The Biodiversity Conservation Academy is a venture by two South African centres of excellence, the Centre for Invasion Biology and the Centre for Birds as Keys to Biodiversity Conservation (based at Stellenbosch University and at the University of Cape Town respectively). The aim of the academy is to mobilize, motivate, and mentor undergraduate   science   students,   particularly   those   from   previously   marginalized   groups   (e.g.  black  South Africans and women) to take on postgraduate studies and to consider careers in research science.
 
The South African research landscape is such that most research work is carried on old white shoulders, white males   majority   of   which   are   nearing   retirement   age.  There   is   not   much   involvement   of   other population   groups, although the contribution of diverse communities like we have in South Africa can provide a rich diversity of thoughts and perspectives that are sometimes necessary to resolve complex research challenges. However there has been a great deal of optimism among the South African research community from the time when South Africa got its  first democratically elected government. This optimism was matched by the reform in the  country’s education  system which was expected to unleash a pool of talented students who were denied opportunities during apartheid. Although those working in higher education in South Africa have recognized that not many students graduating with Bachelor of Science degrees are enrolling for postgraduate degrees at Master’s and Doctoral  levels especially  in  the whole- organism  biology.  Part  of  the  reason  for  this  situation  was identified   to   be   the   lack   of   emphasis   on   field  biology  (or research) in the undergraduate curriculum and the lack of understanding career options open to whole-organism biologists.

The Biodiversity Conservation Academy is designed to address such shortcomings. It provides undergraduate science  students  with  skills  required  to  tackle  research  problems,  introduce  them  to  current theoretical,  practical,  and   philosophical   issues   in   Biodiversity   Conservation,   and   inspire   them   to consider  science   research   as   a   career. Emphasis  is placed on Biodiversity Science as this is an area of natural advantage  for  the  country. The  combination of   our   moderate   climate   and   land   ranges   gives   South Africa  some   of   the   world’s   most   diverse   animal   and   plant  life   (the   laboratory   in   our   back  yard),   and  this   means   that   South  Africa   has   a   potential   to   become   a   catalyst   for  scientific progression throughout Africa if we give priority to research areas where we have a natural advantage (e.g. Biodiversity Science).
 
This work demonstrates how the Biodiversity Conservation Academy mobilizes students from across South Africa into a biodiversity hotspot area in the Western Cape Province of the country to sensitize them to the importance of biodiversity and to issues of conservation and thereby contributing to building the new face of the scientific scholars not only in South Africa, but in the entire continent.

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Biodiversity conservation academy
Inspiring South African undergraduate science students to postgraduate studies and to careers in research science

Mawethu Nyakatya   Stellenbosch University

The Biodiversity Conservation Academy is a venture by two South African centres of excellence, the Centre for Invasion Biology and the Centre for Birds as Keys to Biodiversity Conservation (based at Stellenbosch University and at the University of Cape Town respectively). The aim of the academy is to mobilize, motivate, and mentor undergraduate   science   students,   particularly   those   from   previously   marginalized   groups   (e.g.  black  South Africans and women) to take on postgraduate studies and to consider careers in research science.
 
The South African research landscape is such that most research work is carried on old white shoulders, white males   majority   of   which   are   nearing   retirement   age.  There   is   not   much   involvement   of   other population   groups, although the contribution of diverse communities like we have in South Africa can provide a rich diversity of thoughts and perspectives that are sometimes necessary to resolve complex research challenges. However there has been a great deal of optimism among the South African research community from the time when South Africa got its  first democratically elected government. This optimism was matched by the reform in the  country’s education  system which was expected to unleash a pool of talented students who were denied opportunities during apartheid. Although those working in higher education in South Africa have recognized that not many students graduating with Bachelor of Science degrees are enrolling for postgraduate degrees at Master’s and Doctoral  levels especially  in  the whole- organism  biology.  Part  of  the  reason  for  this  situation  was identified   to   be   the   lack   of   emphasis   on   field  biology  (or research) in the undergraduate curriculum and the lack of understanding career options open to whole-organism biologists.

The Biodiversity Conservation Academy is designed to address such shortcomings. It provides undergraduate science  students  with  skills  required  to  tackle  research  problems,  introduce  them  to  current theoretical,  practical,  and   philosophical   issues   in   Biodiversity   Conservation,   and   inspire   them   to consider  science   research   as   a   career. Emphasis  is placed on Biodiversity Science as this is an area of natural advantage  for  the  country. The  combination of   our   moderate   climate   and   land   ranges   gives   South Africa  some   of   the   world’s   most   diverse   animal   and   plant  life   (the   laboratory   in   our   back  yard),   and  this   means   that   South  Africa   has   a   potential   to   become   a   catalyst   for  scientific progression throughout Africa if we give priority to research areas where we have a natural advantage (e.g. Biodiversity Science).
 
This work demonstrates how the Biodiversity Conservation Academy mobilizes students from across South Africa into a biodiversity hotspot area in the Western Cape Province of the country to sensitize them to the importance of biodiversity and to issues of conservation and thereby contributing to building the new face of the scientific scholars not only in South Africa, but in the entire continent.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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