31 August 2022 

Written by: Jamela Hoveni, Senior lecturer; Larysa Botha, Corporate Business Development Executive; and Chimene Nukunah,

As part of the effort to nurture a research culture within Milpark Business School (MBS), the research department initiated a PhD support group for all Milpark staff members currently doing a doctorate degree at various institutions. The group currently consists of Milpark staff members from different departments, and it encourages collaboration and the fusion of ideas across different disciplines. In the article that follows, Jamela Hoveni, Senior lecturer; Larysa Botha, Corporate Business Development Executive; and Chimene Nukunah, Programme Manager discuss their experience as members of this support group.

“Writing Circles” by Jamela Hoveni

If you tell me you are writing on the weekend, I want to see the evidence.

We kicked off our very first virtual Doctoral session of “Writing Circles” for Milpark on 12 June 2021 with a mandatory exchange of selfies. When I first conceived the idea of this writing circle, I had no idea what direction it would take. The group consisted of Doctoral students from South African (SA) universities who were from Cameroon, Cape Town, and Pretoria. The engagement in meetings and constructive accountability to fellow members helped to connect peers despite the isolation, loneliness and writing paralysis that was brought on by the uncertainty and strain of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Having only women in the group created an interesting dynamic, and it made me realise that for many women, doing a PhD part-time means carrying a laptop in one hand and a baby in the other, and achievements and milestones are measured against time away from their children. In this group, I found support, encouragement, and women who understood the challenges of being both a mother and an academic. It has been (and remains) a space of genuine engagement, where we can also be vulnerable. Although the initial doctoral support group was based within Milpark, what is important to me is to nurture a wider network that includes doctoral students working in other companies, which is why I created the virtual writing circle as an extension of the Milpark group in order to expand it.

It is very rewarding for me to be involved in this kind of work and to see the results. Almost all the original members of the group submitted their PhD theses at end of 2021/beginning of 2022, and one is in the process of submission. I believe that we created our own community of practice and laid the foundation for those who will come after us. I am inspired by these ladies, and they remind me of an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, travel together.”

Thank you, wonderful ladies, for being a part of my community and journeying with me.

“It’s never crowded along the extra mile” by Larysa Botha

During my academic journey as a doctorate student at a leading SA business school, the quote “It’s never crowded along the extra mile” by W. Dyer often buzzed in my head. It was amplified when I was not satisfied with the pace at which my thesis was progressing because it felt like the closer I got to achieving my goal, the lonelier the journey became.

But then I read the quote again…  

“Never crowded” means that although you might not find people packed shoulder-to-shoulder along the extra mile (see it here as the territory outside a comfort zone), you will still find those likeminded peers in search for comradeship and companionship.  

While I was contemplating this, our Milpark support group for doctorate candidates was formed. Our group, which we called “The Legends”, consisted of women who sought a space filled with empathy, kindness, academic rigor, and wisdom. Our WhatsApp group profile contained the quote, “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back”. We met regularly, almost every weekend and some nights during the week, to work on personal assignments with the support of a synchronised writing community.

I valued our group’s commitment to keeping contributions meaningful and purposeful. A typical session of the Legends’ group would start with a quick check in, followed by everyone sharing their goal for the day. We always closed with another check in and by giving feedback on whether we felt the goals of the session had been achieved. The support group played a critical role in my ability to meet the submission deadline for my thesis. The consistency of our meetings, the discipline in dedicating the “group time” to its purpose, the focus on objectives, and holding each other accountable all contributed to the success of our group. A few of us submitted our theses for examination before they were due, and the standard of the work was definitely enhanced by the support of peers in the process.

Thank you, Legends, for being my tribe. I salute you all for your courage to go the extra mile!

“The power of the pack” by Chimene Nukunah

As I reflect on my journey as a PhD student, I will say that the most difficult moments were at the beginning and at the end. Starting the process was a period of discovery, during which I had to articulate a research problem in an area that was difficult to understand at the time. In the final stages, it was challenging due to the sheer volume of work in conceptualising and writing all the chapters that made up my thesis, based on the findings of the research.

I can confidently say that the end became a reality, thanks to a group of women that came together to form a writing circle. This writing circle was an offshoot of the support system put in place by the Milpark research team to assist staff members registered for doctoral studies. Our support group, called ‘Legends’, consisted of a community of female academics who encouraged one another to achieve their goals. This is what is called the power of the pack. The wisdom, inspiration and drive from the group was contagious and culminated in half of us being able to submit theses for examination. I was (and still am) very privileged to be part of The Legends.