UKZN Imbokodo Rally Together to Share Experiences
UKZN’s Imbokodo initiative, launched in 2016 and taking its name from the isiZulu word for “rock”, recently hosted a breakfast event for women in academia at UKZN.
The event held at the Pietermaritzburg campus was aimed at enabling women to learn from one another through sharing experiences.
Professor Colleen Downs, the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, delivered a presentation in which she shared some of her academic and personal experiences as a woman in academia.
The event was organised by the Imbokodo Task Team, and was indicative of the University’s commitment to women’s empowerment and advancement.
Mrs Busisiwe Ramabodu, the Director of Human Resources Development at UKZN, welcomed the attendees who included guests from across the University’s campuses and Colleges.
‘We are excited to host this event, and plan for it to be the first of many,’ said Ramabodu. ‘This is a valuable opportunity for networking and for strengthening women operating in academia and management.’
In her address, Downs expressed her hope that the event would give women on campus the chance to get to know one another so that they could support and encourage one another. She proceeded to speak about the phases of an academic career, emphasising that there is no one generic approach. She gave examples from her own experience of studying, and working and travelling overseas after obtaining her PhD, before entering the University system.
Downs detailed the phases of research productivity and teaching in her career, highlighting factors such as family responsibilities and heavy teaching loads that add pressure to research endeavours. She also drew attention to the fact that few women make it through the academic pipeline to professorship, and emphasised the importance of persistence and strength in this journey.
She gave examples of women in science, including Hildegard von Bingen, Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, who exemplified innovation, multidisciplinarity and hard work.
Downs encouraged her colleagues to pursue balance in their academic and personal lives, challenging them to answer questions about their current and future desires. She provided tips from her own experience about how to produce quality research, achieve targets, prioritise different tasks and particularly how to develop and support postgraduate students. She also implored attendees to encourage one another, pursue collaborations, and make the voice of Africa heard in their research.
‘Each day we make a difference, especially in teaching and being there for our students,’ said Downs.
She acknowledged the importance of the support of family and colleagues, as well as of postgraduate students and funders.
The presentation was followed by group sessions that enabled guests to discuss what they enjoyed about their jobs in academia, what they desired to allow them to thrive and how they believed they could enable others to thrive. The event was concluded with a breakfast in the Life Sciences Botanical Gardens on campus, where guests continued their discussions.
Response to the event was positive, with women relishing the opportunity to meet one another and share experiences.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Sally Frost