BUILDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF RESEARCHERS

Research is driven by people and, without a good pipeline of curious, well-educated and ambitious young academics who have the time and the support to invest in their work, the quality of UCT’s research will dwindle over time.

For this reason, one of UCT’s strategic goals is to consolidate and expand its current efforts to nurture the next generation of academics. Focusing on this key objective will strengthen and promote UCT as a primary site for developing young scholars in and for Africa.

Through a platform of strategic project delivery, UCT is developing research and teaching skills among a group of postgraduate students and newly appointed young staff.

The university has already implemented various programmes to help promote this particular objective. These include the Emerging Researcher Programme (ERP); the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC); Supervision Training and the Mellon Mentors’ programmes. These are co-ordinated in the Research Office. Another project, the University Science, Humanities and Engineering Partnerships in Africa (USHEPiA), is a staff development programme that provides co-supervision to academic staff from five other African universities. This is currently in its second cycle and is upheld nationally as a highly effective model for developing capacity on the continent. In the Health Sciences, the clinical research programme contributes towards building the next generation for that faculty in particular.

Associate Professor Justin O'Riain of the Baboon Research Unit received a R150,000 grant from the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC) to undertake a project, Pioneering sustainable solutions to humanbaboon conflict in the Cape Peninsula: local answers for a continental problem. Here he is with his team, gathered for a workshop. They include researchers from Kenya, the University of Venda, UK, USA and South Africa, as well as postgraduate students Tali Hoffman, Bentley Kaplan, Matthew Lewis, David van Beuningen and Esme Beamish. The workshop further included the Peninsula Baboon Conservation Authorities (SANParks and City of Cape Town) and the current service provider (Nature Conservation Corporation) to ensure that academic data are translated directly into improved management and conservation strategies for the local baboon population. 
 

While the projects have a pragmatic and practical application, they are also designed to instil a passion for academia in the next generation of academics. This is a challenging agenda, especially when three key disciplines – Economics, Civil Engineering and Infectious Diseases – find it difficult to attract students who can and want to resist the pull of the lucrative private sector to take up academic careers.

To address the challenge, UCT has implemented Growing the Next Generation of Academics, an initiative that will be delivered under a single virtual umbrella with a particular focus on women and black academics. This project is delivered in partnership with three other African institutions – the University of the Witwatersrand; the University of Makerere (Uganda) and the University of Ghana (Legon).

The project aims to develop a group of trainee academics with the intention of providing a pool of high-quality candidates for academic positions at UCT and elsewhere in Africa (see Figure 8 below for demographics). The university will build the pools by creating tailor-made postgraduate training hubs in each selected academic area. The Carnegie Corporation grant will provide 38 doctoral bursaries and seven postdoctoral fellowships.

The training models in the three selected areas will aim to entice bursary recipients into academic careers by giving them a taste of academic life beyond graduate studies. In parallel, using funding sources outside the Carnegie Corporation, the University will put in place a range of strategies to retain these young academics.

The project begins in 2011. A total of $2.5 million has been awarded over two years. Through the rigorous recruitment process, UCT will identify all candidates registered to begin their studies in the first year, and ensure that every candidate successfully meets the initiative’s demographic imperatives.Additional funds will be necessary to sustain and expand on this project.

 
Figure 8: Carnegie Recruitment Demographics
 
 

 

Feedback from academics through ERP and PERC

“I was elated to find out that my second round of ERP funding was successful! It really takes a lot of stress off me. And I can't tell you how much it means that UCT is willing to back my PhD - the message I get is that UCT is saying ‘That's great – we'llhelp where we can.’ Thank you so much for your part in this. And thank you for always being positive and helpful! I really have learnt a lot under ERP.”

“I am indebted to your kind consideration in helping me. You have been thorough in your comments and I have followed your instructions. I think that I have now presented my research project in a much better way”.

“Thanks so much for your help over the years in getting me established as a researcher, despite my relatively late start in research and my interdisciplinary interests. Without the Thuthuka and Emerging Researchers funding to give me a bit of a boost, I would definitely not have felt ready to embark on these larger projects.”

“A team I put together applied for and was glad to receive a grant from the UCT Programme for Enhancement of Research Capacity. Our nascent research theme of sustainable habitat innovations was synergised by PERC's emphasis on new Afro-centric epistemologies, multidisciplinarity, merging of academia and practice, and collaboration with another African university.

“PERC's grant is enabling my team to engage with design epistemology through an applied participatory design project in an informal settlement in Khayelitsha. By thus being rooted in Africa, and with input from academic colleagues elsewhere in Africa, the PERC grant will facilitate my team to contribute an Afro-centric perspective to design epistemological discourse.”

“[The PERC Co-ordinator’s] engagement with my book project has been an inspiration, providing a rigorous, critical, generous and caring context in which he has helped me consolidate the strands of my research into an increasingly coherent argument sustainable in and appropriate to a book-length project. This type of step is crucial for my own intellectual energy, direction and career, and also deeply challenging and personal. I have thus welcomed his engagement and critical ear, attuned to the debates at the heart of my project. I feel very lucky to part of the growing PERC programme and I hope that increasing support for mid-career academic intellectual development is possible at our university.”

“I would like to express my appreciation as an emerging researcher who is now in a post-doctoral phase for the level of support that I have consistently received from PERC[and the ERP]. It is difficult, intellectually and emotionally, to achieve one's doctorate late in one's career.  My achievement was greatly assisted by the strategic intellectual and planning support givenby PERC. This provided an independent stable base from which I could remain focused on my thesis. More recently I received excellent support from PERC as [the Co-ordinator] has mentored me in planning my future research initiatives and in writing the book of my thesis. He assisted me in establishing networks outside of UCT and I am now linked into a new area of academic expertise, and a more global forum which offers the possibility of better funding and academic support. I now have new horizons and different prospects and am excited about what happens next.”

 

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