Supporting and enabling scientific potential in Africa

R
Research Publishing
By: Magdalena Skipper, Mon Jun 21 2021
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Author: Magdalena Skipper

There is tremendous potential for research in Africa. And yet much of it remains unrealized. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing challenges of insufficient funding, infrastructure and training. In recent years, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with researchers in Africa through a number of research conferences and other events. When I have asked what we, at Nature and Springer Nature can do to further support the growth of the research community on the Continent, mentorship and training have both come up frequently.

For many years, Nature had supported grants to enable talented researchers to travel to conferences so that they could share their work and hear from other leading researchers in their field and others. When the pandemic hit last year and such travel stopped we looked to other ways in which we could help early career researchers from Africa in developing their skills and experience further. As a result, colleagues from the journal Nature and I developed and, last month delivered, a virtual training workshop on the topic of Sharing and Communicating Scientific Discoveries.

We partnered with a Lagos-based, non-profit organisation AfroScientric - a group who seeks to inspire more African women to develop their careers in STEM. They worked with us to promote the event among registrants from institutions across Africa who could directly benefit from the workshop and who might not have had the opportunity to attend a similar event before. 

Sharing and Communicating Scientific Discoveries is very much part and parcel of what it means to be a researcher, be it within the research community or outside of it. Our objective was to highlight the importance of good science communication and give our attendees an introduction to the various ways in which they can share their research and experiences of conducting it.

For the workshop we brought together colleagues who are expert in various aspects of science communication. Our Chief Comment Editor spoke about the different formats in this section of Nature and why they matter, how to maximize the impact of one’s writing as well as what she and her team look for from their contributors. One of Nature’s Senior Editors who has long-standing experience handling research manuscripts advised on how to make the most of working with an editor and also what it is that she looks for in a submission to Nature. Participants told us that they found this session particularly beneficial - we are already thinking how we can build on it in the future.

A Senior Reporter from Nature gave advice on how to make the most of interacting with journalists, something that many researchers find a rather daunting prospect. Workshops such as this one provide an opportunity to give advice on real life examples and answer specific questions, and this event was no exception. The Chief Editor of Nature Careers spoke about career resources and encouraged attendees to pitch new stories about their experiences as researchers to him. Nature’s Creative Director, closed the formal presentation part of the workshop with an insightful (and visually stunning, of course!) presentation on how to make the most of images and illustrations when communicating science.

A highlight of the workshop was a presentation from Dr Ify Aniebo, a molecular geneticist who studies malaria resistance in Nigeria and the co-founder of AfroScientric, who shared her personal experience of doing research in Africa as well as outside of it. Ify was full of inspiration and advice, and it was clear from the chat comments and the positive feedback we received that her words moved the audience. 

I asked Ify why she and her colleagues wanted to get involved with setting up the workshop. She said: “From my experience doing research in Africa and interacting with scientists on the continent, the ability to share and communicate scientific discoveries remains one of the most sought-after skills, especially in early career researchers. As a result, the Nature/AfroScientric training was an exciting and timely event. 

The topics presented were useful and important, sessions were very engaging, and the audience were eager to learn more, evidenced from questions asked during the sessions. The content and style of delivery was well thought through and at a very high level. 

From the feedback received, the attendees found the training very useful and expressed some interest in other types of training that could be beneficial in advancing their research career. I think the feedback offers an opportunity for Nature to consider further training for early career researchers in the region in the near future.” 

Overall, there were 80 attendees, from 15 countries (including 11 in Africa, with others from the diaspora) 50% of whom were women. 

My Nature colleagues and I particularly enjoyed the lively Q&A, and feedback from attendees was really positive. While as an organisation Springer Nature runs many different types of workshop and training each year (including 284 events in ‘emerging market’ countries - which are typically middle income, or lower middle income - and these had more than 62,000 participants in 2020) we’ll certainly be considering further how we can run more sessions like this one in the future. From my side, I can definitely say that I very much enjoyed it and even in my third decade as an editor I too learnt new things.

At Springer Nature we want to do more to support research and researchers on the continent of Africa by making scientific research more accessible and helping researchers to communicate their science and make sense of the latest insights. We recently launched, with a consortium of university partners, Nature Africa, a new digital magazine that reports on scientific research and issues of science policy across the African continent, that will help shed light on some of the excellent research from Africa that does not always receive the coverage it deserves, and bring them to a wider audience. 

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Author: Magdalena Skipper

Magdalena is a geneticist by training and has considerable editorial and publishing experience: having started in Nature Publishing Group in 2001, she was Chief Editor of Nature Reviews Genetics, Senior Editor for genetics and genomics at Nature, and more recently Executive Editor for the Nature Partner Journals. Before joining Nature as Editor in Chief she was Editor in Chief of Nature Communications. She studied sex determination at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, and Notch signalling in the vertebrate gut epithelium at the ICRF Laboratories (CRUK today), London. She is passionate about mentorship, transparent science and clarity in science communication. She has a keen interest in innovation in science publishing.

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