Postdocs behind the podium

The audience sat up straight when sport scientist Dr Zarko Krkeljas began his talk on lower back pain at the annual Postdoc Research Day at Stellenbosch University. They watched closely as Dr Emma McKinney relayed ways with which to spot a fake sign language interpreter. And they listened carefully when issues about tuberculosis and schizophrenia were discussed, and when physicist Dr Ncamiso Khanyile explained how lasers are used to do extremely precise measurements.

The annual Postdoc Research Day held at STIAS provided a platform for postdoctoral fellows working at Stellenbosch University to showcase their research activities. The day was sponsored by the SU Postdoctoral Society, the Division for Research Development (DRD), SU International, Lanzerac Wines, Van Schaik Bookstore and ABSA.

“The University has a strong network of around 350 postdocs from South Africa and beyond who contribute significantly to the institution's publication record," said Prof Eugene Cloete, Stellenbosch University's vice-rector: research, innovation and postgraduate studies.

Talks were presented in the fields of engineering, mathematics, physics and biochemistry, as well as the biomedical, environmental and social sciences.

“I am always amazed at the quality of research being produced at Stellenbosch University by its postdoctoral cohort - world class research at the tip of Africa," said Dr Romina Henriques, outgoing chair of the SU Postdoctoral Society.

Great white shark researcher Dr Sara Andreotti of the Department of Botany and Zoology won the Dirk Stephan/DRD Travel Award that was up for grabs for the best speaker.  The Award worth R15 000 was set up in honour of the late Dr Dirk Stephan, a much-loved and respected member of the Vitis Lab in the Department of Genetics. He first started working in 2007 at Stellenbosch University as a postdoctoral fellow, and later became a researcher.

The runners-up, sign language expert Dr Emma McKinney of the Department of Psychology and physicist Dr Daniel Nickelsen of the National Institute for Theoretic Physics (NIThEP) received vouchers from Van Schaik Bookstore.

Dr Andreotti also entered the best video. Dr Waafeka Vardien of the Department of Horticulture submitted the best article. The winners were awarded cash prizes worth R1 000, sponsored by ABSA.

At the event, the new SU Post Doc Society Executive Committee was also announced. They are Dr Natasha Mothapo (Department of Botany and Zoology), Dr Zarko Krkeljas (Department of Sport Sciences), Dr Daniel Nickelsen (NIThEP), Dr Itziar Iraola-Arregui (Department of Processing Engineering) and Dr Jacqueline Walubwa (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences).

At a cocktail function later the afternoon, the names were announced of the 2017 Top 20 postdoctoral researchers at Stellenbosch University, as selected by the office of the vice-rector: research, innovation and postgraduate studies. Each received a cash prize of R10 000.

The Top 20 winners are: Jose Luis Aleixandre Tudo (Viticulture and Oenology), Mohsen Alimandegari (Process Engineering), Alexander Andrason (African Languages), Sara Andreotti (Botany and Zoology), Chris Broeckhoven (Mathematical Sciences), Sjan-Mari Brown nee van Niekerk (Physiotherapy), Mareli Claassens (Paediatrics and Child Health), Marinus de Jager (Botany and Zoology), Somayeh Farzad (Process Engineering), Laure Gallien (Botany and Zoology), Brigitte Glanzmann (Biomedical Science), Guilaume Greyling (Chemistry and Polymer Science), Lars Guenther (Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, CREST), Romina Henriques (Botany and Zoology), Pietro Landi (Mathematical Sciences), Stephanie Malan-Muller (Psychiatry), Palesa Natasha Mothapho (Botany and Zoology), Ibukun Peter Oyeyipo (Medical Physiology), Ethel Phiri (Agronomy) and Georgina Spies (Psychiatry).

Author: Engela Duvenage