Undertaking a doctoral study is not an easy task. One needs God’s grace to successfully complete a doctoral study. Today, due to technology, students have different options for their study programs, especially at the PhD level. There are options to study on campus or online. Postgraduate studies may comprise research only or, partly coursework and partly research. The research-only format requires extensive research and hence adequately prepares the student for a career in research and publication. The partly coursework and partly research gives one the chance to cover courses they might not have offered at the undergraduate level. Most African countries (including Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and others) have adopted the US system of postgraduate education which requires both coursework and research. South Africa and Botswana are among the few African countries which, like Britain, offer postgraduate education by (extensive) research. In this blog I share some personal research experiences and some key factors that contributed to the successful completion of my doctoral studies in a relatively short time.
Use available means to gather data
Scholarship is about building upon what others have done in your field. “There is actually nothing new under the sun.” Many students have problems getting the right material for their research. It has become almost a regular experience having people ask me for one material or the other for their research. A PhD research requires one to interact with many scholars; therefore, there is the need to have access to a lot of publications in your area of research. In an on-campus environment, you can walk into the library and read books or borrow them. In the virtual environment, which is the case for most students doing PhD by research while leaving outside the school compound, there are a number of ways to have access to adequate and relevant materials. These ways are also equally relevant for those studying on-campus. Most institutions have e-libraries that students can access.
In my case, before, I started my PhD research I had downloaded over a thousand (1000) publications on the subject of “Atonement in an African context” (NB: My PhD topic was: A contextual Theology of Atonement for the Akan Community of Ghana). I obtained most of these publications from a simple Google search. For a clue for a successful search is to use the keywords/phrases in your topic. From the topic cited above, I searched for the following: “Contextual Theology”, “Atonement in African Traditional Religion”, “Concept of sin in Akan/Africa”, “Concept of atonement in Akan/Africa” and so on. To obtain pdf versions of the articles simply add “pdf” to each word/phrase you search from Google. To assist in your literature review and analysis you need to use as much documents as possible. In my case I interacted with over three hundred (300) sources, covering about thirty five (35) pages in the thesis under “References.”
Aside from using the Google search engine, below are some links that were helpful in gathering data. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) also provides a pool of Open access journals on diverse fields of study. Other helpful links to open access journals on my topic were https://noyam.org/, https://abjournals.org/,https://tyndalebulletin.org/section/2615-journal-articles, and https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/issues/, https://www.pdfdrive.com/, https://www.perlego.com/ and https://www.scribd.com/home.
Some helpful institutional repositories included institutional https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/ (Birmingham University, UK), https://libguides.sun.ac.za/c.php?g=742956&p=5315985 (Stellenbosch University, South Africa), https://repository.up.ac.za/handle/2263/31741 (University of Pretoria, South Africa), https://sats.ac.za/theses/ (South African Theological Seminary, South Africa) for e-theses. In a virtual learning environment, the use of these and other links for gathering information is crucial.
If the research involves field work, one may have to use available means to gather empirical data. Recent COVID-19 restrictions may require some innovations in data collection. For example, the student may have to replace face-to-face interviews with telephonic interviews. For a focused group discussion, the student can use zoom meetings to hold the discussions. The key is: “Use available means to gather data.”
Be diligent and manage your time well
I have had people ask me a number of times whether I have more than 24 hours in a day. This question is prompted by the fact that people see me do a lot of things. I did my doctoral studies at the University of the Free State (South Africa). During the period of study I was mostly living in Ghana engaged in other activities. During the period of my study, I was a full-time Bible Translator with the Bible Society of Ghana, an auxiliary minister of the Methodist Church Ghana having pastoral oversight over eight (8) societies, a researcher, an adjunct lecturer at the Christian Service University College, a reviewer for many journals and a member of various committees and boards. In addition, my parental responsibilities also increased as one child was added to my children. In spite of these factors, I completed the program in a record time of two academic years, by the grace of God. Again, I published more than forty articles and books within the two years that I undertook doctoral studies. The obvious question at this point is: How were all these possible?
Apart from God’s grace, diligence and effective time management are key contributors to my successful completion of these tasks. I have interacted with many people on different issues and one thing that has come out clear is that many people want to be successful in their endeavors and yet, they are not fully committed to those endeavors. My mentor, brother, supervisor, co-author and friend, Rev. Dr. Frederick Mawusi Amevenku, usually told me during my Seminary days “Isaac, hard work pays.” This statement keeps motivating me to work hard in whatever task I undertake. Try to overcome laziness. It is important to add that, whiles hard work is important, rest is also very necessary and important. Because we are humans, we will definitely get tired. It is important to take some rest to regain the lost energy and then continue later.
Time management is also very important. We all have the same amount of time. The difference is how we use our time. I spend part of my time on ministerial duties (including visitation, organizing and attending programs, attending meetings etc), family duties (including teaching my kids and helping them to do their homework), research and publication, among others. I also spend time on interacting with others on social media and watching television. These are things many other people do. The difference is that I prioritize what I have to do so that I remain focused. In my view, many people spend less time on their core business and spend more on peripherals. PhD research is demanding and with such an attitude one is not likely to succeed. The restrictions that the COVID-19 brought in a way helped me to have more time for my research. Consequently, in less than five months the first draft had been completed and my supervisor had started looking for external supervisors for me. Part of my motivation to remain focused comes from The Rev. Prof. Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor (KNUST, Kumasi-Ghana) who constantly tells me “Boaheng, remain focused!”
PhD research is a huge task. However, with the necessary guide and the right student attitude, one can succeed, not relying on his/her ability but on God’s grace. What I have shared in this blog, I believe, will go a long way to motivate readers and researchers to succeed in their academic pursuits.
Rev. Dr. Isaac Boaheng holds a PhD in Theology from the University of the Free State, South Africa. He serves as a Lecturer at the Christian Service University College -Ghana and a part-time lecturer at the South African Theological Seminary. Boaheng has over fifty publications in Systematic Theology, Ethics, Biblical Studies, Translation Studies, African Christianity, Linguistics, Pentecostalism and Christian Mission, among others (see https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Isaac-Boaheng). He is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church Ghana serving the Nkwabeng Circuit of the Sunyani Diocese. Boaheng lives in Sunyani (Ghana) with his wife, Gloria, and four children, Christian, Benedict, Julia and Kalix.