April 11, 2024

2024 Africa Scientifique Programme Kick Off Leadership, Knowledge and Skills for Effective Science Communication

Science communication skill sets are vital for many young and emerging researchers to engage effectively with the broader audience. Yet, few higher education institutions in Africa provide training opportunities for their STEM graduates. To bridge this skills gap, AIMS South Africa, in partnership with African Gong delivers an annual 3-phased African-focused capacity-building programme (i.e., Africa Scientifique (AS) programme) to the cohort of AIMS South Africa Master’s students. This year, AIMS expanded the programme to benefit the Honors students in mathematical sciences at historically disadvantaged universities in South Africa. 

The Africa Scientifique Introductory Workshop

The 2024 programme kicked off with Phase 1: Introductory Workshops. The phase was three-pronged. The first one was held in person on 23rd February. 55 AIMS students attended the session. The second and third were held online on 9th April for Honors, Master’s students, and staff from Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and the University of Venda (UNIVEN). The WSU online session was attended by 11 Honors students and 9 staff members. On the other hand, the UNIVEN online session was attended by 17 Honors students, 4 Master’s students, and 4 staff members. The Workshops were facilitated by Dr Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe, AIMS’s House of Science Manager and Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, the President of Africa Gong. They introduced participants to the strategic background behind the AS programme development and its transformational pan-African contexts; the AS programme delivery at AIMS in terms of the organisation’s vision, rationale, contexts, challenges and benefits for the students and AIMS; and global historical and contemporary contexts, practices and progressions to describe what science communication is about. The workshop also elaborated on empowering perspectives, the envisaged outcomes for participants, and the recruitment processes. 

Prof Winter Sikalala from the WSU Department of Applied Informatics and Mathematical Sciences and Dr Tshimangadzo Sophie Mulaudzi, a physicist from UNIVEN, gave Introductory Remarks during the online workshops. 

Prof Sikalala shared the WSU institutional vision and support for the collaboration between AIMS, African Gong and WSU. He further highlighted the importance of science communication in bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and societal impact in driving positive change and transformation. He emphasised the need for better communication-based training, such as the Africa Scientifique programme, to complement similar initiatives (i.e., communication programmes) offered by universities.

“…For my university, in particular, the only module I am aware of is the first-year module on communication, and it isn’t handled in a very pleasing way. I think students focus primarily on passing it and moving on to other things. They don’t appreciate how central it is in their programmes, and I think we haven’t presented it in a way that makes them appreciate how central their communication is in science.” 

Prof Sinkala urged all the participating postgraduate students to take the AS programme workshop very seriously.

“Some of us went through our programmes focusing exclusively on the subjects we did, studying those and passing. There was nothing that really complemented that, so we missed out quite a bit…It’s now that I realize how central, you know, science communication is in whatever you do.”

Dr Mulaudzi emphasised the importance of science communication-based training not only for students but also for academics at higher levels. She encouraged students to consider the personal and professional benefits and the societal impact.

Beyond the practical skills you acquire as you attend the Arica Scientifique workshop, I encourage you to embrace the broader significance of what we are striving to achieve here today. By improving our communication abilities, we are not only empowering ourselves as individuals but also contributing to a larger societal endeavour, one that seeks to bridge the gap between scientific communities and the public, fostering a culture of curiosity, understanding and informed decision-making,” said Dr Mulaudzi

During the Introductory Workshop, the UNIVEN students and lecturers produced the following word cloud on their views on what science communication is.

Four AS Programme alumni from the class of  2021 and 2023, Ms Thembelihle Dlamini, a Research Intern and Quantum Community Advocate at IBM, South Africa; Mr Milanto Rasolofohery, a MSc Student at AIMS South Africa; Mr Londani Tshindane, a Lecturer at the University of Venda; and Mr Enock Ndunda, a Data Analyst & at MarcTina Consultancy, Zambia contributed to the sessionS as role models. They testified about the transformative impact of the AS programme on their confidence, career progression and views as African emerging scientists. 

What’s Next?  An Intensive Three-day Workshop plus 6 Post-Workshop Science Communication Project Activities Mentoring

The second phase of the AS programme – a three-day intensive and interactive workshop – will take place on 17-19 April 2024 at AIMS South Africa. It will provide opportunities 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. 

Students are already excited about the opportunity and ready to embark on the second leg of their science communication journey.

“Deep down in my heart, I know that I need it. I want to learn something I’m lacking, and that is voice projection and presenting my work in public. I feel like the workshop would be a life changer for me. I’ve seen the power of the workshop to people that I knew before they came to AIMS (Thembelihle). What the workshop did for her can never be undone. This does not only aid the individual at hand but also helps the whole community and individuals who look at us as role models. I would like to change the future of Africa, by shaping the present. I would like to be a good and exceptional example to the youth that’s also interested in being a different version of scientists.” 2024 AS Introductory workshop participant 

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 from their AS Workshop project proposals or their AIMS research project that they will undertake over six months (after the AS Workshop) to put into practice the knowledge and skills gained from the workshop. During this period, participants will be mentored in planning, delivering and monitoring and evaluating 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.

Special thanks to Mr Vincent Ondima Kongo (structured Master’s students & House of Science volunteers) and Mr Noluthatho Sithole for assisting with the Workshop logistics. 

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