Only the a-bit-lazy PhD students, please!

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African Prints with orange, green and purple colors

I am currently trapped at home with a swollen and painful foot that does not really allow me to take many steps at once. Day two on the couch is when I finally motivate myself to look into PhD sponsorships / scholarships. I remembered that some German institutions allow applications until April so yes, it is time to sit down and do some more research. I even find a bit more institutions to what I originally had on my list… Hanns-B√∂ll-Stiftung, Rosa-Luxemburg,¬†Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes… In total there are 14 that I look into a bit deeper. Well, I am neither Muslim, Jewish nor a refugee, so I had to check off a few of them right away. Still motivated, I keep on reading and researching.

In one’s FAQs I stumble upon the remark that once you are picked for the scholarship, you are not allowed to work more than 5 hours a week or 10 hours a week if the work is in line with your PhD research. I am a bit shocked. For the people who know me, I don’t remember the last time I only worked 5 hours a week. Years ago, during my Bachelor’s degree, I worked an average of 20 hours per week spread across the whole 3 years of my studies. I graduated as best student of the faculty (this is to make you understand that work did not hinder me from my studies). It wasn’t much different in my Master’s, where I even had two different jobs, one keeping me occupied on the early train rides to University (I even came to University about 1 hour too early to have some time to work, yes we talk about getting up around 5 a.m.), and the other one keeping me busy every Saturday. My Master’s was one of my biggest challenges, the jobs making it a bit more busy, but once again I surprisingly graduated with such a good final grade that would even allow me to start a PhD. My jobs have been part of me throughout the past 9 years, from right after high school, through all my studies and non-study times, until now. Without these jobs, I could not have done and achieved what helped me become the person I am today.

At this very moment, I sit in Ghana, where I voluntarily (meaning not being paid) work for a human rights organization 5 half days a week and I work for my German job around another 5 half days of the week. Oh yes, In case you did not know, I am researching on my PhD as well, so to say “full-time”. Without my German job, I wouldn’t be able to work in Ghana with an amazing organization that empowers minorities in the country and fights for the human right protection of women, children, persons with disabilities, LGBTI, the sick, the weak, the poor, the forgotten, the ones that need help. In order to be part of that, I need a job that pays me, ama right? Well and of course, without that paying job, I would also not be able to do my PhD, because who or what would even pay for the tons of chocolate that I need to compensate for all my research worries? Being a financially independent lady is not easy, but it is possible and it’s always who I wanted to be. Side note: Tutoring, baby sitting and spending my Sundays in restaurant’s kitchens had followed me all throughout my high school years, just so I would be able to save some money for my own adventures.

As I continue my research about criteria for PhD sponsorships on that warm afternoon, I furiously realize that ALL institutions have this “please only work for some few hours a week” rule. By the way, that rule is listed next to the criteria where it says something like “in order to be eligible for a sponsorship, you need to be hard-working and you need to be involved in activities that push your society to be a better one”. But hello, does that mean I have to prove to be hard-working but in a way that I do not get compensated for? I am sure if I advocated for a political party, an LGBTI organization or voluntarily worked with empowering minority organizations, I could be doing 40 hours of that a week and it would still not be “too much”. Just keep in mind, once you get paid for 20 working-hours a week “you might not be focused enough on your research”. So these are the people we want to support through scholarships: The ones who voluntarily spend their time for a good cause while they live off their bank accounts, their parents or of other rich family members – best case scenario. Worst case scenario: The application documents all sound great and fun and once they get the scholarship, they spend their off-PhD time as lazy couch potatoes and not as the model equality fighters.

Being a bit frustrated, I peak out of my window and watch the palm trees dance in the breeze. I think that I also have to push through this PhD with my very own earned financial means, while I try to fight for human rights realizations, while I try to enrich the research with my PhD,… and from a distance, maybe sometimes, I glance at those “amazing institutions that support our bright and hard-working future generation with financial aid”, all in the name of making our society a better one.

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