Successful inaugural NAS Research Symposium holds great opportunities

Posted on September 11, 2023

Dr Sekelwa Cosa from the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology was the programme director and guided everybody through their paces.

The symposium was designed to give a high-level overview of broad and emerging research topics in the Faculty. Not only did this approach show colleagues the full breadth of the excellent work happening in NAS, but our industry partners and stakeholders also got a sense of the cutting-edge research that we do. This symposium was the first step in a longer process to identify research focus areas of mutual interest to researchers and industry partners alike.

Prof Sunil Maharaj, Vice-Principal: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Education, welcomed the attendees on the first day and emphasised that NAS contributes substantially to building research and teaching capacity in South Africa by producing highly skilled graduates and generating new scientific knowledge through our research. Around 20 to 25% of all PhD graduates at UP come from NAS.

He lauded the Faculty for this initiative and reiterated that NAS is a leader in addressing complex challenges through transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.

In his welcoming words, Prof Barend Erasmus, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (NAS), emphasised that “Being here today places a responsibility on each of us. We focus on transdisciplinary research; therefore, we must think actively of opportunities to link with our colleagues, get ideas and note action items to follow up. Secondly, the valuable information shared on philanthropist fundraising will assist you in raising real funding for your research. Today is a first step in connecting funding opportunities with our new research priorities and opportunities,” Prof Erasmus concluded.

Three sessions with four speakers each on different aspects of themes ranging from Next-Generation Agriculture, Energy, to the Environment and Biodiversity were on the first day’s programme.

A highlight of the second day of the Symposium was the keynote address by the Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Dr Phil Mjwara. He shared the Department’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) decadal plan, which, interesting enough, has many similarities to NAS research priorities, such as modernising agriculture, energy, health and Big Data, among others.

Dr Mjwara explained the background to the decadal plan, “It is a highly complex, uncertain and rapidly changing context, ever since the 2019 White Paper with ongoing and worsening effects of climate change, widening global inequality and disparities, effects of COVID-19, Russia-Ukraine conflict, energy crisis, cost-of-living crises in many countries; and many more.”

“We need to adapt to the disruption challenges of artificial intelligence. Globally, new approaches to the STI policy are emerging, such as a shift from a narrow focus on productivity and competitiveness and the role of the private sector in the economy towards STI, enabling just socio-economic transitions within more sustainable, inclusive and resilient socio-technical systems. The 2019 White Paper highlighted two priorities: continuing to develop the system and supporting research and enhancing the impact derived from STI to derive maximum impact from the NSI to help address SA’s challenges.”

Dr Mjwara emphasised that the DSI has pockets of excellence, and the intention is to continue with the development to support institutions and develop research capacity and high-end skills. He invited the Faculty and University to join these efforts and collaborations.”

Prof Erasmus added to Dr Mjwara‘s address, pointing out the relevance of the STI decadal plan and reminded NAS researchers to familiarise themselves with this plan to ensure even better collaboration between government, industry and society.

On the second day, the sessions focused on themes ranging from Health and Well-being to Food systems and Security and ended on a high note with a session on Big Data.

The Symposium was officially closed by Prof Vinesh Maharaj, NAS Deputy Dean: Research and Postgraduate Education, emphasising the importance of this inaugural event. “This is the first of many and was a great showcase of some ground-breaking research at NAS. We must continue with conversations and collaboration between the different departments in NAS and other faculties in the University. He also reiterated the significant alignment between the Faculty’s and the government’s priorities.

His final words of thanks went to all the role players that contributed to the success of the Symposium, ranging from the organising committee, speakers, session chairs, programme director and the sponsors, all contributing to making it a huge success.

For those who missed the event, both days are available online.

Watch Day 1

Watch Day 2



- Author Martie Meyer

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