75 years  

Department for International and Comparative Education 1985-1995

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Dr Mercy Tembon : student 1991-1994

Mercy recalls the change from the life of a civil servant in the Cameroon to that of a student at the Institute. She remembers the challenges of completing a doctorate, particularly of presenting her ideas for discussion to fellow students and staff:

"Life in DICE between 1991 and 1994 was a challenge for a student like me who had to juggle the demands of taking care of a family with four young children and studying full time for a doctorate degree. Soon after my arrival in the United Kingdom, I quickly had to learn to forget about my life as a civil servant in Cameroon with all the social and economic privileges that come with it, and adapt to a new life as a self-reliant student in London. Running to catch the bus instead of driving my own car, and sometimes getting to the bus stop just when the bus was taking off was a common and frustrating experience. I had to learn how to type because I had no secretary and could not afford to pay someone else to type my work for me.

The doctorate course was a combination of lectures, seminars and individual study. We were encouraged to take courses in subjects that would help us in carrying out our research projects successfully. The program was intensive and the amount of literature one had to read was sometimes daunting. There were moments when I felt that my objective of obtaining a doctorate degree was unattainable, but I was comforted and encouraged by the fact that others had done it and succeeded, so why couldn’t I do the same. Thursday evening seminars facilitated by Robert Cowen were memorable and renowned for their nerve-wracking nature. These seminars were devoted to presentations of work in progress by doctorate students, followed by a barrage of comments and criticisms from staff and colleagues. Although each and everyone of us dreaded the thought of being in the hot seat, it soon became clear that the discussions and arguments that emerged were academically stimulating.

My classmates consisted of a small group of about a dozen students from all over the world. There was great cooperation and camaraderie and we learnt a lot from each other. We worked as a team and occasionally found the time to share a meal either in one of the restaurants on campus during the week or in one of the homes depending on who decided to be the host. Three years went by so quickly and before we knew, it was time to defend our theses, say goodbye and move on.

After graduation, I picked up a job as a research officer at the Institute of Development Studies, in the University of Sussex. I worked in the Gender and Primary Schooling in Africa project which covered nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa. I had no difficulty performing my duties because it was simply a matter of applying the knowledge and skills that I had acquired at the Institute of Education. After five years in Sussex, I moved on to the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington as a Senior Education Specialist in the Africa Region Human Development Department.

The three years I spent in DICE prepared me for the job that I do now. What I found most rewarding were the skills I developed and the opportunity to meet, learn, work with and share experiences with colleagues from various cultural backgrounds. In spite of the distance that separates us, I have kept in touch with a good number of my colleagues. I will forever be grateful to the staff for their tireless efforts to guide us and to colleagues for sharing a wonderful international experience."

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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.