Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The Association of Commonwealth Universities participates prominently at COVIDSET 2019 in Zimbabwe

by Prof. Dr Johnny Ogunji
Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State, Nigeria


The African Network of Scientific and Technological Institutions (ANSTI), established a biannual conference of Vice-Chancellors, Deans of Science, Engineering and Technology (COVIDSET) as a forum for university leaders responsible for science and engineering education to meet and dialogue on strategic issues in science and engineering education.1 COVIDSET is a forum both for the exchange of ideas and experiences as well as for the sensitization of university leaders on trends in science and engineering education in the region and globally. 

The conference provides a platform for university leaders, policymakers, development partners, international scientific and engineering networks and the private sector to exchange ideas, examine challenges and opportunities, explore solutions and forge ahead to ensure the relevance of these fields in our new and changing world”.2 Organisations and agencies involved in Higher Education and the promotion of Science and Technology in Africa are also invited to participate in the conference.

The first edition, COVIDSET 2005, was held in Accra, Ghana, from 15-17 November 2005. The 7th African Regional Conference of Vice Chancellors and Deans of Science, Education, Engineering and Technology (COVIDSET) was just hosted by Bindura University of Science Education Zimbabwe in collaboration with UNESCO and ANSTI from the 20 to 21 November 2019. The theme of the conference was “Promoting Innovation and the Industrialisation of Africa through Quality STEM education”. It took place at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Interestingly, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) participated prominently at the conference. Johnny Ogunji, Ben Prasadam-Halls and Verity Buckley contributed a paper titled “Strengthening Research in Africa and Improving the Competences of African Researchers: Lessons from Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa”. The paper was put together to address Objective 2 of the conference: “Strengthening/Enhancing capacity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education to achieve the New Development agendas (African Union Agenda 2063, STISA 2024); (Linkages and Partnership, Research funding, relevant programmes, Human Capital development, Value addition)”.

The African Union (AU) Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024) places science, technology and innovation at the epicentre of Africa’s socio-economic development and growth. The STISA-2024 is the first of the ten-year incremental phasing strategies to respond to the demand for science, technology and innovation to impact across critical sectors such as agriculture, energy, environment, health, infrastructure development, mining, security and water among others. The strategy is firmly anchored on six distinct priority areas that contribute to the achievement of the AU Vision. These priority areas are: Eradication of Hunger and Achieving Food Security; Prevention and Control of Diseases; Communication (Physical and Intellectual Mobility); Protection of our Space; Live Together- Build the Society; and Wealth Creation

Participants to the 7th African Regional Conference of Vice Chancellors and Deans of Science, Education, Engineering and Technology (COVIDSET) in Zimbabwe
While reading the paper, Johnny Ogunji presented the outcome of several projects of ACU, targeted at strengthening research in Africa and improving the competences of African Researchers. Some of these include: The Nairobi process, the Structured Training for African Researchers (STARS) project and the Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement in Sub-Saharan Africa programme (CIRCLE). He pointed out that ACU through CIRCLE worked with participating institutions to develop better professional development systems for early career research staff via the CIRCLE Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP). To make the engagement of researchers more effective, the CIRCLE lens was applied to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) to guide the wider programme.
Prof. Dr Johnny Ogunji presenting the ACU paper
The Vitae RDF is an internationally recognized framework for the development of researchers’ competencies, encompassing the diversity of skills required to create excellent research with impact. In order to share learning from CIRCLE, a series of Six ISP Good Practice Guides outlining how to design, deliver and monitor an ISP at any institution were produced. On the other hand, while prosecuting STARS, ACU developed a robust, high quality series of nine online modules to universities across the developing world. The courses covered topics such as identifying your research niche, finding funding, managing research projects, time management, building effective collaborations and partnerships, communicating findings to non-academic audiences, academic ethics and research supervision. This will help to bolster the next generation of academic staff in Africa and strengthen the long-term vitality of their research and teaching.
In addition to the paper presentation Johnny Ogunji took part in a panel discussion of the Conference theme. During these presentations he emphasised the importance of Universities and researchers in Africa to key into and make use of the RDF as a very important instrument that will improve technical and professional competencies of researchers. He also stressed that institutions should adopt the Institutional Strengthening Program (ISP) of ACU to make real progress and enhance science, technology and innovation to bring about Africa’s socio-economic development and growth. He invited any University that needs help from ACU to indicate interest since ACU is willing to give assistance.

Prof. Dr Johnny Ogunji participating in the panel discussion at the conference


The Organizers were very excited by the participation of ACU in the Conference. During the vote of thanks, the organizers thanked the ACU alongside other companies and institutions for supporting the Conference. Prof. Dr Johnny Ogunji at the end of the conference was granted an interview with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Coorpration where he further advanced the course of ACU.

It was a good thing that ACU participated at the Conference. Many attending Universities have indicated interest to become members of ACU in due course. ACU is appreciated for sponsoring Johnny Ogunji to the Conference.



________________________________________________________________

1https://www.ansti.org/index.php/covidset-reports

2https://www.scidev.net/global/education/feature/building-a-brighter-future-for-african-researchers.html


Monday, 30 September 2019

Nigeria CVF Forum: The Journey Thus Far


Written by Abiodun S. Momodu[1], Clara Ifeanyi-obi[2] and Faith O. Kasim[3]

Dr Momodu, Dr Ifeanyi-obi, and Dr Kasim are alumni of the CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship programme. They recently initiated a forum for  alumni of this programme based in Nigeria. Here, they reflect on this and their future plans.

At Ibadan, in the month of April 2019, a number of CIRCLE Visiting Fellows (CVFs) gathered together to deliberate on how to sustain the legacy of the experience we had during the fellowship periods between 2015 and 2018. These few CVFs at that meeting agreed that there should be a Nigeria CVF Forum. This birthed the Forum. Three CVFs were subsequently nominated to direct the affairs of the Forum until such a time that we will be able to gather together in our number to do an actual election or selection as may be convenient.

Nigeria-based alumni of the CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship programme at the ACU-UI Next Generation Workshop at the University of Ibadan, April 2019

To keep our activities alive, we agreed at the meeting that held during the ACU-UI Next Generation Workshop held at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan from 2nd to 4th of April 2019 to be involved in the following: (1) publish a book on Climate Change. This book is meant to showcase our various researches as relates to climate change in Nigeria. This project has actually kickstarted and over twenty concept notes have been collected awaiting review for final selection, while negotiation is on-going with would-be publisher; (2) conduct an annual reunion meeting amongst the CVFs in Nigeria with the maiden edition tentatively fixed for March 2020 at  the University of Ibadan; (3) generate a memorandum of understanding/constitution that will define the operations of the Forum as we move forward.

It is important at this point to note that primary purpose of the Forum is to keep alive our various training experiences, in research and leadership, at the various institutions that each of the CVFs had the fellowship. The Nigeria CVF Forum also felt it is significant to become a veritable platform for Climate Research and mentoring for upcoming researchers. The gap noticed by both the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the African Academy of Sciences that led to the implementation of CIRCLE will remain if we do not step in to fill the void. This gap is principally in regard of early career researchers in universities and research institutions that are not exposed to top notch training in research and leadership to take over from senior faculty members. The reverberating effect is the decline in contribution to global body of knowledge in various areas of endeavours, with particular emphasis on climate change. Climate change is a global topical issue particularly as it affects every sphere of life. The understanding of the effect of climate change on every sphere of life has significant input to the formulation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Africa We Want.

To this end, the Nigeria CVF Forum plans to be having annual reunion meetings with the aim to review issues that affects ECRs. Climate Change and national development. How we will go about conducting these activities will be a collective decision that we will all arrive at together. Presently, we have formed a WhatsApp Group to disseminate information and also generate ideas through virtual meetings. We have selected a number of persons to serve as Editorial Committee to oversee the book launch planned for 2020. Hopefully, we will reach out to the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the various management of our home institutions with the details of our activities. It is at this point noteworthy to commend the United Kingdom Government through the Department for International Development (DFID) for facilitating all the activities of CIRCLE. Moving forward, the Nigeria CVF Forum do sincerely hope that with our spread arms, the leaders of ACU and management of our various institutions will help us to rise and meet the daunting challenges in research and leadership training.

Thank you.


[1] Centre for Energy Research and Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Email: abiodunmomodu8@gmail.com; Phone: +2348061399185
[2] Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Emai: clara.ifeanyi-obi@uniport.ed.ng; Phone: +2348033397055, +234802888119
[3] Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria. Email: kasimfaith@gmail.com; +2348055607009


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Renewed support for strengthening climate change research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa

By George Lakey, CIRCLE Programme Officer


Through renewed funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) is continuing its commitment to supporting climate change research across sub-Saharan Africa through its Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) programme.

Since 2015, the ACU-led CIRCLE programme has been working to strengthen the capacity of African researchers and research institutions to undertake research into the impacts of climate change on local development. Numerous reports have indicated the success of the programme in building the capacity of both individual researchers to undertake quality research and institutions to better support the career development of their researchers.

DFID has been a long-standing supporter of programmes designed to build the research capacity of individuals and organisations, with a report in 2010 noting this as one of their four key priorities. We are therefore delighted that DFID will continue to support this capacity building programme on both an individual and institutional level. On an individual level, the programme will continue to support the Alumni of the CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship (CVF) through two funds; the CIRCLE Publication Fund and the CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund.

CIRCLE Publication Fund

The CIRCLE Publication Fund supports CVF Alumni in paying article processing charges (APCs) to enable them to publish their work open access and contribute more fully to the body of knowledge on the impacts of climate change. To date, CIRCLE has used close to £50,000 GBP to support the publication of over 50 articles. The additional funding provided by DFID will substantially increase this number, contributing further to the impact of CIRCLE.

All publications supported through this fund must be in journals deemed to be prestigious. The majority of journals published in are ranked on Scimajo Journal & Country Rank (SJR), with a large proportion ranked in Quartile 1. The remaining journals have been deemed to be prestigious, with many found on African Journals Online (AJOL), the largest online library of peer-reviewed, African-published scholarly journals. AJOL works to change the flow of scholarly information from North to South and West to East, as well as allowing African researchers to access the work of other African academics to ensure that research produced in Africa is readily available to Africans.

CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund

Research uptake – the process through which research reaches its users – is another DFID priority area as it enhances the impact of programmes and contributes to real change. To this end, CIRCLE implemented a Research Uptake Fund to support CVF Alumni in activities that will contribute to their CIRCLE research being put into use. Three separate calls have distributed 65 awards, totalling over £125,000 GBP. An impressive 3,400 stakeholders have been engaged through these funded activities.

The ACU has extensive experience in delivering programmes aimed at supporting research uptake processes. As a facilitator of research uptake activities, the ACU seeks to ensure that key stakeholders are engaging with important research that can have real-world impact. The research conducted by CVF Alumni, with its focus on the impacts of climate change on local development, is vital in mitigating against a changing environment for communities across sub-Saharan Africa. We are therefore delighted that DFID’s additional funding will allow CIRCLE to continue to support its CVF Alumni in ensuring their research is reaching those who need it most.

Image from Dr Abimbola Oluwaranti's CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund activity


CIRCLE ISP Implementation Fund


As well as supporting individuals, CIRCLE sought to strengthen the capacity of institutions to support the career development of their researchers. 31 research institutions across 9 African countries were supported through the CIRCLE Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP). The CIRCLE ISP Implementation Fund was designed to provide small amounts of seed funding to institutions to enable them to conduct activities related to their ISP Action Plan. Two rounds of Implementation Funding have been taken place to-date, with approximately £65,000 GBP being dispersed. In round 1, 18 institutions conducted 31 activities, while in round 2 16 institutions conducted 27 activities. A further two rounds of this fund will allow CIRCLE-participating institutions continued access to small grants to fund activities to help embed the ISP within their institution.

Inauguration of the Mentoring Handbook at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Nigeria. Funded through the CIRCLE ISP Implementation Fund.

Non-CIRCLE ISP Implementation Fund

The learning developed through the CIRCLE programme in how to strengthen capacity building processes at African research institutions has been captured in a series of six CIRCLE ISP Good Practice Guides which outline how to design, deliver and monitor an ISP at any institution.

In order to assess the effectiveness and suitability of the guides for wider use, a small grants scheme will be launched for non-CIRCLE institutions. As with the main CIRCLE ISP Implementation Fund, universities would use the funding to support the organisation of workshops, training sessions or developing support materials such as in-house mentoring or training guides. This process allows the sharing of learning from CIRCLE beyond the scope of the programme; extending and enhancing its impact.

The Guides will also be widely promoted, and the first grants scheme will be launched during our 2020 Developing the Next Generation of Researchers workshop, which will be expanded to further disseminate the learning and expertise produced by CIRCLE.

The Climate and Resilience Framework Programme (CLARE)

As well as allowing us to continue to support our participants, the 2-year extension will allow CIRCLE to use its experience and expertise in capacity strengthening to inform the design of the capacity strengthening aspect of DFID’s new Climate and Resilience Framework Programme (CLARE). CIRCLE will carry out several scoping exercises to identify good practice across programmes within the DFID network, and contribute to recommendations on how to expand on successes to date.

For more information about CIRCLE, please email George.Lakey@acu.ac.uk

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Maximising the potential for research impact


By George Lakey, CIRCLE Programme Officer

The CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship (CVF) Programme, where early career researchers based at African institutions complete a yearlong Fellowship at another host institution within Africa, aimed to strengthen the capacity of African scientists to undertake research on climate change and its impacts on local development. 97 CVFs were successfully completed between 2015-2017, resulting in a group of CVF Alumni. Every 6 months since the completion of their Fellowship, CVF Alumni have been asked to complete a Follow-up Report to assess their experiences, successes, and challenges since returning to their home institution. The latest Follow-up Report was conducted in December 2018 and January 2019 and covered the period from July to December 2018. In preparation for the full report being published on ACU website, this blog presents some of the key highlights of the CVF Alumni maximising their potential for research impact.


Image 1. Cohort 1 CVF Alumni at their pre-Fellowship Workshop in 2015



Improving research capacity

CVF Alumni were asked to rate their experiences in key research capacity areas between July and December 2018, including the time they now have to conduct their research. Figure 1 below provides a breakdown of these responses. While it is clear that having the time to conduct their research has been the most challenging aspect of their careers over the 6 month period, over 80% believed that their experiences have improved in this area. Time is a major constraint in improving the capacity of early career researchers to conduct research, and it has been suggested that African researchers have continually spent over 80% of their working week conducting administrative activities (AAS, 2019). Therefore, it is encouraging to see that the skills and experiences gained through the Fellowship are  allowing our CVF Alumni to begin to mitigate this issue.


Figure 1. CVF experiences in key research capacity areas between July and December 2018


Research capacity as quality as well as quantity

A total of 93 articles were submitted to peer-review journals between July and December 2018, with 41 of those submissions being published. However, while volume of publications is important for CIRCLE, the quality of the journals that researchers are submitting to is crucial. Research capacity is about quality as well as quantity. An increase in a researcher’s time to conduct their research not only increases their potential output, but also increases the potential for quality output.



Image 2. Two members of our Cohort 2 CVF Alumni, Ms Sandra Atindana and Dr Daniella Sedegah


Through a support network of supervisors, mentors, and specialist advisors, along with training on journal selection, CIRCLE has placed a strong emphasis on ensuring that CVF Alumni are submitting to ‘reputable’ or ‘prestigious’ journals. While reviewing journals to assess quality can be a challenging process, CIRCLE uses metric databases such as Scimajo Journal & Country Rank (SJR), alongside further desk-based online research, and consultation with project partners. Figure 2 below provides a breakdown of articles submitted to or published in peer-reviewed journals by CVF Alumni between July and December 2018. An incredible 74% of these articles were to journals defined as reputable, while only 11% could be seen to be low quality. In addition. over two thirds of those reputable journals were in SJR Quartiles 1 and 2. By publishing in such prestigious journals, our CVF Alumni are maximising the potential impact of their research, which is essential if the impacts of climate change on development in their locality are going to understood, mitigated and addressed.

Figure 2. Quality of peer-review journals submitted to between July and December 2018


Increasing visibility - conferences and events

Presenting at conferences and events is a further mechanism for contributing to debates on climate change impacts and improving research visibility. Between July and December 2018, our CVF Alumni attended 99 events, presenting at 35 of these. These presentations were located in 13 different countries, with 15 presentations occurring in locations outside the presenter’s home country, including in Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Kenya, Rwanda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While it is essential that research is presented within the locality of where the research was conducted, particularly when the topic of study is the impact of climate change on local development, it is also very impressive to see the quality of CVF Alumni research recognised on an international scale. An international audience being presented with local issues is important for increasing the visibility of those issues and securing international funding and action.




Image 3. Cohort 3 Fellow, Mrs Ibe, attending a climate change conference in California, USA



The CIRCLE Team is continuously amazed at the excellence of our CVF Alumni and we would like to congratulate each and every one of them for their brilliant research into the impact of climate change on local development, a topic of utmost importance. And further, their never-ending endeavour to ensure their research is visible and has impact should be an inspiration to all researchers around the world.

Thank you and well done!

George Lakey
CIRCLE Programme Officer

Thursday, 15 November 2018

CIRCLE ISP Workshop 2018, Accra, Ghana, 17-19 October 2018


By George Lakey, CIRCLE Programme Officer

Last month, the Climate Impacts Research Capacity Leadership Enhancement in Africa (CIRCLE) programme headed to Ghana to bring together representatives from 20 higher education institutions across sub-Saharan Africa to celebrate the success of the CIRCLE Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP) and discuss how to build on their achievements for the remainder of the programme.

Bringing together institutional champions who participated in the ISP, along with CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship alumni, the CIRCLE ISP Workshop showcased how participating institutions are improving support for their early careers researchers (ECRs) working in the field of climate change. 

CIRCLE was designed to address the low percentage of African scientists contributing to global climate change publications via two components; the CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship Programme and the CIRCLE ISP. An independent review of CIRCLE, conducted in 2017, detailed the success of the programme. However, the review noted that more time would be required to enable the ISP component to become embedded within participating institutions. Therefore, while CIRCLE was initially planned to run from 2014-2018, a one-year extension was granted by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to pursue this goal, and will now officially closed in March 2019.

It is within this context that the CIRCLE ISP Workshop 2018 was designed. Held in Accra, Ghana, from 17th-19th October 2018, the workshop had two principle aims:
  1. Further embed the CIRCLE ISP into the wider institutional context to ensure the sustainability of the impact of CIRCLE beyond March 2019.
  2. Provide training to participants for the CIRCLE ISP Case Study Visit activity which will ensure the sharing of experiences and learning across the CIRCLE network and beyond.

The ISP has been a remarkable success, with many institutional improvements for support of ECRs. During the workshop, the CIRCLE Team had the opportunity to present key findings from the latest CIRCLE Programme Reporting Series, sharing news of the numerous achievements reported since the programme began in 2015. At the start of CIRCLE, 3 institutions had formal mechanisms in place to mentor ECRs effectively, 5 institutions had policies and/or strategies for supporting career and professional development planning and 17 institutions indicated that the delivery of professional development opportunities for staff was satisfactory or poor. This month, we were proud to report that 20 institutions now have formal mentoring mechanisms to mentor ECRs effectively, 14 institutions have indicated that they currently have policies and/or strategies formally in place for supporting career and professional development planning for research staff at their institution, and an additional 4 institutions reported having draft policies awaiting approval. 24 institutions reported an increase in the quality and quantity of training and support offered to ECRs compared with the start of the programme. It really is extraordinary that so many improvements have been put into place by our ISP Champions, and that these have reached beyond the Departments involved in our programme.

Throughout the workshop, we heard from individual Champions who had made such achievements, sharing their thoughts on how they had been successful. We heard from Prof. Philippa Ojimelukwe of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, on her experience of developing a formal mentoring programme at her institution, while Prof. Maria Tsvere from Chinhoyi University of Technology spoke about how she created a sustainable ISP Action Plan for her institution that has facilitated improvements in support beyond her academic department.


Our ISP partner, Vitae, also provided tailored support and advice for participants over the course of the workshop on how to build upon the work carried out so far and how to achieve wider institutional recognition and embedding of ISP learning. While CIRCLE is of course encouraging institutions to think about how they can maximise the impact of the ISP between now and the end of the programme, we are also encouraging our Champions to think beyond CIRCLE. Our programme has created a network of climate change researchers and departmental staff who have worked together to address support needs for ECRs in order to boost the input that African academics have on climate change research.


We want to ensure that this network is maintained long after our programme draws to a close. To help achieve this, CIRCLE is also funding a series of case study visits, whereby each institution involved in the ISP nominates a representative to visit another institution in the network to share knowledge and best practise in the delivery of their ISP. The nominated representative will visit their matched institution to learn from their successes and challenges and share the experiences from their home institution. The visits are a fantastic opportunity for our institutions to share their learning and experiences across the CIRCLE network. The reports from these visits will also provide contextual successes and challenges from African institutions to feed into a series of CIRCLE Good Practice Guides, developed in partnership with Vitae. The Guides are designed to be used by any institution to help them design and develop their very own ISP. This will ensure that the innovative and comprehensive approaches to building support for early careers researchers developed by institutions involved in CIRCLE can be shared and expanded by any institution outside the network.


The Next 6 Months
Following on from the workshop, ISP Teams will be submitting applications to the CIRCLE ISP Implementation Fund and carrying out their activities to further embed the ISP at their institution. The CIRCLE ISP Case Study Visits will occur in November 2018, with reports being submitted in December. The CIRCLE Team will be carrying out surveys of CIRCLE and non-CIRCLE affiliated individuals and institutions to collect data for the next CIRCLE Programme Reporting Series. Read the latest reports here.


Thank yous
I have been the CIRCLE Programme Officer at ACU since August 2018. This is the first discrete international project I have had the honour to work on, and the first workshop I have had the pleasure to help organise. The logistical challenges of organising the travel, accommodation, and subsistence for over 40 participants from 9 different countries notwithstanding, the experience I have gained in the lead up to the workshop has been invaluable, and the opportunity to meet such amazing people in such a great location was unforgettable.

On behalf of the ACU, CIRCLE, and all the delegates, I would like to extend my thanks to all the staff at the Best Western Plus Accra Beach Hotel for their incredible hospitality and support.

We would also like to thank Vitae for their important contribution to the development of the workshop programme and the successful delivery of their sessions, and Prof. John Morton for his contribution and creation of the CIRCLE Organisational Strategies and Structures for Climate Change Research in Sub-Saharan Africa Report. 

But most importantly, thank you to all the delegates who participated in the CIRCLE ISP Champions Workshop 2018 and worked tirelessly to make it an unequivocal success.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

My Conference Experience

By Geraldine Ibe, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria and Cohort 3 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, University for Development Studies, Ghana

Geraldine Ibe was awarded a CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship to conduct research at the University for Development Studies, focusing on forest food species in the tropics, savannah and mangrove forests. Here, Geraldine presents her inspiring journey to present her CIRCLE research at the University of California, in the United States of America.

I had always wanted to be a lecturer with a difference, especially in the research world! My dream was to travel around the world while still performing my duties as a lecturer. As I look back at my success story through my CIRCLE journey, I cannot help but be filled with gratitude on being able to attend a conference in the United States of America. It was filled with exciting and memorable moments. After my CIRCLE Fellowship at UDS Ghana, I had scaled hurdles to find outstanding conferences, it was not very easy. I sent in my Abstracts to about three different conference organizers at the time and finally my abstract was accepted for “The Tenth International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses at the University of California, Berkeley, USA April 20 to 21, 2018”. 































After considerable scrutiny, I got an invitation to attend and present at this noble conference, to say that I was not excited would be a shocker right? Guess what? I WAS NOT EXCITED! One would wonder why, in the recent events of predatory journals and conferences, I had developed cold feet towards this one as I thought this could be one of them. But that ‘still small’ voice kept re-assuring me that this was it! I got my invitation letter quite late after a long wait from abstract reviews. This was exactly two months to the conference date. Even at that, I still ignored my mail for another one week. I finally embraced my fears and decided to have a look at my invitation letter and then decided to do a background check on the organizers by verifying the authenticity of the conference programme. Like the saying goes, “success doesn’t just come and find you, you have to go out and get it”. Therefore, I made a lot of international phone calls, I sent out series of mails to institutions in the United States, I did a lot of Google checks; I just needed to ascertain how real these people were before requesting for financial support from my sponsors – CIRCLE.



The CG Network is situated at University Research Park, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA and these organizers are a group of very credible University professionals who have been curating conferences and publishing peer reviewed journals for over 30 years whereby they operate on a hybrid open access model. While 72% of their journals are indexed by Scopus, the remaining 28% are new titles currently under review. I immediately wrote to the ACU for funding request as time was already running out on me, Verity was so helpful and absolutely proactive to my request. As soon as I got approval, even without the immediate arrival of my funds yet, I had to courageously pay for my US visa fees and I began to apply for my USA visa interview with fingers crossed. Alas! Available appointments on the Embassy platform had exceeded the conference date. I took a bold step! I pulled the bull by the horn! How did I do that? I wrote to The US Embassy in Nigeria and requested for an Emergency appointment. Surprisingly, I was responded to within 24 hours and I was given the option to choose my preferred date within one week of the response. Everything happened so fast. I hurriedly left for Lagos for my interview, and I was SUCCESSFUL! I was granted a 2 year Multiple Visa to the United States, all these happened with my persistence, determination and relentless efforts, also great support from ACU, especially Verity Buckley, Mr Ben Prasadam-Halls and other team members behind the scene! I had only 14 days left to finish preparations and leave for the United States; I eventually made it to the USA, successfully passing through the immigration and customs without a hitch. I flew to San Francisco, California via Atlanta Georgia and I arrived at the conference center on the arrival date. 



We had the opportunity to introduce ourselves, I did introduce myself, and all about my CIRCLE research work. I talked about my sponsors, DFID, ACU in collaboration with AAS and VITAE. I enlightened the forum about CIRCLE, and what it stands for - Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement. I met and networked with other delegates from different parts of the continents and it was a humbling experience. On the second day of the conference, I delivered my findings which were drawn from my CIRCLE research work and my topic was “Anthropogenic Activities and Climate Change: Impacts on Rural Dwellers”. 










At the end of it all, I got my conference certification together with other presenters at the conference. Overall, the conference programme was very insightful, rewarding and educative. Meanwhile, as a result of my brilliant presentation in the last conference, the organizers have been sending me mails to attend again next year for the “Eleventh International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses at Pryzbyla Center, The Catholic University of America, Washington DC, USA in April 2019”. Unfortunately, this time, I have no sponsorship yet. Nevertheless, I am totally grateful for this huge opportunity given to me by CIRCLE to be exposed academically and to be in forefront of researchers who are passionate about solving problems that pertains to Environmental Management. CIRCLE has also helped me to become a committed, creative and highly motivated individual who has passion for networking and collaborative research with an uncompromising commitment to quality and outstanding research work. In all, I thank everyone who has made it possible for me to have a success story throughout my CIRCLE journey – DFID, ACU, AAS, VITAE, UDS Ghana and MOUAU Nigeria and to George Lakey who encouraged me to share my humble conference experience. Thank God!



Thursday, 27 September 2018

CIRCLE Achievements: The CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship Alumni

by The CIRCLE Team

CIRCLE is now halfway through our one-year extension, and we have been busy collecting data from all our CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship (CVF) alumni and institutions involved in the Institutional Strengthening Programme. We thought it would be good to share news on all their achievements reported over the last 6 months, to give you an idea of the impact of our programme!

One of the overarching aims of the CIRCLE Programme is to strengthen the capacity of African scientists to undertake research on climate change and its local impacts on development. The CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship aims to help achieve this aim, by funding 100 Fellowships for African climate change researchers to spend a year at a host institution within Sub-Saharan Africa. To monitor progress, CIRCLE invites all our Fellows to complete follow-up surveys every three months during their fellowship, and every six months after its completion. Between 2015 and 2017, three Cohorts took part in the CVF Programme, with the third and final Cohort settling back into their home institution in December 2017.



In June 2018, CIRCLE invited all our alumni to complete a follow-up survey on progress and achievements over the last 6 months. As such, Cohort 1 were 2.5 years post-fellowship, Cohort 2 1.5 years post-fellowship and Cohort 3 6-months post-fellowship.

Of the 96 Fellows who were invited to complete the survey, 74 Fellows responded. Since returning to their home institution, our CVF Alumni reported improvements in training and development opportunities, opportunities to apply newly developed skills and experiences, and their overall responsibilities and career opportunities. There was however little improvement in their time to conduct their research, with female respondents more likely to respond having a reduction in time. Although, many Fellows have indicated that the increase in time constraints are a result of their involvement in CIRCLE, as the skills and experience gained has resulted in increased responsibilities.
The most commonly reported challenges in applying skills were time, resources and funding, as well as gaining wider-institutional support or recognition of their experience. Those that were able to share their skills were more likely to do so through presentations at conferences/workshops, through mentoring, or by applying their skills in a new role. We had 19 Fellows report that they had been promoted, with 12 of these indicating that this promotion has been influenced by their participation in CIRCLE. 61 Fellows reported that they were mentoring other academics at their institution, which is higher than the number reported 6 months ago.

Now that the Fellowships have been completed, we were interested to see if any of the relationships and research developed through CIRCLE were still ongoing. We found that 84% of CVF alumni were still in contact with or were actively collaborating with their host supervisor and 82% with other CVFs outside of their home institution. We also found that 59% of CVF Alumni were undertaking further research related to their CIRCLE research projects during this reporting period.

An incredible 128 peer-review journal articles have been submitted since January 2018, with 51 being published to date and a further 17 being accepted and awaiting publication. 44 submitted articles were focused on CIRCLE research, with 15 published and 9 currently awaiting publication. Where data was available, 93% of peer-review submissions were to reputable journals, with 53% of these to high-ranking Q1-4 journals. While CIRCLE research fared even better, with 94% of CIRCLE research articles submitted to reputable journals and 56% of these to high-ranking Q1-4 journals. Our Alumni have also been busy attending a range of conferences and events over the last 6 months, with 94 events attended and CVFs presenting research at 56 of these.

In addition to publishing, 54% of our Fellows have been involved in a total of 74 applications for grants and funding since January, with 14 successful applications to date and almost half a million USD being awarded. 65% of our CVF Alumni have also been involved in 107 collaborations with a range of successful outputs including policy briefs, book chapters, events, and community outreach activities.



We are very proud of our alumni and are pleased to see that the training and support delivered by both CIRCLE and their home and host institutions is continuing to have a positive impact on their personal and professional development. We only have another six months left of our programme, but we’re certain that we will see even more reported achievements from our Fellows throughout the remainder of the programme.

If you would like to find out more about our Fellows, you can read their profiles on our website.
A full copy of the January – June 2018 CVF Follow-up Report will soon be available on our website.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Settling home away from my CIRCLE home: Which one is which one?


By Beaven Utete, Senior Lecturer, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe and Cohort 3 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Beaven Utete was awarded a CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship to conduct research at the University of Ibadan, focusing on fisheries and water resources in peri-urban spaces. Here, Beaven provides a unique insight into his personal and professional development through the CIRCLE journey.


Image 1. Do you remember them? If you see any of them call me or beep me!!!!!! Fellow CVF 3 colleagues at AAS in Kenya


Jetting into a hot humid slightly drizzling Lagos International Airport, Nigeria at approximately 1734 hours in March 2017 enroute to University of Ibadan, Oyo State I knew the climate had literally changed for me and I had to adapt or “perish’’. Alas!! The weather changes were not at all the “monster’’ that had invaded my head, life and space. Wait!! I was whisked away into a nice taxi and a very standard hotel for the night. That was the appetiser!! Ooh my gosh I was not prepared for the tasty sting of the sumptuous looking pepper soup with soft nicely cooked cattle skin called ponmo (forgive my bad Yoruba!!!) and dented with delicious okra and a very feisty looking brown Amala which later turned out to be my favourite meal in Nigeria. Let's leave the food please shall we? After one eye opening drive early the next morning I arrived in a nicely preserved “ancient’’ looking cultured city full of hustle and bustle (I mean it!!!)

Image 2. Me in the middle and my fellow CVFs Dr Verdiana Tulimanyiwa and Mr Jackson, all from Tanzania


So you think that’s my story? No my real story began when I met this well-mannered fast talking woman I hardly heard her kkkk most of the time. Remember my British English versus her Nigerian-Yoruba-English accent now you can imagine. She was a God fearing, a prayer warrior as compared to my Anglican background! She introduced herself and I knew immediately the roller coaster ride had begun. From there onwards I was her bodyguard, research assistant, CIRCLE research fellow, student and ooh Bible student no time to settle at all and was busy setting up the research protocols, collecting equipment and setting a pragmatic sampling itinerary. Remember this is my third day in Ibadan, the formalities for her could as well follow after work. I literally knew my places of sampling before formal introductions. Keep in mind that my mind, body, soul and taste buds had lost 2 hours thanks to the different time zones in the West and South of Africa I had to adapt fast and quickly. Nigerians do not walk but they run, we Zimbabweans stroll like it’s an easy Sunday morning, needless to remind you of the language barrier by now I was an accomplished sign reader (yes laugh your lungs out). By the second week I had read more than was necessary to know the water bodies I was sampling. From there the diet was a part of me and was no cry baby (yes I am beating aloud my own drum) and would literally wake up at midnight and work with no hand holding and it’s in my DNA now and forever.

Image 3. The full complement at University of Ibadan after the final CIRCLE presentations!!

Literally, I had to learn collaboration, team work, academic flexibility, plasticity and survival tactics, Nigeria waits for no one especially the lazy man. What I got is a culture shock, an academic bamboozlement, culinary awakening, and time management dexterity. If you think I am saying Ibadan was all work think again, I actually earned a nickname of Mr Sanchez following a departed former Arsenal player at the nearby sports clubs. CIRCLE was all fun and fun for me indeed and let’s do it again if we can shall we? I miss my lifelong friends and collaborators and curious sights in the markets and roads as the motorcycles (my favourite ride) criss-cross Apete Road, Ibadan Polytechnic, Eleyele and stride towards Asejire.

Image 4. Back home doing my CIRCLE Research Uptake stakeholder consultation at Maturi Fishing Cooperative in Zimbabwe

Now I am back home in Zimbabwe behold a new man, independent, fun loving and enjoying my memories of my CIRCLE home (Nigeria), and check my profile online on the strides I have made since my sojourn!!! The timetable for me does not matter I work anytime any day and my body totally lost the 2 hours (make it 4 for the return journey). Back home I now do not know any timetable and I detest targets because they limit you! I literally work anytime and anywhere yes even in the middle of the lake I can begin to write a publication or a framework or a review. I have made strides in my professional career, my family life and social life. For me the Researcher Development Framework is not just some scorecards it's now in my blood to crosscheck my progress every day and set priorities for the next day. The culture shock in Nigeria helped turn around my perspectives and literally my work ethics have shifted a gear up. The biggest lesson I learnt is to respect another person and all that defines them if ever you want to succeed in research and academia. I exit!!! 

My success and fun owes to CIRCLE of course but I never forget Professor Bernadette Tosan Fregene (Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, University of Ibadan, now at The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan Nigeria).

Image 5. Me and Professor Tosan Bernadette Fregene after my final presentation for the CIRCLE component of Nigeria

Let’s do it again!!!
Beaven Utete (CVF Alumni 2017-Zimbabwe-Nigeria)