Being a SAYAS blogger – a worthwhile experience for young scientists

Dear SAYAS blogger 2021, oh yes, you are among the four chosen ones! I would like to welcome you to the 2021 SAYAS blog team! Congratulations!!!” – This is one of the best emails I have received in the year 2021. Little did I know that it was the beginning of an interesting journey as a science blogger.

For many of us in the academic space, communication of our work and experiences is limited to the peers in our respective fields of study. We communicate through publication of research articles, and when we meet in conferences. We barely get the opportunity to discuss our work with a large audience outside academia, or indeed even outside of your specific field! In 2020, I was excited when I heard of a blogging competition by the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS). The competition set out to identify young researchers, who will form part of a team to publish monthly blogs on the SAYAS blog website. Since 2016, this platform has served as a voice of scientists that helps to bridge the gap between science and society. I submitted my documents for the competition, and I was fortunately selected to be part of the 2021 blogging team.

Though it feels short-lived, this has been an interesting journey with a lot of valuable lessons. My first task was to write a blog to introduce myself and narrate my academic journey. This was not much of a challenge, as I often have to write bios when applying for various opportunities in research. However, the second blog we had so submit was a mammoth task. We had to create a vlog showing how a typical day of a researcher goes. This was particularly challenging because, as academics, we often never document what we get up to beyond the academic environment. With guidance from the blog editors, I filmed and published the vlog, which I shared on my Facebook and got an overwhelming response. This vlog remains the major highlight of my journey with SAYAS.

Subsequent to this, I published more blogs relating to:

Without the help of SAYAS blog editors, these blogs have not been a success, I value appreciate their assistance. The editors were helpful in guiding us on how to write in a manner that can be easily understood people outside academia. Blogging for SAYAS has been a great platform to improve written communication skills, and I really encourage other young scientist to participate in this or similar blogging platforms. This is my final blog on this platform, it has been wonderful sharing my thoughts and life experiences with you. Please do, however, look out for more posts from the 2022 SAYAS bloggers next year, as they share their various thoughts and experiences in science.

Taking on new challenges and exploring new activities like blogging is necessary for personal growth. However, it may come at a cost of consuming time for mainstream activities such as work and studies. In addition to blogging, I also took part in assisting at the University of Pretoria’s COVID-19 vaccination site. Although taking part in these new activities did consume a little bit of my time, it did not have a drastic effect on my work activities and PhD progress. With blogging, I could use my spare time during weekends to write monthly articles, and with vaccination, I used my off days to assist at the vaccination site. Therefore, both these activities perfectly fit into the typically busy journey towards obtaining my PhD. Looking in retrospect, 2021 has been a great year full of new experiences, and given the chance, I would do it all over again. I am looking forward to take on more interesting challenges in the coming years, and I recommend you to do so too.

Traits of a good academic supervisor!

Upon completion of my Honours studies, my supervisor invited me to co-supervise to a new Honours student with him, as I had gained some level of knowledge within the project that the new student was to work on. Although this was an interesting pursuit, I was a bit anxious as I did not have any experience with supervising students, and I had not received any prior training on how to be an effective supervisor. I questioned myself on: what a ‘good’ supervisor really is… what traits should they have? Is there ever one? To answer these questions, I looked towards my own supervisors and fellow colleagues who supervise students. From observing these individuals, I came up with 3 traits that I consider vital in a good supervisor.

i. Available
There is nothing more frustrating than sending emails and not getting a response for along time, especially when you need urgent response. Conversely, it is satisfying to get an quick response and solution to the query you are emailing about. This holds true within the academic space, where a student might need urgent assistance, in line with the expected time frames for response to emails for the specific university that the student is registered in. Additionally, students value an available supervisor who can avail themselves for regular meetings, is contactable over various communication platforms, and can put in extra hours assisting students when needed.

ii. Knowledgeable
Students value a supervisor who is knowledgeable in the project that they are working on. As a student, having a supervisor with a considerable level of expertise in your field builds confidence in the work that you are doing. The supervisor does not specifically have to be an expert in all the specific technicalities of your project, but their knowledge in the general field of research really does go a long way.

iii. Compassionate
A student’s life goes beyond just academia, there are various facets that make up a student’s life that should be taken into consideration. These include family relationships, financial matters, mental health issues amongst others. A supervisor who can understand these aspects of a student can easily fit themselves into the shoes of the students and figure a way to relate with them and optimally assist them.

Having learnt these traits. I tried my best to apply them to students that I co-supervised. I immediately learnt that efficient supervision is not dependent on only the supervisor, but the commitment, communication and dedication of the supervised students also plays a role. A committed student who communicates well and can work independently is easy to supervise, and the opposite is true. Since then I have co-supervised, and acted as a main supervisor for many other students and it has, honestly, been a very interesting journey. I currently supervise both honors and masters students, each with their own unique attributes .

The list of traits in a good supervisor is probably longer than I have stated here. There are various studies that investigate the qualities that make a good supervisor, for a example a 2011 study identified the attributes of supervisors and examined elements of effective supervision from the graduate research students‟ perspective. However, form experience and observation, I have learnt that the three above-stated traits play a vital role in optimal supervision of students. Personally, I am privileged to have supervisors with these traits, and I try my best to adopt them in the supervision of my own students.