She is young, energetic and a recognised, well-respected Research and Innovation leader. Just over a month into the job, Dr Thandi Mgwebi, the Tshwane University of Technology’s newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor Partnerships, Research and Innovation (PRI), reflected on her first impressions of her new place of work.
Dr Mgwebi is vocal about how impressed she is with what is happening at TUT, saying, “In terms of Research and Innovation, there is a lot research and enquiry happening at TUT. Although these efforts are quite aligned with national and global challenges, they have not been exposed enough. There are great opportunities to align our activities even more effectively with global and national agendas, which will open up avenues to tap into the many activities and reposition staff potential differently and more meaningfully.”
Having been involved in higher education for more than ten years, Dr Mgwebi says, over time, she has observed some very interesting tendencies. “One of the amazing things is that there is majority of researchers in possession of PhD’s at many universities in the country who seem to be totally silent. Although they have been at universities for a long time, their research outputs are not up to standard. On the short-term, I would like to conduct a survey to determine how many of those are at TUT and device a plan to tap into that potential. It is about time that the silent majority become loud and be heard!”
Giving an overview of her immediate and medium to long term strategies, Dr Mgwebi said in the shorter term she will tend to bring TUT’s Research Strategy more into line with international, continental and local needs and strategies. “To have clear goals and objectives and be able to measure success is vital in any business. Therefore, I’m a strong supporter of clear monitoring and tracking tools to be built into everything we do.”
Another passion of hers is Science Communication. “The marvels of science, more specifically at TUT, must be shared with the world. We must get conversations going about science, research and innovation. One of my immediate activities will be the implementation of a Science Communication Plan not only to profile our scientist and researchers and the wonderful work they do, but also to train researchers on science communication, including science education. In addition to being good for the image and reputation of the University, greater awareness about our excellence in science, research and innovation, will enable us to foster more international and national partnerships. In the longer term, it will also help us to raise more money for research and grants to support scientists to achieve greater heights.”
She adds that that the current cohort of young and upcoming researchers in South Africa is small. “We need to build the community of students with Masters and Doctoral degrees and empower them to become emerging scientists.”
One of Dr Mgwebi’s first engagements with TUT was as a speaker during the recent Transformation Summit. Asked about her views on gender, she says,”South Africa has many issues confronting the country, from political to social cohesion. There is a growing burden of inequality. To pick but just one issue - that of gender inequality. In my view gender is not only about women, it is about society and how we address and cope with differences between and among people.”
Dr Thandi Mgwebi is a Research and Innovation leader with a PhD in Cell and Development Biology from the University of Cape Town. Her experience includes two years as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the South African Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) at UCT; a ten-year full-time appointment as research leader and manager at within the SA System of innovation from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); MRC and the NRF where she was Executive Director for the South African Research Chairs and centres of Excellence.
She is an insightful leader in the SA Higher Education landscape, served in the Ministerial task team for design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a National Mathematical Sciences Programme. She has featured in many international forums for research management and practice in higher education. Dr Thandi has provided training on research and grant management to a range of stakeholders in and outside South Africa including her role as trainer and facilitator for Objective 1 of the Science Granting Council Initiative (SGCI) in Africa. Dr Thandi is an advocate of science engagement and communication; she has concluded significant international partnerships that have leveraged financial and in-kind support for the national science agenda.
She has also represented the country at many international forums such as the World Science Forum; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the European Open Science forum; the International Network of Research Management Societies (INORMS).
Prior to joining TUT, she was Director of Research at the University of the Western Cape since 2015.
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