The House of Science programme provides a conducive environment for graduate students, researchers and mathematics devotees to interact with esteemed mathematical scientists/role models working in academia/industry and other sectors. The Après-Lunch webinars thus enable graduate students to meet potential mentors in their academic careers and foster collaboration among researchers and professionals. The last Après-Lunch webinar for this year, held on 26 November 2021, was organised in partnership with the University of Venda (UNIVEN). The purpose of the webinar was to share with UNIVEN students and staff about AIMS programmes and career opportunities available and to strengthen the partnership between the two institutions. Dr Mpfareleni Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe, AIMS’s House of Science Manager, and Dr Eric Maluta, the Head of Department of Physics at UNIVEN, facilitated the webinar.
The webinar commenced with introductory remarks by Dr Maluta. The remarks were followed by Dr Gavhi-Molefe’s presentation on the background and rationale behind AIMS, its programmes (training, research and public engagement), footprint/impact in South Africa and on the continent. Dr Simukai Utete, the AIMS South Africa Academic Director, outlined the benefits and recruitment processes for the AIMS academic programme for graduate students.
The highlight of the webinar was a panel discussion on Career Advancement in Mathematical Sciences: Challenges, Opportunities & Transformation in South Africa. The panellists were Dr Thifhelimbilu Bucher, Mr Rockefeller, Ms Ephifania Geza, Mr Ndivhuwo Mphephu – AIMS Alumni based in various institutions in South Africa and currently pursuing different career paths in academia and industry sectors. Dr Bucher is currently a lecturer at the Department of Physics at Stellenbosch University. She is also pursuing Postdoctoral research at the University of the Western Cape. Her research focuses on the study of nuclear structure. It involves performing experiments at iThemba LABS – a facility with ion accelerators. Mr Mphephu was a Junior Lecturer in the Mathematics Department at the UNIVEN before he joined South African Reserve Bank (SABS) as a Quantitative Risk Analyst. He occupies a similar position at the South African Standard Bank. Ms Geza is a Bioinformatician at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She is also finalizing her PhD in Bioinformatics studies (a research collaboration between the UCT and AIMS South Africa). Her research focus is on investigating models that estimate the ancestry of every chromosomal segment given mixed ancestry individual genomes. Mr Rockefeller is currently pursuing a PhD in Applied Mathematics within the Artificial Intelligence field applied to Renewable Energy (a research collaboration between the Stellenbosch University and AIMS South Africa). He has experience working as a Data Scientist. He acts as a Data Scientist Consultant for the Business Intelligence Agency Cameroon.
The discussion was moderated by Dr Gavhi-Molefe. To set the scene for the debate, she highlighted various aspects that students should consider before embarking on a postgraduate journey and during their graduate studies. The panel members shared their experiences, insights, and jobs/studies. They went further to share what they considered the challenges that graduates in Mathematical Sciences face after graduation. This was followed by recommendations concerning leveraging career opportunities in Business, Academia, Research, or Industry post-Mathematical Sciences degree, and the relevance of mathematical science in addressing developmental challenges in South Africa. The participants had an opportunity to engage with the panellists.
The webinar’s feedback from the participants was positive. Two participants commented on the impact of the webinar:
“The Webinar opened my eyes as a student because all I thought about when finishing my degree was to take PGCE and go to work …..but being a participant in the Webinar helped me a lot, I learned about Data scientist, it was so interesting”
“The most important message that I took from the Webinar is that it is substantial to know programming as a mathematics graduate, there are so many job opportunities after taking an Honours as a graduate and I should embark myself to my lecturer to find information about going forward with my studies”
Prof. Simiso Moyo, the Head of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at UNIVEN, commended the webinar and described it as peculiar and much needed, particularly because it was organised by young mathematical scientists for the next generation of mathematicians. For him, the webinar was good for students as it provides the missing link to the industry. At the end of the webinar, Dr Maluta also noted the importance of the webinar to the students:
“The webinar was useful for our third year as it has opened their eyes for their future careers. The response and questions from the student illustrated that we need to have more webinars to assist them. Personally I have enjoyed as the webinar was more of science engagement and awareness which is assisting both the presenter and listener to improve skills in science communications. Our hands are open as Mathematical Departments to continue with the series of webinar to help our students, as they are coming from the rural areas”
Special thanks to Dr Eric Maluta, Mr Ndivhuwo Ndou, Mr Lutendo Phuthu and Ms Linda Camara for providing support and logistics arrangements for the webinar.