A mathematician’s passion for simplifying science to catalyse innovation


Savannah (1st from left), runner up during Famelab science communication competition in South Africa

My name is Savannah Nuwagaba, a PhD Student at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Throughout my university education, I have majored in Mathematics where expression is mainly through equations and calculus; not words, and certainly not stories. I did not understand the power of storytelling until I went to South Africa, a country whose stories have shaped communities.

I first went to South Africa to pursue a Postgraduate Diploma in Mathematical Sciences at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).  In our intake year, we were 54 students from 34 African countries and had lecturers from all over the globe. I was particularly fascinated by our lecturers from Cambridge University who did not just teach us about what other people had done, said or thought, but made sure we were actively engaged in learning. Thanks to them, I came to greatly appreciate the importance of scientific evidence. Several pan African speakers also visited us from time to time while I was at AIMS and through them I realised that with knowledge, we can create the Africa we want to see.

After my completing my diploma at AIMS, i enrolled at Stellenbosch University for a Master’s degree in Biomathematics and stayed on for my PhD. During my early years at the university, I began to question how a mathematician like me could contribute to creating the Africa I want to see. The answer came in 2014 when I was invited to give a TEDx talk under the theme ‘Alone in a crowd’. TEDx talk is a platform for speakers to present great ideas in less than 18 minutes. I used the platform to share my life story and realised that my experiences enlightened both the audience and I. Listening to the enthusiastic feedback from parents and young girls who attended, I purposed not to stop telling stories. I had finally figured out how to make a contribution to my continent.

It was not long before another storytelling opportunity came along. I was nominated to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany, the only meeting I know where you can find more than 30 Nobel Laureates from science fields. Listening to the laureate’s stories of why they had opted for careers in science, the ups and downs in their careers and how all these contributed to their ground breaking discoveries, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to share my own science stories with the public in a way they can easily understand. After all, a considerable amount of research funding comes from tax payers’ money.

Although I had previously participated in events where we had to share our science stories with non-specialist audiences, my experience in Lindau created a particular yearning to build my skills in public engagement with science. When I returned to South Africa, I attended as many trainings as my time and resources could allow.

One experience I will never forget was with Famelab, a science communication competition where a scientist is given three minutes to present a scientific idea to a diverse audience in a clear and charismatic way without compromising the scientific content. Through the training we received for the competition, by trainers from both South Africa and the UK, I learnt that we cannot achieve evidence-based policy making unless scientists are able to clearly communicate their evidence in a language that policy makers understand.

For the competition, I explained how evidence from a mathematical model suggested that the way we humans interact with our environment and its resultant effect on the temperature of the earth could determine whether our grandchildren will see some of the animals that we see today or only smaller versions of them, if at all. The first question I received from the audience was “How do you plan to disseminate this piece of evidence to different communities given that every human being contributes to how our environment reacts to our relationship with it?” I did not have a clear answer, but since we had a meeting with the Academy of Sciences of South Africa and the Department of Science and Technology the following week I responded that we could include discussions on how to accelerate the appreciation of science in Africa. Deep down, though, I knew it had to go beyond that.

Why do I share this story?

We often talk about creating people-centred innovative solutions and know that innovation springs from science whether formally or informally yet we still ask, “What can we do about it?” I believe that if scientists in Africa shared their evidence-based stories in ways that can be understood by all stakeholders including rural communities, policy and decision makers, we can create the Africa that we have always wanted to see. Knowledge is power! I therefore call upon graduate students of Africa, from  all scientific disciplines, to build their skills in translating scientific concepts for public consumption and join me in sharing our science for the betterment of the continent.

Savannah Nuwagaba graduated from Makerere University with a Bachelor of Science with Education, Mathematics and Chemistry (majoring in mathematics); completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Mathematical Sciences at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences https://www.aims.ac.za/   and has majored in Biomathematics for her Master’s and PhD training. She can be reached at savannah@sun.ac.za or savannah@aims.ac.za.

Stellenbosch University plays host to agricultural leaders and students as part of RUFORUM programme

Among the deans attending the event were (from left) Mick Sikaenyi Mwala of the University of Zambia, outgoing RUFORUM Dean’s Forum Chair Simon Angombe of the University of Namibia, RUFORUM programme manager Solange Uwituze, Agnes Mwangwela of the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Khumoetsile Mmolawa of the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Prof Danie Brink, acting dean of the SU Department of AgriSciences and incoming chair of the RUFORUM Dean’s Forum. Photo: Engela Duvenage

Among the deans attending the event were (from left) Mick Sikaenyi Mwala of the University of Zambia, outgoing RUFORUM Dean’s Forum Chair Simon Angombe of the University of Namibia, RUFORUM programme manager Solange Uwituze, Agnes Mwangwela of the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Khumoetsile Mmolawa of the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Prof Danie Brink, acting dean of the SU Department of AgriSciences and incoming chair of the RUFORUM Dean’s Forum. Photo: Engela Duvenage

Stellenbosch University (SU) was the meeting place for a host of current and future leaders in agricultural higher education and research in Africa – from deans and vice-chancellors to undergraduate and PhD students. They visited campus on Monday as part of the 5th African Higher Agricultural Education Week and the Biennial Conference of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

Stellenbosch University is one of six South African RUFORUM member universities to co-organise the week long event, which is being held in Cape Town. The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the Centre for Coordinating Agricultural Research in Southern Africa (CCARDESA) are also co-organisers. This year’s theme is “Linking Agricultural Universities with Civil Society, Private Sector, Governments and other Stakeholders in support of Agricultural Development in Africa”. The conference will among others be addressed by the chair of the African Union, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the president of the Republic of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, South African cabinet ministers and the vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, Prof Wim de Villiers.

The week’s activities started on Monday with a series of meetings and talk across campus.

According to RUFORUM executive secretary Prof Adipala Ekwamu, academic leaders of more than 40 institutions on the continent gathered at STIAS to discuss policy matters relating to higher education on the continent. About 80 deans and academic leaders from various agricultural and related faculties met at the Faculty of Theology for a full day’s talks. The afternoon’s session was hosted by Prof Danie Brink, acting dean of the SU Faculty of AgriScience, and incoming chair of the RUFORUM Dean’s Forum.

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African Doctoral Academy Summer School Next intake 9-20 January 2017

Summer School 2017 – programme and fees

The Summer School is drawing near and we’ve had a few requests around our programme for 2017.

While we are putting the finishing touches on our programme, I would like to share some of the highlights of the coming Summer School with you. The 8th annual Summer School will take places from 9 – 20 January over two weeks. As always, the focus is firmly on offering high quality research interventions and methodology training for PhD candidates, their supervisors and researchers.

Please read on for a sneak peek into the initial programme and fees structure, so you’re ready to book. We’ll be adding a number of courses during the next few days before publishing the full programme and opening the registration.

Core Programme

In addition to some new and innovative courses, rest assured that we’re again presenting the ‘core’ courses that are typically in demand with our participants.

Preparing for the PhD: This introductory course addresses a number of the difficulties new PhD candidates are often faced with. We work through the PhD process, taking you from the proposal and background to your study through to dealing with your examiner feedback and everything in between. Included is a Postgraduate Toolkit that will help to guide you as your move through your research and dissertation writing.

If you’re attending Preparing for the PhD, the following two courses would also help you in designing your studyInterviewing and Qualitative Data Analysis remains one of our most popular courses, presented by ‘resident’ expert, Prof Max Bergman. Prof Bergman, the chair of Social Research and Methodology at Basel University, Switzerland is also widely published in the field and the current chair for the World Sustainability Forum 2017 conference to be held in Cape Town in January 2017. We will also host Prof Tim Guetterman, an applied research methodologist, from the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA offering a complimentary course in Designing a Mixed Methods Research Study.

Data Analysis: This year sees the release of a new version of ATLAS.ti. Version 8 will not just be a regular upgrade. It is re-programmed from scratch and has a whole new look and feel, and we have been fortunate to again have Dr Susanne Friese present the course for the us. She was also very involved in the remodelling of the programme and this would be a golden opportunity for existing trainers to receive training on the new programme. Due to the new version being phased in, there will be no advanced course taking place at the coming Summer School. We will again host an introduction to SPSS (Dr Cindy Lee Steenekamp), and a more advanced SPSS course by Dr Nelius Boshoff.

Furthering your writing/publishing and supervision skills: for those candidates that are at a stage where they are generating articles from their dissertations, we are offering Writing and Publishing from the PhD with Dr Ruth Albertyn. You will be offered the opportunity to work with a writing coach that will not only give you valuable tips and tools for writing a successful article, but also help you refine your draft. Prof Jan Botha will be facilitating our competence course on Doctoral Supervision. Read more

Iso Lomso Fellowships for Early Career African Researchers

Deadline: Wednesday, 25 May 2016 (Central African Time)

Iso Lomso Fellowships provide an exceptional early career opportunity for Africa’s brightest minds in academia. Iso Lomso means ‘the eye of tomorrow’ in isiXhosa: seeing towards the future, laying the foundations for tomorrow.

Iso Lomso Fellows will enjoy:

  • a three-year attachment to STIAS during which time they may spend a total of ten months in residence at STIAS to develop and pursue a long-term research programme;
  • the possibility of a residency at a sister institute for advanced study in North America, Europe or elsewhere;
  • funding to attend up to three international conferences or training workshops anywhere in the world;
  • support to convene a workshop with collaborators at STIAS;
  • lecturer replacement subsidy for the fellow’s home institution during residency periods.

The programme is aimed at African scholars who have obtained a doctoral degree within the preceding eight years and who hold an academic position at a university or research institution anywhere in Africa. Preference will be given to candidates who have established a research programme and have completed a post-doctoral fellowship. All disciplines are considered.

To submit an application:

  1. Download and read the Iso Lomso Call for Applications 2016
  2. Download and complete the Iso Lomso Application Form 2016
  3. Prepare the required additional documents
  4. Submit the application documents by email before the deadline

Applications are now open

For enquiries please contact:

Dr. Christoff Pauw
STIAS Programme Manager
Tel. +27 21 808 9331 (w)
Email: cpauw@sun.ac.za

Help to disseminate this call by downloading and printing the STIAS Iso Lomso Poster 2016 for your bulletin boards and the Iso Lomso press release for publication in any print and online media