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Wanted by the Next Einstein Forum – More female fellows

The Next Einstein Forum fellowship programme, run by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, is offering eligible scientists another opportunity to join its 2017-19 fellows, in a move intended to push up the number of women fellows to a minimum of 40%.

The news comes just days after the organisation published a list of 16 scientists who make up the 2017-19 cohort of fellows, and which includes only six females. The mathematical sciences body has officially committed to a female fellowship representation of at least 40%.

“While the formal process has closed, we invite those who believe they are qualified to apply before November. In particular, we are looking for strong female applicants,” said Nathalie Munyampenda, associate director of public engagement for the Next Einstein Forum.

According to Munyampenda, with increased awareness of the programme, the forum believes it is possible to meet or exceed its gender target without compromising quality.

‘A global challenge’

In an email, she described the lack of qualified female candidates as a “global challenge” but one which the forum was working to address “holistically”.

“First, there are simply more male researchers than female researchers, except maybe in the health sciences. Retention of female scientists along the pipeline (university to graduate to PhD to postdoc to research and academia) is a challenge in every single country, even more so for African countries.

"Very few female researchers make it past the postdoc phase and we don't even have the numbers. So the pool is smaller for female scientists. This is an issue we are tackling with our policy work, through ministerial meetings and other gatherings, in order to tackle the issue holistically.

“Second, often times, female scientists do not feel qualified when in fact they are. In the first class, we even had a women-only round to counter this issue."

Munyampenda said the organisation spends a significant amount of time reaching out to partners such as the African Academy of Sciences, the Global Young Academy and diaspora networks to make sure the information about the fellowships is available. “We even headhunt and invite female scientists to apply. We definitely do more than extend the deadline,” she told University World News.

The current group of 16, announced on 15 September, is slightly bigger than the inaugural cohort of 2015-17, which had a total of 15 fellows but with a similar number of women.

Wide country representation

Unlike the 2015 selection, when South Africa dominated the list with six fellows, this year’s group is more evenly distributed. Both South Africa and Nigeria have two scientists making the cut, with the rest of the places being shared by 12 countries, including Somalia, a country that has been engulfed in conflict for more than 20 years.

“While civil war and other societal challenges are a reality in Africa, they do not negate Africa's scientific and technological potential and the contributions of Africa's scientists across the world, and as Africa continues to improve the quality of education and its science infrastructure, we expect to see more and more fellows from 'uncommon' countries,” Munyampenda said.

According to Munyampenda, the number of fellows selected every two years is expected to rise in subsequent calls, with the figure expected to grow to up to 20-25 in the next three years.

The Next Einstein Forum does not have a limit in terms of the number of fellows selected per class, but given the rise in the number of applicants since the programme began, a larger number of fellows is predicted in the future, she said.

The numbers selected per cohort were not, however, dependent on funding available to the forum, but rather linked to awareness across Africa about the opportunity, she added.

“The number of fellows is not linked to funding; it is more awareness about the opportunity, but we are working in general to increase funding to be able to support the Next Einstein Forum community of scientists, which includes fellows and ambassadors' activities,” she said.

Selection process

“The selection process is rigorous but not impossible and we encourage everyone who is interested to look at the criteria and if they are not qualified now, to work towards qualification in subsequent cohorts.”

Those selected to the current group will have an opportunity to present their research work at the Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering to be held on 26-28 March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.

As in the previous group, the majority of fellows have a background in biological or medical science, materials sciences, engineering and mathematical fields.

Launched in 2013, the forum is an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in partnership with German foundation Robert Bosch Stiftung. It links science, society and policy in Africa and the rest of the world to leverage science for development.

The programme seeks to mentor scientists below the age of 42 who are picked by an eminent panel using a rigorous process that considers academic and scientific qualifications, including publication record, patents, awards and ability to raise funds for research. It has been endorsed by the African Union Commission, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO, the African Academy of Sciences and a number of African governments.
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