Capacity Building

Critical to the work of the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit is research capacity development – masters, doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows are nested in the Unit’s research programmes. The Unit emphasises the enrolment of women and students from the sub-Saharan region, supporting the emergence of a pool of talented African scientists (Table 1).

Table 1: Total students by gender   and nationality
Female 52%
Male 48%
South   Africa 33%
Sub-Saharan   Africa 28%
USA 21%
Europe/UK 15%
Australasia 4%







Students benefit from exposure to:

  • a strong research environment with a diversity of study designs
  • supportive research management at various levels throughout the research process
  • specialised community engagement through the Learning, Information Dissemination & Networking with the Community (LINC) office
  • on-site training and support in the form of seminars, journal club, support groups and progress updates. These progress updates have been formalized through structured interim presentations for masters and PhD students, to help students reach their goals
  • opportunities for informal student interaction and support after working hours at the student accommodation venue, Wits Rural Facility.

Since 2008 the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit has emphasised doctoral and postdoctoral training so mentoring talented researchers with steady improvement in graduate throughput (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Numbers of enrolled students and graduates 2003-07 and 2008-14.

In addition to students nested in the MRC/Wits Agincourt Unit; students are also nested in multi-centre research initiatives such as the Agincourt and Birth-to-Twenty collaboration, which jointly supports 6 PhDs; and the Agincourt-led INDEPTH initiatives on Ageing and Migration, which have graduated 11 masters and 3 PhDs; with 3 masters, 9 PhDs and 2 post-doctoral fellows currently enrolled. A 2013 survey of Agincourt alumni (n=42) indicates that most are on high-potential career tracks ranging from academic positions at recognised institutions, to research posts within productive centres.  Appointments include:

    • Associate Professor, African American-Studies and Associate Director Maryland Population Research Center, University of Maryland, USA (S Madhavan)
    • Associate Research Scientist, African Population and Health Research Centre, Kenya (E Kimani-Murage)
    • Senior Research Fellow, Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University, Uganda (F Golooba-Mutebi)
    • Resident technical advisor, Institute for Health Care Management, UK (LQ Duong)
    • Senior Clinical Services Manager, Ndlovu Care Group (Mildred Shibangu)
    • Principal Investigator- Centre de Recherche en Maladies Tropicales de Lituri- Joint initiative between the Minister of Health: Democratic Republic of Congo and the World Health Organisation in tropical disease (Bakajika Didier)

A respectable proportion of Alumni are research productive (81%) and beginning to generate grant funding (55%). Several are recognized as recipients of awards and fellowships, including:

  • M Collinson- Emerging Researcher Award, University of the Witwatersrand Research Office, to support a postdoctoral research fellow (2013)
  • E Kimane- Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship (2012)
  • M Mutisya Joseph- AU TWAS Young Scientist of the year award by the African Union (2012)
  • B Sartorius- INDEPTH Young Scientist Award (2008)

Multi-centre Capacity Building

In addition to graduate research training the Unit takes a leading role in capacity building initiatives, providing support for researchers and data scientists. The INDEPTH MADIMAH project (Multi-centre Analysis of the Dynamics In Migration and Health) is based on a platform of 15 HDSS sites. Enhanced capacity was needed to produce the required datasets and conduct analyses, thus capacity development has been central to the project. This has been undertaken through a series of INDEPTH data and analysis workshops; between workshops, multisite analysis has continued at site-level by HDSS scientists. The MADIMAH project has contributed to an increase in capacity in data management and longitudinal analysis at participating INDEPTH centres.

The Agincourt Unit plays a key role within CARTA (Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa), part of the Wellcome African Institutions Initiative.

In the future, the Unit will emphasise mentoring the most promising younger to mid-level scientists to compete for sought-after fellowships and grants. We expect to provide strong support through our partnership with the new Wits Institute for Wellbeing and Development. We will continue to focus on improving doctoral training and increasing postdoctoral opportunities, encouraging worthy candidates to apply for SA National Research Foundation and MRC fellowships amongst other sources, and, partnering with the Wits’ Research Office, co-fund post-doctoral fellows.

These initiatives will strengthen the pool of talented scientists from a range of disciplines, enriching the sub-Saharan African research landscape.