Ahmad Akkad is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Warwick and part of our Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program. Here, he talks about his work with displaced Syrian academics all around the world.
What are you working on now and why?
My doctoral research explores the role of displaced academics in post-conflict reconstruction. Little is known about the experiences of these subjects, and I am interested in examining the potential role that they may have in the post-conflict reconstruction and the recovery of war-torn countries. My participants comprise displaced Syrian academics who are dispersed in different parts of the world.
Tell us how your career as a researcher began.
It was when I was chosen to teach as a Lecturer of Linguistics and English at the University of Aleppo and Cordoba Private University in Syria that my interest in academia began to develop. At the time, 2013, I was doing my Master’s in Linguistics. Following the MA, I felt more encouraged to continue in academia and began studying for a PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Aleppo – but, due to the circumstances that were taking place in Syria, I quit in 2018.
I left my country, taking up a highly competitive and well-regarded scholarship from the Said Foundation for Development, to complete an MA in Global Education and International Development at the University of Warwick in the UK. I wanted to contribute to knowledge and to address issues related mainly to higher education and society in conflicted contexts. Following this, I was awarded another scholarship from the University of Warwick, to do a PhD in Education.
What’s the best thing about being a researcher? What are the biggest challenges?
What I find most interesting about being an early-career researcher is developing different ways of thinking, examining the world more critically and independently, and maintaining constant learning. Researching also includes developing new skills such as team working, networking and leadership skills. I have had different rewarding experiences, such as chairing conferences, convening seminars and getting involved in group reading discussions.
There are also challenges for being an early-career researcher. The first challenge for me is uncertainty in securing a suitable postdoctoral position after completing my doctoral project, and this requires searching and applying for multiple grants and fellowships in order to secure one. The ultimate challenge is finding a permanent position at a university. These challenges are coupled with other, related difficulties, such as moving university, home or city, which may cause instability for a good period of time.
What advice would you like to give other early-career researchers?
It is important to think about your weaknesses and strengths, whether personally, academically or professionally. Think about the weak points that need to be improved constantly to reach your goals, and try to develop your strengths further. Being well-informed and rounded about the latest developments and studies relevant to your research interests is essential to advance your knowledge and expertise. It is also necessary to give priority to your wellbeing, as being stressed may constrain your efforts and achievements. Being immersed in research or work, we may be unaware of our health and wellbeing conditions at times, but having a work-life balance is essential for mental health and development.
What do you hope to achieve by participating in the Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program?
The DSPM is a unique experience to me as an early-career researcher, and I hope that by the end of participation in the program I will have prepared a manuscript for publication; established a network of colleagues and researchers interested in co-authoring and conducting research; and obtained knowledge and skills to further my academic profile and secure a postdoc position upon the completion of my doctoral work.
Ten years from now I hope that….
I will have secured a tenured position at university, with my academic profile enhanced through publication. I hope I’ll be conducting research and disseminating research-informed knowledge and practice to different audiences for the welfare of our societies, particularly global South and conflict-affected countries.
Check out Ahmad's recent (August 2021) publication about the role of higher education teachers in post-conflict reconstruction.
Follow Ahmad on Twitter @AhmadAkkad_.
The Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program is a joint program of the Kaldor Centre and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Lund University. It has received the generous support of the Universitas21 Research Resilience Fund.