University of Pretoria biostatistician receives C2 Rating from National Research Foundation

Posted on March 07, 2023

We sat down with the University of Pretoria Associate Professor Alfred Musekiwa to learn about his research journey and how he will use his new status as a C2 NRF-rated researcher to make a difference in his field. Professor Musekiwa recently attained a C2 rating, which the NRF awards to established researchers with a sustained recent record of productivity who their peers recognise as having produced a body of quality work, the core of which has coherence and attests to ongoing engagement with the field. 

Congratulations on attaining C2 NRF rating. Please tell us about yourself.

I am an Associate Professor and Head of the Division of Health Measurement Sciences at the School of Health Systems and Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria. I am qualified with Ph.D. in Statistics (University of KwaZulu-Natal), an MSc in Statistics (University of Johannesburg), and BSc Honours in Statistics (University of Zimbabwe). I am also a Biostatistics Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Johns Hopkins University in the USA. 

My duties include teaching Biostatistics courses, Biostatistics consulting, supervising postgraduate students (Masters, Ph.D.'s and Post-Docs), performing research activities, as well as managing the Division of Health Measurement Sciences.

I have biostatistical experience from various research organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Right to Care, Wits Health Consortium, and South African Medical Research Council (MRC). 

I am an established researcher with over 70 publications in international, peer-reviewed, high-impact journals (Google Scholar H-index 26 and over 2,800 citations). My research focus is evidence synthesis, including systematic reviews, meta-analysis, and scoping reviews. 

How do you feel about attaining C2 NRF rating?

I am very excited! I have finally achieved it.

What is your field of specialty, and please give a brief explanation of it.

My research focus is evidence synthesis, including systematic reviews, meta-analysis, and scoping reviews. In systematic reviews, we comprehensively search for studies on a specific topic in various electronic databases, screen them to exclude studies we don’t want, and investigate the included studies to get a big picture of what all the studies will be portraying. And meta-analysis is the statistical method used to pool results from all the included studies to obtain a combined result. The recently introduced scoping reviews are used to map or scope literature, especially on a new field of study, to give readers a snapshot or summary of what literature is available on that topic. For example, I have recently published a scoping review on mapping the burden of breast, cervical, and prostate cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa.

How will you use your new status as a C2 NRF-rated researcher to make a difference in your field?

I plan to use my NRF-rating status to apply for research grants locally (especially at NRF itself) and internationally, such as at the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH). In addition, I want to use the research grants to further my understanding of evidence synthesis research and involve research assistants, Ph.D. students, and Post-Doc students in the research grants.

Only a few in Biostatistics get a C2 rating. Please take us through the process you went through until you eventually attained a C2 rating?

Yes, most biostatisticians indeed struggle to obtain a higher NRF rating. This is mainly because NRF-rating requires a focused research area, whereas as biostatisticians, our job requires us to assist researchers in any field of research. However, from my previous exposure to working under the South African Cochrane Centre (at South African MRC), I had already published many systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Furthermore, my PhD was focussed on advanced statistical methods of meta-analysis. Therefore, I could use these research outputs to apply to this research focus area of evidence synthesis research. 
The process of applying for NRF-rating required us first to submit our CV’s and get the go-ahead from the university to apply. You need to have some convincing publications to get the green light to apply for the NRF-rating. We then had to upload our CVs, including publications, on the NRF electronic system. This is a lot of work and requires one to have already started uploading their CVs well before starting their application. I received a lot of support from the School of Health Systems and Faculty of Health Sciences as well as the Division of Research and Innovation (DRI) in the application, which involved writing motivations for your research in the past eight years while focussing on your research focus area. 
The motivations go through many revisions from the Mentors and the Scientific Writing experts in the university. In particular, I want to acknowledge Dr. Cheryl Tosh, Science Editor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, for her immense contribution in guiding me to map my research focus area. 
Many deadlines along the way had to be met, and the final application had to be lodged after a year in January of the following year. The application also requires the nomination of External reviewers in your area, which is not easy. 

What does it mean for you as a researcher?

A C2 NRF-rated researcher is someone that is recognised as an established researcher in their area of study with some international recognition. I will continue to advance research regarding the statistical methods and application of evidence synthesis research. In particular, I want to continue to add evidence regarding HIV testing among adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Any further information you wish to share with the readers?

It is important as a researcher to find your research niche where you focus your research rather than doing research on various fields.

- Author Sindisiwe Kubeka

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