From 8 to 10 May, AIMS South Africa, in partnership with African Gong, successfully trained the 4th cohort of AIMS South Africa master’s students in Afrocentric science communication skills during a 3-day Workshop.
The global landscape has recognised the fundamental role that science communication skills play in enhancing the scientific ecosystem, scientists’ and academics’ professional development and growth. The latter duo (professional development & growth) entail research impact, career progression, visibility, reaching broader audiences, and influencing decisions and/or policy-making. Yet, many African STEM graduate training programmes still do not offer such opportunities. To address this gap, AIMS South Africa through the House of Science in partnership with African Gong has delivered the three-phase Afrocentric science communication capacity-building programme – Africa Scientifique (AS) since 2020. In addition to the core technical training, the programme has since empowered Master’s students and researchers with the necessary skills and knowledge to communicate mathematical sciences effectively in a way that resonates with African audiences across various platforms and tools.
The 2023 programme’s Phase 1 – introductory workshop took place on 24 February. Phase 2 – a 3-day Workshop (8-10 May) featured introductory remarks from Dr Ulrich Paquet, Director of AIMS South Africa; Dr Simukai Utete, Academic Director of AIMS South Africa; Ms Joy Nogabe, an Assistant Director of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) International Scholarships; Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, President of African Gong; and Dr Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe, Manager of House of Science on the first day of the Workshop. The speakers highlighted the critical need to build a critical mass of well-rounded mathematical scientists who can communicate effectively on the continent. They further encouraged the participants to realise the value of the Workshop, engage with peers and facilitators and “learn by doing”.
Ms Joy Nogabe stated that the role of African universities and higher education departments in the capacity building of young and emerging researchers and academics cannot be overstated.
“For the continent to meet its development goals, there is a need to keep investing in upskilling and empowering young researchers and academics with the knowledge, skills and aptitude to deliver transformative science communication and public engagement activities” – Ms Nogabe
Dr Paquet emphasised the importance of science communication and its impact in and across Africa.
“We know that technical skills are the foundational bedrock of so many things in our economy. If we have good mathematicians and engineers, we can execute, deliver and build amazing things. And we really like to do that. So communication is also part of that bedrock” – Dr Paquet
“Communication has two parts. It’s the part of the speaker you’re all listening to me, but it’s also the part of the listener ingesting knowledge. As a speaker or as a communicator, it’s really important to actually understand the mental model of your listener, what they know and what they don’t know, and where you want to progress them”– Dr Paquet
The 2023 programme’s workshop was titled Growing Africa’s capacity for science communication impact. It provided thought-provoking, diverse hands-on, informative, inclusive, transformative sessions and networking opportunities. The workshop featured African science communication experts, established mathematical scientists and AS Programme alumni cohorts currently pursuing careers in academia and industry over three days. Its covered sessions included (i) the global development of science communication, including drivers of growth, excellence and research relevance; (ii) research dissemination, public engagement and good practice in mathematics outreach activities; (iii) gender and 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; science communication formats, platforms and tools: engendering public trust, engagement and audience enrolment and; (vi) panel discussion on mentoring for science communication and engagement.
The panel featured Dr Clement Nyirenda, an Acting Head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of the Western Cape; Dr Ephifania Geza, a Bioinformatician at the University of Cape Town; Dr Mesias Alfeus, a Senior Lecturer in Financial Risk Management: University of Stellenbosch; Ms Nombali Qodi, a Cloud Engineer Intern at Altron and Alumni of the 2022 AS Programme at AIMS. The panel members’ discussion included shared experiences, insights, practical techniques and strategies on advancing and leveraging science communication skills, opportunities in one’s career progressions, and striving for mathematical sciences research impact beyond the academic community.
The last day of the 3-day workshop offered participants the opportunity to put into practice what they had learnt from the Days 1 & 2 sessions. They learned from the hands-on experiences of three AS alumni (2020-2022) – Ms Everlyn Chimoto (PhD student at AIMS South Africa), Ms Thembelihle Dlamini (Research Master’s student at AIMS South Africa) and Ms Thandiwe Siphesihle Dlamini (Mathematics Educator at Mbuluzi High School, Swaziland). These AS alumni had completed their post-workshop 6-month Science Communication project planning, delivery and M&E with mentoring support. The facilitators, together with the AS alumni, motivated and encouraged the participants to reflect on their journey as emerging mathematicians, their scientific knowledge and societal challenges in their respective communities. That enabled the participants to conceptualise, design and present individual practical Science Communication project activity frameworks in three minutes using one PowerPoint slide that they will deliver using African indigenous languages in their communities during the post-Workshop mentoring phase (i.e., Phase 3; May 2023-November 2023). The creativity concerning the projects was impressive. The associated audiences included the usually neglected members of the public namely, security elders, fishermen, farmers in villages, gamblers, unemployed women, African women hairdressers and barbers, young smokers, motorbike riders, marketers, etc.
The third day of the Workshop ended on a high note: All Workshop participants were awarded certificates. Two participants – Ms Maitielo Reneilwe Maanaso and Mr Clinton Garayi – 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.
The workshop concluded with the participants’ dance, ‘Hamba Challenge ’.
Special thanks to the AIMS staff and the House of Science volunteers 2022/23 group for providing support and logistics arrangements for the Workshop.
“Content, organisation, creating interest in the Africa Scientifique programme and overall delivery of the AS workshop was really world class, I thank Dr Elizabeth and Dr Rejoyce for such a wonderful experience. As an upcoming data scientist this workshop was very helpful because as a data scientist you are expected to present your results and this project helped me to address some of the bad habits to overcome during presenting. It has transformed me as an individual to never look down on myself as an African researcher and to always celebrate my identity in solving problems. “ Frans
Personally I did not want to partake in this workshop when it was called out. I thought to myself, what’s there to teach me to communicate since I have always been communicating. To my surprise the information, and how different concepts & techniques were presented were mind-blowing. I only wish that this could be a skills course delivered at AIMS. fantastic. This will be my daily thing. I frequently engage with small-scale farmers back, now I know how I should communicate science to them in an African way in their own Language. I feel confident in myself, I am sure that by using the tricks I learnt on this workshop I will be able to ace my final project presentation. 🙂 know your audience. Beautiful presentation given by my fellow comrades – showed us how we transformed from day 1 until day 3” Emmanuel
“This has been a great experience, it was so engaging and an opener. It pushed me to face my fears, that is stage fright. I have also learnt a lot about science communication and its importance. Having learnt science communication significance, I believe that is will help in advancing my career. Being able to communicate ideas effectively and having the ability to know my audience will definitely help in my career development. As a student, I feel I have improved interms of public engagement. I am not yet perfect but this workshop has really helped in directing me to step out of my comfort zone.” Maria (AS 2)
“It was a very excellent and useful moment that helped me to learn more and share with my comrades. I come out of these 3 days with a very strong mind and a sense of public engagement. It is impactful and helpful. I learned tools that a classical curriculum couldn’t give. Thanks! I can now think of my redevability to people and society. What I’ve learned and what I took from others, I have to give it back; that is the sense of being accountable.” Jeremy
The workshop concluded with the participants’ dance, ‘Hamba Challenge’.