UP hosts early career researchers’ meeting with participants from across the African continent

Posted on December 14, 2022

The University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted over 70 early career researchers from 16 African countries to facilitate transdisciplinary and team-based science through experiential learning.

The participants were nominated from the 13 African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centres of Excellence- and the Carnegie Corporation of New York- (CCNY) funded postdoctoral programmes across the continent for the African Early Career Researchers Meeting (AECRM).

UP was represented by 10 nominated early career researchers who came from all UP’s faculties and participated in the engagements. In addition to facilitating transdisciplinary science, the four-day interactive meeting sought to promote peer-learning and networking for capacity development and mobilisation.

In his opening remarks, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said: “AECRM is of pertinent strategic relevance to what we see as our role in co-creating Africa’s future, particularly regarding research aimed at providing African solutions to Africa’s challenges.”

This is linked to UP’s strategic priorities focused on increasing investment in early career researchers. As such, the University has made a commitment to enrol 500 postdoctoral fellows from across the African continent and beyond by 2025.

The meeting was born out of the Peer-Learning for Emerging Researchers’ Knowledge and Advancement (PERKA) initiative, which was implemented by UP in collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the CCNY. PERKA seeks to identify, analyse, document, and share the lessons learned from the Corporation’s investment in postdoctoral fellowships in Africa. Discussions and outcomes from the PERKA initiative recognised the need to continually strengthen African science systems by increasing collaboration among the continent’s future research leaders, many of whom are currently at the postdoctoral level.

The AECRM has adopted an innovative approach, anchored by systems thinking and transdisciplinarity, to facilitate the collaboration among the early career researchers. The COVID-19 pandemic, among many other societal challenges such as climate change, ecological biodiversity and sustainable food systems, has shown the need for research that transcends boundaries of discipline and geography.

In her remarks during the meeting, Carnegie’s programme director for Higher Education and Research in Africa, Claudia Frittelli, noted that “opportunities to initiate multi- and transdisciplinary collaborative science projects among emerging researchers are not yet widespread in Africa. Therefore, the AECRM was designed purposefully to provide the participants with an opportunity to acquire skills critical to work in this manner.”

The implementation of the experiential learning exercise was guided by leading experts in the selected thematic areas who are also senior academic mentors. The capacity development was supported by recognised experts and global institutions. Among these, the Horizons Institute at Leeds University which has extensive experience in creating shared platforms for tackling large-scale global challenges.

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