Ghanaian research fellow, Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey, on surviving a Postdoc during a pandemic

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Postdoc research fellow, Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey
Postdoc research fellow, Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey

Dr. Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey is the Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Licence to Talk (LtT) research project (funded by the National Research Foundation) at the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies. Theodora travelled from Ghana to South Africa for her Postdoc post in March this year, arriving in Makhanda just one week before the country went into hard lockdown! Theodora’s transition into a Postdoc was nothing near to what she expected and in order to ensure her professional and personal survival, technology has had to become her greatest ally. Fortunately, Theodora is someone who has expert knowledge in communications technology and is dedicated to using it in innovative ways.

Theodora’s husband and their five children (currently in Ghana) were supposed to join her in South Africa once she had settled. But due to travel restrictions, this has not been possible. Despite the immense challenges that come with living apart, she and her family have been adjusting to their new reality with the help of technology. “Through video calls I get to see them all on a daily basis, we share smiles and laughter, and even get to coach my husband to cook the children’s favourite meals. They get excited about that,” says Theodora.

In addition to mastering motherhood over the phone, Theodora already holds a doctorate in communication from the University of South Africa (Unisa) and a master of philosophy in communication studies from the University of Ghana. Her research interests include: new media usage and appropriation, climate change communication, and now with her current Postdoc, listening in discourses and the media. She also loves to write poetry, as well as inspirational articles for one of Ghana’s leading online news portals, My Joy Online.

We caught up with Theodora to find out more about what it’s been like pursuing a Postdoc during a pandemic, and the challenges that come with working away from family. She also shares her insights into the Licence to Talk research project, the South African Covid-19 communications report she is currently working on, and why social media lurkers are her latest fascination.


Theodora, her husband, and two of their daughters at Kotoka International Airport, Accra (en route for a family vacation pre-Covid).

You are currently the Postdoctoral research fellow on the Licence to Talk research project. For those who don’t already know, what is this project about? And how have you found the project so far? 

The Licence to Talk research project uses listening theory to study how we engage in various contexts, such as public discourses, and social media and face-to-face interactions. We want to understand how much listening occurs in these contexts and how listening impacts interactions. The project has been an eye-opener for me. Through the project, I have met some wonderful people with great ideas to share. My mentor, Prof Anthea Garman, is such a phenomenal human being and a great academic. I’m learning a lot from her and am loving the experience.

What has been the most interesting discovery or topic that has emerged from your research so far?

I have always been interested in studying how people interact on social media but never did it occur to me that attention needed to be given to those whose activities are not obvious online. Until I joined this project, I knew nothing about social media lurking. I think lurking is an interesting concept that needs to be given more attention. We always consider social media users who do not openly comment on and share content as non-participants, or non-active participants. But they form a critical part of users who give attention to content shared on social media and should not be regarded entirely as non-active. They relate to content in different ways and we should be interested in knowing what those are.

You and the Licence to Talk research group are currently working on a South African Government Covid-19 communications report. Can you tell us more about this?

Our project group wants to understand how the government communicated during the pandemic and whether it was in line with development communications principles as laid out in the government communications policy document and other benchmarks. Essentially, we want to determine how effective government communications was during the pandemic and we hope that our findings and recommendations will help to better shape government risk communications generally and during a crisis.

Why is listening in today’s “loud” media landscape important? And what is one thing we could all start practicing today to become better listeners?

One thing I have learnt is that a good listener listens with empathy and not aversion. If we listen empathetically, we will learn to appreciate other people’s perspectives and find a common ground which will result in finding real solutions to problems confronting us.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in academia? And what is the thing you have been most proud of in your career to date?

Nobody in particular inspired me to pursue this career. I am, however, happy that I find myself here and most importantly, I took opportunities that came my way. One of the things I am proud of was being able to study for a PhD while still in full-time employment and with three children. The last one was born two weeks before my graduation! I am very happy I did not let things like that get in my way.


Theodora at her Unisa graduation where she obtained her doctorate in Communication.

What would you say to someone who might be considering doing their Postdoc in another African country?

Often when we think of a PhD or a Postdoc, we think about western countries. However, I believe that Africa has some world-class universities that have good opportunities for us to unearth our potential. Rhodes is one such university. There is also some wonderful, ground-breaking research going on here pertaining to our needs which I believe could be great learning opportunities for emerging scholars on the continent.

Who is your favourite writer (academic or creative) at the moment? And if you could give the world one book or paper recommendation what would it be?

I don’t think I have a favourite writer yet. If a book catches my attention and the content is good, I just go for it. I am currently reading a book called What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, and this is the writer and book I’ll recommend. I love it because every chapter calms me, makes me look at life differently, and teaches me not to hold grudges.

What would you say to young women out there who are pursuing their studies?

I enrolled to study for my MA degree (and later MPhil) at a time when I was newly married, and my baby was barely four months old. Fact is, it was my husband who enrolled me, without any prior discussions with me, because he suspected I would have given a thousand and one reasons as to why it was not a good time for me to go back to school and into a full time programme! With that, I want to encourage young women to be bold and take up opportunities, and I implore the partners of women to be supportive. I have heard people say that if you are a woman and you want to start a PhD, you might as well end your relationship. It shouldn’t be. When a woman does well, it is also her home and her community she brings the glory for. Let us all support women to be the best they can be.

We heard that you also do some creative writing in your spare time. Could you tell us a bit more about this? And would you be willing to share a poem with us?

Yes, that is one of the things that has kept me going. It is Prof Anthea Garman who introduced me to an inspiring group of creative writers. Although I am passionate about sharing informative and inspiring stories, I had never attempted creative writing. I recently submitted three of my poems to the Ons Klyntji zine and was informed that they have been accepted! It has inspired me to write more. The poem I want to share with you is about the experience of being away from my family over lockdown, when my daughter had her first menstruation.


Family time in a restaurant in Accra



By Theodora Adin-Tettey

We didn’t know when that day would be present with us,

But we knew it would come

It had always been on our minds

We discussed it

We sometimes laughed about it

Yet, he was always apprehensive

His only hope was that

He wouldn’t be left with the burden of handling it alone

When that day came


Is history repeating itself or she is bent on repeating history?

Should I say “Like mother like daughter”?

When her mum’s day came, her mum’s mother was away

Her day comes and her mum is away

Even though she may have been taught what to do

When reality sets in the story can be different


He has been given all the lessons to take charge

And he has managed to be two in one — mum and dad

Can he handle this one all by himself?

“Now, you are a big girl, so you have to be careful

Mom will tell you every other thing you need to know”

That was how far he could go


Video calls make it possible to see her face

She beams with an infectious smile

With a bit of shyness lurking around her face

No need to be shy

It is a sign of transition into womanhood

But until then

Be the child that we have always been proud of

So, you will become the woman your folks will be pleased with


Theodora and her family on a weekend visit to her parents.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I am grateful to God for the many opportunities He has given me, including this one. I believe it is His will that we do well and so we will. I also want to express my appreciation to my husband who is doing a wonderful job of taking care of our five children and always encouraging me to be the best I could be. I’m happy I have a spouse who cares about my personal development and gives me that chance to grow. My parents, especially my mum, have also been very supportive. My siblings are also a great source of encouragement. I appreciate them all very much.

*All images supplied by Theodora Adin-Tettey