The Society for the
Study of Social Issues


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International Perspective

by Peace Kiguwa
Peace talks about her experience as a graduate student at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa

What is your research about?

I am currently investigating stereotype threat effects on black student performance at a South African university with a focus on cultural capital as a possible mediator of threat effect. The study is grounded within a context of current academic development program initiatives for previously disadvantaged population groups that have become popular in many South African tertiary institutions as part of transformative agendas in higher education. The focus on cultural capital is especially pertinent in such a context that is increasingly being characterized by rearticulations of racial identity and culture. Race as a marker of identity is increasingly being superseded by class as primary points of differentiation and separation. The differential access that students have to resources, I argue, has significant implications not only for level of integration but also how threat activation will be experienced.

Who are you working with?

This part of my doctoral studies is currently being supervised by Professor Gillian Finchilescu, who has both worked and published widely in the area of intergroup relations in South Africa.

How long does the PhD tend to last in South Africa?

Not more than three years (full time).

What are some of the expectations for a PhD student in South Africa?

Institutional expectations really just include getting the work done! Within the social sciences, there is obviously a concern with producing pertinent, viable, and worthwhile research that will somehow contribute in the long-term to the objectives of a transforming society.

What do you wish was different about graduate student life in South Africa?

A more systemized community of practice, whether through periodical workshops or conferences, where graduate students would have an opportunity to meet and relate to each other across disciplines. At the moment it is very much a lonely journey.

What are PhD students in your country concerned about (e.g., jobs, pay, work load, etc.)?

Usually doctoral students are also working full time and have to manage the process of studying quite rigorously and with dedication, which is often quite difficult. It is especially difficult, as in my instance, when you also work as an academic. Sometimes the institution will be flexible with administrative and teaching duties but this is dependent on whether there is sufficient budget for teaching assistants.

SPSSI is concerned with the psychological study of social issues: What are some of the social or policy things going on in your country that might be of interest to SPSSI members?

The context of political, social and economic transformation in South Africa at the moment has brought increased interest in social scientific research on specific issues currently prominent in the public discourse. These include the Aids pandemic (the majority of the research in this area has predominantly been psychosocial approaches to research), focusing on issues of child-headed households, health awareness and prevention, and responses to ARV treatment. There is also currently an interest in gender and violence, given the high rates of abuse against women and children; migration and xenophobia; intergroup relations post-apartheid context; transformation in higher education sector has also witnessed renewed interest in teaching and learning issues.

What advice in general do you have for graduate students interested in SPSSI and its goals?

Being new to SPSSI myself I am only just beginning to discover and appreciate its objectives and scholarly work. For any student interested in a venture of this sort I would suggest being active in the research activities and attempt to develop a collegial network with other members that allow you to grow both as a scholar and researcher.

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin