- Event meant to shape the candidates ahead of upcoming defense.
- Mbarara University is top-rated for research and technology.
- Students urged to press on despite challenges and stay ethical.
- Supervisors’ support said to be key, with candidates being challenged to stay in step with their supervisors.
Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), a Ugandan-based institution of higher education held its 7th annual Ph.D. Symposium on March 21, 2023, through the Directorate of Research and Graduate Training (DRGT).
Mbarara University is among the ten public universities and degree-awarding institutions in Uganda.
The Symposium, which took place at MUST’s Kihumuro Campus, prepares Ph.D. students to enrich and successfully complete their studies.
Esteemed Ph.D. students presented their research abstracts before their supervisors to showcase how far they’ve gone with their findings in preparation for their upcoming Ph.D. defense in the institution.
The research presentation sessions included research done in areas of Medicine, Allied Health Sciences, Basic and Applied Sciences, Engineering, Computing, Business Management, and Humanities.
According to Prof. Celestino Obua, Vice-Chancellor, MUST, “Research is a continuous process; we research to discover new knowledge. In order to share our findings with others, we attend conferences like this one.”
The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Celestino, in his remarks about the event, thanked the researchers for letting the world know about their findings.
“I would like to thank all researchers that have presented their study findings. Research is about doing the same thing every time. We’re grateful to our sponsors for making this year’s ARDC, and PhD Symposium a success,” Prof. Obua said.
Pioneering the Symposium
The Ph.D. Symposium has been an annual event at MUST since the program’s establishment in 2016.
Professor Nixon Kamukama and Dr. Fred Kaggwa pioneered the annual Ph.D. Symposium with a dire agenda of helping, supporting and guiding Ph.D. students in their academic endeavors.
In the seven years of its existence, the program has seen Ph.D. students acquire skills, knowledge and zeal to conduct research and disseminate evidence-backed results applicable to solving society’s problems.
Nuggets for the Ph.D. candidates
While officially opening the Symposium, Deputy Vice-chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof. Nixon Kamukama, stated that the Symposium is a way of bringing brains together to discuss academic matters.
In the same tone, he encouraged Ph.D. students to put more effort into their work and also ensure they defend it with authoritative references.
“I encourage you not to love your work so much. The moment you hang there, you will not move. It’s your work, you understand it, and you should defend it with authority,” he said.
“The literature is scholarly work; it’s not a matter of saying ‘according to me’ because you’re not known. Even if you’re a doctor who is not publishing in that area, you don’t have any authority,” he added.
With the positive impact of the annual Ph.D. symposium, Prof. Kamukama hinted at establishing Ph.D. clinics where supervisors and professors can work closely with students to push them to the next academic level.
In line with the MUST vision: To be a Centre of Academic and Professional Excellence in Science and Technology, Prof. Kamukama envisions strategic positioning of Ph.D. students in promoting community transformation.
Prof. Jessica Haberer, the Keynote Speaker in the research-based event, spurred the researchers to find passion in their work and also learn to translate their passions to bigger impacts in societies.
Prof. Haberer is the Director of Global Health Research, Massachusetts General Hospital/Havard Medical School.
Working closely with supervisors
Dr. Martha Kyoshaba is the Academic Registrar at MUST. She recalls sketching a three-year strategy the first time she sat down with her supervisor, which she followed to the latter.
“He told me, ‘if you’re coming here to take forever to do your Ph.D., I’m not going to be your supervisor’. So we set a three-year schedule, and I was able to finish in those three years,” she narrated, encouraging the participants.
She pointed out that there have been instances where Ph.D. students take longer to finish their programs.
Most of these students have other preoccupations, such as work and family, which might easily disconnect them from their supervisors.
Along the same line of thought, Dr. Aryatwijuka Wilbroad admitted that challenges are inevitable when pursuing Ph.D., but the most important person is the supervisor.
“He is the one who is going to give you the degree. You may choose to disagree with everyone else, but chances of progressing when you disagree with your supervisor are minimal,” he advised.
He coaxed the students to identify areas of improvement and be goal-oriented.
In his remarks, Prof. Kamukama applauded supervisors who have been showering Ph.D. students with a torrent of support and guiding them through their studies.
He encouraged them to keep up with the same spirit and also simplify the students’ academic journey by tapping into digital technology.
“Let’s use the digital spaces to address issues of misplacing students’ documents. Supervise students online. At times I supervise students up to the end without meeting them and they have graduated,” he affirmed.
He also pointed the finger at Ph.D. students who plagiarise other scholars’ work, urging them to contribute knowledge to the world of academia other than reproducing existing materials.
Research ethics have proven to escalate anxiety in Ph.D. students when doing their research.
In pursuit of elucidating the set of ethical guidelines on how scientific research should be conducted and disseminated, Associate Professor Paul Alele stated that it is crucial to think of the positive side of the research invariably.
“To avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past, it is important that when you think of research ethics, you think about the positive side of it. There’s that side that may cause delays before you get ethics approval,” he said.
He urged the students to always take heed of protecting human participants and animal participants in equal measure.
“The framework on thinking of the positive side while conducting research,” Alele says, “easens the rigorous process of research ethics clearance.”
He further urged the students not to halt at the clearance point but rather ensure they acquire the final approval from the National Council of Science and Technology.
“This is very important if you’re going to fieldwork; the formal approval protects you in case things don’t go well in certain situations,” Alele reasoned.
He also encouraged them to get appropriate training in good clinical laboratory practice and take advantage of the cross-cutting training offered by MUST.
Alele added that there are programs that train students on responsible conduct of research which are vital when acquiring ethics approval.
“As part of your application for ethics approval, we require the evidence that you underwent the training. There are also online courses which offer certificates,” he elaborated.
Despite busy schedule
“When pursuing Ph.D.,” Dr. Violah Mpangwire, Lecturer at Makerere University Business School, advised, “you need to create time so as to pursue the program within the right time.”
She spurred the students to keep pressing on despite the engagements that may bar them from achieving their goals.
While quoting Winston Churchill, Dr. Mpangwire urged the students to keep going even when they are having it pretty rough. She noted that it’s worth it at the end of it all.
To women pursuing Ph.D., “…we seem to always be looking for sympathy; ‘I’m busy, my husband is not understanding, my children are sick’. You’re not that busy; you chose this, so please do it. Remember, when you’re tired, learn to rest, not to quit,” she reckoned.
MUST has been credited by both the government and the public as the leading institution in producing top-cream researchers needed to solve complex problems within the communities.
“In May last year, we had 29 Ph.D. graduates bagging their degrees,” said Associate Professor Vincent Batwala, Director, DRGT.
He declared that it was an increase from the 24 graduates they had in 2021.
Batwala also mentioned that the university recently acquired anti-plagiarism software, which will be used to detect plagiarism in the selected topics and work produced by students at MUST.
“This software has one administrator account, unlimited researchers’ and lecturers’ accounts, 1000 student accounts and above all, unlimited submissions by the students,” Batwala said.
This 7th annual Ph.D. symposium acted as a curtain raiser for the 17th MUST Annual Research Dissemination Conference (ARDC), which was held on March 22, 2023, under the theme: Maximization of Research Translation and Evidence-based Practice in Science, Technology and Community Development.
The conference brought together MUST researchers, collaborators, partners, and other stakeholders to share experiences and disseminate their findings as they explore new frontiers toward sustainable and transformative interdisciplinary research and innovations.
Showcasing their skills in research to their supervisors and other researchers, the Ph.D. students presented their findings on the different areas of research they have been working on.
One of the researchers, 𝐌𝐫.𝐌𝐮𝐛𝐢𝐫𝐮 𝐁𝐞𝐧𝐚𝐫𝐝 presented his results on The effect of COVID-19 pandemic on the operation of private schools in Mbarara City North Division. According to him, the welfare of private schools was affected, which led to resigning of some teachers.