how my topic by default was interdisciplinary.
Growing up I was the quintessential studious girl, my head in a book, A’s in all exam, visiting a library as often as I could, less enthusiasm about physical education. Interested in all topics from chemistry to drawing but also with a leadership streak, throughout the lower levels of school, involved in the student council, petitioning headmasters, organizing student groups, involved in the student union. Summarizing it like this, I think I just loved school and the school environments.
When I started university it was a wonderful but also difficult time. With my studiousness and activism, I fit in. But I was no more an A student and this was a shock. I struggled with the workload, I was used to performing top results would not much work and found myself in opposition to many of my topics in the social sciences.
In the end, I think it was a combination of wanting to please my dad who wishes he would have taken the opportunity offered him to do a PhD, and having a supervisor who saw me.
My master’s thesis supervisor was caring and understood me, after my bachelor’s thesis that was no hit and by one examiner did not even deserve to pass, this supervisor saw something in me and hired me as a research assistant.
Working with him for a year laid a foundation, I learned what doing research can be like. I was part of a curious methodical teamwork, pegged up by lots of coffee. Around the same time through my activism, I got a small research job to interview youth on their media habits – also another very practical research experience that made me see research in a positive light.
When I think of times when I doubted myself and considered changing the topic or giving up on science…
Oh Yes! There were times I doubted myself and considered giving up. Honestly, I wanted to quit every year but for different reasons.
Even before starting my PhD, things were tough as the university first lost my application, and I had to wait for the next year. At the end of a difficult first year, I got a new and vibrant supervisor on my committee. So that helped.
The second year I co-founded a graduate student network and suddenly had friends to talk to.
The third year, my husband reminded me, I was almost ready.
The fourth year I was encouraged by another department’s interest in my project. They also gave me a small grant powered by the Hewlett Foundation. I think your network is eventually, what helps you along.
But if I’d known all the work that goes into a PhD, I’m not sure though.
What or who helped me to push through the PhD?
Even before I was accepted to the PhD program at the University of Ghana, I got a scholarship that was from an organization for Swedish Women Abroad (SWEA). That scholarship was often what I thought of when I want to quit:
“Would I be able to pay it back?”
“Would even be possible to call the president of SWEA and say… what should I say exactly?!”
It seemed easier at that point just to push through than fail even when the program was challenging. I also received some support from my employer Ashesi University.
What in my life changed once I dedicated it to research?
I read in one of my favourite PhD guidebooks by Marian Petre – it’s called “The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research” – that a PhD program is as much a ritual and a way of submitting to the existing structures as it is an academic venture. I think the PhD experience has taught me much about human hierarchies and workplace culture.
The skills I picked up?
[Thanks to the PhD] I have confirmed my analytical nature, other useful outcomes are speed reading, efficiency, self-discipline and producing “good enough” work.
As well as not worrying too much about the critique that, as you learn, is looming around every corner. The scare really wears off.
What have I done after my PhD and what am I planning to do next?
Alongside my PhD research, I was lecturing at Ashesi University, Liberal Arts College an hour north of Accra, Ghana. I also got the opportunity of hosting a TV show.
I was leading an organization for social media enthusiasts and influencers called “Blogging Ghana”. I also started a family and had two daughters during my PhD research, all of it was exhausting.
So since my PhD was completed, I have continued to teach, continued to be an online activist but in maybe a smaller way. And now I have time to once in a while watch Netflix at night.
My plans are to stay in academia but maybe in some way like an entrepreneur as I know I’m good at finding needs, starting projects, and managing teams. I’m also working on some social projects related to higher education and social media. But also I’m interested in doing more in the field of equality and open access, open research.
I’m working towards publishing my work more widely both on academic and nonacademic platforms. When you’re an interdisciplinary scholar the available platforms never seem to cease, there are many opportunities.
I’m very determined though to publish with open access, as I feel that’s extremely important in our time. Especially, being a scholar in Africa doing African Studies there’s really no excuse for locking my research away behind expensive paywalls.
I am also interested in sharing my conclusions with the general public. I’m thinking about what platforms would be useful for that. My research already has a blog, I have spoken some about it on the radio but maybe I should do more like that. Next, I hope to do even more research on higher education in Ghana and the intersection between internet and African politics.
Did you know the 2012 election results in Ghana were first declared on Facebook? That 1 in 10 Ghanaian university students have no interest in living abroad mainly for family and cultural reasons? Did you know that there were “Fees Must Fall” protests in Ghana last summer? Or that internet was shutdowns or disturbances are increasing on the continent around election time and school exams?
Thank you Kajsa for sharing your story with us and thank you everybody for listening to another episode of PhD Career Stories would you like to recommend someone to share his or her story with us then just feel free to reach out to us by email you can also contact us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and listen to our episode on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud.
Hear again to our next episode number 68 which is due in 2 weeks from now.