Young Scientists

Bring your research expertise home for maximum impact

Amr Adly, Ghada Bassioni, Regina Maphanga and Olanike Adeyemo were the speakers of a panel of the YASE meeting about challenges to keep links with Europe when you come back to do research in Africa ©Raymond Gomez/Afriscitech

Come back in Africa to do science is not so easy regarding the working environment and the financial support. But determination and good connections with Europe or America may help.

“The best opportunities for research right now are in Africa”: that is the strong belief expressed by Professor Olanike Adeyemo of Nigeria’s University of Ibadan. As an example, she talks about the 2016 Ebola outbreak, which showed African countries and the world that borders are imaginary when it comes to health research, and that collaboration is necessary.

At the Young African Scientists in Europe (YASE 2018) conference, held on the sidelines of the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) in Toulouse, France, 6th July 2018, a panel of African researchers shared their experiences upon returning to Africa, their motivations for staying and the opportunities Africa holds.

Who really need to cooperate?

“Collaborate, don’t beg,” says Adeyemo, who emphasized that many countries need to collaborate with Africa. “A lot of European countries are over-researched; they need you for research in Africa.”

She stressed that to work in Africa, a researcher needs to change to fit the context, but keep up standards so that credible research comes from Africa.

Financial support to come home

Amr Adly, in his capacity as the Vice Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for Universities Affairs in Egypt, is a policy-maker, but started his career as an active researcher who returned to his home country even after being offered a USA Green Card for being an “individual of exceptional capability”. He told the audience of young researchers gathered that he was motivated by love for his country to come back and contribute to Egypt’s scientific research.

The session moderator, Ghada Bassioni of Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, asked Adly what the Egyptian government was doing to prevent “brain drain” of African research talent leaving the continent. Adly recognised that resources are very important to a researcher and can often determine whether a researcher stays or leaves; as such Egypt is offering financial support for young researchers.

Achieve with minimal ressources

To motivate African governments to retain their young researchers, Adly said the wealth and future of Africa lies in the hands of African talent, and that for the continent to develop, young researchers must be supported. “Fundamental research being done today in Africa means that Africa will own the technology of the future.”

Resources on the continent can be hard to come by, and this can slow down research and development, but Adly sees this lack as an opportunity. “If you cannot achieve with minimal resources, you will not be able to make use of maximal resources,” he said.

Make the best of what you have

After returning to Egypt as a electromagnetics engineer, he built his own equipment, and used the talents and enthusiasm of undergraduates to make the best of what little he had. “Don’t wait for support; you have enough to start something.”

The rest of the panel discussed conditions and opportunities that await researchers back in Africa.

Keep European connections

“Common drivers are economic, when one decides to go back to Africa or not,” said Regina Maphanga of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). As a materials scientist working in computation, Maphanga says she was able to return to South Africa because she used her European connections to access equipment in Europe.

Young researchers in the audience asked how to collaborate with the African diaspora, how to make sure that a collaboration is equitable and fair, and whether fundamental research is useful for the future of the continent.

Where is the diaspora?

In reply to the concerns of collaborations with African diaspora, Adeyemo lamented that the African diaspora is not always easily visible for such collaborations, and that something must be done to remedy this.

Maphanga replied to the issue of equity and fairness in collaborations between Africa and Europe by saying that collaborating with Africa has become a funding requirement for some researchers in Europe. Adly added to the point by saying that some research can only be conducted in Africa, such as HIV research in South Africa, or Nile river research in Egypt.

Determination to make things work

“Some European researchers want to collaborate with you, and not so much the other way round,” he said.

Returning to Africa might seem daunting for some researchers, but the rich panel of researchers and policy-makers at YASE 2018 agreed that the skills needed to make it in Africa are determination to make things work, a love for your country and for Africa, and making good use of the connections you have made in your time in Europe.

Sibusiso Biyela, ScienceLink


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