Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Thesis and Thank Yous

Last week I finally got my thesis results, which included some phenomenal feedback from highly regarded academics. And today I submitted my final thesis, with corrections, to the UCT library, which means that it’s officially a wrap for my MCom in Economic Development. I will be graduating in December 🙂

I wouldn’t have made it to this point if it wasn’t for the incredible people around me who were there to get me over the line. As a thank you to everyone involved, I included an acknowledgements page on the first page of my dissertation.

Thank you once again to everyone for being part of this journey. The full acknowledgement section of my thesis is included below


Thank you to the legion of people that encouraged me and cheered me on in the process of writing this dissertation. I experienced multiple setbacks over the period when this was written, including suffering from depression and anxiety, family problems, being the victim of a robbery and various issues in completing the thesis. I made it through thanks to the unrelenting support of my incredible family and friends.

The irony of writing a dissertation on depression while suffering from it is not lost on me. However, having people around me that openly talked about mental health problems made seeking help much easier. In January last year, I started on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, which has changed my life. Thank you to my therapist and my psychiatrist for all the work they have done with me, I am eternally grateful. I encourage anyone suffering from mental health issues to speak up and not be afraid to seek help. You don’t have to fight the battle alone.

Thank you to the many friends that helped me through the tough patches and celebrated with me during the successes. A special thank you to the following, who were always there when I needed them: Jared, Holly, Janine, Steve, Hana, Samantha, Jess, Edward, Marcelle, Charlotte, Kuhle, Kay, Michael, Jonathan, Nick, Abigail, Thabo, Ahmed, Renee, Bridget, Grace, Suzie, Shelly, Dale, Alison, Tiisetso, Alexei, Anna, Tiang, Louis, Rhiannon, Cait, Steph, Ndumi, Katie and Tumi.

Thank you to my supervisor, Malcolm, for all the support with the dissertation and for being so patient with me throughout the process, especially when I was going through a difficult time last year. Your input has been invaluable and I have learnt so much from you.

Thank you to my wonderful family for all they have done for me. My dad, Lihor, for all the support he has provided me throughout my life, particularly in my academic endeavours. My brothers, Lorenzo and Fabio, for being such wonderful siblings. Thank you to my uncle Massimo, for being supportive of my dreams and thank you to Sue, Jacqui, Jules and Matt for inspiring me. Thank you to the Weston family, who have been there whenever I’ve needed them.

Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my incredible mother Debbie for everything she has done for me. You are always there when I need someone to chat to, always ready to help and you have sacrificed so much for me. You’ve experienced every part of the journey with me, from panicking at the registration line with my degree choice, to the teary phone call after the tests in 2015 and, now, to celebrating completing my masters and finding my way in life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I love you and truly would not have made it without you.

My journey as a student at UCT has come to the end after eight years, three degrees, thousands of hours studying and many late nights. Thank you to UCT for all the phenomenal memories and for shaping me into who I am today. It’s time to close this chapter of my life. As the last line of my old school song says:

“Here our ship once anchor’d and here its course was set.”

Image was  taken at the Bascule bar where I had a sneaky whiskey to celebrate the end of this journey.

Blog: 355/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Phoebe Ryan – Mine (Illenium Remix)

Thesis draft submitted!

My first complete draft of my thesis has been submitted. Many pages and many, many words.

I’ve been working for 20 hours straight so I think it’s sleepy time.


Image of my face and my thesis. Yes I have a man bun. No I don’t care that you don’t like it <3

Blog: 351/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Major Happy - Fred V & Graffi

P.s. thank you to everyone for getting me this far <3

Right where I want to be

I’m absolutely exhausted and have been struggling to find the energy to write my blog post. So instead of writing anything insightful, I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate where I am right now with regards to my work/professional life.

Today I worked in four areas:

  • Behavioural economics and psychology
  • Teaching strategic thinking (applied to development outcomes)
  • Market analysis and strategy formulation for green economic development in Cape Town
  • Social entrepreneurship

The first was done in relation to my thesis. Despite it not being quite finished yet, some of my preliminary results will be presented at a conference on Monday.

The second was done at UCT when we met to plan the exam for this semester. It’s going to be an incredibly interesting exam.

The third was in relation to my consulting work on my green economic development project.

The last area was assisting with the submissions for the Oxford “Map the System” challenge. I’m the organizer of the South African leg of the competition.

I honestly am in awe of how fortunate I am to be working on all these exciting projects at the same time. I’m exactly where I want to be and I couldn’t be happier 🙂

Image was taken at Babylonstoren a few weeks ago 🙂

Song of the day: The Quiet - Roald Velden
Blog 159/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here

The Friday Shoutout: The Solution Space

Today’s Friday shoutout goes to the MTN Solution Space at the UCT Graduate School of Business. Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing my thesis here. It’s a really great environment, and plays host to a bunch of academics, startups and professionals. They also host some really great events, such as info sessions on Impact Investing or Social Impact Bonds. As per the website:

“The Solution Space is our distinct approach and model. We create a third space between academia and industry where business can escape the pressures of today to advance new ideas through piloting cutting-edge concepts with Africa’s brightest and most creative minds, and universities can shape research and learning opportunities that are connected to relevant and real world challenges.”

There is a second solution space out in Philippi Village, which aims to connect the business school to parts of the informal and township business scene. Once I’ve finished my thesis work I’m planning on heading out there and exploring it 🙂

So thanks to the people at the Solution Space for providing such a great place to work and learn. It’s become one of my favourite places in the city 🙂

Image was taken today at the Solution Space 🙂

Song of the day: Armin van Buuren & Vini Vici feat. Hilight Tribe – Great Spirit
Thesis update: Tough day. Got a small amount of work done and arranged meeting with supervisor
Blog 93/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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Conversations with my supervisor

I chose my supervisor because I love the work that he does and the way that he thinks. Today I was reminded of that

I’ve spent much of my time in my thesis looking at my data. I’ve found correlations and relationships between a bunch of different variables.

I presented this to my supervisor, and over the course of an hour he brought my data to life. He helped me build causal pathways and understand how my information could be turned into knowledge.

What intrigued me more is how he kept emphasizing the story I needed to be telling. My thesis wasn’t just about dispensing facts. It was about weaving a narrative that drew literature and analysis together to form a complete story.

I’m feeling much more on track with my work now. And most importantly, more inspired. I can’t wait to complete it and share it with everyone.

Image is the reason I was able to get out of bed this morning. In the background is a plain croissant. In the foreground is a croissant cup filled with chocolate mouse and dark chocolate browmie bits. They’re from Jason’s. They were just as amazing as they look

Thesis update: great supervisor meeting 🙂

Blog 69/ 365.

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The “paint by numbers” approach

I’ve been really struggling to get into a rhythm with work at the moment. Part of the problem is the sheer magnitude of the task ahead. I have no idea how to approach it. I keep getting overwhelmed and end up abandoning any effort at all.

Today I remembered some advice I got from a professor at our year end function. He said that a masters thesis is often the biggest academic endevour that a person has been on in that point in their career. There is a natural tendency toward wanting perfection and a desire to have some major impact with it.

However, he pointed out that you’re unlikely to be able to make any significant impact with your masters thesis. Instead, the purpose of the thesis is act as a training ground to shape your thinking and learn how to write at that level. So instead of trying to have an outward impact, focus on the inward development.

Paint by numbers

He added that a good way to approach it was the “paint by numbers” approach. Take the task and break into small chunks, acting as the framework for you to paint in. Each chunk is separate colour that needs to be filled in, which requires its own focus. You can’t try and colour two blocks in at the same time.

In doing this, you take a 25000 word task and break it into 5-10 chunks between 2500-5000 each. And in each of these areas, you’ll be able fill in the gaps until you have your final painting.

It’s not the most creative or innovative way of doing things. But it acts as a great way to train yourself while helping you achieve your goal.

Image was taken in Greepoint park today. I got a bit down and walked there to clear my mind. Ended up getting a little sunburnt but enjoyed it nonetheless

Thesis update: frustrating day but got my colour-by-numbers layout done which is nice


Blog 61/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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Starting the thesis rush. Gently

In my last therapy session of the year, we discussed how I was going to tackle my thesis. I told my therapist that I would take the week between Christmas and New Year off. But then, on the 2nd of January I would try starting with a 8-10 hour thesis session. This was the only possible way I’d get it done by the end of the month. I’d focus on it exclusively and cut out as many distractions as possible.

She disagreed with me. She said that I’d clearly tried this approach for many years, either with studying or working, and it didn’t work. It would create a destructive cycle for me, which might look something like this:

  • I’d set an overly ambitious target for my first day of work, which would sound great in theory
  • I wouldn’t have any structures in place to ensure that it would be achieved. This includes the necessary habits, planning, feedback, commitment devices and support.
  • I’d manage a few minutes to an hour at best, because my willpower would be exhausted quickly
  • I’d then get frustrated with myself and get anxious about the situation.
  • This would lead to me preventing myself from doing other things, like socialising or exercising. This is either because I was punishing myself or I was too anxious to.
  • I’d go to bed disappointed, so I’d set an even bigger goal for the day after.
  • And then the cycle would repeat

Starting Gently 

Instead of this, my therapist suggested a different approach. This includes the following:

  • Scheduling social events first. This scared my a little to begin with, but it provides an anchor point for the day to plan around. It also ensures that I don’t isolate myself and that I have something to take my mind off the thesis when I need to. My aim is for most of these to be in the afternoon.
  • Having a thesis partner. My thesis partner gets back from holiday on 8 Jan, and we’ll work together after that. We’ll also keep each other accountable
  • Build up the habit. Instead of diving straight into superman mode, I should build up a habit of thesising. This would start with an hour on the first day and gently build up until I was able to handle it without exerting massive amounts of willpower
  • Public accountability. I’ll be sharing a tiny update of one line at the end of each blog, just so that I’m forced to be publicly accountable.

I’ve adopted this approach, and am gently going to build momentum with my thesis.

And I’m less scared than I thought as I’d be. In fact, after starting today I’m already feeling more confident about the journey

Image is of the care pack that Kayleen got me for the start of my thesising. It includes everything from stationery to emergency chocolates and a tissues to bubbly to pop when I hand in 🙂 Thanks Kay!


Thesis update: 1 hour of work done today which included planning and some reading.


Blog 57/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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My Big Juggling Act

I’m often asked how I’m able to handle so many different projects at the same time. For example, over the last few months I’ve been lecturing on two courses and doing my masters at UCT. I’m also working on two startups, undertaking a big economic impact evaluation and planning a major entrepreneurship event for next year.

The secret is that I only juggle two or three projects at any one time. Often some will remain on standby until a slot opens up. Switching between them happens on a week by week basis, depending on what is important and urgent.

An Opening in the Juggling

After signing off on the two courses last week, a bit of space has opened up. And I’m going to fill this with my Masters thesis. I’d been hoping to free up this space about two months ago, but a delay in the economic impact evaluation meant I couldn’t. So I’m left with quite a short space of time to write it.

Over the next two months or so, my blog is likely to have reflections on my thesis. My topic is centred on the relationship between mental health and economic outcomes (though it’s going to evolve as I go). I’ll also make the final thesis available on the blog for everyone to see

It’s going to be the biggest project I’ve ever worked on. And I can’t wait to pick it up and start juggling.

Image was taken at the University of Oxford earlier this year. We were staying in this street during the Oxford Global Challenge. We were runners up in the event (I’ll post a blog about this soon).

Blog 41/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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