Research Capacity in Africa remains very low in part due to the failure of many capacity building initiatives to address long term sustainability. Emphasis is often laid on training alone without regard to the full career path needed to generate research leaders. KEMRI – Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) has therefore developed a framework for the long-term development of local research leadership. The framework aims to attract talented people, provide them with high quality research training and support their career development beyond training in order to retain them in the region. Earlier on, we focused on the attracting and training aspect of the framework.
From 2013 the emphasis has shifted to support for postdoctoral career progression and research leadership development in order to nurture the next generation of East African Research leaders. Research findings have done much to improve the health of the partnering community in Kilifi, and health around Africa. The work has been enhanced by modern technology which now includes online interaction with secondary schools. We have strong partnerships with University of Nairobi including the Department of Paediatrics, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, and CEBIB as well as Pwani University.
The Objectives of our Training and Capacity Strengthening Programme are :
We offer various forms of training opportunities to would be researchers at their various stages of growth this includes; Internships, attachments and a School leavers scheme to recent graduates.
The SLAS program
The school leavers’ attachment scheme enters its 8th Cohort in 2017. It offers an excellent opportunity for Kilifi’s very talented students to get a taste of research and learn about a wide range of careers in KWTRP. 9-12 Kilifi’s brightest students are offered a 3 months attachment to learn and experience the different types of careers associated with research.
Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research Methods
The Diploma Course, which is offered jointly by KWTRP and Pwani University, is a unique learning program whose aim is to equip recent graduates with theoretical and practical knowledge of the philosophy and practice of research so as to enhance their transition to a research career or further postgraduate training. The course covers all types of health research from basic biomedical research to social science and health system research and provides an opportunity for the students to develop a deep appreciation of the various elements of research through attachment in a highly active research environment.
The students are physically located at the KWTRP facilities in Kilifi and Nairobi but are registered with Pwani University, Kilifi. The course consists of taught sessions, a research project and self-directed learning through participation in scientific meetings including seminars, and journal clubs. Each student is allocated to a researcher for both mentorship and supervision selected on the basis of having submitted a plan for a structured training in a particular research area. The three components run concurrently to enable the students complete the course within six months (January-June) and graduate within the same year (Normally between August – October depending in the University graduation schedule)
Assessment is through a written course and submission of a project report. Those who pass the assessment are issued with certificates during the Pwani University graduation ceremony.
All cost for the training including registration and tuition fees are catered for by KWTRP. In addition the students receive a stipend to help them meet their accommodation and other living expenses.
We have established a rigorous recruitment process, and plan to fund about 15 students every year based at both KWTRP sites in Kilifi and Nairobi. Recruitment is in two stages: First, applications are invited from anyone who completed their undergraduate training in the previous two years or will have completed by the start of the course. 100-150 applicants are selected to attend a Research Careers Day in Nairobi. The Careers Day involves talks and discussions on the research activities at KWTRP and PU and research as a career followed by a written exam which forms the basis for the second round of shortlisting. Subsequently, the top scoring candidates are invited for a face-to-face interview at either the Nairobi or Kilifi KWTRP offices depending on the student’s preferred project
A good PhD training is the foundation for a successful research career. As such, our PhD scheme is aimed at providing students with an opportunity to carry out their training in a high quality research environment. We have developed a quality-assured supervision system that includes a supervision teams of two or three senior researchers and student advisory committee that monitors the students’ progress and advise on academic, career and social issues that may affect the students’ progress. In addition, the students’ progress is monitored through six monthly reports and an upgrading mini viva at the end of the first year to determine their suitability to continue with the PhD training.
Our supervision system is internationally recognised and we are now an Affiliated Research Centre of the Open University of the UK with authority to wholly supervise students registered with that University. As such the Open University is the default institution for registering PhD students within our Programme.
The studentships are proposed by potential supervisors and are fully funded through dedicated capacity building fund from the Wellcome Trust. From 2016 Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL) will be the primary source of funding for PhD studentship although funding may also come from other grants and collaborating initiatives.
Admission to the PhD scheme is through winning a studentship in a competitive interview process. Those who win the studentships are appointed for a 3 months probation period during which they are assessed for their suitability for registration for PhD. At the end of this period the students are formally assessed and are only allowed to register if they pass the assessment otherwise the studentship is withdrawn, At the end of the first year of registration the students undergo an upgrading assessment. This assessment determines if they will continue with the PhD training, be downgraded to an MPhil or even have their studentship withdrawn.
Postdoctoral researchers are the main drivers of research in all major research institutions globally. As such KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, as part of capacity building and research leadership development, is keen to provide support for postdoctoral training for East African researchers particularly for those in the early stages of their careers. We have therefore defined a career path beginning from early postdocs through mid and senior research fellows to principal research fellows.
Early postdoc are generally employed within a year or two of finishing their PhD training on funding from a more senior researchers. Towards the end of their training some of the postdocs may consider applying for independent funding. Such postdoc will supported and mentored to help them developing competitive grant proposal that will enable them progress up the ladder toward becoming a senior or principle research fellows.
Mid, Senior and Principal research fellows are general researchers who hold progressively larger grants and run progressively larger research programmes and groups. Progression to this position is therefore largely determined by a researcher’s scientific output and ability to win research grants.