NRF rates UP molecular biologist/virologist as C1 researcher

Posted on May 31, 2024

Professor Celia Abolnik of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria (UP) is one of several UP academics who made the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) rating list earlier this year. Prof Abolnik is a molecular biologist/virologist with a special interest in avian diseases.

“As the SARChI [South African Research Chairs Initiative] Chair in Poultry Heath and Production (the only such chair in the faculty), I am mandated to investigate and develop tools to mitigate diseases that have an impact on the health of the national flock, on which our food security depends, and those that may affect human health too,” she explains.

The NRF’s C category recognises established researchers who have a sustained record of productivity in their field.

The C1 rating was a level up from C2 at the last round. Prof Abolnik says this time around, her research focused on accomplishments in avian influenza, a disease that has implications for both animal and human health.

“One mistake I made in the previous round of rating, which resulted in me staying at the same level, was to be too broad in the scope of my work; I work on many different poultry diseases,” she explains.

According to the foundation, its goal is to create innovative funding instruments, advance research career development, increase public science engagement and establish leading-edge research platforms that will transform the scientific landscape and inspire a representative research community to aspire to global competitiveness. 

Prof Abolnik adds that being rated by the NRF can be a daunting process and to get onto the first rung of the ladder is the most difficult part.

“A young or emerging researcher needs to have a body of work that was published independently of a PhD supervisor,” she says. “In my case, I had worked independently on my PhD from the outset as a researcher at the Agricultural Research Council-Onderstepoort Veterinary Research institute. My supervisor was only appointed fairly close to me submitting my thesis. I had five or six peer-reviewed journal papers already out by then.”

As for her career, Prof Abolnik is looking forward to seeing how far she and other researchers can push plant-expressed vaccine technology for animal diseases.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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