Zimbabwean scholar Simukai Chigudu has just been appointed Departmental Lecturer in Development Studies at the Oxford Department of International Development even before submitting his final thesis. He started out in Oxford by doing an MSc African Studies, before progressing to a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in International Development. He is also an honorary member of St Anne’s College and before Oxford was a practicing medical doctor.
In his earlier graduate years Simukai interned at the Global Fund for Women in San Francisco where he wrote about rights-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health in sub-Saharan Africa. He spent two months in South Africa working in both rural and urban hospitals and was involved in the treatment and management of advanced infectious diseases and major traumatic illness. He was also involved in a large scale project for four months as a research assistant for an epidemiological survey of epilepsy in Tanzania.
Upon graduation from medical school, he completed the two-year-long Foundation Program; a mandatory training program for all newly qualified doctors in the UK. To then spend a year as an Academic Clinical Fellow in Public Health at Imperial College London, supported by the National Institute for Health Research. As part of this role, he completed a Master of Public Health and also spent six weeks researching the role of leadership in strengthening the Gambian Health System. He was awarded a Weidenfeld scholarship to study at Oxford University and read for the MSc in African Studies.
In an interview with the Africa Oxford Initiative [AfOx] when asked why he chose to study at Oxford Department of International Development (ODID) Chigudu said, “My path toward studying at ODID has been a meandering one. I first moved to the UK from Zimbabwe to study medicine as an international student at Newcastle University. During the course of my medical studies, I became interested in global health. Through experiences, my intellectual interests gravitated towards deeper study of the socio-cultural and political-economic aspects of disease and health inequality in Africa. I read for the MSc in African Studies, which gave me a solid grounding in interdisciplinary social science. Moreover, the course complemented my medical and public health training by introducing me to the most salient debates in the study of African politics, history and current social issues. I so enjoyed my career change into social science and academic that I decided to pursue my doctoral research at ODID.”
Simukai secured the job even before submitting his thesis and his advice for students looking to enter academia in this way is, “I have been very fortunate to be appointed to a prestigious early career lectureship before I completed my DPhil. My advice to African PhD students wishing to do the same is threefold. First, put your work out there. Publish as early and as often as you can. Present your work at conferences and workshops. Give lectures and seminars on your material. Second, build your teaching experience. Show that you have a breadth of knowledge that extends far beyond your area of specialization and that you can communicate this knowledge clearly and effectively to novices in your field. And third, participate in university life through things like welfare support and academic administration,” he told [AfOx].
His current research examines the politics of a catastrophic cholera outbreak that occurred in Zimbabwe in 2008/09. The epidemic was unprecedented in scale, resulting in at least 98,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths. He is studying how cholera maps onto wider themes of livelihoods and inequality, humanitarianism and citizenship, and, crucially, the relationship between the state and society. The research seeks to understand three key issues: The political-economic factors that allowed an easily preventable and eminently disease to become such a massive calamity; How different agencies and institutions responded to the diverse crises that cholera engendered; and How people come to make meaning out of a disaster in a politically contentious and polarized social environment and where illness has shattered their daily lives.
He has a very personal relationship with his doctoral research project. “It was in December 2008 when I first stumbled upon a startling article in the New York Times about a cholera outbreak ‘sweeping across a crumbling Zimbabwe.’ The piece began by recounting how the disease had just claimed the lives of the five youngest children of the Chigudu family with ‘cruel and bewildering haste.’ I quickly worked out that the children who had been killed were not members of my family but it was a chilling moment nevertheless. At the time, I was a medical student in Newcastle. I felt helpless during this calamity and fearful that the medical training I was receiving would ultimately leave me ineffectual in the face of the health challenges that obtained in my home country. It was clear to me that the devastation caused by the cholera was so great because of factors situated far beyond the clinic. Thus to grasp fully the origins of the outbreak, to trace its effects, to make sense of its politics, and to illuminate the true extent of its injustice demanded skills and training in the social sciences. Studying the politics of the cholera outbreak ties together the diverse strands of my intellectual interests, social concerns and academic skills.” He elaborated.
Overall Simukai feels perseverance in matters Academia is the only way to endure and prosper, “Academia is a competitive job market to enter and, in its early stages, it is not as well remunerated as fields such as finance, medicine or law. However, it offers incredible room for expansion and growth; it can be almost limitless in the creativity that it gives you; it is rewarding both intellectually and inter-personally; and it can make a profound difference to how we understand the world and how we imagine the future.”