• Friday, July 19, 2024
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What working class students who embark on doctorate studies must do – Itah


Joe Itah (PhD) is a manager in the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) who successfully pursued Masters and Doctorate degrees for a period of over 10 years on duty. His research focuses on addressing relevant national issues and fostering positive change within the country and beyond especially in international trade development. In this interview with IGNATIUS CHUKWU, he recalls challenges of students who study from the workplace and the new value these scholars bring to their jobs. He also urged Nigeria to allow non-oil export lead the economy. Excerpts:

What exactly is your state of mind for wearing this highest academic gown?

For acquiring a Doctor of Philosophy Degree, the highest level of academic qualification one can achieve, as you rightly stated, the gown made me feel ecstatic for what I refer to as significant accomplishment in my life. It gave the sense of crowning glory, a day to remember for a long time.

Read also: Ph.D. versus master’s degree: Which makes better career in workplace?

What was the struggle like?

Becoming a Ph.D holder? The struggle could be unimaginable, and may vary from one individual to another, depending on one’s experience and circumstance while pursuing it. For me, coming back to academics 10 years after picking up my Master’s Degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, made the struggle more daunting. Having to embark on intense research study, isolating myself to read, competing in exchange and sharing of lessons with course mates, and the element of self-doubt (sometimes) – all contributed to exerting some kind of pressure on me, all through the period of study. Time management was also a significant challenge, as I had to meet academic deadlines, deliver on official work schedules as well, and balance my personal life engagements for a healthy living.

But despite these struggles, the experience was quite rewarding, as it allowed me to develop valuable skills, contribute to my choice career field, and pursue other passions.

Can you recall some major obstacles and how you tackled them?

Oh! Few obstacles and how I handled them? Let me see…(Eehhh!) They include: Writing challenge: Writing of thesis and research papers for seminar presentations could be overwhelming. I had to develop a writing routine again after long years of academic lay-off. Seeking feedback on works from peers, lecturers or supervisors was time consuming, but I was ready to learn, and never afraid to revise and edit my work multiple times.

Mental and emotional stress: PhD studies can be mentally and emotionally demanding, and energy sapping. The never-say-no spirit and the mind-set of mental toughness which I entered the programme with, helped me very well.

Communication and collaboration: Being able to network with colleagues, supervisors, and lecturers paid-off a great deal for me, though the process was always tedious and time-consuming because of off-campus living/meeting locations, and logistics. But it encouraged bonding, making of new friends and improvement of communication skills.

Note that overcoming these few obstacles (and many more not mentioned here) requires resilience, adaptability, and a sustenance of support network. Staying focused on my goal (to obtain the Ph.D. and make meaningful contributions to my specific area of non-oil export promotion) essentially helped me to maintain a positive attitude throughout this particular academic journey.

What major lessons can you draw from the journey?

The lessons are numerous, but let me highlight a few of them. Perseverance and Resilience: Pursuing a Ph.D. study often involves facing numerous challenges, setbacks, and periods of self-doubt because it could be a tedious process. From the outset, you must have the passion, and the intellectual capacity to weather the rigour of the programme. These attributes (majorly) helped me to develop a stronger resilience and the ability to persevere through difficult situations in life.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills: The Ph.D. journey improved my critical thinking ability, the capacity to analyse complex information, and develop innovative solutions to research problems. These skills are highly valuable in both academic and professional settings.

Adaptability and Open-Mindedness: Exchanging views and experience on several but related fields of study with course mates pulled me to adapting to new ideas, methods, and perspectives, with ease. It broadened my open-mindedness which has assisted me to navigate successfully in changing situations, and being ready to embrace new opportunities in personal and professional life circumstances.

Networking and Interdisciplinary Connectivity: Networking with reputable scholars, professionals, and experts from various academic disciplines, during the Ph.D. journey, led to establishing valuable connections which have further created opportunities for future collaborations.

Confidence and Self-Esteem: Like it or not, one can say that successful completion of the programme has significantly boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem. This will further enhance demonstrable dedication to any chosen life pursuit, discipline, and the ability to achieve a challenging goal, including personal growth and professional career successes.

What critical relevance is your study to your career, job, and Nigeria as a country?

For Career and Job: As you are aware, I am a Public Servant. I have remained one throughout my entire 33 years working life. Though I started out as a Public Relations Officer – practising as a communication expert, the turf of export promotion became my first love, over time, because of my employment in Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC). This is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, saddled with the responsibility of developing and promoting non-oil export. Ph.D, being an essential developmental part of knowledge economy, you can see the nexus – exports, export promotion and my field of study and expertise – International Trade and Development. Equipped with this Degree, I hope to continually create fresh knowledge, discover new things and develop new skills to enhance economic development through export promotion.

Also, Ph.D Degree is highly valued in academic circles and research sectors. This acquisition can lead to job opportunities such as teaching, research positions, or high-level roles in industries that require specialised knowledge like mine.

Nigeria as a Country: Let me also add for free, that my Ph.D research results will contribute to the growth and development of Nigeria in various ways. By generating new knowledge, I can help to solve pressing national issues, make informed policies, and inspire innovations that will improve the quality of life for Nigerians. My research findings would definitely be applicable to sectors like export promotion, agriculture, international trade, or governance, among others.

In a nutshell, my Ph.D study is crucial for my career growth and job prospects, as well as for contributing to the development of Nigeria. My research focuses on addressing relevant national issues and fostering positive change within the country and beyond.

What advice do you have for Nigeria from your new Ph.D learnings?

Being an exclusive Degree meant for people who seek greater depth of knowledge in a chosen field of study – with the primary aim of improving the society, I would like to offer the following advice for Nigeria to:

Invest in Education: Establishing strong educational structures, at all level, is crucial for Nigeria’s development. This includes improving infrastructure, teachers’ training, and vocational curriculum development among others. Note that a well-educated populace will contribute significantly to innovation, economic growth, and social progress.

Foster Innovation and Research: Encourage scientific research and technological advancements by providing funding and support to researchers and startups. This will help Nigeria to become self-reliant and competitive in the global market, enough to be respected in comity of nations.

Diversify our Economy: Diversification of the economy through reduced dependency on crude oil revenues, by creation of non-oil export led economy is highly desirous and needs first class, front-burner treatment, now than ever. Let’s develop agriculture, industrial, manufacturing, and service sectors to create more job opportunities and improve the standard of living.

Strengthen Governance and Anti-Corruption Measures: The study encourages obedience to rule of law, and establishment of strong institutions – not strong individuals. It pays to practice a transparent and accountable governance system to curb corruption and mismanagement of resources. This will help to build public trust in the government and foster a conducive environment for investment and growth.

Address Infrastructural Challenges and Embrace Technology: Improving transportation, energy, and communication infrastructure to connect different regions of the country should be a priority, which will facilitate economic growth. Also, technology could be used to improve efficiency in various sectors, such as healthcare, education, and governance. As expected, these structures will in turn assist to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas development.

Encourage Collaboration, Partnerships and Social Cohesion: Fostering collaborative fronts and partnerships between the Public, Private sectors, and the academia on the other hand will help to leverage common existing expertise and resource engagements for the nation’s development. Such partnership would encourage unity and social harmony among different ethnic and religious groups to reduce conflicts and at the same time promote peaceful coexistence.

Invest in Human Capital and Capacity Building: Paying priority attention to the health, education, and welfare of citizens cannot be overemphasised, as it will contribute, in no small measure, to the nation’s overall socio-economic and political wellbeing.

What advice do you have for young Nigerians?

As one who believes in the youth as leaders of tomorrow, I offer the following advice, let the young ones:

Embrace Education: It pays to continuously invest in education and personal development. Learning is a lifelong process, and the more you know, the better equipped you will be to tackle challenges and contribute to society.

Develop a Growth Mindset: Youths should cultivate a mindset that embraces challenges, persistence, and learning from failures.

Diversify Your Skills: Try hard to acquire entrepreneurial, technical and vocational skills that can make you a versatile person with the ability to stand tall, face challenges and compete anywhere in the world.

Learn to Network, rightly: Build a lethal network from reliable friends, professionals, mentors, and acquaintances who can support, guide, and inspire you. Attend conferences, workshops, and involve in other worthwhile activities to expand your horizon and connections.

Be Creative, Innovative and Proactive: Nigeria needs problem solvers and innovators. As a youth, the sky would be your starting point if you have the habit of thinking outside the box, providing creative solutions to challenges. Do not wait for opportunities to come to you; go out and create them, that way you will showcase your talent and ideas. Here also, you can deploy technology by way of Information Communication Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things.

Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with local, national, and global news, as well as developments in various relevant fields of study. This will help in career choices, career progression and making of informed decisions.

Be Involved in Community Service: Contribute to the development of community by volunteering, mentoring, or participating in social initiatives will not only make a positive impact to the environment, it will also help youths to develop invaluable leadership and teamwork skills.

Be Patient and Resilient: Lastly, our youths should realise that success does not come overnight, but through hard work combined with patience and resilience. Staying focused on one’s goals, learning from one’s mistakes, pushing forward and getting up (whenever you fall) to continue pursuing your dream, remains the magical wand to success in life. Remember, as young Nigerians, you hold the key to the nation’s future.

Any other message?

Let me conclude by giving God the glory for the successful journey.

I owe awesome gratitude to my supervisors; the professor, Lawrence Ohale, and Sylvester (Ph.D) for their scholarly guidance, useful comments and the time they spent to guide me through the programme. The other professor, Ijeoma Kalu, and the Joseph Obayori gave useful comments that greatly improved my work. My appreciation also goes to some special friends including Evelyn Kobo, Chinelo Ikuroye, Chidi Ndieze and my NEPC office colleagues in Port Harcourt. My loving wife Dorothy and children (Dr. Theresa Itah and Barrister Maureen Itah) were the other source of strength and fortress throughout the journey.