Just in time for Women’s Month celebrations, two women researchers from the University of Pretoria (UP) – Dr Thobela Nkukwana and Dr Tafadzwa Mushonga – have been awarded places in the prestigious Horizons Institute Crucible Programme for 2023/2024. The Crucible Programme is presented by the Horizons Institute, based at the University of Leeds, and consists of a series of in-person and online events over a six-month period, which bring together early- and mid-career academics from different disciplines to allow them to expand and strengthen their networks, develop their research ideas together, and apply for funding to further explore these ideas.
Crucible Programme awardee Dr Tafadzwa Mushonga is a research fellow at the UP Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) and is currently leading the Environmental Humanities Programme alongside Professor James Ogude. Dr Mushonga joined the Centre as a postdoctoral fellow in 2019 after completing her PhD in Sociology at the University of Cape Town, which focused on environment, society, and violent environmentalism. Dr Mushonga initiated the Centre’s Environmental Publics Seminar Series during her postdoctoral fellowship and has been instrumental in building the Centre’s programme around the theme “The Poetics and Politics of Extraction and the Environment”, which published an edited volume in early 2023.
Upon receiving news of this award, Dr Mushonga happily responded: “I am excited to be part of this year’s Horizons Crucible Programme. I think it is a great opportunity to collaboratively think with other researchers from across the world about how we can use our diverse knowledge, disciplines, and experiences to tackle the complex challenges of our time. The goals of the Horizons Crucible Programme align with our Environmental Humanities project at CAS, which also aims to take interdisciplinarity and problem-solving beyond university faculties and disciplines to the broader environmental publics. I look forward to the experience and of course, to the new research networks that will emerge.”
The second Crucible Programme awardee, Dr Thobela Nkukwana, is a senior lecturer in poultry science at the Department of Animal Sciences at UP. She is an animal scientist and trained in commercial agriculture, which has been the major focus of her research and training of students. Dr Nkukwana is sub-editor for the South African Journal of Animal Sciences, Editorial Board member, sub-editor of Welwitschia International Journal of Agricultural Sciences, and a reviewer for several high-impact journals. Teaching and research are her passion. Having worked in various private-sector and academic contexts, she has become keenly aware that agricultural interventions cannot be the same for commercial producers and smallholder farmers (particularly in rural communities). Her research interests have thus shifted towards scaling innovation for sustainable livestock production at the level of the community through knowledge sharing and practical application of what can work with locally available resources, while creating awareness on the land-water-energy nexus, animal welfare, and biosecurity controls.
Asked about this opportunity to participate in the Crucible Programme, Dr Nkukwana said, “I want my knowledge to have relevant application across different populations. This programme will provide such learning for me, and as a collective, I believe we will do great work. I am invigorated and very excited to be part of this programme. It is a great opportunity for me, and I plan to learn and engage with the team as much as possible towards better outcomes for all who will be involved.”
The Horizons Institute emphasises that mutual, reciprocal learning is central to the Crucible Programme. Participants must be open to departing from their usual ways of doing research and transforming both their individual approach and their broader field through transdisciplinary collaboration. The programme specifically aims to bring together academics who are enthusiastic about developing innovative research by integrating approaches, methodologies, and datasets in innovative and novel ways.