Dear colleagues and students,
It is my great pleasure to announce that Professor Peter Meissner has been appointed as the Director of Postgraduate Studies at the University of Cape Town. We are grateful that we have been able to secure the services of a researcher and teacher of note, an experienced supervisor and mentor, a dedicated administrator, and a person devoted to the wellbeing of students.
Peter has been associated with UCT in one way or another since 1972: he first experienced the university as a 15-year-old 'work shadow' pupil and subsequently completed his BSc, BSc (Med) (Hons) and PhD (1990) at UCT. He spent a postdoctoral period at the University of Georgia in the USA (1992/93). His early mentors were Professor Wieland Gevers and Professor Len Eales, who stimulated Peter's life-long career interest in porphyrins and the porphyrias. (Your body needs porphyrins to produce haem, which carries oxygen through the blood. The porphyrias are diseases associated with unusually high levels of porphyrins.) He is widely recognised as one of the world's leading experts in this field. Professor Ralph Kirsch, who mentored Peter later on, was instrumental in continuing to develop and support his work, and helped him establish his laboratories as a leading centre for porphyria studies.
Peter worked in the Liver Research Centre of the Department of Medicine at UCT from the early 1980s until late 2008, when he was appointed as Head of Division, Professor and Chair of Medical Biochemistry. During his tenure as Head he has embedded an academic home for structural biology in his division. He was also instrumental (along with faculty colleagues) in evolving the division into the newly recognised Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences – an academic platform that bridges contemporary molecular medicine studies and the fields of biochemistry, structural biology, chemical biology.
Peter was awarded the Wellcome International Senior Fellowship for Medical Science (1998 – 2002). In 2005 he was awarded a UCT Fellowship in recognition of his original research and contribution to the understanding of the metabolic basis of haem biosynthetic disorders. He has authored or co-authored some 97 publications, including journal articles, chapters in books and a book on liver disease. (Peter will retain a part-time appointment as professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences.)
Peter has a particular interest in and devotion to all matters postgraduate, and has supervised many students, ranging from honours to master's and PhD. He has also been a strong advocate of developing a significant postdoc culture in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Additionally, he has valuable and significant experience and understanding of undergraduate education and development. He has devoted much time in recent years to the teaching of medical biochemistry in the reputed intervention programme in health sciences, and has a personal interest in understanding and helping students identified as academically at risk. He thus comes to his new post with a wealth of experience in mentorship and postgraduate supervision and undergraduate education, and as a respected National Research Foundation-rated researcher. He has served for many years on the Board for Graduate Studies and the Doctoral Degrees Board in addition to performing much committee and faculty work in both research and education roles.
An extensive business process review to align the work of the Postgraduate Directorate, the Postgraduate Funding Office, the Research Office, and International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO), is nearing completion. This will ensure that support for postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows is fully integrated into the university's research endeavour. The purpose of this organisational and functional alignment is to recognise the critical role played by postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows as the engine room for research and the next generation of scholars for our continent. This brings us closer to our ideal of embedding postgraduate studies into international, collaborative projects that will provide students and fellows with exposure to varied research sites and supervisors, and enable their integration into a community of scholars by the time they complete their degrees or fellowships.
High on Peter's list will be exploring innovative and inclusive models of supervision that will draw on peer learning and mentorship. He will also focus on transformation of the postgraduate cohort and the strengthening of their professional development. To this end, he will be constituting a reference group to advise him on this centrally important aspect of postgraduate studies.
Peter is married to Renée; he has three children and a daughter-in-law – all of whom are or were associated with UCT as students. We welcome him in his new role and we know that he will make as important a contribution to the development of postgraduate studies in the university as a whole as he has up to now done for the Faculty of Health Sciences, and that he will build and expand on the superb work done by the first Director of Postgraduate Studies, Dr Nelleke Bak.
Professor Danie Visser
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