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Wits academics celebrated for research excellence

- By Kemantha Govender

Five Wits researchers who have received their A-ratings from the National Research Foundation (NRF), as well as several others, were honoured at the fourth annual celebration of research excellence last week.

Two new categories – to honour excellence in postgraduate supervision and for the most cited research papers – were also added to the celebration that took place on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 at the Wits Club.

The five newly A-Rated researchers are Professor Bruce Rubidge (2015), Professor Chris Henshilwood (2014) and Professor Isabel Hofmeyr (2014-rerated); and Professors Linda Richter and Bob Scholes (both A-rated and Distinguished Professors).

  • 2015 A rated – 5
  • 2015 rated – 41
  • 2015 re-rated – 19
  • Top post graduate supervisors – 7
  • Top most cited research in each faculty – 8
  • Academics who received their ratings late 2013/2014 – 9

For the full list of names,click here

In his opening remarks, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, acknowledged the contributions of the academic staff by noting Wits’ jump in world university rankings, particularly in the Shanghai Rankings. He also alluded to the quality of the research outputs at Wits with researchers publishing in well-respected journals such as Nature, The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine and the South African Journal of Science.

Similarly, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib, congratulated the academic community for their leadership, their research and the conversations and energy they pour into the University.

Habib wants Wits to also start asking global research questions because he believes that there are major overlaps of questions in South Africa and the rest of the world.

He stressed the importance of retaining the quality of academics and researchers that Wits have if the University is to maintain its position as a leading higher education institution globally.

 “On average, Wits will be looking to become one of the higher paying institutions in the country and that’s a commitment we make. We will also aim to increase post graduate funding from internal sources,” he said.

Habib added that Wits will continue to attract top talent to create an academy that suggests the University is playing on the global playfield. He said the latest three latest appointments came from King’s College, The John Hopkins University and University of Oxford.

“You change people’s lives, whether it is that of students, colleagues or other researchers at other universities,” said Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO of RISA at the National Research Foundation.

“Researchers have to be an actor and performer to make the same information exciting to students each year and still inspire the students. You don’t just penetrate their mind but their souls so that when they leave here they figure out how to use the information they learnt to change the world,” Pillay said.

Acknowledging the role played by postgraduate supervisors, he said finding the right one is vital but that students also need to be taught how to think critically, conceptualise and plan for the impact of their research.

“All research will fail if it is not appropriately conceptualised at the beginning. Students and researchers must plan for impact from the beginning stages of the research rather than to just measure inputs and outputs and then try to work out impact.

“It is our responsibility to plan for impact because research that has impact can determine policy, improve lives and drive change – students must be able to think critically and conceptualise at the beginning,” said Pillay.

Seven supervisors from four faculties also received awards for their efforts. The Faculty of Science did not award anyone until they have established a range of criteria to determine appropriate recipients.

Professor Samantha Vice, Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Humanities, was the keynote speaker and focused on the role of communities in research and the personal value of research. She used her experience as a philosopher to explain how her field is about individual thought and writing processes.

“Research can be a very lonely enterprise and it’s easy to lose a grip on why you are bothering to chip away at some obscure little corner of a debate. The company of others can remind you why you’re doing it at all,” Vice said.

The Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management gave an award to Professor Boris Urban for the best established researcher. The Best Emerging Researcher Award went to Professor Christopher Callaghan.