The unforgettable M.Sc. thesis research journey of Aline Ishimwe

As a second-year student of IMRD (International Master of Science in Rural Development) in Ghent University, I was enthusiastic to find a chance to do something on development and livelihood in my dear homeland Rwanda, or as we proudly say, “Land of Thousands Hills”. In my desperate attempt to do so, I came across the CIALCA call for M.Sc. thesis research funding in Rwanda, recommended by my supervisor Prof. Marijke D’Haese who kindly saved my life! This interesting opportunity would provide me the chance to work on my thesis research within their ongoing project in Rwanda concerning livelihood and rural development and provide me with funds for the research activities, which was a jackpot for me! Two birds with one stone!

The second chapter of this amazing story is about going back from mediocre student life to office again! Here we go Kigali! As was expected the staff at IITA were extremely friendly and helpful till the very end. The office was filled with multi-national/cultural people that would help me to widen my horizon. The project itself, despite being quite challenging (in a good way) was evolving and would bring the best of me on the table. I have to be honest as a student with poor memory I had to go back to the old days and re-study the materials that I had long forgotten. Not that I complaint!

Now let us talk about the good part! Fieldwork! Face-to-face interviews with famers (a bit of extra chitchat to gain their trust to get their precious information) and boring questionnaires (I know people hate filling questionnaires). However, I managed to have a good time spent with the wonderful people I met during that time. Since the specific focus of my research was on the female farmers that were the head of the household, I came to a realization how extraordinary these so-called ordinary illiterate women were. They were super-heroes in my eyes that could do thousand of tasks at the time. Taking care of children, farming, doing chores and struggling with the obstacles that all made me feel so small compare to them and understand how this limit them to effectively engage in improved agricultural practices. I mean in short, these women are capable of doing multiple activities but lack an operative way to combine them!

Aline doing interviews with one of the women heading a household during data collection

Let us talk about serious stuff here. I found the experience very helpful as it had a lot to offer for me. I got the chance to have real research experience before completing my studies, and I was supported to do my own thesis! More importantly, I completed my thesis and graduated from one of toughest universities in Belgium – Ghent University. I cannot forget to mention that, I met new colleagues, and made a potential network for my future! I mean I finally need a job after all! Therefore, as you can see it worked out very well for me.

To wrap it up, let me give a piece of advice to other students based on my personal experience; I had to change my topic halfway the project and since I wasn’t well-informed about the details I had to go through some reports and paperwork while on-the-edge for short time! I take the responsibility not to go thoroughly through the information beforehand, but I suggest you do not make the same mistake! Check all the available materials and see if it fits your research and if it really interests you. Quoting one of my beloved professors at Ghent University maybe it is not your cup of tea after all or you will find yourself with something on the table that you even have not ordered, yet you have to pay for it!