Similar to many scientific institutions around the world, AIMS is committed to demonstrating the societal impact of its scientific research which involves communicating and engaging with non-scientists and the general public at large. Furthermore, every effort is made to equip AIMS graduate students and researchers with the necessary skills to deliver effective and impactful science engagement activities.
On 24 June 2021, the AIMS House of Science, in partnership with African Gong, introduced the 2021 Africa Scientifique Programme (AS) programme to the second cohort of AIMS Master’s students and researchers. The first AS programme was delivered in 2020 at AIMS. The AS is a unique capacity-building programme designed to support and provide young and emerging African scientists, researchers and academics with Leadership, Knowledge and Skills for impactful Science Communication. The programme is delivered in three phases: the AS Introductory Workshop, followed by the three-day AS Workshop and then six-months’ Post-Workshop mentoring and project activities’ support. The purpose of the Introductory Workshop, which was delivered online, was to inform participants of the background and rationale behind the AS programme and its transformational pan-African contexts. It also elaborated empowering perspectives and the envisaged outcomes for participants, as well as the recruitment processes. Two dynamic scientists and science communication researchers and practitioners, Dr Mpfareleni Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe, AIMS’s House of Science Manager and Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, the President of Africa Gong, facilitated the session.
Dr Gavhi-Molefe shared her science communication journey as a researcher in mathematics, challenges she had encountered and the benefits she has achieved. She highlighted that lack of capacity building and mentorship programmes for science communication in South Africa were the main challenge for her. She went further to point out that her journey in science communication has not been linear. Nevertheless, it has been rewarding in terms of her research (publications, collaboration across disciples and visibility) and her ability to communicate mathematics with the non-scientific community. She encouraged participants to take science communication seriously so that they could become well-rounded graduates equipped with both the technical and transferable soft skills required to meet the pressing developmental challenges facing the African continent.
Dr Rasekoala presented an overview of the strategic background and rationale behind the AS programme development. She outlined that the AS programme had been conceptualised and framed to meet the critical needs of, and to upgrade the poor skills, knowledge, motivation and expertise of African researchers, academics, and science communicators, thus, contributing to the growth of science communication across the African continent. Dr Rasekoala further highlighted the benefits of engendering science communication skills in graduate students and researchers. She elucidated and framed Science Communication and Public Engagement actions, practices and drive as dynamic transformational tools for Post-AIMS career advancement and progression across critical parameters, such as work-life balance and successful research outcomes; interpersonal skills and professional ethos, relationships, and engagements; and empowering networking skills.
The second phase of the AS programme – a three-day intensive and interactive workshop – will take place on the 25th-27th August 2021 at the AIMS Main Lecture Hall room. This is an exciting, unique opportunity for the participants to continue their journey and delve deeper into the world of science communication/public engagement and the potential leverages that it can engender for their career advancement. Participants will have an opportunity to reflect on their career journey as aspiring mathematical scientists. They will also be challenged to recognise the critical role that they can play in the transformation of the African continent. A key outcome of the three-day workshop will be that the participants will have to conceptualise and pitch a specific science communication/public engagement activity that they will undertake over a six-month period (after the AS Workshop) to put into practice the knowledge and skills gained from the workshop. During this period, participants will be mentored and supported on planning, delivering and the monitoring and evaluation of their public engagement activities. While some students will carry out these projects in their home countries, some of these will be implemented in Cape Town.