IPGC 2014: Prof Lotz-Sisitka, a keynote speaker; Adesuwa Vanessa Agbedahin, best PhD presenter

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The Rhodes University (RU) 6th annual interdisciplinary postgraduate Conference (IPGC) was hosted on the 8th -10th October 2014. The conference was organised by the RU Post Graduate Liaison Subcommittee (PGLSC) under the theme, “Leading Research, when only the best is good enough”. The Conference was set up to give postgraduate students the opportunity to showcase their research interest, process and outcome as well as to provide them with a suitable platform to develop their presentations skills and expertise. An additional benefit is the synergy that is created amongst researchers which enhance collaborations and thereby improve the collective research output of the nation.

Over the years the interdisciplinary postgraduate conference at RU has successfully grown from being an internal one to a conference that attracts delegates from other Universities in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. These include Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu University. This year (2014) for the first time the invitations were extended to other South African universities beyond the Eastern Cape. Thus delegates from the University of Witwatersrand and the Free State University were part of the 100 delegates that participated in the conference. The conference entailed postgraduate students presenting their work and getting feedback from other postgraduate students and experienced researchers. Laptop prices were given to the best presenter at an honours, masters and PhD level.

The plenary keynote address was done by the Director of the Rhodes University Postgraduate Studies Centre, Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka. In her keynote, she expressed her joy to be nominated as the keynote speaker since the uptake of her appointment as the RU Post Graduate Studies Director barely a week. In the bid to address the IPGC delegates accordingly and appropriately, she needed a quite space for thinking and decided to go to the RU library and ended up specifically at the RU Cory historical library, Prof Lotz-Sisitka, explained as she introduced her keynote.  “In there was a fascinating room with the archive of all the Post Graduate studies that have ever been produced at Rhodes, which are now digitally available” she added.

Prof Lotz-Sisitka shared some of the insights she got from the learning from this archive with the conference delegate. She stated “the first most amazing thing I found was the incredible diversity of topic and interest and what this diversity of topic and interest does is that it gives us an amazing reflection on our society, on the structure and the structuring of our disciplines, our interest as human beings, who we are, our talents, and the worlds in which we live” She added “each research was pushing forward something that is important in life and some other aspect of the life we all share and so it gives us new knowledge, now insight into different issues and they are all different and interesting and fascinating and how in this archive we are all building to contributing to a future world for all of us and the kind of future that we seem to want - this is very important about what you are doing and your contribution to a pathway”.

She trilled the audience further by saying that what she really loved about her visit to the Cory Library was that, “all of these studies sit next to each other, just as you are sitting next to each other now and it doesn’t matter which discipline that study is in, when it gets on to the shelf, it’s there, next to somebody else’s.” In her address she highlighted that there is a need for the quality research produced at Rhodes University and other South African universities to go beyond the ‘library shelves’. She observed that, most research sits on the shelf and collect dust over the years, and that is not where they belong. Prof Lotz-Sisitka’s key point in sharing her experience is that of expressing what we really need which is that “we need better interdisciplinary conversations about this knowledge that we are producing because it is not good enough to have it sit on the shelf next to each other, it must be spoken into the world and worked into the world in interdisciplinary ways.” Thus emphasising the need for students to use various platforms to share, publicise and publish their research. 

Among the presenters were a group of students from the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), who presented their research projects under the following topics:

Victoria Ferdinand: a PhD student presented on ‘The investigation of how Social Learning and Transformations emerge from changes in forest management practises. A case of Pugu and kazimzumbwu forest reserves in Tanzania’.

Sheraine van Wyk: a Masters student presented on ‘Exploring learning and emergent environmental citizenship in citizen science: A case study of a volunteer frog conservation group’.

Zona Dotwana: also a Master student presented on ‘The factors that constrain or enable black female botany and zoology honours students in transition to master’s study in Eastern Cape Universities’.

Maryam Ramdhan: a PhD student from Education Faculty presented on ‘Evaluating university teacher education: A case study’

Adesuwa Vanessa Agbedahin: a PhD student presented on‘Exploring the position-practice system of university professionals, their participation in change-oriented professional development training program on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and how these shape the status of ESD in African universities’.

Experencia Madalitso: also a PhD student presented on ‘Exploring the Potential of Improved Cook Stove (ICS) Programs in Malawi as a Strategy to Climate Change - Sustainable Development Response: Challenges and Prospects’.

Nomfundiso Giqwa:also a PhD student presented onAn investigation of knowledge and its circulation amongst workers in waste management workplaces and training activities: Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) case studies’.

Zintle Songqwaru: also a PhD student presented on ‘Theories of Change: A theory-based approach to surfacing assumptions in Continuing Teacher Professional Development programmes’.

Sirkka Tshiningayamwe:also a PhD student and one of the organising conference committee member presented on‘Conversion factors associated with functioning in professional learning communities (PLCs) for Science teachers’ professional development’.

The highlight of the conference was that, Adesuwa Vanessa Agbedahin from the ELRC (who presented under the topic mentioned earlier) won the price of the best PhD presenter. A special tea and cake was organised at ELRC to celebrate the great achievement. The Dean of the Faculty of Education who supported the IPGC conference also in an email to all Education staff expressed her delight at Vanessa’s success despite the very stiff competition from all other Departments and Faculties on campus and across participating universities.

Vanessa expressed her gratitude by saying “I thank the Post Graduate Liaison Subcommittee and Dr Kristin Krauss. I was sincerely surprised when my name was called out as the best PhD presented at the conference. I did not expect it at all, even thought I had great applaud and complements from my supervisor and colleagues after my research presentation, I just thought someone would do better than I did. I really give all glory to God for choosing to bless and honour me this way when I least prepared and expected it” 

The masters laptop price went to Tendayi Tichiwanhuyi a masters student in the  Faculty of Science (Ergonomics) who presented on the “Understanding the cultural disparities in the approaches taken when learning new technology, in form of smart phone usage by Rhodes University students from two different ethnical dispositions.”. The honours laptop price went to the University of Witwatersrand with Sharon Rose Chimhanda who is in the Faculty of Humanities, doing a joint honours in Politics and Philosophy. Sharon’s presentation was titled, “The Legal Philosophy & Politics behind artwork in SA: Is offensive artwork morally and (or) legally justifiable”?

Some of the presented research at the conference were titled the following: Community care workers in TB care: identifying and meeting their information needs; Exploring calibration artefacts; Synthesis and biological evaluation of resorcinol derivatives as Plasmodium falciparum Hsp90 Inhibitors; Shifting Western representations of the African stand-point; Reader-response theory requires a reboot: Why academia needs to take multimedia responses to literary texts seriously; Do differences in personality traits affect how drivers experience music at different intensities; Immunity of leaders before the new African criminal court; The Proliferation of low costs- private schools in the inner city Johannesburg and Bloemfontein area; Fenchol-derived surfactants for the generation of Chiral micelles; The Relationship between intrinsic rewards and psychological capital and many more.

Resonating with the evaluations done by the postgraduate students who attended the conference, Professor Lotz-Sisitka in her closing address at the gala dinner acknowledged the high standard of the research presented at the conferences. She further highlighted the need to involve more senior academics in the conference in the future and the need to give more students an opportunity to showcase their research projects. On a final note, the conference coordinator for 2014 conference, Mr Leroy Maisiri, a master’s student in Industrial and Economical Sociology, simply emphasised, “The Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference has the potential to be the biggest postgraduate conference in South Africa”.

ELRC appreciates Sirkka Tshiningayamwe, a member of the RU Post Graduate Liaison Subcommittee (PGLSC) and co-author is this article.

 Multiple pictures of the events are available on the Environmental Learning Research Centre Facebook page!