Women researchers are key to reshaping and advancing African research, yet they are confronted by multiple challenges in their career pathway. Gender roles, in particular, create barriers for African women researchers, with studies highlighting the complex pressures that constrain women’s research careers. Only 32% of researchers in Africa are women, in spite of the African Union’s commitment to increasing the number of African women researchers. Against this background, a central question thus becomes: what type of support and capacity building will effectively promote and accelerate women’s career advancement?
In an attempt to address this issue, the Australia-Africa Universities Network (AAUN), through its Partnership Research and Development Fund (PRDF), is providing funding support for a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Business School and the University of Pretoria (UP) Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) to conduct a study on women early-career researchers (WECRs). The study seeks to investigate the extent to which WECRs in Africa successfully attain career paths in food systems research. FSNet-Africa fellows constitute the sample for this study. The female fellows are in the process of being interviewed to gather data that will provide insights into their academic journeys, aspirations, the challenges they encounter, and the academic support they need to pursue research careers and professional networks.
Since the start of February 2022, through the AAUN project, FSNet-Africa has offered an opportunity for all FSNet-Africa fellows (both male and female) to engage with high-profile senior female scientists through online coaching sessions. The first session, held on 3 February, focused on how early-career researchers can develop an international profile – specifically through publications and applying for funding. The coach for this session was Emeritus Professor Prem Ramburuth, a lead collaborator in the AAUN project from the UNSW School of Management and Governance, Sydney.
Based on her personal journey, Prof. Ramburuth shared invaluable insights on how she built an international profile and advanced her career as a researcher. The top ten tips from her coaching session are highlighted below.
|ONE: Identify your strengths, niche area, and uniqueness. Bring them to the fore and be visible.
|TWO: Passion and commitment are critical in shaping your career path.
|THREE: Academia can be isolating. There is intense competition and, therefore, a need for compassion. Researchers in research teams or groups need to encourage and support one another.
|FOUR: Start forging relationships in a strategic manner. Do so within your university and at a national and regional level. This will help you progressively build networks at an international level.
FIVE: Maintain an updated online presence (website, LinkedIn, or other academic networking pages). Potential collaborators can learn about your work and interests on these pages.
|SIX: Constantly update your resume or biography. For example, each time you make a presentation or publish a paper, add it to your resume. Create a space where you can save all information relevant to your resume.
|SEVEN: Be proactive in participating in activities outside of the academic sphere. Consider joining government initiatives, industry projects, or community programmes. Be visible and valuable within your community.
|EIGHT: Leverage every opportunity to network. The FSNet-Africa project is a critical and strategic platform that you can leverage to build your international profile. Identify researchers from other countries with similar interests, then forge networks and collaborate on projects.
|NINE: Keep in mind that networks are dynamic, depending on the opportunities and challenges that need to be addressed. For both publications and applying for funding, create networks and expand these networks as you grow. You expand your network by working with people from different disciplines to solve a common problem. Be open and smart about leveraging networks.
|TEN: Be proactive about looking for funding. Use the internet to identify funding opportunities from international funding organisations in your discipline and in related disciplines and funding organisations (e.g., the African Research Universities Alliance – ARUA – and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture –RUFORUM).
The coaching session with Prof. Ramburuth emphasised the importance of utilising existing platforms, growing networks, and leveraging those networks to build an international profile. The next coaching session will focus on building a career in the area of food systems.