My PhD experience changed me for the better
At 29 years, Mumbi Maria Wachira is set to graduate next week with a doctoral degree in Management from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Having been in the chase for the degree since 2015, she says that the experience has changed her. The PhD has brought out the introverted nature in her and has shown her what matters most in her life. “When I handed in my thesis, I didn’t see all the work that I had put in; I saw all the people who made it happen. I had to come back to them.”
The nature walks in St. Gallen, the bike and hike trails are a part of the experience that she will miss dearly. In her words, ‘Switzerland is beautiful. I often felt as if I was a character in a story book because of the beauty of its nature. It’s not just the Alps, it’s the effort that they have taken to make and keep their country beautiful, how much pride they take in keeping things orderly and helping people truly enjoy what the country has to offer.’
She is back to Kenya with big dreams for the university, the country and for herself.
You are among the few who have a doctorate at 29 years. How did you achieve that?
When I was an undergraduate student, getting a doctorate degree was not something I aspired to. This changed when I became a graduate assistant at the then School of Management and Commerce where I discovered how much I loved teaching and research. It wasn’t a target that I had set for myself; the opportunity came when I was ready and I was able to take it.
How did you obtain funding for your studies?
I achieved the scholarship through a joint partnership between Strathmore University and the University of St. Gallen. Through St. Gallen, I was able to procure funding for a three-year scholarship from the Swiss government. As part of the partnership, Strathmore University funded my first semester.
What did your thesis focus on?
I focused on how sustainability reporting among publicly listed companies is emerging in Sub-Saharan Africa. As much as I am an accountant, I have always been interested in sustainability and business responsibility so I felt it was important to show how African countries are pursuing this aim.
Now that you are back to Strathmore, what impact will your research have in the university and in Kenya?
Businesses can pursue multiple aims, not just those related to profitability. We are already seeing not only listed companies but also Small Medium Enterprises making an impact through their operations. The nature of our society and environment is becoming more and more important and companies are trying to leverage on this. I am hoping that my research and future consulting activities will contribute towards building a more equitable world.
How did your Strathmore experience help you blend in at St. Gallen?
Switzerland is quite different from Kenya. I had to pick up German in order to make my way around the country though the course was in English. From the way the course was structured and the material was purveyed, it wasn’t difficult to grasp it because I was accustomed to the rigor especially while I was in the Master of Commerce programme here at Strathmore.
Was it easy or challenging?
I would use both adjectives to describe my experience. It was challenging though not in the sense that there was new material I needed to soak in. A PhD is challenging in that it is a battle between yourself and trying to put the best you have in your work, yet not being sure that you have done your best. This really is an internal battle.
Why have you chosen Strathmore for your undergraduate, masters and academic career?
It feels like home to me. I have spent most of my young adult years here. I have seen it grow. A few years back then we only had muthurwa (open space in Ole Sangale campus where students used to socialize) to hang out. It is edifying to see the evolution of the university and to see that the people are always aiming to become more.
Does being young make it easier to teach and relate with your students?
Yes and no. Yes, when I am dealing with undergraduate students, because I understand what they are struggling with having just passed that stage myself. With the older students, there is that first impression that perhaps I don’t have enough experience to teach. There is uncertainty at first but it often dissipates with time because we have a common goal we are working towards at the end of the semester.
What was your experience with skiing?
I went skiing once. It was really tough. Some people may have the natural talent for it but I do not. I appreciated the scenery more.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy spending time with family. As I was away for a while, I am now catching up with people’s lives. I have an artistic side to me; I love painting; in fact, I did art and design in high school. I occasionally play the piano though I am perhaps out of practice. I love going to classical music concerts and visiting art galleries.
Mumbi Maria Wachira is a lecturer at the Strathmore University Business School. She has a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) and a Master of Commerce (Forensic Accounting) both from Strathmore University.
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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