Conversation with Dr. Annet Kutesa, PhD graduand at the Makerere University 73rd Graduation Ceremony

One of the twelve (12) PhD graduands presented by the College of Health Sciences at Makerere University’ 73rd graduation ceremony is Dr. Annet Kutesa.  She is a Senior Lecturer and Dean-School of Dentistry, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University (MakCHS).

The School of Dentistry formerly the Department of Dentistry is the largest in Uganda; it was elevated to school status in 2022 making it the newest School of MakCHS, in addition to the School of Medicine, School of Public Health, School of Health Sciences, and the School of Biomedical Sciences.

A dental surgeon by training, Dr. Kutesa shared her academic journey, inspiration and advice for upcoming dentists and academicians.

Dr. Kutesa’ humble beginnings can be traced from Ntenjeru Village, Mukono South Constituency, Mukono District in Central Uganda. She is the last born in a family of seven (7), 4 girls and 3 boys; born to the late Hannington Ssebuliba, a Clinical Officer and the late Joyce Namutebi Ssebuliba a Midwife. For her education, she attended Gayaza Junior School for primary education; attended Gayaza High School for O’Level and Mukono Secondary School for A’Level.  Dr. Kutesa joined Makerere University for her undergraduate education and qualified with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery; she completed her Masters at the University of the Western-Cape, South Africa and now the PhD in Health Sciences (research topic: Forensic age estimation based on third molar eruption and development for Ugandan adolescents and young girls) from Makerere University.


Looking back on her journey leading to attaining the PhD, Dr. Kutesa shared that she started her studies in 2015. With a smile, she said ‘it has been a very long journey filled with joy and accomplishment, although often times there are tears, anxiety and can really be stressful’. She added, ‘I am filled with gratitude to my supervisors, Assoc. Professor Joan Kalyango, and Assoc. Professor Charles Rwenyonyi for their valuable time rendered during my PhD journey. Like many others, I count myself fortunate to have passed through their hands’.

Dr. Kutesa is also grateful to her mentors Dr. Kamulegeya Adriane and Dr. Catherine Mwesigwa for the support; colleagues and faculty at Makerere University, College of Health Sciences, especially those at the School of Dentistry for accommodating and supporting through her PhD studies; the study team led by Grace Nabaggala for a job well done; Prof essor Sewankambo who mentored and nurtured me through the NURTURE grant.  He taught me how to think critically, and the love for research. I benefited tremendously from the mentorship as a NURTURE Fellow from the various trainings on the programme.

Above all I thank the ALMIGHTY GOD, for the gift of life and love, without which this PhD would not have been accomplished’ she added.

Dr. Kutesa shared useful points on surviving the PhD journey, work and life:


Set goals

Goal setting can be done in all spheres of life like spiritual, financial, social among others; here I concentrate on academic goals. The bible says that without a vision people perish! It is thus critical to know which direction one would like to take after their programme. It is also critical to know your why you want to undergo the PhD training. Would you like to be a teacher, researcher, clinician or would you rather work in industry? Those can be your guiding questions before you start your program and actually throughout the process. Each of the aforementioned would require you to acquire specific skills; for instance, if you're interested in working at a University as an academician then publishing in the top journals, attending key conferences in your field, in addition to grant writing become very important. One can then set strategies on how to complete the PhD and achieve their goals.


Establish a routine

It’s crucial to stay on track. The best option here is to create a schedule to follow – and commit to following it. Do the required work on schedule. Devote segments of the routine for research and reading pertinent literature in your field. Add time in your schedule to include sound sleep, good nutrition, exercise, socializing and recreation. One has to remember that obligations such as family, socializing, meeting with study groups and peers is important to build a realistic schedule so you won’t work yourself into an early grave.


Build effective networks

Build networks from the very beginning of the PhD program. One will meet many people and can grow partnerships with working professionals, educators, junior faculty, and peers that contribute to your evolving knowledge base. Take advantage of online communities as part of expanding your networking. Create your professional/research profile at places like LinkedIn, ResearchGate etc. Speak with presenters at seminars, connect with authors and participate in career groups outside your usual sphere at the university.


Get mentors

Mentors are persons one can share successes and struggles during your journey. They may be experts in your field or people that have gone through the PhD process and not necessarily in your field. They should be easy to talk to and can maintain a productive and respectful relationship during the time you’ll be in the program. Caution! Not all accomplished professors make good advisors, some may be too wrapped up in publishing or attending conferences to meet with you. You should leave your mentoring sessions feeling more focused, energetic about your research and dissertation, and armed with strategies for accomplishment.


Learn how to deal with rejection

Rejection in a PhD program is normal especially considering the competion for funding, fellowships and publications.  It is critical that one doesn’t take rejection or criticism personally, this is just a process to greatness. There will always be someone better than you and it’s important to remember that you are walking your own journey. Always remember your goals and aspirations. When your manuscript is rejected by a journal, cry a little (it is ok to cry!) pick yourself up, dust yourself and move on, look for another suitable journal and submit it. Life is good!