KNUST students gathered in a lecture hall in the Aboagye Menyeh Complex at KNUST campus (Kumasi, Ghana) to follow the inaugural Afrisnet webinar entitled: What is graduate school, and is it right for me?
Novel knowledge is generated through research, and that knowledge fuels both social and economic development. Developed countries invest significantly in research activities through public and private research universities and institutes. This research underlies the cure of diseases and the development of novel technologies that have changed and shaped several dimensions of the human life for decades. Successful research requires researchers that are adequately equipped both intellectually and financially. Compared to other parts of the world, several African countries include less than 200 researchers per one million inhabitants, compared to more than 4,000 in the US. The reasons for a small number of researchers in Africa are many, and they range from cultural and historical to economic and political. Afrisnet believes that one way to increase the number of African researchers is to expose young Africans to research opportunities both in and outside Africa. To this end, the organization has launched a series of web-based seminars, also known as webinars, that are aimed at providing African students with information pertaining to research-based graduate programs around the world. The pilot series of the webinars focuses on graduate programs in the United States (US), and it is being broadcast to students at Kwameh Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana.
Why the United States ?
In collaboration with KNUST’s Department of Optometry and Visual Science, the Afrisnet Education Committee is informing KNUST students about how to search and apply to graduate programs in the United States. The committee has prepared a series of five webinars, which are currently underway, delivered twice a week from September 16th to September 30th, 2019. The information provided to the students through these webinars focuses on PhD programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), although to a large extent, the information also pertains to graduate programs outside STEM. One reason why the US graduate programs were selected first is because the programs are highly competent in research and well-respected across the globe. Indeed, the US remains the world leader in high-quality research output. Like in other countries, research in the US is primarily performed at public and private research universities and institutes, and often through research training graduate programs. Therefore, a large force behind research production in the US is generated by Ph.D. students and newly-minted PhD graduates (postdoctoral researchers), who perform experiments in research laboratories. US universities are ranked among the top world. For instance, according to Times Higher Education and several other publishers, more than ten out of the top twenty universities globally are in the United States. Furthermore, there are more than 4,000 higher education institutions in the US, making the country a popular destination for academic and research opportunities.
Another reason why the Afrisnet Education Committee chose to begin with the US is the set up of the PhD programs in the country. In addition to boasting cutting-edge research equipment and world-renown research faculty, most PhD programs in STEM in the US offer financial assistance to their students. This assistance, oftentimes guaranteed for the entire duration of the PhD studies, allows the students to take their courses and perform their thesis research without worrying about tuition, health insurance, and living expenses. This financial assistance, therefore, provides a great opportunity of which, unfortunately, most African students are unaware. It is also important to note that students can enter a PhD program in the US without a masters degree. All these advantages justify why the Afrisnet Education Committee chose to start with the United States. However, the information and training provided to KNUST students should help them apply to graduate programs elsewhere in the world.
Using technology to overcome the distance and defray the cost
Afrisnet has a goal to reach out to as many African college students as possible. However, it would be very demanding and expensive to visit all African campuses. To overcome this challenge, Afrisnet leverages internet-based technology to broadcast seminars to students at their campuses in Africa. These webinars offer the possibility of reaching out to many students at a relatively low cost. At KNUST, students gather in the Aboagye Menyeh Complex lecture hall in Kumasi, Ghana, and US-based Afrisnet instructors use webinar technology to present information to the students. However, the students do not need to be in the lecture hall to partake in the webinars; all they need is the webinar link to join through internet from wherever they are. In addition to the students in the lecture hall, several others join the lectures remotely. The technology allows audio-visual interactions, making it possible for the students to directly ask questions to Afrisnet instructors. Afrisnet is planning to expand to students at other campuses in Africa using the same or similar technology.
Informing, encouraging, and assisting the students
With a very large number of universities and graduate programs in the US, it can be a daunting task to search for and choose the right programs to apply to. Fortunately, all Afrisnet instructors have successfully applied to PhD programs in the US. They are, therefore, knowledgeable about the application process and the requirements of these programs. From their personal experience, the dedicated instructors provide detailed information about PhD graduate programs in general, and about how to apply to those programs. Students are introduced to different types of graduate programs in the US, and they are informed about the application and admission requirements. The instructors recognize that graduate school can be tedious, so they present to the students several factors to consider while making the initial decision of applying to graduate school. In addition to the information presented by the Afrisnet instructors, the students will also learn from lectures delivered by US-based universities officials, as well as a panel of experts including research faculty, postdocs, and graduate students.
By showcasing the benefits that they have received from their PhD programs, the instructors encourage KNUST students to apply to similar programs. These benefits include not only the financial assistance but also the fact that PhD degrees from the US are well-regarded around the world. The students are encouraged to apply because US PhD programs would offer them an unparalleled environment to pursue their academic, research, and professional dreams. Above all, these students are encouraged to pursue research-based PhD degrees because training African researchers in modern research will be key to boost research quality and quantity in Africa.
In addition to informing and assisting the students, Afrisnet instructors also assist the students throughout the application process. On an individual basis, students are guided through the search for universities, the application timeline, and as well as the preparation of all the application material and documents. Through the webinars, students are taught how to communicate professionally and effectively through writing, and important skill to acquire for any prospective PhD student. The strengths and the limitations of every students are unique, so the instructors go beyond the webinars to assist the students individually. Students receive all the information and assistance for free, but in order to receive assistance, they must attend the webinars and show that they are serious about their decision to embark on a PhD journey.
The Afrisnet webinars at KNUST are being well-attended, with each of them counting more than forty attendees. The students have shown great interest and dedication to the webinars, and Afrisnet instructors are well-pleased with the engagement of the students. Afrisnet is very grateful and commends the efforts and the courage of the instructors that prepare and deliver the webinars and assist students. We are also grateful to KNUST’s College of Science for providing the lecture hall at no cost and encouraging their students to attend the webinars.
Afrisnet (Africa STEM Network) is an international network of students, professors, and professionals with a common goal of advancing research and scholarship in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Africa. We are a nonprofit organization that seeks to increase the overall participation of Africans in global and modern research in STEM. If you are capable and interested in volunteering as an Afrisnet instructor, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.