NMMU students do their bit for women in science

AUGUST 8, 2016

Conducting and producing amazing scientific research means very little if you cannot effectively share it with the general public or potential funders.

This was one of the driving forces behind a workshop by two Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) postgraduate students - to bring good communication skills and a human touch to scientific research - to 16 of NMMU’s women science students.

With scientists stereotypically perceived as lacking in soft skills, the workshop sought to introduce the human element by equipping attendees with skills in communication, networking, writing policy briefs and communicating research by doing away with scientific jargon that often goes over the heads of ordinary people.

At the one-day workshop last month, PhD in Chemistry candidate Nokuthula Magida and post-doctoral research fellow Mambo Mutsa shared soft skills they learned during a Women in Science Communication and Engagement workshop in Johannesburg earlier this year.

“We realise that for research to be implemented for the benefit of the public it needs to be broken down into a language that everyone can easily understand. We know that the only way for people to have reached Masters and PhD level is that they are clever; they do not need to prove it.

“So we need to break things down for ordinary people to see how one’s research is important for everyday life or else the work will sit on a library shelf and gather dust,” Mutsa said.

“Also, those people who are likely to help fund your idea are businesspeople and they need to understand what they are being asked to fund,” Magida added.

For the earlier workshop, the pair had to submit convincing proposals on how they would use a R10 000 grant to present a workshop to women scientists in their respective institutions to help promote their research externally.

Magida and Mutsa were among 24 South African students out of 250 applicants chosen by the British Council for the Newton Fund and Academy of Science of South Africa to attend the three-day workshop in Johannesburg in March.

After being awarded the R10 000 workshop grant each, Magida and Mutsa joined forces to present the workshop at the NMMU North Campus Senate Hall, under the theme “Energy and Water”.

The 16 women who attended last month’s workshop were taught to simplify their language and limit their use of jargon, network with scientists in various disciplines and effectively promote and advertise their interests and expertise.

The pair are now hoping to be among the five selected from 24 to be part of a study tour to the UK in October. Musta said they hoped to continue the work to help women gain more confidence in the science field, which would help get their work there and in turn attract more women into the sciences.

Global statistics show that there is about 30% women representation in sciences, with the figure lower in Africa. In South Africa, less than 40% of science roles are held by women.


CAPTION: PhD in Chemistry student Nokuthula Magida (left) and postdoctoral research fellow Dr Mambo Mutsa, who are both researching the benefits of algae at NMMU’s InnoVenton, want to make science easier for all to understand.