Program Management and the PhD: Professional Development in the Field

When I was accepted into my PhD program, I’ll admit I was afraid of becoming an armchair academic – pulled out of the field for four years, rapidly losing the skills I learned at work. Receiving a fieldwork grant was a great opportunity to maintain my program management skills during my studies.

I’m an environmental social scientist doing agricultural research in low- and middle- income countries. My ‘field’ is generally a shady spot in the actual field of a small-scale farmer, a hole-in-the wall restaurant, or a local market stall. I knew I wanted fieldwork to be a big part of my PhD. In my second year, I successfully applied for a grant that would take me out of my office and into conversations with those most closely involved with food security and agricultural issues in my country of focus: Jamaica.

Beth in Jamaica

The Doctoral Research Award from the International Development Research Centre gave me the opportunity to not only conduct research abroad, but also to manage a grant. With this grant, I was able to strengthen my program management skills such as budgeting and financial management, staffing and building capacity of research assistants, and maintaining a project timeline in highly uncertain conditions.

In my third year of studies, my fears of becoming an armchair academic are unfounded. My PhD has, so far, been an unexpected opportunity to refine my professional skills while sinking more deeply into scholarly debates on sustainability and the nature of knowledge. Managing a fieldwork grant was an ideal way to balance professional development with scholarly pursuits.

Beth Timmers is a PhD Candidate in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, researching Jamaica’s domestic food system.

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