Convivial fellow and a new representative – meet Diana Kisakye
Some Junior Fellows (JF) have found a new home in Bayreuth and with the university the perfect place to study. What at the beginning takes place rather coincidentally or by accidental contacts – the journey to Bayreuth – turns out to be a profound decision for many: this is where I want to stay.
“Unlike other people, I didn’t exactly seek out Bayreuth, it kind of found me” – Diana Kisakye
Diana earned a BSc degree from Makerere University (Kampala) in Maths and when she came to Germany, she completely switched her studies. After completing a BA in Kultur und Gesellschaft Afrikas (Culture and Society Africa) and a MA in Development Studies, she is now a JF at BIGSAS. Even though she had no academic background in social sciences, she saw other scholars as an inspiration and wanted to look at the African continent from a scholarly angle. When she attended a methods workshop at BIGSAS in 2014 as a curious BA student, she declared herself as an “aspiring academic” and from thereon had one goal: becoming part of BIGSAS in the future.
While Diana is a great example for ‘starting over’ in a new discipline, she continues to dive into new academic waters. Even though she is a ‘UBT product’ – pursuing both her BA and MA in social sciences here – she does not see herself as a mere political scientist. She is now not just a JF at BIGSAS, but also an employee of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence (from hereon: Cluster). The project “Multiplicity in Decision-Making of Africa’s Interacting Markets: The Functioning of Community Law, the Role of Market Participants and the Power of Regional Judges” combines Development Economics, Political Studies and International Law.
Diana’s project seeks to examine the work and accomplishments of African regional courts by evaluating their share in the integration process. Interrogating entrenched Eurocentric biases surrounding the study of African regional courts, her work aims at developing new vocabularies that could explain judicial process in regional integration in Africa.
“Nobody is born with knowledge”
Diana is a versatile student who does not hesitate to face new disciplinary challenges. Speaking to this effect, she adds “nobody is born with knowledge, we acquire it as we go along”. Her determination alone is not the only reason why she qualified as a team member of the above-mentioned project. What drew Diana to the MuDAIMa project was the interdisciplinary approach as well as the opportunity to be affiliated with BIGSAS. Unlike other research associate offers, this one came fully packaged: work alongside membership in an already established graduate school. BIGSAS, she reasons, permits junior researchers to advance themselves in not just one field of study as it exposes them to current debates in various academic disciplines.
She visited several other universities and institutions during her former studies, but usually missed the community she found in Bayreuth. While the University of Bayreuth is offering many advantages, it is also the academic space that supported her decision to stay: “When you think about African Studies in Germany, Bayreuth speaks for itself”.
Needless to say, when the Cluster project came through, she felt it was “meant to be”. In her current position in the MuDAIMa project, she is still in the process of juggling around a lot of work.
The Cluster project came right in time
Being part of a project, carrying out research, and delivering results does not release her from her further PhD obligations. In addition to the project, she is also required to write her own dissertation, which in this case is linked to the Cluster project but cannot be transferred one-to-one. However, Diana has a good sense for synergies, which she benefits from as a doctoral student.
Nevertheless, as a doctoral student in the Cluster and as a JF at BIGSAS, it may happen that one sits between two chairs. These two institutions are interwoven with each other while maintaining their own independence. Meanwhile, there may also be doctoral students in Cluster projects who are not yet able to fully understand the purpose of BIGSAS.
Diana considers it a privilege that she is already familiar with the structures at the University in Bayreuth. She has been in touch with BIGSAS for many years, as several of her friends completed their research at the graduate school. For Diana it was a dream for a long time, that has now become reality and she feels happy to be part of the project as well as part of BIGSAS:
“In my case, I am getting the best of both worlds. I get to be employed in the Cluster and at the same time I get to be as every other PhD student in BIGSAS. I get guidance on my work from the BIGSAS community as well as get emotional and psychological support from other fellows”.
In addition, BIGSAS is seen as an umbrella, “that grants you the rights to do things, like applying for funds, or to attend work groups”. Thus, one can enjoy many advantages that support one’s own doctoral studies.
Going back to the doctoral students who are employed in the Cluster and only later become part of BIGSAS, there are still many open questions regarding structures and participation, rights and duties for them. It is therefore important to reach out to these students in time and to address them with the right information. Diana sees this as her task and demonstrates her support by acting as a representative for doctoral students employed in Cluster projects.
After being asked by the Dean of the Cluster to come up with a representative to attend meetings of the Academic Committee, a lot of the students were not forthcoming. And then she thought: “well for one, I’ve been here, I know how things work. Second, I am interested in the well-being of the entire Cluster and our position as PhD students and employees of the Cluster. This is a chance to pave the way for upcoming doctoral students in the Cluster. Besides, I wanted to join BIGSAS when the Cluster came, and I was really rooting for it. It was only natural for me to take on the responsibility”. When the democratic decision took place to confirm her in her office, she was happy to be a support to the Cluster and to help to improve the structure and working place for her fellow students.
“I am somebody, who likes things to be done. If I can do them, then I do them! And if I can’t or I think I don’t have the capacity to do them, then I stay away”.
Unlike the BIGSAS JF representatives, the position as a representative of the doctoral students employed in Cluster projects has not yet implemented an incentive, such as a three-month extension or a regulation, e.g. for how long one is carrying the position. Is that something that bothers her? No, she states: “We just started to do this. And I somehow see it as a voluntary thing”. Yes, many things are still unsettled, and this position is one of them, but “there are much more pressing issues, such as the need for office spaces”.
There is of course also a difference between the representative positions at BIGSAS and in the Cluster. The latter is less work, as one attends only the meetings of the AC. The rest of the work is done in one’s free time, like sending out emails etc. Diana emphasizes that she would have done it anyway, as she is a “people person”. It is honourable that she uses her resources on behalf of her fellow students, because only as part of a group one can become the voice of them.
“If we really just understand that it is through BIGSAS that we can get our voice as PhD students heard, and that we not a separate entity from BIGSAS, then this would help to overcome the current gap, some are speaking of. People have to understand, all these calls we are making, through BIGSAS, through the Cluster, are not intended to bother them or take time away from their working schedule. On the contrary it’s there to enable them to do their work better, in a more systematic way, to create a sense of community, to create some guidance and some sort of safe space for doctoral students to know that they can come through this institution to raise their concerns”.
It is now Diana’s biggest concern and task to support the togetherness among all the JF, those of the Cluster and beyond. “No one is an island”, and all the students have various groups they are a part of. Coincidentally, we had this interview during the COVID-19 crisis, and it is especially in ‘times like these’, important to stay connected and to uplift each other.