University of Pretoria honours its top researchers at annual Academic Achievers’ Awards

Posted on October 28, 2021

The University of Pretoria (UP) celebrated its top researchers at its 21st annual Academic Achievers’ Awards ceremony, held virtually on 28 October 2021. 

The awards are hosted annually by the university to acknowledge the work of UP’s academics, who increasingly ensure that their research helps to solve “real-life problems” and has a transformative impact on South African and global society. Due to the environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the second time the awards were hosted online.

The evening celebrated 141 winners across nine categories. This includes 119 academics who were acknowledged for being included on the list of the National Research Foundation (NRF)-rated scholars or for the outstanding work they had done over the past year. There were 3 A-rated researchers, 25 B-rated researchers, 74 C-rated researchers and 17 Y-rated researchers honoured. 

In his address, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe noted the successes that the university has enjoyed, despite the pandemic creating continued global uncertainty. “This is the second consecutive year that this awards ceremony is taking place in a hybrid mode, as COVID-19 is still a feature in our lives. While there is a campaign to get our population vaccinated, UP has risen to the challenge again in the face of this global health crisis, by being one of the first in the higher education sector to open a vaccination site at the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Prinshof campus. This site services students and staff, and the bookings are easy to make,” he said.

The event’s keynote speaker, South African epidemiologist and A-rated researcher Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, used her address to reflect on the past 18 months and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’ve also seen the importance of science in society,” she said. “The scientific knowledge that has been generated in an unprecedented timeline has set a new bar in terms of knowledge generation.  In less than a year we have come up with new diagnostics, new treatment modalities, and six new vaccines. That is amazing. It has highlighted not only the importance of science in society, but also has increased public engagement in science, public appreciation of science, and what is possible.” She also took the opportunity to congratulate UP’s researchers on their achievements. 

Among the notable award winners of the evening were the recipient of the Chancellor Award: Research, which is awarded to a researcher in recognition of exceptional achievement in the field of research aimed at the advancement of science, and the associated promotion of the interests of the University of Pretoria.

Professor Brenda Wingfield was given the award for her pioneering work in fungal genomics in South Africa. In her acceptance speech, Professor Wingfield said she receives the Chancellor’s Award with humility and pride. “This award recognises more than just one person, but also my collaborators, colleagues and students. They have contributed hugely to the research and outputs that I have achieved over a lifetime. This award also recognises excellence. Excellence is not achieved easily, or rapidly. In contrast, excellence requires a lifetime of investment and of focus in doing the very best that one can do,” she said. 

The Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellent Supervision is another prestigious award which is given in recognition of the contribution of members of academic staff who excel as supervisors of postgraduate research students. The award is made on the grounds of exceptional performance measured in terms of the students’ academic achievement. Professor Namrita Lall of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences received this honour, and said she is overwhelmed with gratitude. “I am so honoured to have my work recognised in this way by the University of Pretoria. Many hours went into students’ supervision, and it means so much to me that the work that I am so passionate about also resonates with others. This accomplishment is not something that I did alone, and there are many others who deserve to share this award. This award is a result of the collective efforts of many of my collaborators, friends, students, and funders. I therefore want to share this recognition with you and thank you all for all the support you have given me,” she said. 

In its second year, The Conversation Africa’s Science Communication Awards category honoured three academics for the performance of their articles on The Conversation Africa’s website. The Conversation Africa gives all higher education institutions an opportunity to share their research outputs with fellow academics across the globe as well as with civil society.  This year’s recipients are Professors Wanda Markotter, Henning Melber and Daniel Bradlow.

Watch the ceremony:

- Author Masego Panyane

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