Build Back Better

Usually websites of PhD students display only accomplishments. We don’t talk about our struggles enough.

I started my PhD at the London School of Economics in 2016. Since the beginning, I experienced debilitating physical and mental health issues. But I kept everything inside. I had to complete my coursework, pass my exams, work on my research proposal, start writing papers, attend seminars, do consultancy projects, and work as a research assistant. I had to. I couldn’t tell anyone how much I was struggling. Take a break? Listen to my body? See a specialist? Nope, I had to keep going. I just had to.

The levees broke and in 2018, I stopped my PhD. I took two-and-a-half years away. I started by addressing the body’s needs, and learned I had an autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease. Addressing the celiac certainly helped, but there was something deeper holding me back. I looked inward: I had struggled with my mental health since an early age, and next focused time and attention on the mind. After years of consulting with multiple therapists, I learned I had obsessive-compulsive disorder and learned invaluable tools to start to make my mind my friend instead of my enemy. This allowed me to look even deeper. I began to finally change my sense of self, who I believed I was as a person and how I relate to the world. These two-and-a-half years of self-discovery was perhaps the most rewarding time of my life. Thanks to the support of my friends and family, I started to put the puzzle pieces of my life back together.

Kintsugi – the Japanese art of repairing broken items with gold, to highlight and celebrate the breaks. Image by MARTYSEB from Pixabay

I returned full-time to the PhD in early 2021. I started working on a chapter of my PhD which investigates the socio-economic impacts of an extreme flood on households in Nigeria. I soon began to realize the parallels between my work and personal journey. One of the concepts when it comes to recovery from a natural disaster is “build back better”, when a crisis wipes out physical and social infrastructure but presents an opportunity to build stronger structures and institutions to be more resilient when the next storm hits. My research aims to support this process by informing the design of social protection programs to support households after a disaster, and providing guidance on the long-term planning of communities towards less risky areas.

This purpose extends to my personal life as well. I am on a journey to build my body, mind, and sense of self to a more conscious state than they were before my personal crisis, and to share my experience with others to support my colleagues and the wider community. I founded a student-led group to support mental health and well-being among PhD students at LSE. I am passionate about sharing my struggles and journey with others going through challenging times. We don’t talk about our struggles enough, whether it be in the workplace, academia, or everyday life. But it is through these conversations that we learn the most about ourselves and our colleagues, and we create a more welcoming space for everyone. We also learn and become inspired to shape our own journeys and grow together.

If you are are reading this and struggling, feel free to reach out to me at I know what it feels like to struggle and suffer silently. You’re not alone.

Your PhD is important.

You are more important.

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