SciBytes @ SciSTIP is an information series produced by SciSTIP. Its aim is to disseminate on a regular basis brief reports about some aspect of the science and innovation system in South Africa. The aim is to inform and share knowledge produced by SciSTIP. The “bytes” are written in a non-technical style. Every issue of SciBytes is structured in the form of a main question (with some elaboration). This series forms part of SciSTIP’s science engagement strategy.
How employable are South Africa’s doctoral graduates?
SciByte 5: 21 May 2022
Johann Mouton and Milandré van Lill
Doctoral education and training in any country is a lengthy and costly process. It is therefore imperative that policy makers (including funding agencies) are informed about the return on such a (public) investment. Graduate destination studies, or tracer studies, offer invaluable information about the contribution of the doctorate to a country’s knowledge production system and the socio-economic impact of doctoral training. Such studies, however, are particularly difficult to do especially where a national graduate database is lacking. Funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and managed by the Water Research Commission (WRC), SciSTIP undertook the first national tracer study of doctoral graduates in South Africa with the aim to trace the mobility, career paths and other attributes of a representative sample of PhD graduates from South African universities across a range of sectors and disciplines.
A national tracer study of doctoral graduates
The primary goal of the study was to trace the career paths of doctoral graduates who obtained their qualification from a South African university over the last two decades. A web survey with more than 6 400 completed questionnaires were produced and for the, for the first time, provide accurate, precise and generalisable information on a wide variety of issues: the employability of SA doctoral graduates, the financing of doctoral studies, the differences in the career trajectories between full-time and part-time studying students, the peculiar challenges facing post-doctoral fellows, the absorptive capacity of different employment sectors, the geographic mobility of these graduates as well as new insights into the perceived value and utility of pursuing doctoral studies. In this SciByte we address the question of how employable are South Africa’s doctoral graduates?
Are SA women academics and scholars increasing their contribution to research publication output?
SciByte 4: February 2022
Johann Mouton, with input from Herman Redelinghuys and Milandré van Lill
One of the key imperatives of the post-1994 science and higher education system in South Africa has been and remains the transformation of the human resource base of knowledge production. One of the specific ways in which this has been envisaged was through interventions that would lead to the research system becoming more inclusive of women and black scientists and academics. A number of such interventions have over the years been conceptualised and implemented, including the Thuthuka and Women-in-Science funding instruments of the National Research Foundation and more recently through the University Capacity Development Plan of the Department of Higher Education and Training. Other national bodies – such as the Academy of Science of South Africa and the National Science and Technology Forum – have similarly invested in initiatives to create and stimulate the interest and participation of female students and scholars in knowledge production. The 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation of the Department of Science and Innovation again reiterated the importance of ensuring greater participation by women in the scientific workforce and calls for the establishment of a Women in Science Desk at the DSI. In addition, to these and other national initiatives, most South African universities have also pursued institutional policies and strategies to enable their female students and post-graduates staff to increase their contribution to the research outputs of the institutions. In this SciByte we address the specific question of whether women academics have in fact increased their contribution to the research publication output of the Higher Education sector.
How to identify and respond to the continuing threat of predatory publishers and journals
SciByte 3: July 2021
Johann Mouton and Marthie van Niekerk
It is now more than a decade that Jeffrey Beall – a former librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver – introduced the idea of ‘predatory’ journals to refer to journals (and their publishers) that exist for the sole purpose of making profit. In his first major publication on the topic published in Nature in 2012, Beall provided a first description of what is meant by predatory publishing:
Then came predatory publishers, which publish counterfeit journals to exploit the open-access model in which the author pays. These predatory publishers are dishonest and lack transparency. They aim to dupe researchers, especially those inexperienced in scholarly communication. They set up websites that closely resemble those of legitimate online publishers, and publish journals of questionable and downright low quality. Many purport to be headquartered in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada or Australia but really hail from Pakistan, India or Nigeria. Some predatory publishers spam researchers, soliciting manuscripts but failing to mention the required author fee.
Beall uses the term ‘predatory’ to refer to journals that ‘prey’ on (often unsuspecting and often young) scholars to submit their manuscripts for the sole purpose of making money from these scholars. In this process, normal good editorial and review processes are violated or suspended.
How well is South African science doing?
SciByte 2: June 2018
Johann Mouton and Jaco Blanckenberg
When assessing the performance of any national science system one needs to be clear about the “performance criteria” as well as the underlying data that are being used in such an assessment.
As far as the underlying data are concerned, we use the CAWeb of Science database1. and confine our assessment to South Africa’s publications in two categories: ‘articles’ and ‘review articles’. This means that we exclude documents such as books, book chapters and conference proceedings in our counts. We assess South Africa’s bibliometric performance according to three indicators: Publication output, International collaboration and Citation visibility or impact. We have selected these three indicators as they are conventionally used in bibliometric analyses and do capture some of the most important aspects of scientific production. However, it is also important to emphasize that they do not capture other important dimensions of scientific performance. Dimensions, such as the relevance and quality of a country’s science, the degree to which science impacts on society and the profile of the human resource base of scientific production (to name three only) are not addressed in this communication.
How many scientific papers does South Africa produce annually?
SciByte 1: July 2017
Although it should be easy to establish what the volume of South Africa’s published scientific production is, the question requires clarification on three accounts: what we mean by “scientific”, what is meant by “papers” and what “data source” we use to calculate the number of papers. As far as the former is concerned, we use a very comprehensive definition of “science” to include all scientific and scholarly disciplines. In the original meaning of “scientia” (Lat.) the word refers to knowledge. We follow this usage and include all “knowledge” disciplines that are typically found at universities ranging from the natural sciences and engineering to the health sciences, social sciences and humanities. As far as our definition of “paper” is concerned we follow standard bibliometric practice and define paper according to the “document type” of “articles” and “review articles” in the TR Web of Science. This means that we exclude documents such as books, book chapters and conference proceedings in our counts.