The inaugural University of Cape Town (UCT) Future Leaders cohort – a group of rising stars in UCT’s academy who boast scholarly traits that are second to none – have reached the end of an enriching five-year journey. A cocktail reception, in their honour, was held at Glenara on Wednesday, 11 October.
Established in 2018 by former UCT vice-chancellor (VC) Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the Future Leaders programme nurtures young, up-and-coming scholars from various faculties across the university with a view of securing sustainable future leadership for the institution. Members of the programme are selected based on their strong scholarship, and on traits that set them apart from other researchers in their respective fields.
During the annual Future Leaders event that doubled up as an occasion to celebrate and award the group of Future Leaders alumni with their certificates of completion, UCT VC interim Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy congratulated the cohort on successfully concluding the programme.
“It’s quite inspiring to get a sense of what has happened [over the past five years] and what all of you have achieved as members of the programme.”
“It’s quite inspiring to get a sense of what has happened [over the past five years] and what all of you have achieved as members of the programme – you have burgeoning careers, and you are extremely well-established nationally and internationally,” Emeritus Professor Reddy said.
Identifying talented researchers
Reddy reminded guests that the programme was established to identify talented, up-and-coming researchers within the university and to create conditions that allow them to thrive and to achieve their academic goals. But the cohort also carries a large responsibility: to mentor and supervise postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows and to develop a pipeline of next generation researchers the country, the continent and the world desperately needs.
He acknowledged that while a few of the alumni cohort are no longer part of the university community, their move to other institutions around the world is not necessarily a bad thing because it underscores UCT’s international footprint. However, he added, going forward it’s important that the university makes the necessary provisions to develop scholars and build spaces that allow them to flourish and always feel at home.
Currently four of UCT’s academic faculties are represented among the existing Future Leaders group: the Faculty of Science (the largest contingent); the Faculty of Humanities; the Faculty of Health Sciences; and the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment.
“I look forward to a time not too long from now when all of our faculties are represented. It really is an absolute delight to witness as it were [your] achievements, all of which provide an incontestable basis to continue the duration of the programme,” Reddy said.
The second half of the evening was dedicated to highlighting the alumni group’s achievements over the past five years. And UCT’s Deputy VC for Research and Internationalisation Professor Sue Harrison was tasked with highlighting these successes. Outstandingly, all members of the cohort have been rated as P-rated scholars by the National Research Foundation; and seven scholars are women, five of whom are black. Further, out of the 12 researchers who initially joined the programme, eight remain within the university, and the remaining four are no longer primarily affiliated with the institution.
“The four [who are no longer primarily affiliated with UCT] have moved to other parts of the world and have received great offers in other academic environments. As a UCT person, I am hugely proud of that as well. I think that’s one of the things that we really need to acknowledge, and that is that our researchers, particularly our highflyers, are hugely competitive in that environment abroad,” Professor Harrison said.
As the first five years of the programme draws to a close, much time has been spent on evaluating its value and effectiveness, what it means to the alumni cohort and what they think the forthcoming years should look like. Harrison said members’ views were unanimous: the programme has been hugely beneficial on many levels. The financial support and opportunity to network with colleagues across the university, in particular, have been invaluable. Based on their feedback, the group also shared a strong desire to play a role in the future design of UCT and to provide input on the make-up of the university.
“I think this is really exciting – it sets your sense of belonging to UCT, which I think is so important. You could just be writing those Nature papers, [but] the fact that you are keen to contribute to the university is great,” she said.
Harrison concluded her address by noting that conversations are under way to define and establish what the Future Leaders alumni status will look like and encouraged the cohort to provide input and suggestions that could be considered.
Part of the programme included a segment where several Future Leaders alumni could share insights into their experiences over the past five years.
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