PhD Series - Meet Gefra Fulane PhD Alumni in Tropical Knowledge and Management
Gefra Fulane’s research focuses on evaluating the Mozambique screening program for cervical cancer started in 2015. Her research shows that there are implementations gaps and barriers which prevent women from doing the screening.
1. Why did you start a this PhD program at Nova SBE?
I wanted to do my PhD studies in English so that I could follow discussions and contribute to the production and use of local and global knowledge – the PhD programs at Nova SBE are taught in English. I also wanted to pursue a PhD program that would provide tools to understand and act on real-life health problems affecting vulnerable populations – the PhD program in Tropical Knowledge and Management has a strong practical component that links academia, implementers and development organisations. And finally, I wanted to be in Lisbon, an amazing city where I have found the perfect balance between how I was socialised and how I want to see my future – Nova SBE is located in the Lisbon area.
2. What was the most valuable experience during your PhD?
Peer pressure. This should be seen as different from competition. At Nova SBE, I always felt that there were many other colleagues from whom I could learn more, and at the same time, my efforts, thoughts and ideas had a place to be cultivated. One immediate example I recall is an initiative I co-created with two other colleagues from ITQB and IMM to expand cervical cancer screening among female students at NOVA University. The initiative hasn’t moved into real-life (yet), but it is worth saying that I created the initiative because there was an enabling environment, peers and mentors who motivated me to think and create new things. Science is a collective path.
3. In looking back, did Nova SBE provide you with enough knowledge and skills for entering the job market?
Yes. While specialisation is important, I believe that the way world problems are interconnected, diversification and flexibility are indispensable to enter, maintain and, most importantly, to find happiness in a research-related profession. During these years at Nova SBE, I understood the significance of breaking down silos and going beyond my comfort zone. With this, I only needed a little courage, bravery and persistence to, for instance, join the United Nations system as an intern at the World Health Organization in Switzerland while doing my PhD. This and all past paths opened excellent market opportunities.
4. What would you say to students starting their PhD? (suggestions)
Enjoy your unique experience at Nova SBE with your professors, colleagues, invited stakeholders, etc. Make your friends there, and if alone take advantage of listening to your inner self, create something and reinvent yourself. There are a plenty of opportunities and connections that the faculty provides that will definitely help shape your path with passion and brilliance.
1. What is your research about? (please use non-technical language)
My research was on the barriers that limited women from accepting cervical cancer screening in Mozambique. The country is implementing screening services since 2009 for early identification and treatment of suspicious signs before they lead to cervical cancer, but only 1% of target women were screened in 2015. My research focused on the implementation gaps to understand what the main constraints to the acceptance and uptake of screening were.
2. How can the results of your research be applied to everyday life/business?
Among other findings, we found that the fact that two logics competed in the context of screening (logic of prevention of cervical cancer vs logic of preservation of social rules), and they negatively influenced women’s focus of attention and decisions to accept screening. And shame emotion related to intimacy, for example, was socially strong enough to impede women from going to a health centre to show their genitals to be observed by a health professional. So, with these findings, we came up with policy recommendations to the national cancer program, including the need to address emotional barriers and improve privacy issues in the delivery of screening.
3. How did you come up with your research idea?
We know that women are often marginalized in many settings. When I started my Ph.D. program, I looked at the Mozambican society to see what the main health concerns were that an in-depth qualitative analysis could contribute to. And I found that knowledge and tools already existed to understand and control infectious diseases. But there was a lack of solid scientific evidence to inform actions taken in the fight against cancer, particularly cervical cancer. I decided to start this Ph.D., which is related to health management, in order to somehow help vulnerable populations, live longer lives in better health.
4. Are you working on any project now?
Yes. I am working as a senior research associate on health emergency and development projects at Anthrologica, a UK-based research organisation. I am currently leading my organisation’s work under the RCCE Collective Service initiative (UNICEF, WHO, IFRC), providing technical and thematic support to improve the coordination, generation, and uptake of social science evidence to inform epidemic preparedness and response actions at the regional level and in 21 ESAR countries.