The tassel was worth the hassle: on running the final lap of the PhD marathon

The tassel was worth the hassle: on running the final lap of the PhD marathon

ماضٍ فيَّ حُكمُك

عَدْلٌ فيَّ قضاؤُك

“I was able to push from within, I had an innate desire to succeed.”

Joan Benoit

A bit before I was born and on February 1984, astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart were the two men ever to walk untethered in space for the first time. Six months later on Earth, women were allowed to run the marathon at the Olympic Games for the first time. In both instances, people questioned whether it was physically possible for the participants to complete the exercise.

Up until 1984, the marathon had been limited to male participation only. That year’s Olympic Games brought a huge change by allowing women to compete in the most torturous of athletic events. As you can imagine, there was a lot of controversy around this decision. Some public figures were coming out arguing “it’s not a place for women”. That women can’t do it because they are not built for that kind of endurance.

Now think for a second about the women that enrolled in that first competition. They were brave just for doing so, in those times, but most importantly, they felt they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They had to perform well to prove the Olympic committee that indeed women were worthy of the decision.

a hush fell as the stadium’s giant screens showed the leader of the first women’s Olympic marathon entering the tunnel into the L.A. Coliseum . For a few seconds. she was invisible to the waiting crowd, and to the world at their televisions. Then she ran out of the dark tunnel on to the track, an unassuming figure in her oversized white cap, but still bouncy, confident, and strong after 26 searing miles. And the crowd roared.

27-year-old Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic marathon.

Now, looking back, I see that people kind of identify with you because they see the struggle and they see that if you really set your mind to, you overcome a lot of obstacles.

Gabriela Andersen-Schiess

One other key thing historically happened in that race, 24 minutes after Benoit finished. Gabriela Andersen-Schiess, an American-based Swiss runner, suffered extreme heat exhaustion, and staggered around her final lap on the edge of collapse. There were fears the episode would set women’s running back, reviving talk that the distance was simply too long for women and could cause gynecological damage. But in the context of the supreme achievements of the 43 other finishers, no one made such an interpretation.

Andersen-Schiess was 39 years old and she knew this was probably her first and last chance to compete at the Olympic Games. So she was determined to make the best out of it, even if she wouldn’t win.

Andersen-Schiess was never expected to win, or even place well, but she went into the historic race expecting to finish strong. Instead, with the smothering heat of Los Angeles in August and running straight by the last water station, Andersen-Schiess was fading fast. Her mind was clear and she knew she only had 300m to go, but her body wouldn’t listen. A medic rushed over to help but she waved him away, determined to finish at any cost.

At the end of January 2020, after several years of hardwork, transcontinental  travels and dedication, I have finally defended my PhD. The defense consisted of thirty minutes of presentation, twenty five minutes of public disputation and more than forty minutes of a closed / private disputation.

Preparing for the defense was a crazy last mile. I am not ashamed to admit that I struggled with my last mile as much as Andersen-Schiess did. Getting through the PhD journey left an undeniable footprint on me. I’m talking about several tiresome and stressful years and how most of my hair turned grey in between. As always, I am here to share with you some of the special moments of my career and research journey.

Once a Bonner.. Forever a Bonner

After a series of bureaucratic procedures, I was finally invited to defend my thesis. That meant I had to travel back to Bonn and take a couple of days off from work. I had split paths with ZEF and assumed another role (I shall write a separate blog post about that later) a couple of months earlier.
The fact that I had already left Bonn meant that I no longer reside in one of the Bonner Studierendenwerk student studios, but it meant that I could check out Bonn this time from a visitor’s view. If you are looking for a centrally located and a comfy place to stay, then I totally recommend the new boutique Black Hotel. You will like it there.

I was happy to see my dear friend Tasneem waiting for me at the airport with a beautiful flower bouquet. Since the day we met at ZEF, Tasneem became a sister to me & was there for me at all times and at all costs.


Junior researchers… Its not that bad.. Chill and don’t take life too seriosly.

ACTHUNG!!!!!! Wir haben ein insekten verkostung

Folke Dammann and Snack-Insects who were our partners and providers during our entire journey with edible insects sent us insect snacks parcel to enjoy during my defense.

Go BIG or go home

Post the defense, I celebrated together with my dear colleagues and friends Alma, Yesim and Tasneem. A fancy Thai dinner, two rounds of drinks, unwrapping presents and laughing about the times we spent along the years. Grateful for such a memorable farewell and an all girls night out.

Post-defence clearance: Exiting the Univerity like a LADY

After the defense, I had less than 24 hours to call it quits with both ZEF and the University of Bonn. I made sure to settle everything and clear my accounts and get all the signatures required to prove that. After returning my library card and deleting my library membership, I felt a bit sad. I stood in front of the library’s main doors and remembered the many and long hours I spent desperately trying my best to progress with my PhD thesis. I took a few minutes and stood still in front of the river Rhine. The Rhine and I have been neighbors since the first time I arrived in Germany as a master student. Today, I am not that far, I always knew that both the Rhine and the Spree are connected to each other.

I fully understand why the Germans decied to call a PhD supervisor a “Doktorvater

In old German costumes, one’s PhD supervisor was called the “Doktorvater” (doctor father). However, someone told me that German students no longer accept the term since it smacks of patriarchy. I chose to interpret it in a different way. I love the fact that Prof. Christian Borgemeister will always be “mein doktorvater” (doctor father) and I his “doktorkind” (doctor child). I will never forget the warmth and kindness of my supervisor, his full support and engagment as well as his desire to see me earn my doctorate. Prof. Arnold van Huis, my co-supervisor was also there for me patiently guiding me and improving the level and quality of my work. Honored to have had you with me in this journey.

I would also like to thank Prof. Eva Youkhana (Head of Examination Committee) and Prof. Mathias Becker (Member of Examination Committee) for their time and contribution to a lively discussion and disputation.

I guess the looks say it all
with Prof. Christian Borgemeister
The tassel was worth the hassle
with Prof. Christian Borgemeister
with the legendary entomologist Prof. Arnold van Huis

I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my colleagues and friends at ZEF: Ms.Alma van der Veen, Ms.Yesim Pacal, Mr.Sebastian Eckert and Mr.Andreas Haller who supported me and helped me present my research and activities in creative and popular ways. Also, my very esteemed mentor Dr. Guido Luechters who devoted a lot of time teaching me how to analyze my data using several statistics packages. Dr. Guido was always patient and helpful. Thank you for attending my defense and for cheering for me. Ms. Sabine Aengenendt-Baer, Ms. Maike Retat-Amin, Dr. Günther Manske, Ms. Anna Yuwen, Mr. Max Voit and Ms. Anna Grimminger who contributed greatly to my success and enriched my journey at ZEF. Of course, on this day it was not possible for me to not remember my supervisors and colleagues in Nairobi. My primary supervisor Dr. Fathiya Khamis who recently won a TWAS prestigious award was more than just a mentor, but rather a sister and a dear friend. Our very much adored and beloved senior scientist Dr. Samira Mohamed, our leader Dr. Sunday Ekesi and the entire crew of icipe’s Plant Health Unit, Chemical and Behavioral Ecology Unit and the Arthropod Pathology Lab.

Finally, I would like to thank my dear family for their love and support. To my beloved father, who believed in me even during the times I failed to believe in myself, I am where I am today because of the sacrifices you made to help me turn my dreams into reality.

Thank you my dear father for not clipping my wings and for giving me the liberty and trust to pursue my dreams far away.

الكلاب تعوي والقافلة تسير

: الحمدلله والشكر له اذ من علي ووفقني للحصول – وبتقديرمرتبة الشرف العليا – على كل من

الدكتوراة في العلوم من كلية العلوم الزراعية بجامعة بون
الدكتوراة الدولية في الدراسات التنموية من مدرسة بون للدراسات العليا في البحوث التنموية بجامعة بون

قُلْ مُوتُوا بِغَيْظِكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ

يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ

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