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Dr Joy Maina – WABER Conference
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Dr Joy Maina


Dr Joy Maina

Department of Architecture, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria

Dr Joy Maina receiving her Best Paper Prize in August 2015. The title of her paper that won the award was “Architects and interdisciplinary research: reflections from ethnographic and measured fieldwork


Can you please give us a brief profile of yourself – including where you work, academic background, research interests, and personal interests?

I am an architect trained at ABU and the University of Nottingham, UK. I lecture in ABU where I teach mainly Research Methods and Basic Design at undergraduate and postgraduate levels alongside managing other administrative posts. My research interests include Spatial qualities of the Built Environment, Human behaviour and spatial cognition, Housing research as well as Architecture Education. I enjoy music and sewing.

How would you describe your academic/professional experiences so far? How did you get into academia? What courses do you teach and what does your job entail? What is your typical day in the office like?

My academic experiences have been interesting but slow by my personal yardstick. I underestimated the amount of hard work one needs to truly become grounded in research after the doctorate. Am still learning.

I got into academia by serendipity I guess. I should however mention that my mother was an English teacher, so I sort of grew with an academic background.

As mentioned earlier, I teach Basic Design Studio in the first year and Research Methods in the final undergraduate class. This is further extended and refined in the MSc Thesis Design Report class. I also teach Quantitative research approaches for PhD. The main thrust of my work involves postgraduate supervision at both MSc and PhD levels. My typical day in the office: I go in between 7:30-8:00am when I have lectures, otherwise it’s an hour later as I use the morning to catch up on my personal research. The rest of the day usually proceeds with either supervisory or administrative meetings until closing time at 4pm. There’s rarely a real in between. To keep from burning out, I usually take an academic day off each week.

How did you first hear about the WABER Conference and why did you decide to attend?

I learnt about the conference from colleagues on returning from my doctorate in 2013. I decided to attend because of the high accolades it received from previous participants.

What was your experience of attending the WABER Conference? How did you benefit from attending the conference? How was the experience of arranging funding to attend the conference?

I had a fabulous time. I learnt a lot from listening to other participants. It’s amazing what one learns when open to new ideas. It also reveals the depth of intelligent people around. My experience with funding was personal . . . My colleagues and I self-sponsored ourselves. My mom was travelling to Ghana so that made things a bit easier as I detest travelling alone.

You won the best paper prize. Can you describe how you felt when you won the prize?

To be honest, it was a complete surprise! I didn’t see that coming. It is humbling to think what I wrote had that much merit. Interestingly, the paper accrues from discussions with my external examiners during my viva. In essence it wasn’t part of my initial thesis. Am forever indebted to Dr. Ian Cooper and Dr. Nicole Porter who insisted that was perhaps one of my greatest contributions to knowledge. I acknowledge this at the end of the paper. It was also so gratifying to have my mother with me in Accra. Parents, I find are deeply sentimental about such achievements. It’s my first paper prize, and I cherish it a lot.

What impact did it have on you? How has the recognition and winning the prize influenced your academic development since the award?

Impact . . . I can’t rest on my oars. So much is expected. The influence on my academic development has been gratifying in that one’s colleagues take you seriously. It has also meant that am given more responsibilities because of the perception of a high capacity to deliver quality work especially in teaching and admin work involving production of technical reports and editorial reviews. Am currently a reviewer of several journals/conferences as well as the secretary and assistant editor of ARCHISEARCH, International Journal of Architecture and the Built Environment.

What current research papers / projects are you working on at the moment?

Am currently looking into qualities of informal learning spaces, human movement and behaviour patterns around complex institutional buildings as well as human behaviour in terms of energy savings in housing.

What are your future aspirations and what do you need to overcome to get there?

I aspire to mentor and pass on as much as I’ve learnt to my students and younger colleagues. This has often meant taking on more work and going the extra mile to prod students in writing good quality research papers which I review and scrutinise. I find that writing papers with younger colleagues exposes them faster to the tenets of research. It is also a beautiful way to mentor someone in life away from academic pursuits. As my way of mentoring, one of my students usually presents a joint paper at any conference I attend.

What advise will you give to early career academics aspiring to develop their academic profile to an international level?

Know your onions, know your stuff . . . Obtaining a higher degree especially a doctorate isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s just the beginning. Ground yourself firmly in the research area of your choice as soon as possible because the higher one goes, the less time one has for research and personal development. It’s embarrassing to reach the top empty where it matters.

From your experience what are the most difficult challenges facing you and other built environment academics in Africa?

Lack of adequate sponsorship and mentoring. The first is unfortunate, truly a crippling factor. Most of the conferences I have attended were from personal savings and effort. I find it very sad that Africa is yet to fully recognise and embrace research as the key to national development in part because of the second issue, poor mentoring. Those ahead of us can only give what they have in ways they’ve been taught. The onus rests with us the younger generation to blaze paths for the future generation in terms of high quality research and forays into policies at national levels that influence better funding for research.

Can you suggest some of the practical ways you have used to overcome the challenges? 

Writing research proposals for national grants, ensuring high quality research in international journals, networking with other like minded professionals.

What is your idea of good research and how can our universities in Africa support their academics in doing and publishing good research?

My idea of good research is one that is underpinned by theory from literature and offers practical/pragmatic recommendations towards the improvement of daily life. Good research ought to be well grounded in existing literature, otherwise, how does one justify the problem? My problem with many papers I review from Nigeria in particular and Africa in general is that the problem statement is not made clear in part because of weak theoretical and literature reviews. Consequently, we often miss important theoretical implications and practical recommendations. Hopefully, we will improve in this regard.