June 6, 2022

The 3rd Cohort of AIMS South Africa Master’s Students Trained in Science Communication Skills

AIMS House of Science, in partnership with African Gong, has conducted a 3-day Africa Scientifique (AS) Workshop for the 3rd cohort of AIMS South Africa master’s students. The Workshop was built on the 2020 and 2021 AS Workshop successes. It took place from 11 to 13 April 2022 at AIMS in Muizenberg. It was part of the AS 3-phase Afrocentric Programme that aims to equip scientists with leadership, knowledge and skills in communicating and engaging with the broader African society. The AS Programme at AIMS South Africa is delivered as a strategic response to calls for action for research institutions and scientists to bridge the long-standing widening gap between science and African society through a range of platforms, tools and formats by the national government and continental Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies and frameworks.  Furthermore, the programme provides AIMS students with added value enrichment skills to produce well-rounded graduates equipped with essential soft skills, which are highly valued in the workplace. 

Thirty students (16 male, 14 female) took part in the workshop and there were 7 alumni contributors.

“The Africa Scientifique workshop has removed all the fears I had in presentations, making me a better presenter, a communicator, a leader in research and writing”, said one participant.

The 3-day Workshop kicked off with introductory remarks from Ms Lydie Hakizimana, CEO of AIMS Global Network; Prof Barry Green, Director of AIMS South Africa; Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, President of African Gong; and Dr Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe, Manager of AIMS House of Science. The speakers emphasised the critical need to grow the critical mass of well-rounded mathematical scientists on the continent. The need for African governments and institutions to work together in strategic partnerships to deliver African-centric, sustainable and inclusive Science Communication Capacity building programmes on the continent was also accentuated. In her presentation, Ms Hakizimana highlighted the AIMS Network’s strategic plans for the next ten years to replicate and roll out the House of Science model across the other AIMS centres. This will enable more students to benefit from the AS Programme and other programmatic activities that have been mainstreamed in the House of Science delivery framework. The scaling up of the House of Science model across the AIMS Network will also address the long-standing gap of a coordinated, inclusive and sustainable public engagement strategy. This will be critical in enhancing the profile, visibility and career progression of AIMS graduates across the African continent and beyond.

The Workshop provided thought-provoking, hands-on, informative, inclusive, transformative, interactive sessions and networking opportunities over the three days. It was ably facilitated by dynamic and diverse African Science Communication experts and practitioners, researchers and academics. The Workshop covered the following topics:

(i) Research Time Management, work-life balance and successful research outcomes;

(ii) Research Dissemination, public engagement and good practice in mathematics outreach activities;

(iii) Gender & Socio-Cultural Inclusion in Science Communication;

(iv) Leadership Skills for research, academia and future career progression;

(v) Presentation and Communication Skills, both written and oral, utilising various tools, platforms and engagements;

(vi) Mentoring, Science Communication and Industry.

Each session started with a facilitator’s short presentation, followed by a discussion session in small groups. There were also interactive role-play activities and presentations by participants, with support from peers and the facilitators. Each session ended with a reflection activity to engender insightful understandings and transformative perspectives that motivated behaviour and mindset changes. 

If we communicate science, we should be able to communicate in different African languages to get more people involved in the science community, said one participant.

Established mathematical scientists and AS Programme alumni from the 2020 and 2021 cohorts currently pursuing careers in academia and industry also contributed to the Workshop. They shared their experiences, insights, practical techniques and strategies on advancing and leveraging Science Communication skills, opportunities in one’s career progressions, and striving for societal impact (i.e., the impact beyond the academic community) through mathematical sciences research. The AS Programme alumni also shared insights and knowledge from their ‘hands-on’ experiences based on their post-Workshop 6-months Science Communication project planning, delivery and M&E with mentoring support.

 “Mathematics is everything as it is at the core of everything, and we can make an impact once we learn how to communicate in a way society understands”, said one participant.

Of particular relevance was the panel discussion on Day 2 focusing on Mentoring, Science Communication and Industry. The panellists were Dr Guy Blaise Dongmo, a 2004 AIMS Alumnus and Probabilistic Safety Assessment Analyst at Eskom’s Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, South Africa; Dr Gavhi-Molefe; two Alumni of the 2021 AS Programme at AIMS; Ms Thandiwe Dlamini, a Mathematics Educator at Mbuluzi High School, Swaziland; and Mr Saviour Chibeti, a Lecturer at the University of Lusaka, Zambia. Dr Rasekoala moderated the discussion. The panel members shared their experiences, insights, practical techniques and strategies on advancing and leveraging Science Communication skills, opportunities in one’s career progressions, and striving for societal impact (i.e., the impact beyond the academic community) through mathematical sciences research.

“I learnt about industry landscape which includes teamwork and time management, communicating with other departments, presentation at high-level committees and keeping the public informed about matters affecting them”, said one participant.

The critical aspect of the AS Workshop is that students are expected to the participants conceptualise, design and present individual practical Science Communication projects that addressed societal challenges using mathematical science knowledge and research in their communities on the last day of the Workshop with the guidance of Facilitators. Participants were able to identify a range of hard-to-reach and/or neglected audiences defined in the Department of Science and Innovation Science Engagement Implementation Plan. Examples of such audiences included small-scale farmers, taxi managers,  township youth, adult patients and government officials. The following are a few samples of science communication projects that participants will deliver using African indigenous languages in the communities during the post-Workshop mentoring phase (i.e., Phase 3; May 2022-November 2022): 

  • improve access to quality health care services; 
  • dangers of littering to the environment; 
  • governments service delivery; 
  • enhancing profit in small businesses;  
  • the importance of saving money before and after school for the youth; 
  • minimising traffic jams and accidents; 
  • the problem of gambling; and 
  • teaching Physics concepts in the indigenous Zambian language.

Day 3 was a highlight of the Workshop as the participants had to put into practice what they had learnt from the Day 1 & 2 sessions. They were challenged and encouraged to reflect on their journey as emerging mathematicians, their scientific knowledge and societal challenges in their respective communities. With the coaching and guidance from Drs Rasekoala and Gavhi-Molefe, the participants conceptualised, designed and presented individual practical Science Communication project activity frameworks in three minutes using one PowerPoint slide. They also learned from the three AS Programme alumni from the 2021 cohort who shared insights and knowledge from their ‘hands-on’ experiences based on their post-Workshop 6-months Science Communication project planning, delivery and M&E with mentoring support. Ms Everlyn Chimoto, an MSc Student at AIMS South Africa, shared her AS Programme post-Workshop journey. The other two alumni – Ms Florence Owino and Ms Thembelihle Dlamini (MSc Student at AIMS South Africa) focused on the comparison of the challenges of engendering public trust with the African publics on two different platforms, social media and face-to-face with shopkeepers. 

I now know how to approach a number of different kinds of audiences which includes policymakers, journalists, scientists, students, industry and many other different groups of people that have been neglected in science communication.

The third day of the Workshop ended on a high note: All Workshop participants were awarded certificates. Two participants – Mr Denzel Spencer Ngwenya and Ms Bralyne Vanessa Kamga Matoukam – won the AS Excellence Awards – which also include a cash prize conferred by African Gong. Over the three days of the Workshop, they considerably improved their engagement and communication (e.g., presentation skills and proposal writing). Their improvement rubbed off on other Workshop participants. 

As a young researcher in mathematics, now I have confidence, and my body language and posture change when I give presentations. I can say I am ready for the coming presentations and interviews.

Post-Workshop 6-Month Support: Delivery of Science Communication Project Activities

The 3-day Workshop is being followed by Phase 3 – a 6-months (May-November 2022) post-Workshop mentoring, Science Communication project and post-AIMS career progression activities with support from the AIMS House of Science and African Gong.  The announcement of Post Workshop AS project winners will take place at the end of November 2022.

Special thanks to AIMS staff and the House of Science volunteers 2021/22 group for providing support and logistics arrangements for the Workshop.

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