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AS CARTA @ 10 Scientific Conference draws near, we caught up with one of the presenters, Catherine Musyoka. Here, she shares her thoughts on Scientific Conferences and what a participant should look forward to.

How do Scientific Conferences help researchers to advance their work? And why do you think it is important to attend and present in one?

Scientific conferences give the presenter a platform to showcase and disseminate the findings from their research work and contribute to the research world in generating new findings or generating evidence in ongoing trends in the world. This way, they generate useful discussions with their peers as well as receive feedback regarding their work. Furthermore, in scientific conferences, scientists and researchers make connections with each other, thus creating opportunities for future partnerships and collaborations. Finally, presenters get opportunities to learn new things and get together with their colleagues and visit new places.

What do you hope to achieve from the CARTA @ 10 Scientific Conference?

During the CARTA @ 10 Scientific Conference, I hope to get a platform to disseminate my research work, which I believe have implications for the wider society. Furthermore, I look forward to learning from my peers what research they are doing in their various fields of study.

Why is it important for researchers to build connections and collaborate more?

Collaboration and connection between researchers are the backbone of the future and growth of scientific research. In the partnerships, new frontiers of multidisciplinary research are born; more so, these help to build the researchers’ career.

After the conference, what do you think the participants should do to maximize the benefit?

After the conference, the participants should follow up with their contacts through emails and keep in touch via social media platforms. This way, they will stay open to opportunities for possible future collaborations and networking.

Henry Zakumumpa, CARTA graduate of Makerere University, led a community and public engagement (CPE) project- a multi-stakeholder data validation workshop- involving 44 participants on 3rd September 2020.

Henry’s research focuses on the uptake of new HIV treatment delivery models in Uganda. The workshop, held in Fort Portal town in Western Uganda, brought together district health officers, HIV clinic managers, clinicians, people living with HIV, representatives of PEPFAR implementing organizations, and academicians from Makerere University, School of Public Health.

During the workshop, his team presented findings from their study of the uptake of new HIV treatment delivery models known as ‘Differentiated Service Delivery.’ “We also presented findings from a national health facility survey and qualitative interviews with HIV service managers and patients around trends in the uptake of these new service delivery models across Uganda,” said Henry.

For the researchers, the event brought forth a new dimension of interpreting the results. For instance, they found that differences in gender and rural-urban settings led to differences in the uptake of community-based HIV care models. These are dimensions that are under-appreciated in the current literature on these new HIV service delivery approaches. “It also allowed us to reflect on the Covid-19 pandemic and how it is impacting access to ART refills or medicines, given travel restriction and increased transport costs owing to implementation of social distancing in public transport,” said Henry.

It also emerged from the event that side effects from newer HIV medicines (Dolutegravir-based ART) are widespread since the issue was frequently raised at the meeting. Further, it was found that adolescents have been left behind in the national efforts to the scale-up of new HIV service delivery models. “We have now engaged the Ministry of Health intending to recommend the updating of national ART treatment guidelines to allow adolescents to benefit from differentiated HIV service delivery,” he said.

HIV clinic managers and clinicians from Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital and Kabarole Hospital expressed willingness to collaborate on future studies on HIV services as study participants and investigators.

Two of the insights from the event have been incorporated into their manuscript submitted to PLoS One.

“It is my conviction to conduct more CPE activities in the future in a bid to overcome the ‘ivory tower’ tag placed on researchers and academics. The need to engage more with frontline health workers, patients, policymakers is one for which I have renewed aspiration,” said Henry.

Following a long and successful partnership with CARTA, the Obafemi Awolowo University’s postgraduate college leadership has expressed interest in increasing the scope of the CARTA curriculum. The Nigerian University is a beneficiary of a project to strengthen the research capacity of doctoral students and supervisors. The project tagged “Intervention towards strengthening Research Training in OAU” has been praised for its contribution to the curriculum review of postgraduate programmes in the university.
Prof. Yetunde Ajibade, the Provost at the Postgraduate College, in a letter to CARTA said that he could attest to the remarkable impact of the intervention. “I want to express the readiness of the postgraduate college to scale the curriculum to a wider audience of postgraduate students in Obafemi Awolowo University,” she stated.
She added that the board of the college has considered, and the university senate has approved the introduction of a compulsory methodology course for all doctoral candidates in the university and that “more efforts are ongoing to further institutionalize the CARTA curriculum and we greatly crave further support from CARTA in ensuring the actualization of this goal for the wider benefit of students at the university.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen CARTA fellows utilize their programme-acquired skills in grant management and adopting to virtual teaching. We caught up with Dr. Nkosiyazi Dube, a CARTA Graduate, recipient of a CARTA re-entry grant, and lecturer at the Social Work unit at the University of Witwatersrand. He shared his experience and the lessons he has drawn from CARTA.

 

How has virtual teaching changed the way you teach? What adjustments have you had to make? 

 I was supposed to teach a week-long Master’s course on Social Development in the last week of March 2020. However, the South African government imposed lockdown restrictions to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 disease. The University’s management thus advised staff to relook into the courses and prepare for online delivery of all the remaining classes and modules. It wasn’t an easy task, mostly having to compress a five-day-long course to virtual delivery and learning how to navigate the virtual teaching platforms. I spent some hours trimming content and reducing a usually 5-hour contact teaching class to just a maximum of 1-hour 30-minute online session. Even though this transition was full of anxieties and uncertainties, I managed to complete the teaching within a week. Thanks in part to the lessons I got from CARTA seminars, workshops, JASes, and conferences that use different teaching methods. I was still using blended learning through the Wits e-learning site known as ‘SAKAI.’ However, as the need for change was ‘now’ and soon, I had to adjust to virtual teaching, which I love now.

How did your experience in the CARTA fellowship help you navigate the disruption that Covid-19 has occasioned on the normal way of doing things and the transition into teaching and supervising students online? 

 My CARTA fellowship experience came in handy during the COVID-19 disruption and the emergence of the ‘new’ normal. Looking back, my enrollment to CARTA in 2014 may as well have started preparing me for this. Firstly, the research ‘clinics’ that I attended helped me understand my story; there was no time to beat about the bush, so it is in virtual teaching. Secondly, my experience in the ‘elevator pitch’ seminar, which I undertook in JAS 4, also came in handy as I gained the skill to spark interest in my courses and the need to go straight to the point. Thirdly, when it came to students’ online supervision, I revisited the ESE:O concept of online literature review assignments, which I did in my CARTA preparatory work for JAS 2. It guided me on how to give clear and constructive feedback online. In most cases, online feedback comes from the supervisor asking students questions or seeking clarifications; however, for ESE:O, the experience was different as feedback was critical yet developmental. Therefore, as much as it was painful when I did it, it became handy as I managed to continue with online supervision for my Honours, Master’s students, and PhD candidates, without facing significant difficulties.

 How has your experience with the CARTA re-entry grants helped you with managing grants and research? 

 The CARTA re-entry grant has been one of the most exciting moments of my CARTA fellowship. The grant has been an eye-opener, showing me that grants’ theoretical and practical management is two different aspects. I had initially believed that drawing up a grant budget was adequate in grant management. I have, however, realized that there is more to it than budget approval. Many other aspects come into play, including administration, leadership skills, financial management skills, and adherence to deadlines.

Due to our institution’s undertaking of managing grants for academics, I never knew that it was this demanding. The situation was further exacerbated by the COVD-19 lockdown, which paralyzed most of the project’s operations. Due to the project’s timelines being affected, I had to rethink the data collection process from focus group discussions and face-to-face interviews to telephonic interviews and telephonic completion of the biographical questionnaires. Despite it being a costly move, it was necessary to obtain the data to advance my scholarly research publications when the project closes.

I urge CARTA to continue with these grants for its fellows because they help enhance our knowledge and practical skills in managing grants. CARTA has the unique characteristic of developing an all-rounded graduate and academic ready to lead in their institution. I believe that the re-entry grant has been a significant highlight for me. This is because my institution’s aspirations of being a research-intensive university are propped by a firm emphasis on research and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. As an emerging scholar, I feel that the institutional support is inadequate, for I need to have data to generate articles and book chapters to publish. Therefore, the re-entry grant has given me this opportunity to start building my data sets, which will help me be a research-active academic in the near future.

Background and methodology

In 2008 nine African Universities and four African research institutions, in partnership with non-African institutions started the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) to strengthen doctoral training and research capacity on health in Africa. This was to respond to the need of the African continent to have well trained and networked researchers, capable of responding to challenges in public and population health (Ezeh et al., 2010; Frantz et al., 2017; Izugbara et al., 2017). Researchers agued that interdisciplinary collaborative research is particularly essential for public and population health to address the multifaceted determinants of health and to describe and understand the local context in which interventions are proposed or evaluated (Fonseca, Sampaio, Fonseca, & Zicker, 2016; Fonn, 2006). Therefore, training programs that create opportunities for collaboration can make a valuable contribution to the African health research landscape (Frantz et al., 2017; Olaleye et al., 2014; Vasquez, Hirsch, Giang, & Parker, 2013).

CARTA recruits PhD fellows from any discipline as long as their proposed research topics address public and population health. CARTA brings the fellows together regularly through four four-week Joint Advanced Seminars (JAS) which supplement the discipline-specific PhD training they get at the universities where they register for their PhDs. The JAS curriculum is multidisciplinary, and it is jointly developed by the senior academics and researchers from both the African and non-African consortium members. The JAS expose the fellows to the contribution of collaborative research across disciplines and geographies; and creates networks between fellows from different partner institutions, and between fellows from different disciplines within and between the partner institutions.

We conducted a study to describe particular aspects of the CARTA program that promotes collaboration between the PhD fellows in the program, and to determine the patterns of collaborative publications that resulted from the intervention. To achieve this purpose, we analysed 806 peer-reviewed publications reported by CARTA fellows to the CARTA Monitoring and Evaluation office.

What we found

Overall we found that writing multiple author papers is common among CARTA fellows and graduates as is to be expected, given usual practice in the disciplines that usually contribute to health research. Further, we observed that CARTA fellows co-published beyond their traditional research fields in multidisciplinary, cross-cohort and cross-institutional teams. Fellows are writing with each other, mainly within their institutions but across disciplines and CARTA cohorts. Also, fellows from different institutions are publishing with each other, but this is less common.

What we learnt from CARTA fellowship

CARTA’s efforts to build cross-cohort, cross-institutional and multidisciplinary collaborations were realised by recruiting fellows from multiple disciplines and different institutions, and organizing cross-institutional and cross-cohort seminars and encouraging cross-institutional registration. We found that this did result in publications between fellows and in particular across institutions and disciplines. While we cannot say this is greater or less than other intervention as we do not have a counterfactual, it does confirm other research which indicated that for collaboration to be effective structured interventions are recommended (Wu et al., 2019; Yu, Shao, He, & Duan, 2013).

Importantly, collaborative publications were produced even after fellows had left the formal CARTA program after graduating. This has the potential to sustain cross-institutional collaboration among African partner institutions beyond the CARTA program.

Of particular interest is that inter-cohort and interdisciplinary publications from within the same institution were a common joint output. This has immediate applicability, as universities can immediately set up mechanisms to facilitate such contacts within their institutions; joint inter-departmental meetings and joint PhD seminars can be initiated at minimum cost as can linking junior PhD students with senior students.

Further, the number of cross-cohort publications within and outside fellows’ institutions may be an indication that cross-cohort mentorship was useful, time will tell if this contributes to long-term research collaborations among CARTA fellows.

We conclude that the interventions of the CARTA program have potential to stimulate collaborative-minded researchers on the African continent. CARTA induced collaborative research publications on health-related issues among African researchers, both CARTA and non-CARTA researchers.

Investing further in this practice can be deliberately encouraged even after the fellowship to enhance peer-learning and research capabilities, and produce quality and productive researchers on the African continent.

Keywords: Collaborative publications; networks; doctoral intervention; post-doctoral intervention; Africa.

 

Reference

E Fonseca, B. de P. F., Sampaio, R. B., Fonseca, M. V. de A., & Zicker, F. (2016). Co-authorship network analysis in health research: Method and potential use. Health Research Policy and Systems, 14(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-016-0104-5

Ernawati, R. (2013). Facing Urban Vulnerability through Kampung Development, Case Study of Kampungs in Surabaya. Humanities and Social Sciences, 1(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.11648/j.hss.20130101.11

Ezeh, A. C., Izugbara, C. O., Kabiru, C. W., Fonn, S., Kahn, K., Manderson, L., … Thorogood, M. (2010). Building capacity for public and population health research in Africa: The consortium for advanced research training in Africa (CARTA) model. Global Health Action, 3(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.3402/gha.v3i0.5693

Fonn, S. (2006). African PhD research capacity in public health: raison d’etre and how to build it. Global Forum Update on Research for Health, 3(July), 80–83.

Frantz, J. M., Leach, L., Pharaoh, H., Bassett, S., Roman, N., Smith, M., & Travill, A. (2017). Research capacity development in a South African higher education institution through a north-south collaboration. South African Journal of Higher Education, 28(4), 1216–1229. https://doi.org/10.20853/28-4-396

Izugbara, C. O., Kabiru, C. W., Amendah, D., Dimbuene, Z. T., Donfouet, H. P. P., Atake, E. H., … Ezeh, A. C. (2017). ‘it takes more than a fellowship program’: Reflections on capacity strengthening for health systems research in sub-Saharan Africa. BMC Health Services Research, 17(Suppl 2), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-017-2638-9

Olaleye, D. O., Odaibo, G. N., Carney, P., Agbaji, O., Sagay, A. S., Muktar, H., … Murphy, R. L. (2014). Enhancement of Health Research Capacity in Nigeria through North-South and In-Country Partnerships. Academic Medecine, 89(8Suppl), 139–148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.03.040

Vasquez, E., Hirsch, J. S., Giang, L. M., & Parker, R. G. (2013). Rethinking health research capacity strengthening Emily. Glob Public Health, 8(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1038/jid.2014.371

Wu, W., Xie, Y., Liu, X., Gu, Y., Zhang, Y., Tu, X., & Tan, X. (2019). Analysis of scientific collaboration networks among authors, institutions, and countries studying adolescent myopia prevention and control: A review article. Iranian Journal of Public Health, 48(4), 621–631. https://doi.org/10.18502/ijph.v48i4.983

Yu, Q., Shao, H., He, P., & Duan, Z. (2013). World scientific collaboration in coronary heart disease research. International Journal of Cardiology, 167(3), 631–639. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijcard.2012.09.134

A Doctor of Philosophy – commonly known as a PhD – is the highest level of academic training. It allows the degree holder to teach the chosen subject at university, conduct research or practise in the specialised area.

However, in many African countries like Kenya there are gender gaps when it comes to women enrolling in, and completing, their PhD studies. This subsequently affects their recruitment into university teaching and research positions. Women make up just just 30% of the Africa’s researchers.

There are various reasons for this. For instance, a study covering several African countries found that barriers include sexual harassment, a lack of mentors – with some male faculty mentors unwilling to act as mentors for junior women – and difficulty finding a balance between career and family.

A study by the African Academy of Sciences reported similar challenges faced by women scholars in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. It found that the success of women already working in STEM was highly influenced by the work environment, the recruitment process and gender relations. More has to be done to help women overcome gender-based challenges.

To support postgraduates in further education, several initiatives offer PhD fellowships – a merit-based scholarship – in Africa.

My colleagues and I from the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) wanted to examine one of these and how it catered for women. Our case study was on the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA). This is an initiative that was formed in 2008 and is jointly led by the APHRC, based in Kenya, and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

We focused on CARTA for our study because it tries to build the capacity of individual PhD scholars – who focus on public and population health – using doctoral fellowships and research grants. CARTA also tries to get member universities to institutionalise good practices.

By the end of 2019, CARTA had graduated 87 of its 209 active PhD fellows. These individuals produced peer-reviewed publications and some fellows were promoted in their academic careers.

Of the active fellows, 55% are women. We found that the programme caters well for women looking to complete their doctorates. For instance, it recognises that women need special consideration when it comes to pregnancy and in the care of newborn babies, and that they may have different responsibilities when it comes to domestic chores and the care of the family.

All of these are factors could have previously prevented them from enrolling in, or completing, their PhDs. It’s important that other institutions offering fellowships replicate aspects of this model to better support Africa’s women academics.

Gender-sensitive

CARTA works with eight partner African universities and four research centres. Individuals attached to these institutions can apply for PhD fellowships that can last for up to four years. The fellowship includes participation in seminars, stipends and small grants for research activities.

One of CARTA’s gender-sensitive policies is that it uses a different cut-off age for male and female applicants, at 40 and 45 years respectively. The aim of this is to cater for women who may have been delayed starting their PhD studies until later because they had children.

PhD fellows are entitled to paid maternity and paternity leave. And fellows are granted a leave of absence during their maternity leave – their award restarts upon their return. This ensures they are not penalised in any way and eventually enjoy the same benefits as other fellows.

The programme also supports new parents as they participate in month-long “joint advanced seminars”, training courses offered four times in the course of the PhD. CARTA pays for the cost of a childminder during the seminar, and the fellow can use this facility for as many seminars as they need.

We found that meeting these practical needs during training supported women to maintain on-time graduation rates similar to their male counterparts.

There are a few challenges though. A recent evaluation of the CARTA programme revealed that it lacked systematisation of data and learning from it.

A second challenge relates to building a stronger feedback mechanism between actors. While the CARTA programme has managed to address practical gender needs, structural barriers – like unequal pay and unfair workloads – can be addressed by working with institutions to change their gender policies in higher education.

Future benefits

Having a programme like this, which strategically addresses gender differences, has long-term benefits. Women CARTA fellows were able to gain certain strategic advantages in academia. This includes promotion to senior academic and leadership positions, winning other research grants, sustaining collaborative research and being recognised by their peers, hence providing female role models to junior scholars.

The programme is a timely initiative that ought to be replicated for greater coverage across the continent. It would take careful programming, commitment of resources in cash and kind and sustainable partnerships by African state and non-state actors with northern partners. But these could help create a more gender equal mix of successful PhD researchers and faculty on the continent.

This article was first published by The Conversation Africa.

Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa supports an African-led research capacity strengthening program geared towards nurturing world-class researchers and scientific leaders. As we celebrate CARTA’s milestones over a decade, #CARTA10, we spoke to Dr. Alphonsus Neba, Deputy Programs Director – Science Support and Systems, The Africa Academy of Sciences (AAS) to get insights on gender equity in doctoral research in Africa.

By Florence Sipalla, Communications Manager 

  1. Why is it important to promote gender equity, especially as we nurture the next cadre of research leaders on the African continent?

Nurturing the next cadre of research leaders on the African continent is one of the interventions that would lead to invaluable health and socio-economic outcomes and benefits for future generations of Africans, especially in terms of quality of life for millions for Africans. This new crop of leaders holds a lot of promise for real change in many areas of the research profession as they represent a generational and a paradigm shift from the club of aging academics and professors and the tradition where today’s understanding, agitation and efforts at addressing gender challenges are uncomfortable and near taboo issues. Ignoring gender equity in this laudable intervention would inevitably lead to missed opportunities to build a new and vibrant gender equity culture in research, driven by a new crop of younger research leaders which would maximize the benefits for Africa’s burgeoning population. The participation and thriving of women and other marginalized groups of people in finding solutions to health challenges undoubtedly brings in multiple perspectives, views and a wider spectrum of potential solutions.

  1. How are African universities and research institutions doing with regards to gender equity in doctoral research programs? 

African universities and research institutions have shown some level of interest in strengthening gender equity in doctoral research programs, as well as mainstreaming this concept into their core functions of teaching and research and administration. This explains why many have introduced gender courses in various faculties and departments. 

However, it appears there has been little concerted effort, synchronized policy and plan for integrating gender into university and other research institutions functions as whole, and specifically within doctoral research programs. What is required is a fundamental shift to more holistic gender responsive strategies and a move beyond simply enabling access to universities and research institutions and postdoctoral research programs to effectively address the issues that predominantly affect women and other marginalized group’s ability to fully participate and optimally perform within these institutions and postdoctoral programs in Africa.

  1. What are the gender-related differential challenges that are encountered by researchers, thus making it difficult for them to progress in their careers? 

I have often marveled at how young early career female researchers combine marriage life, childbearing, homecare, and minding after kids and even spouses, some of whom are scientists themselves, and still excel in their research careers, oftentimes outshining their male counterparts. In worst case scenarios, some must simultaneously contend with other challenges including various forms of harassment, bullying and intimidation at their respective places of work. 

In one of the DELTAS African Programs Annual Scientific Conferences in Cote DÍvoire in 2019, the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) provided funding to cover expenses for female DELTAS Fellows and their young infants and childcare support for the duration of the conference. This was to ensure they did not miss the conference on account of having minor children and to enable them to participate fully at the conference or so we thought. 

Even with this level of support, the female fellows spent an inordinate amount of time dividing attention between conference proceedings and tending to the welfare of their infants and the child minders. While all this happened, their male counterparts were less distracted and fully participating in the various conference sessions, quite oblivious to this gender-related differential challenge encountered by their female peers. It takes an extra-ordinarily high level of tenacity and determination by female scientists to overcome gender-related differential challenges, despite the best efforts and support systems that may sometimes be provided. There is a need for universities and research institutions and all stakeholders in postdoctoral training programs in Africa to be deeply sensitive to the challenges of gender equality especially within the contextual realities of unique African societies and cultural norms.

  1. How has the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) program embraced gender mainstreaming?  

At the onset of the DELTAS Africa Initiative, we recognized gender-related differential challenges as a major risk factor to what we sought to achieve and moved quickly to develop, implement and promote gender friendly policies for the programme. We also took deliberate actions to provide budget lines for the implementation of the various policies, including training and raising awareness among our grantees. While this was mostly programme-based, we have since recruited a Gender Specialist to assist the AAS and AESA platform conduct a landscape study and develop a Gender, Equity, Diversity and Inclusive (GEDI) strategy and an implementation plan which would guide us as we address current gaps and fully mainstream gender and related issues within and across all our programs, business operations and activities. We have actively encouraged our grantees and their institutions to embrace issues of gender, equity, diversity and inclusion.  

  1. What can other research capacity strengthening programs, especially on the African continent, learn from the DELTAS experience?

The DELTAS Africa experience has been a pacesetter in many aspects of health research leadership capacity development on the continent. We make no apologies for being an Africa-led research capacity development program, with the most eminent African research leaders and scientists taking the lead in developing a critical mass of globally competitive research leaders, within state-of-the art research environments and a new culture of doing research that we actively support and promote. One of the central pillars of this success is recognizing and addressing issues around gender and diversity and being bold enough to adopt and introduce innovative interventions where necessary. We have found that developing functional and effective program management systems, policies and procedures, backed by robust finance and grants governance systems and structures, functional monitoring, evaluation and learning systems, robust programme risk management and mitigation frameworks, and maintaining collaborative and mutually respectful relationships with our grantees, and other stakeholders is a recipe for success.

Overall DELTAS Africa Gender Ratio as at Dec 2019 (this includes all categories of trainees recruited to date  i.e. interns, MSc, PhDs, Post doc, Senior Research fellows)

  • From MSC to PhD to Postdoc Level:
  • Male: 437 Female: 401
  • At MSc Level  Male: 200 Female: 179
  • At PhD Level Male: 156 Female: 163
  • At Postdoctoral Level Male: 73 Female: 57
  1. Parting shot?

As gender issues gain more currency, a combination of innovative institutional and intellectual strategies would be required to advance gender equity, and to equip institutions and postdoctoral programs to continue to respond and to keep abreast developments in the gender equity discourse. With visionary research leadership, and a culture of research excellence, the journey towards addressing gender equity issues within research institutions and postdoctoral training programs would progress much faster.