A Candid Introspection of My Master’s Research Journey
By Sylvia Wanjiku Mithamo
After completing my undergraduate degree, I always knew I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree. However, in my search for which course to pursue, where, and when, I constantly encountered whispers about the dreaded research process in graduate school. Having completed my research, allow me to share my journey with you. I promise it is not as scary as it sounds!
The “Big Scary” Research Process
Imagine this: Being accepted into graduate school to pursue your dreams but, the tales of research horrors loom over you like an ominous cloud. The whispers of how graduate school requires higher research standards that demand a perfectly thought-out thesis topic, fieldwork that is challenging and time-consuming, and a nerve-wracking defense in front of a panel of experts. Sounds petrifying, right? My exact sentiments! The thought of starting my research journey felt daunting from the word go.
Finding the “Perfect” Research Topic
When I started my Master’s in International Relations (IR), I was obsessed with finding a topic long before I started my actual research. This stemmed from the fear of not starting my thesis in time to graduate. Thus, to ease my mind, I sought topic inspiration from every course unit I took. Unfortunately, I hit dead ends leaving me frustrated.
Eventually, during my “Advanced Theories of IR” course unit, the lecturer at the time Dr. Minde, instructed us to identify a course topic of interest, select and read a course book in that regard then write a book review. Given my passion for gender equality and women’s empowerment, I automatically chose a book pertaining to feminism. This turned out to be my much-awaited breakthrough in finding a research topic.
Elated, when it was time to start my research journey, I approached the very same lecturer to be my supervisor. Remember, I had gotten my golden ticket in their class. Thank you, Dr. Minde, for honoring my request, I am forever grateful!
Navigating the Research Maze
My first assignment was to develop a concept note outlining my research title, gap, and objectives. It was at this moment I realized the stark difference between expressing ideas verbally and reducing them to writing. Struggling, I revisited the book and supplemented it with other relevant academic materials. This formed the foundation of my research topic and the title I settled on after several refining, “Gender Quotas and The Implications of Women’s Tokenism in Governance: Case Study of Kenya’s Two-Thirds Gender Rule”.
Armed with a concept note as my compass, I started my research proposal. Immediately, my mind went into overdrive. Firstly, coming from a law background, the difference in writing and referencing style was a cultural shock. Additionally, repetitive rephrasing of the topic, confusion in my work which felt like a puzzle with missing pieces, and exhausting extensive reading became the norm.
In hindsight, the overwhelming feeling was from my misconception that as a researcher, you ought to have mastery from the start. Research is not about having it all together from the word go, it is a journey of discovery, dedication, and resilience. A realization I got when I started committing at least one hour each day to my research, regularly seeking guidance from my supervisor and extra support from family, friends, and classmates who had gone before me on this journey.
When the proposal defense fast approached, my anxiety soared. However, it turned out to be less terrifying than anticipated. My take home, if you do not take criticism well you perceive it as a personal attack instead of a learning curve. So, I threw myself a pity “afterparty” and chose the latter. In retrospect, my panelists’ and specifically my reader’s feedback was invaluable as it significantly contributed to the success of my final thesis. Thank you Dr.Khayundi!
The End of an Era
With the research proposal corrections approved and research permits secured, I ventured into the field for data collection. Again, coming from a law background where I am accustomed to desktop research, it felt intimidating. Nevertheless, interacting directly with the research participants provided a rewarding sense of ownership of and legitimacy to my work. While some encounters were challenging, most were pleasant making me appreciate the process. Grateful to the participants for their profound insights!
I then analyzed the collected data and reported my findings and when the final defense approached, the initial fear had transformed into confidence. I believed in myself and in my work and faced the panelists with an understanding that their feedback was meant to improve and not undermine my research. Finally, the journey that once seemed life-threatening had become a testament to growth and resilience.
Truly thus far, God has been gracious! I am immensely grateful for His provision of knowledge, wisdom, and resources in abundance. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to: First and foremost, my mum, Dr. Margaret Mithamo, for her unwavering support throughout my academic endeavors. My supervisor, Dr. Minde for tirelessly walking me through the research journey and creating a conducive environment from start to end. My reader, Dr. Khayundi, for his constructive feedback that improved the overall quality of my research. My uncle, Dr. Mugwe, for his valuable academic insights and data analysis assistance. Lastly, my classmates, Tracy and Purity who had already finished their research journey, for being kind enough to advise and encourage me whenever I approached them.
In conclusion, therefore, do not let the research horror stories discourage you before you start. Experiences are different! Identify what you are interested in/passionate about, embrace the uncertainty, learn from the criticism, and always seek guidance and the support you need. Remember, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”~ Lao Tzu.
I am an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya with a devoted passion for human rights advocacy, gender equality, and women empowerment. Much of my work revolves around extensive research, impactful writing, engaging in community outreach programs, and providing rapporteur services. Currently awaiting to graduate with a Master of Arts in International Relations from USIU-Africa.