Addressing imbalances in the number of women and disadvantaged groups in applied sciences, engineering and technology fields in Africa – This is one of the targets of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund of PASET. This is critical for RSIF, whose objectives include creating a stock of highly trained men and women scientists, professionals, and innovators, nurturing talent, and building research and innovation capacities in African universities.
Diverse perspectives are important to scientific advancement. Yet, as in other regions, women’s participation drops progressively moving up the education and career ladder. Currently women constitute around 30% of Africa’s researchers.
As we mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February, we have reason to celebrate our first 30 female RSIF PhD students. These scientists represent the diverse pool of talented women from across the African continent who will go back to teach and undertake high-quality research and innovation at their home universities.
The African government-led Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) focus on Climate change, Energy including renewables, Food security and agribusiness, ICT, including data science and artificial intelligence, and Minerals, mining and materials science.
The number of female RSIF PhD students is expected to triple in the year ahead as new students are recruited, with priority to qualified women and young faculty without PhD.
African Talent and Gender Equality in Science
“Africa is not deprived of talent. There are a lot of bright people. But that support infrastructure needs to be created there for these people to really meet their full potential”, explains Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Director General of icipe, the RSIF Regional Coordination Unit.
RSIF will address this through strengthening the institutional capacity for quality and sustainable doctoral training, research and innovation in transformative technologies in sub-Saharan Africa.
A newly published paper, ‘Making it to the PhD: Gender and Student Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa’, examines the association between gender and PhD performance in sub-Saharan Africa.
Using new survey data collected from 227 alumni of PhD programs in 17 African countries as part of the 2020 RSIF gender research study, it elucidates gender-based differences in PhD performance.
Findings suggest that having a female supervisor, attending an institution with gender policies in place, and pursuing the PhD in a department where sexual harassment by faculty was perceived as uncommon were enabling factors for women’s timely completion of their doctoral studies.
This RSIF gender study has informed RSIF’s gender strategy and is also adding to the global body of knowledge on how to break the barriers for women in science.
Impact of Covid-19
When Covid restrictions came into force in 2020, RSIF cohort I students were in Korea and the USA on their sandwich programme at RSIF advanced international partner institutions.
The pandemic brought additional challenges and affected men and women in different ways, as day care for children, labs and universities closed. We expect that the pandemic may affect women disproportionately and are studying its impacts on the RSIF program.
Three female RSIF PhD students share their experiences of studying abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. This essay shows how Covid-19 impacted on their studies and research progression and also their resilience.
RSIF Cohort II students recruited in 2020 had their orientation online and were forced to start their PhD studies from a distance due to Covid-19.
Read on below and watch brief video profiles of five of them expressing their excitement and hopes for the future and what the opportunity of an RSIF doctoral scholarship and support network means to them:
Dreams and stories of female RSIF PhD scholars
- Meet Barbara Kabwigia Asingwire. An RSIF PhD student at University of Rwanda, Africa Centre of Excellence in Internet of Things (ACEIoT)
“My dream is to become a great researcher, problem solver and innovator,” says Barbara Kabwigia Asingwire. “My research is on use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to improve health care services; minimizing delays in response to time-sensitive conditions”.
“I believe RSIF will help me by availing me with a platform to interact with a number of people at an international scene and discover how to use IoT to improve the quality of life”.
According to the United Nations, only 26% of AI and data professionals globally are women. PASET has selected AI and Data Science as a priority thematic area for RSIF doctoral training and capacity building.
- Meet Fenet Belay Daba. An RSIF PhD student at Bayero University, Nigeria, Africa Centre of Excellence in Dryland Agriculture (CDA)
“Through my RSIF PhD research, I will be a problem solver for my country, serve the community and use this knowledge to teach students, because I am a lecturer at Jimma University”, says Fenet Belay Daba from Ethiopia. Her research is on climate change adaptation strategies.
- Meet Grace Gachara. An RSIF PhD student at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania
“I am really passionate about using science to solve problems”, says RSIF PhD student Grace Gachara. “My research is on the maize problem of aflatoxin and post-harvest issues that affect millions and millions of farmers. It is a really big deal in our country Kenya”.
“I want to believe that the RSIF scholarship positions people for greatness and open doors to connect with other platforms and communities. Teaching at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, I would also mould other students to get greater in their respective areas of research”.
- Meet Jacinta Okwako. An RSIF PhD student at University of Nairobi, Kenya
University lecturer Jacinta Okwako’s background is in physics and energy policy. “My biggest dream is an Africa that has a 100% energy access rate. We need to improve this to grow our economy”, she says.
“Thanks to RSIF resources, capacity building and networking, my hope is to end up becoming the renown researcher I always wanted to be, and also to be able to lecture and guide my students to come up with new ideas in the field of energy. By doing this we all grow together!”
- Meet Kay Nyaboe Nyakundi. An RSIF PhD student at University of Nairobi, Kenya
“I would like to reach out to my fellow women and say – Don’t be scared to move on with your studies!” says energy engineer and RSIF PhD student Kay Nyaboe Nyakundi. “We have an opportunity to nurture the young people to join us and offer solutions that are African-based for African problems.”
Explore more of our content on #WomeninScience:
Photo caption: “As a woman, I want to achieve my goal and show the nation that we are able”, says RSIF PhD scholar Pauline Munganyinka from Rwanda.
For more information: https://www.rsif-paset.org/
Fisher M, Nyabaro V, Mendum R, Osiru M (2020) Making it to the PhD: Gender and student performance in sub-Saharan Africa. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0241915. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241915
The paper examines the association between gender and PhD performance in sub-Saharan Africa; it uses new survey data collected as part of the 2020 RSIF gender research study.
The ADVANCE Journal – Covid-19 Special Issue, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting women in higher education. Also featuring experiences of three RSIF scholars on studying abroad during the pandemic