Picture: Afrisnet graduate students partake in a webinar delivered by Prof Soni Lacefield on July 16, 2022
Afrisnet runs an annual mentorship program to assist and support African college students applying for research-based graduate programs. Since 2019, dozens of students have been mentored, many of whom have received admission and matriculated at research universities in the United States and elsewhere. These students receive competent research training through graduate school, but they also face unique challenges as they integrate into new academic, cultural, and social environments. Afrisnet has launched a new program called Afrisnet Graduate Community (AGC), through which African graduate students within the Afrisnet network receive ongoing mentorship and support to enhance their successful navigation through graduate school and guide their transition to professional careers.
The goal of AGC is to promote the success of graduate students by exposing them to the resources and the expertise within the wider scientific community. Afrisnet organizes scientific meetings at which prominent researchers are invited to share their experiences with the graduate students, as a way to inspire and widen the students’ scientific aspirations. Through these events, students also get an opportunity to enhance their communication skills by presenting their research to a scientifically diverse audience. In addition, AGC establishes a channel to inform the students about various opportunities available to them such as research fellowships and job openings. AGC also creates a formal platform that facilitates networking and exchange between the graduate students that Afrisnet serves, and between those students and the larger Afrisnet network. By starting AGC, Afrisnet seeks to provide to the African graduate students continued support to help the students maximize their potential as researchers and prepare for their careers. This document describes the motivation, the structure, and the activities of the AGC.
AGC Motivation and objective
Afrisnet serves mainly students who come from Africa and moved to other parts of the world, primarily to the United States, for graduate school. Successful completion of research and other requirements of a graduate degree can be challenging, especially for those students who have to adapt to a new academic system, language, and culture. Besides research and courses, the success during and after graduate school depends on the relationship between the students and their research advisors, and on the connections established within and beyond their universities. Therefore, graduate students not only have to work hard to fulfill the coursework and research requirements but also ought to develop adequate interpersonal and professional skills. In addition, the students have to be always on the lookout for fellowships and other opportunities that can facilitate their research and enhance their profiles. Eventually, students who integrate and strategically engage in the wide scientific community are more likely to excel in graduate school and have ample information as they navigate their career paths. The objective of AGC is to help the African students attain a comprehensive, objective, and timely integration within the global scientific community, and so enhance their academic and professional success during and after graduate school. Eventually, achieving this objective will also enhance the students’ contributions to research advancement in their respective fields.
AGC is currently composed of the African students that Afrisnet has mentored, and who have enrolled in graduate school. This membership may later expand to include other students that Afrisnet has not mentored but wish to be part of the community. AGC is a student-led initiative with support from Afrisnet staff and research faculty. The student leadership team is composed of a president, a vice-president, a secretary, and an event coordinator. The faculty support team includes three research professors in different STEM fields. The student leadership team coordinates the logistics of the membership and the activities of the community. As the primary beneficiaries of AGC, students are encouraged to define and communicate the challenges that they face during graduate school. The student leaders serve the liaison between fellow students and the Afrisnet staff and research faculty. The staff and the faculty look for resources and provide information to the students to help them overcome challenges and maximize the opportunities available to them.
Once every month, except for June, July, and December, AGC members convene virtually to attend presentations geared towards research and professional advancement. In these webinars, students take turns to present their research projects to their peers. In addition, targeted experts from different academic and industry disciplines are invited to provide information and professional advice pertinent to graduate students.
Annual Research retreat
Each year, a two-day retreat will be organized where all graduate students within the Afrisnet network will meet physically in one place for mutual research and professional exchange. The retreat will take place in the United States. During this retreat, selected students will be given a chance to deliver oral presentation of their research projects. All participating students will do poster presentations. Furthermore, Afrisnet will invite globally renowned researchers to present their research to and share their expertise with the students. Afrisnet will also invite selected researchers and stakeholders from Africa to speak to the students about current research opportunities and challenges in Africa. This retreat will be merged with a general Afrisnet annual meeting.
Networking, information sharing, and mutual support
Dedicated networking channels will be created to facilitate information exchange between the graduate students within the Afrisnet network. At least, a Slack channel and an email group will be established to facilitate communication between students. Afrisnet staff and the faculty support team will also be part of the communication channels, and they will continuously look for and share resources with the students through these communication channels. The resources will include but not be limited to fellowship opportunities, job openings, immigration affairs, scientific conferences, travel awards, and so forth. Through these channels, students will also be able to support each by sharing useful information and tips about general matters pertaining to graduate school, such as tips about qualification exams, resolving work-related conflicts, thesis writing, job search, community engagement, and more.
By working together and by engaging with the wide scientific research community, the students within AGC will enhance their academic and professional success. AGC establishes a formal platform, through which Afrisnet and other interested parties will be able to provide coordinated support to the students. AGC also provides an effective mechanism for the students to collaborate with and support each other. Through AGC, students will engage with global leaders in research in various STEM fields and with researchers in Africa. AGC will widen the students’ scientific exposure and benefit their strategic preparation for successful careers, which will embolden their contribution to research.