UFH and UCT share notes on early career academics

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Dr Breier from the UCT Research Office implored early career academics and researchers who attended a workshop on 8 February 2019 to seek ways to plan their career paths. Dr Leocadia Zhou, Director of the Risk & Vulnerability Science Centre (RAVAC) organized the workshop as part of a collaborative international project of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), supported by DFID funding.  Project CIRCLE (Climate Impacts Research Capacity Leadership Enhancement), is designed to strengthen capacity in climate change research and promote institutional support for early career academics and researchers in all disciplines. Dr Zhou reflected on the CIRCLE programme at UFH.  Already, eight UFH academics have benefited from the programme since its inception.


In the picture, Dr Breier introduced participants to the historical aspect of staffing component of University of Fort Hare back in 1932. She used state of the art whiteboard to illustrate how the growth of the university staff component also necessitates rethinking ways to strengthen career-planning models for individuals in order to meet the expectations of the university environment. She also shared ways in which individuals should strive to seek funding opportunities that meet their own career development needs. 


The workshop was held in the RAVAC laboratory sponsored by DST/NRF, which is not only fully equipped with computers but also boasts a brand new Interactive Smart Board which enables a lecturer to combine a power point presentation with traditional chalk board techniques of writing and erasing. One can also move, enhance and minimize slides with the touch of a finger.


Breier showed photographs of UFH in 1932 when there were only 15 academic staff, and the students numbered a couple of hundreds.  Her mother, Margot Gane, was among the staff members. She taught Latin at the time. “Today the university has over 15 000 students serviced over 1 500 permanent staff members – a greater portion of this being academic” Breier said. The student to staff ratio has increased greatly and academic jobs are more complex, involving research, community engagement and administration as well as teaching.   Breier said early career staff members had to be strategic in advancing their careers but institutions also had a responsibility to provide career development support.


Breier then presented two different approaches to career development.  Both approaches place emphasis on research and publishing, which is often regarded as the most challenging but most highly rewarded aspect of an academic career.  In the UK many universities use the VITAE Researcher Development Framework which is a tool for early career academics/researchers to evaluate and plan their professional development. The framework alerts them to the knowledge, skills and personal attributes necessary to achieve as an academic researcher.  ACU in CIRCLE promotes this approach.


The second approach used by UCT in its Emerging Researcher Program, based in the UCT Research Office and was founded in 2003 to develop research capacity. All newly appointed permanent academics at lecturer-level join the programme on invitation. They are then encouraged to set targets relating to attaining a PhD, supervising postgraduates, producing academic publications, presenting papers at conferences, securing research funding and applying for NRF rating.  UCT offers seminars and workshops to support these academics to reach these goals, as well as workshops for other universities through its newly formed UCT Researcher Development Academy.


Also among the facilitators was Dr P Muhuro from the Teaching and Learning Centre who led a discussion on the needs of early career academics at the University of Fort Hare going forward.