Dr Kola Ijasan
Talking to Dr Kola Ijasan, it’s clear that the University of Salford is still dear to his heart. He studied here in the School of Built Environment between 2007 and 2011, and although he is now working as a senior lecturer thousands of miles away in South Africa he says that “it is very heart-warming when you meet people in academic (and even social) circles who have something good to say about either your past supervisor, previous colleagues or your alma mater”.
Although Kola attended “above-average” schools as a child and both of his parents are university graduates, he states that his background was not really an academic one, and studying for a PhD wasn’t always in his career plan. After completing a BSc in Estate Management in Nigeria, and an MSc in Real Estate Development and Investment from Greenwich University in 2005 Kola’s thoughts turned to finding employment. In a scenario that is depressingly familiar to many a graduate the hunt for satisfying work that would utilise Kola’s skills was not fruitful, as he explains “I wasn’t too lucky as the best I could get was in a call centre in Doncaster.” This may have been frustrating for Kola at the time, but it did turn out for the best as it was at this point he began to think about embarking on his doctoral studies. To begin with he started looking for a funded programme but the right opportunity did not seem to be forthcoming, so instead of waiting around Kola took action and started saving to fund himself. The financial help offered to Kola from home also encouraged his search for the best PhD programme in his area of interest. However as a “research novice”, he initially wasn’t too sure about where to study, “I remember that I usually typed my proposed research topic into Google at the time and I would see that many academics from Salford were doing something in that light, but so were academics form other universities.” In the end it was the ethos of the staff at Salford that swayed Kola to study here “Salford University was most responsive, the admissions office was always in touch with me and I felt wanted. This was one of the reasons for me choosing Salford University. It was the service levels that helped me make my mind up.”
So with Salford decided upon as his place of study the challenge when he got here was where to begin, or as he states “trying to contextualise and articulate the ‘research problem’. I guess part of that challenge could be attributed to overzealousness and high expectations of myself.” It’s an issue that is cited by many alumni in hindsight and Kola agrees: “I took the program too seriously and was looking beyond my current stage. I was lucky to have a supervisor who believed in me and kept reiterating to me that all the pieces of this ‘giant’ puzzle will fall in place”.
Kola’s eventual thesis title was ‘Contextualising the Participatory Role of Black and Minority Ethnic (BMEs) in Community Regeneration: A Requirements and Challenge Approach’. It’s not a subject that he always had a passion for, but his research eventually led him in to this area as he explains “I realised during my review of extant literature that the BMEs are somehow overrepresented in pockets of deprived neighbourhoods in England. This aroused my interest and led me to taking the topic of community participation, especially for BMEs seriously. I still find myself researching this theme even post-PhD.” Kola’s example highlights the need for adaptability while pursuing a PhD and when asked about what advice he would give to others; this is illustrated by his answer. “I would refrain from giving generic or one-size-fits all kind of response. I think the best thing to do is do your own homework before you start the program, if possible, talk to those currently one (i.e. already PhD candidate), narrow this down to getting someone with situations similar to yours (e.g. if you are an international student, married with kids etc.) and try to know how they cope.”
At present Dr Ijasan is a Senior Lecture of Property Studies in the School of Construction Economics and Management at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, which is his third academic post. Again, this wasn’t initially the plan “I actually thought I was going to work immediately in the industry and later retire into academics. However, I was fortunate to get a lecturing position just before my viva and hence I have found myself in academics since then”, and Kola has found that he enjoys the academic life. He is also full of praise for his supervisor who he credits with helping him to get where he is today “I have had tremendous support from my then supervisor and still current mentor, Prof Vian Ahmed
. She was not just a supervisor but also an all-round guardian. She helped shaped me to the researcher I am today, I learnt a lot from the relationship with her and I am sure that asides the award of the degree from the university, the PhD journey itself has helped me a lot in achieving the privileges I have now. For example, my academic CV was prepared with the support of my supervisor, preparing for my first interview was done by her and by all means, for me, any relevant research now will include her.”
As to the future Kola is happy with the engagement between industry and community that academia provides and says that he will “be here for some time to come”, and his future goal is a simple but significant one as he states “as I had always wanted to be engaged in impactful research”.