By Aaron Mulaki, Kasapo Chibwe, Ryan Guinaran and Moses Mukuru
In this blog post, fellows from the Health Policy Analysis Mentorship Programme share their reflections on the benefits of the programme and how it has supported them on their PhD journey. You can also read more about the programme in an earlier blog post from April 2018.
Doing a PhD is a lonely and daunting journey. It is what nightmares are made of. BUT, there is light at the end of the tunnel, or so they say. With the recent workshop of the Health Policy Analysis Mentorship Programme, we have finally caught a glimpse of that light.
For the second time, nine budding researchers from low- and middle- income countries (LMICs) across Asia and Africa met at the Mont Fleur conference centre in South Africa to sharpen our skills in health policy analysis (HPA). Now in its second year, the HPA Mentorship Programme is funded by the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (the Alliance), a global partnership hosted at WHO. It provides a platform for early career researchers to enhance their capacity to appreciate and investigate the important, yet less understood, role of politics and power in health policy processes.
After leaving Mont Fleur at the end of the first meeting in December 2017, each of us embarked on different types of analytical pieces that are an intrinsic part of our PhD studies. It therefore goes without saying that our first order of business at our second meeting was to evaluate how we had fared in the application of different policy analysis theories and frameworks – a task that seemed daunting in the beginning but has progressively become lighter. We started with a peer-to-peer approach – each fellow was assigned another fellow’s article to review before the workshop, with constructive feedback given during the workshop. This seemed intimidating at first but, in retrospect, it was a great learning experience that taught us how to review and learn from each other’s work.
Fellows also got feedback from our mentors on the work we had been doing for close to a year. The combination of peer-to-peer reviews and mentor support worked well, as it provided safe spaces for experimentation without judgement, and with support and guidance. It was clear at the end of the discussions that there was more substance and confidence in the application of theory to the respective local contexts in which the HPA fellows are immersed.
Through the engagement of our mentors, under the leadership of Prof. Lucy Gilson, we had the opportunity to drill deeper into areas such as emerging policy theory – the dos and don’ts of literature reviews and the key steps in qualitative data analysis.
We also had time to chat in the evenings and a platform was given to us to address the elephant in the room: PhD panic (this is real!). It was eye opening and very helpful to learn that panic is part of the journey. We came to understand that we all wrestle with demons on our individual journeys, but those demons shouldn’t deter us. Most important, our mentors provided us with useful insights about how to avoid getting into panic in the first place by suggesting simple yet useful practices such as: maintaining discipline for daily writing, getting literature sources organised, and other gems.
Over the past year, the group has clearly solidified and forged relationships that transcend this particular programme. This is no doubt thanks to each person who put in effort not only on their own work, but also in helping others through any obstacles or feelings of despair. Each of us knows that we can reach out to someone else from within this cohort to have a sounding board when we’re unsure about something and are not ready to engage our supervisor on the topic. This is all thanks to the safe space created by this fellowship from the very first workshop, and to our great mentors who are open to receiving emails/phone calls about what we are struggling with, however trivial. This was largely created by the programme lead, Lucy Gilson, and everyone who participated in mentoring and shaping our work.
Armed with the tools to analyse our data, and a supportive peer and mentor group to help us through this process, we are energised to refine our different pieces of work and get them onto the global stage in the very near future. We also plan to start holding HPA seminar presentations back in our home institutions. We intend to expand the network beyond the HPA fellowship, and a first step in doing so was creating a twitter account; you can follow us on @HPAfellows and join the larger HPA family that seeks to change the course of health policy analysis in LMICs. We are thankful to the Alliance for the incredible opportunity to be pioneers in this programme.
Poem by Ryan, inspired by the second HPA Mentorship Programme workshop
A Protean Welcome
And we meet again Mont Fleur
in the Cape Winelands’ grandeur
Soughs- breezy squeeze
Rustles- weaving leaves
Our presents, ahh- leis of proteas
To bloom bouquets of policy ideas
Such crimson bracts as palm
Your beauty unfolds to calm
Policy analysts are like you
Proteus, god of water in value
Shaper, fluid as mutable
Framer, versatile as adaptable
To change form by intention
Conform with precaution
Reform at volition
And perform for apt solution
NB: The unique Protea is South Africa’s national flower.