It is no longer enough to "work, finish and publish", a new generation of Carnegie scholars were told at a gathering last week.
Dr Digby Warner was quoting the C19th chemist and physicist Michael Faraday at the Annual Orientation Cocktail of the "Next Generation of Academics in Africa" project.
Faraday's "secret" to being a successful academic is no longer useful amid the deluge of information we face in our "noise-rich" era, Warner argued.
Today's academics need to engage on social media, maintain their "altmetrics" (alternative metrics to the widely used journal impact factor/personal citation indices such as the h-index), with a pace that is getting faster and faster. At the same time as keeping up with research in their field and publishing in an environment where they are fighting for air time.
The competition is not just faced by individuals, but by universities, countries and entire continents, argued Professor Danie Visser: "You can't be competitive as a country or a continent if you don't have strong universities that drive research."
It was to meet these challenges that the Next Generation of Academics in Africa was formed. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the project is intended to strengthen postgraduate research and training through the partnership universities: UCT, Makerere University (Uganda), the Universities of Ghana and the Witwatersrand.
Over the length of the project almost 100 new academics will be produced for the continent, Visser told the assembled scholars. "We are trying to foster a community of people so that we can get that sense that we are doing something very important for our continent."
While the speakers at the event stressed how tough it is forging an academic career in today's climate, they also urged the scholars before them to step back and appreciate it. "It involves a lot of travel, new ideas, some prestige and a huge opportunity to contribute to your community and your country," said Warner, a Carnegie supervisor.
A quick scan of Africa-specific research being undertaken by current Carnegie scholars demonstrates the importance of the work for the continent. Projects range from the economics of tobacco control in Zambia, to property rights in Nigeria; from climate change vulnerability in Tanzania to the relationship between health and the labour market in South Africa, and include multiple research projects on malaria, TB and HIV/Aids.
There was no doubt from the speakers that the Carnegie programme has multiple benefits. Dr David Ikumi, a graduate of the Carnegie programme who has recently been offered a post as Senior Lecturer in UCT's Department of Civil Engineering, attested to his own involvement: "I often get asked at conferences about Africa and how we are progressing with our research, and I realise the importance of all these research communities that are being formed in Africa to deal with the unique conditions we have here, and the importance of our role as academics to facilitate such communities."
The Carnegie experience had also benefited him as an individual, he said: "It has propelled me towards the achievement of my career ambitions and I wish the same luck to you, that as Carnegie scholars you may come to achieve your academic and career goals."
Story by Carolyn Newton. Image by Michael Hammond.
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