Invitations to the annual research symposium and research function

20 October 2020 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear colleagues

October and November are the time of year when we traditionally hold our Research Symposium and Research Function. This year, of course, we’re going virtual.

This year has been particularly demanding and the idea of joining another virtual event might be the last thing you want to do or add to your already full schedule.

But, do read on, because we believe we have put together two events that are planned to energise you, with potential to help shape research and postgrad studies at UCT:

  1. The Research Symposium: An opportunity to rethink the PhD in Africa and the Global South, and collaborate with the d-school at UCT.
  2. The Research Function: An opportunity to meet Dr Linda Mtwisha, the new Executive Director of the Research Office, and hear her in conversation with the Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor about what the next year might bring for research at UCT.

THE RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM | Rethink the PhD in Africa and the Global South – Your opportunity to contribute

Our annual research symposium titled “Rethink the PhD in Africa and the Global South” will take place online on Thursday, 5 November 2020 starting with a series of pre-event workshops.

Your contribution will be crucial.

As we prepare for Vision 2030, and rethink many fundamental aspects of how we do things at UCT, we want you to help us position the future of postgraduate studies. You can do this by:

  • attending one of the three-hour brainstorms with the d-school that precede the Symposium and/or
  • attending the Symposium itself.

Why do we need to rethink the PhD?

A doctoral degree – and indeed the research-centred postgraduate degree – is often the launch pad for a career in academia, research, innovation, entrepreneurship and thought-leadership and is crucial to building the next generation of researchers and thought leaders contributing to the African knowledge project. In this workshop–symposium combo, we address two key and inter-linked aspects:

  • Vision 2030 commits UCT to unleashing knowledge in Afrika, for Afrika, and the role of research-oriented postgraduate degrees is critical to that goal.
  • The model of the PhD is one that is inherited from and defined in the global north – particularly Europe and the US – and we therefore need to take this opportunity to rethink what the PhD degree might look like from a global south perspective. Africa is a critical voice in this.

As we figure out how to build the academic pipeline and the innovation and entrepreneurship space, we need to ask some critical questions: What is the purpose of the PhD in Africa and the global south and should it – or how should it – be different from programmes in the global north? What are future trends with respect to the PhD likely to be – what are the risks and opportunities? How can we innovate in this space so that we produce postgraduates with the attributes they will need for a career in the global south now and in the future? How do we ensure our graduates are among the thought leaders in Africa and globally?

The aim of this symposium is to harness our collective insights and experiences to rethink the doctoral degree in Africa and the global south. The outputs from this symposium will be used, specifically, to inform future planning at UCT as we transition into Vision 2030 and, more generally, to position the roles of academic institutions in the global south.

Attend a virtual brainstorm with the d-school at UCT

Thursday, 29 October 2020 | Monday, 2 November 2020: sign up here

We have partnered with the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking (d-school at UCT) to run a series of virtual co-creation workshops. Our d-school is one of only three in the world: the other two are at Stanford University in the USA and the University of Potsdam in Germany. The d-school’s approach is centred on the principles of ‘design thinking’: a creative, human-centred approach. Researchers at all stages in their careers – including postgraduates – are encouraged to join one of the workshops held on these days.

The outcomes of these workshops will feed into the Research Symposium on 5 November and serve as important inputs for further discussion on the day.

UCT Research Symposium 2020 | half-day virtual event

Thursday, 5 November 2020, 09:00-12:30: sign up here

The Symposium, which is open to the entire research community (whether you have attended the workshops or not) will kick off with a series of three conversations followed by a Q&A. Each conversation will consist of a 20-minute dialogue between two influential people drawn from Africa and other parts of the Global South, with a moderator; we intend them to be provocative discussions, rather than a series of delivered lectures.

  • Conversation 1: What is the purpose of the doctoral degree in Africa and the global south?
  • Conversation 2: What attributes do we want our doctorates to leave with?
  • Conversation 3: What should the future of the PhD look like?


  • Raewyn Connell | Professor Emerita, University of Sydney
  • Monica Kerrets-Makau | Academic Director and Professor of Practice in Global Leadership and Management. Thunderbirds Center of Excellence Africa Hub (Nairobi, Kenya)
  • Jonathan Jansen | Distinguished Professor of Education, Stellenbosch University
  • Anindita Bhadra | Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy
  • Siphamandla Zondi | Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg
  • Catherine Duggan | Director of the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town.

These conversations will be followed by the d-school feedback presentation from the workshops, after which we’ll give the UCT research community the opportunity to comment, discuss and respond to the ideas that have been shared in this forum. Interactive online platforms will be used to capture the inputs and feedback from participants on the day.

Registration is now open!

Please register to secure your “virtual seat” at the pre-event workshops and symposium. There is only space for 144 people to attend the d-school co-creation workshops so these will be offered on a first come, first serve basis. Once you have registered you will be emailed more information about how to access the events online.

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THE RESEARCH FUNCTION | Highlights of 2019/20 and a look ahead to 2021

Thursday, 12 November 2020, 17:00-17:45: sign-up here

At this year’s virtual Research Function, we can’t offer you the usual pre-pandemic opportunity to get together over drinks and snacks, but we can introduce you to the new Executive Director of the Research Office, Dr Linda Mtwisha, and answer these questions: How has UCT research fared over the last year? What were some of the highlights? And what does the next year hold for us all?

A short event of less than an hour, the programme will run as follows:

  • Welcome by the host, Professor Sue Harrison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation
  • Overview of the year’s research highlights by the Vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
  • Launch of the annual publication Research Highlights 2019/20, including a special section on COVID-19 research at UCT
  • ‘What will 2021 bring for research at UCT?’, a conversation between Professor Phakeng, Professor Harrison and Dr Linda Mtwisha, Executive Director of the Research Office
  • Discussion with the audience, in which you have an opportunity to ask questions of the three leaders of the research endeavour at UCT.

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For both the Symposium and the Function, we are taking the opportunity provided by going virtual – freeing us of the usual venue constraints – to invite the whole research community. We hope to see you there!

Warm regards

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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