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#ResearchForHealth and the importance of mentors

- Wits Communications

The Faculty of Health Sciences hosted a Research Day and Postgraduate Expo on 1 September 2016.

The #ResearchForHealth themes included:

  • Clinical Sciences and Therapeutics for Health
  • Diseases of Lifestyle
  • Education, Policy and Systems
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Molecular and Comparative Biosciences.

The Health Sciences Research Day and Postgraduate Expo is a biennial event, which provides a platform for researchers and students in the Faculty to share and enrich internal and external audiences through round table discussions and oral and poster presentations. Prizes were awarded for the best oral and poster presentations by staff and postgraduate students, the list of winners of which can be found here.

The prestigious event brought together more than 1000 delegates and coincided with the 2016 Health Sciences Alumni Reunion, many of whom made important contributions at the Research Day. One such alumnus is Prof. Keith Klugman, Director of Pneumonia at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, USA and the Emeritus William H. Foege Chair of Global Health at the Hubert Department of Global Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Klugman is also an Honorary Professor in the Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at Wits.

Klugman launched proceedings at the Research Day by delivering the second Phillip V. Tobias Plenary Lecture, entitled: Research to prevent pneumonia deaths in children.

Mentors are important

Klugman prefaced his research talk with tributes to his four mentors who had guided the trajectory of his career. He urged teacher-researchers in the audience not to underestimate the impact they could have on the lives and careers of their students.

“Mentors are important,” he said, recalling, “Who were my mentors that inspired me to have a life working in research? They’re all here [at Wits]. The biggest, [the late] Phillip V. Tobias. It was in second year that his incredible enthusiasm led me to believe I was going to be an evolutionary biologist.

 But then, when I was doing anatomy, I had to do a second subject and that turned out to be physiology. Graham Mitchell supervised me there and I became so fascinated, I gave up on being a paleoanthropologist, and decided I wanted to be a physiologist. I ended up doing a PhD in physiology, together with medicine, and when I finished that I thought, ‘I’m going to be a neuro-chemist’, because my PhD was in neurochemistry.

Then my third mentor, Barry Mendelow intervened. He had a habit of grabbing hold of the top medical students and talking to them about what they wanted to do with their lives. The basis of science and medicine, in his view, was in the pathology disciplines. So now I was going to be a chemical pathologist.

Then I met the last person, who’s in the audience today, Hendrik Koornhof and finally I saw the light, because I was going to spend my life in infectious diseases and microbiology and sure enough, that is what I have done.  I pay tribute to those people.

And for those teachers here, I can’t over-emphasize the role that you play in shaping the lives of the bright students that come through our hands.”

Klugman himself mentored Wits alumnus Shabir A. Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits, Chair of the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation in Vaccine Preventable Diseases, and Co-Director of the Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at Wits.