Wednesday, 22 July 2015

My PhD study and the CARTA experience

By Stephen Ojiambo Wandera, Cohort 2 CARTA Fellow
I remember in 2012, I had interrupted nights answering questions for the preliminary screening for CARTA fellowship. I would wake up in the middle of the night to continue from where I had left then go back to sleep. This was a hectic time for me but I needed to do a PhD. Finally, I answered all questions and submitted. Few months later, I received an email from the CARTA secretariat awarding me a CARTA fellowship.

In the award letter, the aspect of Joint Advanced Seminars (JAS) moved me. I looked forward to attending them. What I needed was state of the art training in scientific writing. This was critical for my future success and career as a researcher. I had learnt to aim high from my childhood. This time round, my mission was to be an academic, “a young African professor by age 40”. To say the least, JAS made a huge impact in my career.

My journey through the CARTA JASes
JAS 1 in Nairobi Kenya helped me to reshape and refine my research idea. Initially, I wanted to investigate how “intergenerational support is associated with access to healthcare among older people”. I realized that it was a narrow aspect. I broadened it to focus on “Healthcare access inequalities among older people in Uganda”. The ESEO team gave immense support and hands on experience in building a strong theoretical foundation for this work.

JAS 2 at the School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand (2012), was another building block. During this time, I concretized data analysis skills using NVIVO. I am using NVIVO to analyze qualitative data. This is a useful skill for a lifetime. I have started transferring these skills and competencies to graduate students at Makerere University.

JAS 3 at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (2013) was an incredible landmark. I had an opportunity to interface with advanced and senior statisticians: Jonathan Levin and Max Petzold; and to write and present two journal articles from my PhD research. The input and comments from CARTA Cohort 2 members was a great addition. The inspiration and feedback from the facilitators (Prof. Uche, Dr. Funke and Dr.Izugbara) were very helpful. I managed to submit these two papers during and after JAS 3. I acknowledge the support from Prof. Donald Cole and Prof. Max Petzold for their support to reviewing my manuscripts.

JAS 4 held at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi Kenya was incredible. We got inspiration from a number of facilitators. I will never forget Prof. Nangulu’s story of a persistent mentor and academic, who has risen through the ranks to become professor at age 46. This was very important to me because it shows that goals, however difficult they are achievable. Everything is possible to them that believe and say it out. You remain challenged to stay focused knowing that you have a great cloud of witnesses to your confessions and aspirations. Bringing Cohorts 2 and 5 in the same venue for their JAS 4 and JAS 1 respectively is a brilliant idea. It gave me an opportunity to look back and reflect on where we have come from in the CARTA program.
Where do I go from here?
CARTA has really made my future brighter. I look forward to becoming a professor by age 40. It sounds over-ambitious but I have learnt over time that to achieve more in life, you have to set a very high target and aspiration for yourself. I intend to engage in research and publishing on the issues affecting the African continent including population ageing, inequalities in health and access to healthcare, and gender-based violence. I have to build capacity to apply for and win research grants while at Makerere University (JAS 4 is an answer to this need). In addition, I will build the capacity of other researchers through the Health Access Research Consult, registered in 2012. As a way of giving back to the community, I intend to do a transfer project by setting up an NGO to support older people’s health needs in Uganda.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge CARTA funders for supporting us as a Cohort. In particular, I am grateful to the Wellcome Trust (UK), the Department for International Development (DfID), and Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, Google.Org, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and MacArthur Foundation. In addition, I appreciate the contribution of German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for additional funding, Population Association of America (PAA, 2014) for the travel award to Boston, where I presented a paper on disability. The CARTA facilitators & secretariat and cohort 2 fellows have been a great resource to me. To my supervisors, who have included: Professor James Ntozi, Dr. Betty Kwagala, Dr. Isabella Aboderin, thank you for your mentorship and supervision. All things are possible for them that believe and work towards them.


  1. this is awesome we are indeed proud of your achievements but you know we humans are selfish so I was hoping that I would also be appreciated for the great work I have done in praying and supporting you without which you could have done much more - congratulations my brother

  2. I noticed your target when we chatted for a while when we both missed a flight to Nairobi in 2013. Now what seemed very far is at hand..........greater heights bro!!!!!

  3. Am encouraged..... beautiful read indeed.
    am inspired I o will get mine by 33

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