The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have appointed Rhodes University Head of Entomology, Distinguished Professor Martin Hill, as one of its South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chair.
“What this allows me to do is to free me up for more hands-on research and more postgraduate student supervision,” said Prof Hill, who has been acting in this position for two out of his 16 years with the University. “We now have two SARChI Chairs in our department.”
SARChI was established by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) as a strategic intervention of the South African government designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African universities. In particular, the programme is aimed at increasing national research capacity, both through the creation of the chairs themselves and through the development of postgraduate students, the generation of new knowledge makers. It is also intended to support the realisation of South Africa’s transformation into a knowledge economy in which the generation of knowledge translates into socio-economic benefits. Prof Hill’s work has been mainly focused on alternatives to controlling insect pests, and more sustainable ways of controlling invasive species of plants.
“In our centre, we address questions that either upset the environment or society, and we answer them using science. There is no substitute for good fundamental science and we’ve got to not only publish our findings in the top journals in the world, but to take them to the field and implement them too,” Prof Hill stated.
If you can take the science and package it in a way that the end user can utilise it, according to Prof Hill, you’ve truly made a difference.
The position requires a lot of travelling, which Prof Hill believes is both positive and negative. “Being a SARChI Chair affords me the opportunity to go to several research meetings, conferences, and congresses, as well as to meet interesting collaborators that I would not ordinarily have been able to in the past, due to teaching time constraints.”
However, Prof Hill’s biggest love is teaching. “Being a SARChI Chair means I have less time to teach undergraduates, but even so, I do not plan on stopping. If you stop teaching at undergraduate level, you very rapidly close off a pipeline of postgraduate students.”
Prof Hill believes that the most important things in science in South Africa, specifically in tertiary education, is succession planning and mentorship. “If we can mentor people right from the start and in the right way, it will have tremendous impact on the community. We need to start mentoring people from a school level,” he explained.
Prof Hill recalled the wisdom of one of his own mentors, and the lasting impact he had on him. “Take your science seriously,” his mentor told him. “Take your science very, very seriously, but don’t ever take yourself seriously.” Prof Hill believes there are far too many people that take themselves seriously without being very serious about the science. “Whenever things get a bit daunting, I remind myself not to take it too seriously. Life goes on,” he concluded.