15 April 2024

By Linka Maritz

Three students and one staff member from Stellenbosch University recently participated in the Venice International University (VIU) Spring School (from 20 – 25 March 2024) that was designed to equip researchers with skills, strategies and confidence for science communication. Duduzile Kubheka, Ewura-Esi Manful and Linka Maritz received international travel bursaries from Stellenbosch University under the Summer Student Mobility Programmes to attend this 5-day course. Prof Marina Joubert is a visiting faculty member at VIU.

VIU is a consortium of 20 universities across the world, including Stellenbosch University, offering transdisciplinary and multicultural academic and capacity-building courses on its campus on the island of San Servolo, about 10 minutes from the historic city centre of Venice by vaporetto (waterbus).

From left to right: Ewura-Esi Manful, Prof Marina Joubert, Linka Maritz and Duduzile Kubheka at the Venice International University Spring School, March 2024.

The Spring School brought together researchers from diverse fields such as education, health sciences, sustainability, human rights and marine sciences to learn more about science and public engagement. On offer was a combination of lectures and workshop sessions on how to communicate your research, develop a public engagement plan, use social media and evaluate science communication, amongst others. Professor Joubert was an invited lecturer and presented multiple sessions, providing participants with the necessary input and resources to take their public engagement capacity to the next level. Professor Lars Guenther from LMU Munich, a former postdoctoral fellow and extraordinary professor at CREST, was also on the list of VIU faculty who helped to present the Spring School.

Duduzile Kubheka, who is currently completing her MPhil in Science and Technology Studies (Science and Public Engagement), also works as the Project Coordinator for the BRICS Astronomy Working Group and serves as co-chair of the Outreach and Education for the African Astronomical Society based at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town. She enjoyed the sense of community and opportunity to network with a diverse group of people in different spheres of research. Her favourite session was the workshop on researchers’ needs in science communication. “This session helped me better understand the needs and challenges often faced by researchers when conducting science communication and I will certainly apply the lessons learnt from there to improve my work and engagements with researchers in the space that I practice in.”

Ewura-Esi Manful, who recently graduated with her Master’s in Molecular Biology, was also a national finalist at FameLab 2022. She enjoyed every bit of the Spring School. In her words: “As a research scientist, this was an eye opener and a great learning experience for me considering the various platforms, ways and avenues I was exposed to that I can use to communicate my research to the general public”. A highlight for her was the session on using social media to engage with the end users of her research.

Linka Maritz has just completed her MPhil at CREST in Science and Technology Studies (Science and Public Engagement) and is currently assisting Prof Joubert with various engagement projects at CREST. She really enjoyed the sessions on science communication and museums and seeing the interaction between art and science at the site visit to the Ocean Space exhibition. A real highlight was also to see everyone presenting their research at the end of the week in a 3-minute format, putting what they learned into practice.

International opportunities like these are valuable to build and strengthen networks and expose students to innovative approaches and transdisciplinary skills. All participants agreed that they would urge anyone to apply for similar programmes whenever possible.