RISE prepares PhD- and MSc-level scientists and engineers in sub-Saharan Africa through university-based research and teaching networks in selected disciplines, in order to strengthen research and teaching in African universities and build capacity in science, technology and innovation as a key to economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. The RISE students, graduates, academic leaders, and advisors are at the heart of our project. These are their stories.

SABINA Organises VRE Training for New Students

by Kennedy Ngwira, Cyprian Mpinda, and Aneth David

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August 2014

The SABINA project leadership recently organized a training workshop for the new phase three students, from 15-18 July 2014 at the University of Pretoria. The students who attended the training were: Aneth David, Cyprian Mpinda, and Robert Christopher from the University of Dar es Salaam; Sunette Walter and Hatago Stuurmann from the University of Namibia; Lucia Kabanga from the University of Malawi; Tinotenda Shoko from the University of Pretoria; and Jean Dam and Kennedy Ngwira from the University of the Witwatersrand.

The workshop, ably facilitated by Dr. Martie van Deventer and VRE Coordinator Caron Jacobs, was aimed at introducing the new students to the VRE platform and Document Management System (DMS). The training was an eye-opener to the students; working in a secure online environment was a new concept for them. It is anticipated that the students will be able to organize their research projects online; engage with each other, their supervisors, and other SABINA staff on various discussion forums; and, most importantly, manage their raw and processed data on the DMS.

Apart from the training, the students had one-on-one meetings with SABINA Academic Director Dr. John Becker and assembled as a group to meet with Dr. Mervyn Beukes, the SABINA student liaison. They were also taken on tours of the laboratories in SABINA’s South African institutions. The students visited the University of the Witwatersrand, where Professor Charles de Koning gave the students a tour of the facilities. At Wits, they visited the new, upgraded organic research laboratories, the NMR and crystallography facilities, and the newly built Science Stadium. At the University of Pretoria, Professor Vinesh Maharaj showed the students the NMR facilities, the crystallography unit, and the UPLC and GC-MS facilities. The students also had the privilege of attending a public lecture by Nobel laureate Professor Brian Kobilka, entitled “Challenges in drug discovery for G protein coupled receptors.” Finally, the students visited facilities at the UP Biochemistry Department where they learned about some of the research being done in the molecular biology and microbiology laboratories. This tour was guided by Dr. Mervyn Beukes and Professor Zeno Apostolides. An end-of-the-week braai was a wonderful way for students and staff to interact informally after the training.

Reflecting on the workshop, Aneth said, “The training was very useful; the facilitators went out of their way to make sure we all grasped the concept of the VRE, a very important tool for modern-day scientists.” The same sentiments were shared by Sunette, who said, “I now enjoy using Alfresco, the document management system (DMS). It’s a good way to back up my research data and other important documentation.” Lucia appreciated that the training gave her an opportunity to meet and interact with fellow SABINA students. Of particular importance to her was the file-naming convention article, which will help her to manage her files in the DMS.

The training workshop was both worthwhile and enjoyable for the new SABINA students. The students are grateful to SABINA leadership for arranging the VRE training and facilities tours, with special thanks to Caron Jacobs, Dr. van Deventer, Professor de Koning, Professor Maharaj, Professor Apostolides and Dr. Beukes.

Building Capacity for Research and Training in Tanzania (SABINA)

by Anita Makri, SciDev.Net

Quintino Mgani is professor of chemistry at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He also coordinates the SABINA (Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products) network of the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), which is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mgani explains why PhD students need regional partnerships, how growth in Tanzania’s higher education sector undermines training capacity and what gets in the way of turning research into useful products.

This article is part of the Spotlight on Making higher education work for Africa.