Saint Kizito Omala holds a PhD in Applied Statistics from Makerere University in Uganda. He spent last fall at UC Berkeley, working with faculty mentors Fred Finan and Ernesto Dal Bo to design a research project that will evaluate the impact of an education program aiming to scale up early grade reading interventions. “I was visiting the University [of Makerere] to meet a lecturer and researcher in economics who told me he was traveling to the US. As far as I knew, the U.S. was a no-go area for me. I asked him ‘How does that happen? How does one go to the US?’ He explained the scholarship, the process, and, more importantly, he said: ‘you can also try’. That was December, and within months I’d embarked on the application process for the EASST Fellowship”.
Kizito, along with colleagues, Hailemariam Ayalew (Fall 2015 EASST Fellow) and Fredrick Manang (Spring 2015 EASST Fellow), spent a chilly November afternoon at UC Berkeley discussing the opportunities they’ve had as a result of their fellowship. Like Kizito, Haile and Fred found out about the fellowship through previous alumni. The fact that friends with similar qualifications had been chosen to participate played an important role in their deciding to apply. They all wanted to go abroad, to “learn what’s out there”, enhance their impact evaluation skills and build a strong network to support their research in East Africa. However, their experiences told them fellowships for African researchers were highly competitive- and would more than likely end up in the hands of those best connected. As Haile explains, “information is the base problem, scholars might be brilliant back home but they don’t get access to opportunities that will enable them to get here.” Kizito agrees: “the greatest hurdle is having access to a transparent process through which one can attain a scholarship”.
It’s true- programs like this are very competitive, but in the case of EASST in particular, they are accessible to all those skilled, eligible and eager to learn. CEGA’s EASST program seeks to build the capacity of the next generation of East African researchers in experimental design, econometrics and field-based data collection for anti-poverty programs. The fellowship offers East African researchers an opportunity to partner with CEGA faculty and doctoral students who provide support in research design, quantitative data analysis, proposal writing, and presentation. Fellows receive a living stipend, round-trip travel to Berkeley and spend their semester auditing courses, presenting research, attending seminars, developing curricula and designing collaborative research projects. They also take advantage of other opportunities in the Bay Area, exploring the local sites, visiting other CEGA campuses and learning from all CEGA affiliates in the area (take a look through our blog to see what Kizito, Haile and Fred were up to last fall).
When asked what the most stimulating part of the EASST program is, each fellow has their own perspective. For Fred, “the most valuable element of the interactions at Berkeley is the ideas creation portion… Researchers here are at the frontier: whichever field you are talking about (health, education, tax issues), you meet people who are researching and adding something new to the literature... As a junior researcher, what separates you from the rest is your ability to come up with new ideas, so this exposure is invaluable to me”. For Kizito, “the quality of the instruction is really amazing. The professors are resourceful, accessible and easy to relate to”. As for Haile, his favorite part of the EASST program is “the opportunities the network offers [for us] to continue working with these top of the line researchers, encouraging them to take interest in working with us in the future.”
The EASST Collaborative has opened up the next round of applications to the fellowship. As of January 2016, the call for applications is open for researchers to apply for a 4-month fellowship (sabbatical) at the University of California Berkeley. Please visit the EASST Opportunities page to apply- and spread the word. Let your East African friends and colleagues know about this great opportunity, UC Berkeley awaits!