Jana Frey | 09.08.2018 | 522 Aufrufe | Interviews

Trevor Chikowore | "Urban Ecology and Urban Planning in the Developing World: An Analysis of the Ecological, Social, Political and Economic Nexus in South African Metropolises post 1994"

Lisa Maskell Fellowships at Stellenbosch University, South Africa

In 2014, the Gerda Henkel Foundation initiated a scholarship programme supporting young humanities scholars from Africa and Southeast Asia in honour of the foundation's founder, Lisa Maskell. It is the largest international support programme for PhD students in the history of the Foundation. The Lisa Maskell Fellowships aim to strengthen universities in the partner countries, to counter the outflow of qualified young scholars and to ensure the doctoral students enjoy excellent academic training.

In the following months, L.I.S.A. will publish interviews with the Lisa Maskell Fellows from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, in which they will talk about their research projects as well as their experiences during their academic career and the Lisa Maskell fellowship.

This week, we welcome Trevor Chikowore from Zimbabwe. After graduating from Stellenbosch University, he continued his academic career at Stellenbosch by starting his PhD in Geography and Environmental Studies with the thesis Urban Ecology and Urban Planning in the Developing World: An Analysis of the Ecological, Social, Political and Economic Nexus in South African Metropolises post 1994 in 2017.

Trevor Chikowore from Zimbabwe

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"Constantly trying to adjust their humanities’ research"

L.I.S.A.: What is the status of the humanities in Zimbabwe, your home country?

Trevor Chikowore: The Humanities are the biggest faculty in all major universities in Zimbabwe contributing a big share of graduates each year. Most of these graduates are at the undergraduate level. Most postgraduate students, especially at the PhD level opt to study in universities outside the country because of the availability of scholarships and supervisors for their projects. On a positive note, most universities are constantly trying to adjust their humanities’ (and other faculties as well) research foci to stay in sync with the needs of the day.

"Funding is the plight of many students in Zimbabwe"

L.I.S.A.: Have you ever encountered problems in the realization of your academic career?

Trevor Chikowore: The biggest challenge I have faced to date in my academic career is related to funding which is the plight of many students in Zimbabwe. When I finished my BSc at the University of Zimbabwe in 2012, I wanted to enrol in a master’s programme that was being offered at that institution, but I failed to do so because the fees were too steep for me. Fortunately, when I got a place to study for my MPhil at Stellenbosch University in 2014, I got a departmental bursary which helped me to complete my studies. The funding problem resurfaced again when I wanted to progress to the PhD level and then the Gerda Henkel Foundation came along, and here I am, pursuing my dream.

"Dilemma facing local and national governments in the developing world"

L.I.S.A.: What is your PhD project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?

Trevor Chikowore: My PhD thesis is a spatial temporal analysis which is focusing on exploring the integration of urban ecology with urban planning in two of South Africa’s biggest cities from 1994 to the present. At the centre of this analysis is a simulation and modelling of the ecological, economic, social and political dynamics unfolding in these two cities’ urban systems to establish the trend since 1994 as well as to estimate the future patterns. I fell for this topic after realising the dilemma facing local and national governments in the developing world in trying to balance socioeconomic development goals with the growing calls for conserve and restore ecological spaces within cities. The overall goal is to help in creating sustainable human settlements.

"People from various parts of the world who have diverse cultures and backgrounds"

L.I.S.A.: What has your experience at Stellenbosch been like? Have there been any differences to the University of Zimbabwe and possibly other institutions you have previously attended?

Trevor Chikowore: I find my experience at Stellenbosch to be impressive. My time at Stellenbosch has exposed me to different people from various parts of the world who have diverse cultures and backgrounds. In the process, I have learnt to appreciate and learned a lot from them. This atmosphere is somehow different from the University of Zimbabwe where I did my undergraduate studies because the number of international students there was limited. The study environment at Stellenbosch is also conducive, which can be traced to the issue of resources.

"Most institutions initiated a tutorship programme for master’s students"

L.I.S.A.: What are the opportunities in Zimbabwe to pursue different degree options (BA/MA/PhD)?

Trevor Chikowore: Like in most cases, the enrolment at the BA level in Zimbabwe is bigger and this narrows down as you go up all the way to the  PhD level. Several factors can be attributed to this but chief among them is the lack of financial resources since scholarships and bursaries are not easy to come by. At the MA level, the situation is improving because most institutions initiated a tutorship programme for master’s students, which eases their financial burden, while giving them work experience. At the PhD level the problem extends to the shortage of qualified supervisors as most experienced lecturers have since left the nation in search of greener pastures.

"Scientific research which creates liveable human settlements"

L.I.S.A.: What are your plans concerning your future career once you have obtained your PhD?

Trevor Chikowore: After completing my PhD, I plan to remain in South Africa in the short term because it appears to be the perfect launchpad for my career. It presents an opportunity for me to acquire the necessary experience since I have managed to build a small professional network for myself over the years and my field of study (urban and regional planning) is shortlisted on the critical skills list of professionals that the South African government intends to retain. I would possibly start with post-doc research and rise up the ladder. In the mid to long term, my goal is to relocate back to my home country and contribute towards its development. Overall, I plan to direct my efforts towards scientific research which creates liveable human settlements and improves the quality of life of the Southern African region and beyond.

Trevor Chikowore has answered the questions in written form.

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