The creative forefront of academic social responsibility

Postgraduate conference panelists
Postgraduate conference panelists

By Siphokazi Mathe, Media Management student


Friday 23 August was day two of the informative and exciting Rhodes University Postgraduate conference.

The day began with a discussion facilitated by the Director of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies (CPGS), Professor Sioux McKenna, entitled ‘Graduate attributes – what they might mean to you’. The discussion sparked a dialogue about the hard and soft skills eager and aspiring researchers need to acquire to become generators of knowledge within their relevant academic fields.

Prof McKenna started the discussion by asking, “What contribution does your research make at the frontiers of your discipline or field of study?”

This question not only set the tone for the introspective and developmental dialogue that took place that morning, but stressed the importance of producing academic work that is “equitable, respectful and more just for our societies”.

Participants shared the sense of personal meaning derived from participating in the knowledge conversation. Hesitancy was expressed at the idea of identifying themselves as ‘experts’, one of the graduate attributes identified in the national doctoral standards. A lively commitment was made by participants to the collaborative nature of knowledge production and the need for interdisciplinary solutions to the world’s most stubborn problems.

The second half of the morning’s dialogue was dedicated to a panel discussion with postdoctoral fellows Dr Matthew Weaver (Institute for Water Research), Dr Charles Teta (Ichthyology and Fisheries Sciences), Dr Elandrie Davoren (Department of Environmental Sciences), and Dr Olugbenga Egbetokun (Economics and Economic History) - a panel of esteemed academic colleagues who have centered their research on the interaction between communities, people and the environment, prioritising a balance between social consciousness and knowledge production.

The panelists highlighted compassion and creativity as being crucial to the building of knowledge in the academy. The four postdoctoral fellows expanded on their own academic journeys and insights about the conversations we have as academics, and indicated how they have extended their studies into the next stage of their research.

Central to the panel discussion, and a topic which piqued the interest of the audience, was the dissemination of knowledge produced amongst both the academic community and the community in which the knowledge was produced. This conversation pinpointed the convergence of technology, digitisation and academia as useful for widening access to knowledge. Social media in particular was emphasised as a creative conductor or tool in the gathering and distribution of information and knowledge.

Friday morning’s conference session concluded with positive sentiments towards more creative and ethical means of attaining and distributing knowledge and information, while also maintaining a focus on the social responsibility of academics within their communities and fields of study.