Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Developing African Novice Researchers into Career Investigators: Innovative Options

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Developing African Novice Researchers into Career Investigators: Innovative Options

Article excerpt


Over the last decade, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced an increased volume of funding and training activities to support research capacity development. However, there are persistent deficits in the number of active investigators conducting independent research with their own grants. To address this deficit, research institutions need to find an optimal balance between the types of trainings conducted: the long-term trainings involving post graduate programs in particular disciplines and short-term, hands-on courses involving "learning by doing". This article examines the impact of a five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) seed training award aimed at strengthening grants administration infrastructure at Makerere UniversityJohns Hopkins University Research Collaboration (MU-JHU) in Uganda, focusing on early career investigators. Using short-term, hands-on courses in grants management, the trainees were equipped with specialized skills to enable them to independently apply for grants. As a result, the number of early career investigators with their own grants rose from four to 16 within four years. This article describes the impact of welldesigned, need-based short-term training courses with a hands-on approach and the critical role of supportive, skilled research grant administrators in nurturing early career investigators.

Keywords: Early career scientists, Capacity building, Research administration, Long-term trainings, Short - term trainings

Background and Objectives

Global research indicators show that Sub-Saharan Africa fares poorly in research compared to other regions and has the least number of researchers per million inhabitants. It also produces the lowest number of research scholarly publications and makes the least investment in research and development (Mohamedbhai, 2011). This has been further aggravated by the increasing exodus of human capital from academic and research sectors in Africa, which adds to the continent's decreasing contribution to global scientific output, as well as the widening gap in science and technology between Africa and the rest of the world (Tebeje, n.d).

Many African investigators struggle to establish independent research careers. This is often related to the lack of a clear research pathway, as well as inadequate capacity support to define their research agendas and to develop professionally after they have completed their formal education (Johanson & Adams, 2004; Sawyerr, 2004). Given that significant numbers of the most experienced staff are due to retire - the "greying of the professoriate"- and that insufficient numbers of new staff are being trained, there is a substantial gap in the numbers of current midlevel researchers able to develop independent careers. The need to develop capacity among early career scientists and researchers to fill the gaps left by retiring experienced scientists has been identified as essential to sustain the future of the research activities (Harris, 2004).

Capacity building has been identified as the 'missing link' (Jaycox, 1993) or 'a necessary precondition for the success of major socioeconomic development strategies' (Moharir, 1994), and 'critical to the development of many African institutions and development programs' (OED, 2003). Various approaches have been tried too increase the capacity of research in the region. In some instances, to increase the quantity and quality of the research portfolio, the research institutions have devised long-term higher education trainings, such as master or doctoral programs. Producing a viable number of trained researchers has been found to be extremely difficult via these types of programs, given the high costs of education, high dropout rates and the slow time-to-completion rates in lowresource settings. For example, in 2007, across the region, the University of Botswana produced four Ph.D.s, the universities of Dar es Salaam and Ghana combined had 20, Makerere University had 23 and the University of Nairobi had the highest of the five with 32 doctoral graduates (Cloete, Bailey, & Maassen, 2011). …

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