Cambridge worth a visit for research and leisure: Reflecting on my short stay in Cambridge

Kings College1

Engida Esayas Dube (PhD)

Cambridge-Africa Visiting Research Fellow, 20 February to 20 March 2022

Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge

I hold a PhD in Geography and Environmental Studies (Specialising in Socioeconomic Development Policy and Planning) from Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Dilla University, Ethiopia. My focus area of research is broadly on Urban Studies. Currently, I am a country co-investigator on the Protracted Displacement in an Urban World Project funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund programme, the Ikea Foundation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Bernard van Leer Foundation and led by the Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) in London. From January to June 2019, I held a visiting fellowship position in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University under Urban Studies Foundation International Fellowship Scheme.

As an aspirant, I usually keep a watchful eye on the latest research and academic opportunities. Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA Research Fund is one of these opportunities. It is an initiative by the University of Cambridge to foster collaborations between African researchers with their Cambridge counterparts. I came to know Cambridge-Africa two years ago when I saw some African who won it in collaboration with Cambridge academics. As I saw the 2021/22 call advertised on the university webpage, I decided to apply. So, I did some profile research on some Cambridge staff, found Dr Minna Sunikka-Blank, Associate Professor and Deputy of the Department, to collaborate on the project. When I received an email from ALBORADA about the success of our application, I was very surprised as I never thought we would be successful.

I stayed for one month (20 February, 2022 to 20 March 2022) hosted at the Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge. During my stay, they accommodated me at Churchill College. During my stay, I interacted with Dr Minna Sunikka-Blank, Associate Professor, and Deputy Head of the Department. My stay was not only fruitful but also enjoyable. It is very fruitful because, I’m able to work with Cambridge academic. It is enjoyable because Cambridge offers many options for visiting and entertainment, most of which are free or with reasonable charges. The well-equipped gymnasium at Churchill College is free for visitors. I took advantage of this opportunity as well. I have also visited Cambridge Botanic Garden, in a walking distance from the city centre, The Fitzwilliam Museum, and Kings College, the biggest college among 31 colleges of the university. Cambridge has lots of parks for outdoor leisure activities.

Dr Minna organized a meeting on the 16th of March 2022 at the Department of Architecture. Staff, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students took part in the meeting. I briefly discussed the university and departmental profile, research tradition, priorities and potentials for collaboration outlining areas and possibilities for collaboration between Dilla University and Cambridge researchers. The issues raised during the meeting include research milieu, funding issues, integrated housing development project, informal economy, informal settlements and livelihoods, low-income housing and energy transition, gender and informality, to mention a few. I gave a very short but brief explanation of the issues raised. We finally agreed to share relevant published resources and advices for Doctoral students of Geography and Architecture doing their research on the above issues. On the 17th of March, I met Dr Tabitha Mwangi, Cambridge-Africa Programme Manager and had an excellent discussion on the project-related issues, and exchanged views while having lunch in a restaurant on the side of Cam River.

The Cambridge-Africa Fund has granted me with the exceptional opportunity to visit Cambridge for one month for research collaboration while visiting its well preserved, rich heritage. As said above, I have never thought of visiting the university for academic or research purposes. But Cambridge-Africa made it possible for me. It helped me to visit the finest university on the planet, collaborate with Cambridge academics, boosted my confidence as an early career researcher. The fund opened the door for me to work across disciplines on urban issues in the Sub-Saharan Africa and Ethiopia in particular. I am very much inspired by the opportunity the university has created for African researchers and am looking forward to strengthening collaboration on common pressing research issues.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Cambridge. But, my time in Cambridge is over for now. I feel privileged to be part of Cambridge-Africa, collaborate with Cambridge academics while making the most of the city during my stay. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Cambridge-Africa for this wonderful opportunity, Department of Architecture for hosting and Dr Minna Sunnika-Blank for generosity, kindness and all the support provided during the whole process. As I reflect on my stay in Cambridge, I can urge people in my institution and network to apply by sharing the information about Cambridge-Africa (ALBORADA) fund.