Displaced scholars peer mentoring program

Providing academic and professional support to early career scholars who have experienced displacement and are studying or researching refugee and forced migration studies.

holding a glass globe in hands

Applications for the 2023 program have now closed.

Displaced scholars frequently face considerable barriers to accessing traditional scholarly opportunities and fora due to financial constraints, interruption to education or limitations imposed by legal status.

This Mentoring Program aims to contribute to increasing representation of refugees and other people with lived experiences of displacement within the field of refugee and forced migration studies, where there is a critical need to better understand and incorporate perspectives of displaced people. 

Portrait picture of Gabriel  Ndayishimiye
"Applying to participate in this mentoring program was the best-ever decision in my scholarly journey. My gratitude goes to my mentor and the team at the Kaldor Centre. I hope that other displaced scholars will be able to have this opportunity."

Gabriel

2021 Mentee

  • The Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program is for scholars and researchers who: 

    • Are researching and/or studying in the field refugee and forced migration studies;
      and
    • Have experienced displacement (whether within their country or across a border). 

    Participants in the program will normally be enrolled in, or have completed, a postgraduate research degree (Masters or PhD). However, other applicants will also be considered if they can demonstrate their interest in and commitment to forced migration research and scholarship. Participants may be recognised refugees, but the program is also open to individuals who have been internally displaced, or who have been displaced across borders but not obtained formal refugee status.  

  • This Program establishes peer mentoring partnerships where displaced scholars are partnered with other early career scholars working in related areas of refugee and forced migration studies. Displaced scholar ‘mentees’ meet virtually with their early career scholar ‘mentor’. Displaced scholar ‘mentees’ will receive mentoring support to pursue their academic and/or research goals, including: 

    • Research and writing for publication; 
    • Developing academic networks; 
    • Navigating academic environments; 
    • Applying for research-related funding and employment; and 
    • Pursuing opportunities for research collaboration. 

    Displaced scholars participating in the program are also invited to join a series of virtual workshops/roundtables with experienced scholars in the field of refugee and forced migration studies, and are supported by a ‘Resource Bank’ including information about current research-related opportunities and academic pathways. 

  • This program will run for six (6) months from February to July 2023. Participants will meet once per month for the duration of the program. 

  • Full details of the program are available in the Program Handbook here.

Mentee profiles

Ahmad Akkad, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Warwick

What are you working on now and why?

My doctoral research explores the role of displaced academics in post-conflict reconstruction. Little is known about the experiences of these subjects, and I am interested in examining the potential role that they may have in the post-conflict reconstruction and the recovery of war-torn countries. My participants comprise displaced Syrian academics who are dispersed in different parts of the world.

Tell us how your career as a researcher began.  

It was when I was chosen to teach as a Lecturer of Linguistics and English at the University of Aleppo and Cordoba Private University in Syria that my interest in academia began to develop. At the time, 2013, I was doing my MA in Linguistics. Following the MA, I felt more encouraged to continue in academia and began studying for a PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Aleppo – but, due to the circumstances that were taking place in Syria, I quit in 2018. 

I left my country, taking up a highly competitive and well-regarded scholarship from the Said Foundation for Development, to complete an MA in Global Education and International Development at the University of Warwick in the UK. I wanted to contribute to knowledge and to address issues related mainly to higher education and society in conflicted contexts. Following this, I was awarded another scholarship from the University of Warwick, to do a PhD in Education. 

What’s the best thing about being a researcher? What are the biggest challenges?

What I find most interesting about being an early-career researcher is developing different ways of thinking, examining the world more critically and independently, and maintaining constant learning. Researching also includes developing new skills such as team working, networking and leadership skills. I have had different rewarding experiences, such as chairing conferences, convening seminars and getting involved in group reading discussions. 

There are also challenges for being an early-career researcher. The first challenge for me is uncertainty in securing a suitable postdoctoral position after completing my doctoral project, and this requires searching and applying for multiple grants and fellowships in order to secure one. The ultimate challenge is finding a permanent position at a university. These challenges are coupled with other, related difficulties, such as moving university, home or city, which may cause instability for a good period of time. 

What advice would you like to give other early-career researchers?

It is important to think about your weaknesses and strengths, whether personally, academically or professionally. Think about the weak points that need to be improved constantly to reach your goals, and try to develop your strengths further. Being well-informed and rounded about the latest developments and studies relevant to your research interests is essential to advance your knowledge and expertise. It is also necessary to give priority to your wellbeing, as being stressed may constrain your efforts and achievements.  Being immersed in research or work, we may be unaware of our health and wellbeing conditions at times, but having a work-life balance is essential for mental health and development.

What do you hope to achieve by participating in the Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program?

The DSPM is a unique experience to me as an early-career researcher, and I hope that by the end of participation in the program I will have prepared a manuscript for publication; established a network of colleagues and researchers interested in co-authoring and conducting research; and obtained knowledge and skills to further my academic profile and secure a postdoc position upon the completion of my doctoral work. 

Ten years from now I hope that….

I will have secured a tenured position at university, with my academic profile enhanced through publication. I hope I’ll be conducting research and disseminating research-informed knowledge and practice to different audiences for the welfare of our societies, particularly global South and conflict-affected countries.

Read Akkad's publication: Ahmad Akkad & Emily F. Henderson (2021) 'Exploring the role of HE teachers as change agents in the reconstruction of post-conflict Syria', Teaching in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1965571

Katty Alhayek, Assistant Teaching Professor, Georgetown University

What are you working on now and why?

My projects have been innovative, interdisciplinary, and inspired by such sub-fields as audience research, feminist media studies, technology and social change, performance studies, and critical cultural studies. A central theme in my scholarship is how forcibly displaced people use social media to wield power and cope with unjust life conditions. I work to understand the successful strategies that media activists use for social change in challenging environments of war and displacement. My scholarship is inspired by my lived experience as a displaced woman and activist from Syria as well as my work with international organizations like the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

You recently explored the interplay between forcibly displaced audiences of Syrian television drama series Ghadan Naltaqi (We’ll Meet Tomorrow) and the writer/creator of the show, Iyad Abou Chamat. Can you tell us more?

The series ran during Ramadan in the summer of 2015. As I wrote in ‘Watching television while forcibly displaced: Syrian refugees as participant audiences’, it is particularly interesting because it provides a case where Syrian refugee audiences used social media as a space to engage with the producer of a TV show that represented their diverse experiences.

Indeed this show focuses on the daily lived experiences of a group of forcibly displaced Syrians who rent separate rooms in one modest building in Lebanon. The characters come from different social positions in pre-war Syria with diverse political views vis-à-vis the conflict. The show depicts many of the political, economic and cultural challenges that face displaced Syrians who live in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon while they try to find ways to emigrate to Europe. It also provides insights into the cultural production environment of Syrian drama after the Arab Spring and the 2011 Syrian uprising and the challenges that face drama producers.

I was interested in how audiences interpreted this series in relation to their lived experiences. The responses were interactive, emotional. Why were they motivated to engage online with the show’s creator? How did that influence the content? I wanted to describe what happens when non-Western refugees and internally displaced people bring their experiences to bear on the production of interpretation by engaging online. The article shows how this interplay not only with each other, but with television writers and producers, helped them to find a healing space from violent and alienating dominant media discourses.

What’s the best thing about being a researcher? What are the biggest challenges?

As a researcher, I hope that through public engagement I intervene as an active agent in the efforts to solve the significant social problems that I study. I am inspired by the work of critical theorists such as Stuart Hall (2007) who saw that ‘organic intellectuals’ are responsible for transmitting theoretical knowledge to ‘those who do not belong, professionally, to the intellectual class’. 

One of the biggest challenges that faced me as a researcher is being a displaced person myself who was affected by difficult conditions in both my home country, Syria, and my country of residency, the United States of America. 

I started my PhD program (Fall 2015-Spring 2016) with the rise of Trump and suffered personally under his administration's rhetoric and policies that terrorized asylees, refugees, and other vulnerable immigrants and queer communities. I had to write and finish my doctoral dissertation in this difficult context. Thus, in a culture dominated by political violence in Syria and the United States, my research shifted to focus on survival and thriving strategies that media producers and audiences develop to overcome the negativity of war and displacement. In this way, my research become my own survival and thriving strategy. 

What advice would you like to give other early career researchers?

Pursue the research you are passionate about. Be mindful of your own way of seeing the world. Even if you are a displaced scholar, try to be reflexive about the material and cultural privileges that we inhabit as researchers and how we produce knowledge about subaltern, displaced populations within the larger structures of power in our societies. 

What impact do you hope your work will have?

I hope to contribute with mindfulness and empathy to the efforts to create more inclusive and just societies.

What do you hope to achieve by participating in the Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program?

I hope to expand my network with global scholars who do research on forced displacement and I look forward to finding opportunities to work collaboratively with colleagues in research and creative projects that contribute to social justice for forcibly displaced people and other vulnerable 

Read Katty Alhayek’s 2020 article: ‘Watching television while forcibly displaced: Syrian refugees as participant audiences’ (2020) 17(1) Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies 8-28.

See Google scholar

Emmanuel Chima, PhD student, Michigan State University School of Social Work

Tell us how your career as a researcher began.  

My research career began when I participated in the Master of Social Work Research Scholars Program. I did a pilot study on refugee youth identity formation, which encouraged me to continue inquiring into the experiences surrounding forced displacement.

What are you working on now and why?

I am presently looking at cultural production and transnational exchange through the Tumaini Festival at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. I am compelled by the advocacy and humanizing nature of the festival.

What’s the best thing about being a researcher? What are the biggest challenges?

I believe research gives voice to stories and experiences that would otherwise go unnoticed. When those narratives are picked up by others, tangible action, however small, can then follow. Some of the challenges in this process are limited mentorship opportunities and access to tangible research experiences.

What’s the best advice anyone has given you? (this could be professional or personal)

Some of the most meaningful advice that I received growing up was to stick with the basics and to remember prior experiences. It’s helped keep me centred in life and has served as a compass in my personal development.  

What advice would you like to give other early career researchers?

Let ideas run free before funnelling them down to what seems most logical or practical. I have arrived at unexpected insights with sound implications through this thought process.

What impact do you hope your work will have?

I hope my work will help humanize and share the experiences of forced displacement, youth transitions, and aging. Additionally, I hope that my work will provide varying perspectives for programs that impact daily living, and both individual and communal improvement.

What do you hope to achieve by participating in the Displaced Scholars Peer Mentoring Program?

Through my participation in the program, I hope to learn from and collaborate with other scholars invested in the wellbeing and thriving of communities and individuals who have experienced or been impacted by forced displacement.

Ten years from now I hope that….

…research on the experiences surrounding forced displacement and aging will not be restricted to or driven by monoliths of singular struggle, deficit and trauma.

Do you have any recent publications you would like to share?

Chima, E. (2020, November). Life in Malawi’s prison-turned-refugee camp. African diaspora: Before and after COVID-19. Africa in Fact. (pp. 36-41). Good Governance Africa.  https://gga.org/africa-in-fact-special-edition/

Chima, E. (2020, August). The spaces in between: Social memory at Dzaleka refugee camp. Immigrant legacies: The little things in the suitcase 1. Routed, 11. https://www.routedmagazine.com/spaces-in-between-dzaleka-camp

Gabriel Ndayishimiye, Master’s Student, Immigration and Settlement Studies at Ryerson University

News  

Embassy Cultural House: Interview with Gabriel Ndayishimiye

Tell us how your career as a researcher began.

My career as a researcher began in the summer of July 2019. I was part of a diverse group of university students selected to participate in an international seminar on refugee issues in Malawi. The seminar’s theme, Youth Leadership for Refugee Self-Reliance, explored ways to improve refugees' lives in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Through a blend of classroom learning and community-based field research, my colleagues and I studied briefing reports on the global refugee situation, refugee populations across Africa, and within Malawi itself. We explored the principles and practices of community-based participatory research. We then divided into five research teams (of threes) to formulate and carry out a research project. The outcome was a report of findings submitted to the Government of Malawi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and other implementing partners. 

What are you working on now and why?

Under the mentorship of Dr. Anh Nguyen Austen, I am working on a research project titled ‘Towards a New Understanding of “Refuge-e” Protection in Malawi: Representation and Contribution of Displaced Colonized Intellectuals’. In April 2021, the government of Malawi issued a press release essentially declaring a witch hunt against refugees running business in different towns across the country. The decision was based on complaints from Malawian merchants who claimed competition from refugee merchants was having a severe impact on their business.  Citing concerns over national security, the government ordered refugees to clear towns within 14 days after the announcement and relocate to the Dzaleka camp. The decree was reversed following a provisional High Court injunction. Strict encampment orders are not a new phenomenon in Malawi's refugee history. As a former refugee child in Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp who has experienced these strict encampments, I am exploring this question as a displaced and colonized intellectual in Canada. Now that I have access to resources, English and, mostly, a language that not many people understand (ie the academic language), I hope that a practical analysis of the resurgence of these orders in the middle of a global pandemic (Covid-19) will inspire further critical thought on the refugee question in Malawi.  

What’s the best thing about being a researcher? What are the biggest challenges?

Personally, I understand a researcher as a lover of wisdom. A philosopher. Seeker of truth. He who is in search of understanding, of grounding theories running the society and world in which humans operate. Thus, I am impressed by a researcher’s open-mindedness to learn and create new knowledge and understanding the world in which we live and the things around us. Equally, I am motivated by a researcher’s ability to engage with people from different cultures, lives, and professional backgrounds. 

The biggest challenge of being a researcher is solitude – and the loneliness, felt by most researchers, when pressured to conform to society, to follow that which is traditional. In short, I would say a researcher’s challenge is to go beyond limits of man, that is: to yield the Übermensch as portrayed in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Researchers with this level of discipline are hardly shaken by storms of life. Out of chaos, new values are born. Hence, solitude is not a limit to a serious researcher but rather an opportunity to create and recreate a world in which all can live and grow to face the limits of life.

What’s the best advice anyone has given you? (this could be professional or personal)

My mentor, Dr Anh Nguyen Austen, once told me as researcher: “You can never promise too much, let others declare that your ideas changed the world or policies – scholarly humility is very important considering all the greats that wrote and thought before you.” This was a good one!

What advice would you like to give other early career researchers?

Maximize all the resources and opportunities available to you to develop your academic portfolio. 

Learn more about Gabriel’s research and work:

Check his website