By 2024 what will the astronomical community in Africa look like? Who will be the faces of astronomy when the continent hosts the world in 2024? What science will they be leading?
Visions for People
1. A networked African Astronomy community who know each other and have greater visibility among the international community
Status / Challenges:
● We don’t know who exactly all the active astronomers, students, early career researchers are
● A well-networked community could come together to launch coordinated and cooperative astronomical projects and programs.
● There is a need to unite African Astronomy libraries and share best practice, ideas etc. African Astronomy libraries need to be more representative in the international library landscape.
● Audit of current active astronomers, students, early career researchers in Africa (along the lines of this database of South African astronomers). See and please contribute to the Astronomy in Africa Survey. It has been initiated by the Science Committee of the African Astronomical Society (AfAS). It aims to obtain a clear picture of the current status of astronomy and astrophysics and developments across the continent.
✅ Establish a strong African Astronomical Society.
✅ Explore possibility of an Annual or Bi-annual Astronomy Meeting.
● Build an online database to both track and connect people. See the African Scientists Directory.
● Strengthen national astronomy societies on a country-by-country basis and more specifically for an expansion of their membership
● Use the opportunities presented by online meetings during the pandemic to increase communication across the continent
● Carry out an audit of all astronomy libraries in Africa and try to work with them to improve library services in astronomy.
AfAS, Regional OAD offices, Space in Africa (through their African Union Baseline surveys), SAAO Library (Theresa de Young)
2. Strong international collaborations with African astronomers well connected with astronomers worldwide
Status / Challenges:
● Acknowledging the many existing international collaborations, there is still room for more connections between African astronomers and other astronomers worldwide
● Showcase the work of African astronomers in international fora, and vice versa, in order to establish more international collaborations
● Encourage international experience/training, particularly for young people, but ensure they have something good to return to in Africa.
● Facilitate/encourage the participation of African astronomers in international working groups and collaborations (e.g. SKAO Science Working Groups)
Facilities (e.g. SKAO), Universities, AfAS, EAS
3. Diverse representation at decision making levels nationally, continent-wide and beyond (within international bodies & organisations)
Status / Challenges:
● Current demographics at higher levels need improvement (gender, age, race, etc). The involvement of more diverse astronomers in the top level research and astronomy decision making across the continent is important – and should be further promoted to 2024 and beyond.
● Build on mentorship and “career pathing” initiatives to ensure an environment is created for a diverse set of people to succeed. For example the Supernova Foundation provides mentoring support to young women and gender minorities who are looking to pursue careers in Physics.
● Encourage the establishment of National Associations and get the leadership of such associations involved in astronomy-related decision making
● Increased visibility of job offers and employment/secondment/internship opportunities internationally (e.g. AAS mailing list, ESO, SKAO, etc.)
● Encourage facilities and institutions to implement the IAU Springboard to EDI Action, and in particular to develop achievable metrics of success; gather and publish statistics on diversity, equity and inclusion; and work to offer scholarships that support students and teachers. (Published, measurable Gender Equality Plans with dedicated resources are now a requirement of the European Commission to access Horizon Europe funds, so it’s important to prepare institutions to meet such requirements to continue to access funds from the EU.)
4. All students and early career researchers have clear career paths and guidance
Status / Challenges:
● Currently students/early career researchers may not see where their careers could go and may not have enough mentorship
● Insufficient tenured positions, which would be the best and highest-dividend way to build a community in the long term
● Set up a programme of “career pathing” where any student/young astronomer could receive personalised guidance/mentorship from astronomers worldwide
● Source funding for more tenured positions across the continent
● Source funding for programmes such as PASEA to enable African students gain more exposure to career opportunities
NASSP at Honours/MSc student level, AfAS Early Career Researcher Sub-Committee, PASEA Mentoring Group, AfAS Science Committee
5. We have a record of where students of astronomy are after their studies
● Currently we don’t know where most students of astronomy end up (as well as students who chose not to complete their courses)
● Astronomy can take people across the world, and some may leave astronomy and then re-enter at a later stage, so some sort of monitoring would be useful
● Set up an open alumni system/network for students who have completed an MSc/PhD in astronomy related fields in order to track what careers they end up in. NASSP has been tracking ex-students who have been through the Master’s level programme since 2003 – difficult to keep track of people post-PhD though. This probably needs to be a broader effort from multiple organisations and perhaps someone to pull it together e.g. there is a spreadsheet with astronomers at South African institutions
● Also track students who choose not to complete their courses?
NASSP in SA, SARAO Human Capital Development Programme, National Astronomical Associations, DARA/DARA Big Data student contact
6. Clearly communicated and abundant scholarship opportunities
● Although the communication of scholarships could be better organised, the demand for scholarships still exceeds the supply
● NASSP and AIMS were the main programs for education on the continent. NASSP stops at MSc level and no longer supports non-SA students. AIMS has centres in Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Tanzania. DARA and DARA-Big Data have funded students in SKA-partner countries . The SKA Human Capital Development program has been very successful at funding a number of African students.
● In South Africa, funding non-SA students is currently one of the major barriers to continental human capital development
● Pan African University Space Sciences Institute will be based in South Africa at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
● Find new sources of funding for scholarships
● Find ways for NASSP to accept more African students
● Establish a consolidated repository of scholarship opportunities, For example the AfAS science portal which should help to address some of these issues
7. African astronomers have enough time to perform their research (as opposed to being overloaded with teaching duties)
● The teaching load on African astronomers is often too high for them to engage in meaningful research
● There is significant potential in online learning and we’ve learnt a lot about the pros and cons of this through “pandemic teaching”. The main issue is internet connectivity that has to be reliable, but which could potentially be mitigated with more asynchronous ways of teaching/interacting.
● Engage with all concerned parties to think of strategies and alternatives, then find the funding to support these strategies.
● Establish “quick wins” such as a question bank or course lectures online for other universities to follow/use.
● Explore ways of sharing lecturers for short periods of time like the AIMS model, EPFL model and raise respective funds for it
● Provide training and peer exchanges on how to make better lectures, exams, etc.
● Explore the possibility of a pan-African sabbatical program
● Provide guidelines for use of MOOCs or online courses which can reduce the individual load and provide broader courses across the continent or worldwide (noting that most will not necessarily conform to senate approved study programmes at universities).
● Provide a platform to enable guest lecturers from basically anywhere through online learning and other methods of sharing and teaching content.
AfAS, Universities and facilities involved in teaching, Distance learning institutions, in particular, e.g. UNISA, Open University etc.
8. We have sufficient high quality teaching capacity on the continent
● There is a need to improve teaching capacity as well as astronomy skills across the continent – astronomers are not necessarily taught how to teach or supervise students
● Postgrad students who attend courses through NASSP, SKA, DARA, etc. could eventually become teachers, and would benefit from learning teaching skills during their studies. This is also potentially cost effective as it can be done in-house within universities.
● Identify human capacity development ambitions of individual countries and establish programmes to address these. For example, see the researcher skills development programme at Cambridge Institute for Astronomy
● Organise teaching skills development workshops, possibly with partners such as the IAU and others, noting that a lot of universities probably have these and would be worth engaging with them to share with astronomers (For example there is an MoU between SAAO and UCT)
● Teaching skills should be included as part of advanced training in e.g. NASSP, SKA and DARA training.
IAU NAECs, IAU WiA WG
9. Skills gained within an astronomy degree/career are easily transferable to industry
● There is often a gap between academia and industry in terms of the skills taught vs skills needed
● Of students who start undergraduate studies, only a minimum will do postgraduate studies. Therefore it would be beneficial to have transferable skills taught at undergraduate level.
● Establish links/collaborations with relevant industries and adapt teaching/training such that someone with astronomy training could more easily transition into a career in industry
● Explore the establishment of Excellence Centers, with focus on physical training, hands-on, workshops, simulations.
● Establish an industry/business forum or exhibition space at astronomy meetings and vice versa, that showcases skills transfer into industry and business
● Encourage the teaching of transferable skills to undergraduate students.
SARAO, SKAO, DARA, NASSP alumni in industry, African Union? University Physics and Astronomy Departments
10. Build astronomy engineering and instrumentation skills
● There is a huge need for instrumentation skills. Can be challenging to include astronomy from the engineering side but easier to including more technical courses from the astronomy side
● Explore the establishment of astronomy engineering/instrumentation departments or programmes at universities (similar to medical engineering programs/departments at colleges of engineering)
● Include instrumentation skills wherever possible in activities related to astronomy skills development
● Opportunities for secondments at facilities and observatories
SARAO, SKAO, AFAS, IAU, African Union? African Parliament? SAAO, NASSP, University VCs?
11. A networked astronomy education, public outreach and development community with coordinated goals
● There are numerous initiatives across the continent which don’t necessarily coordinate with each other
● We have had numerous great initiatives by people/organisations outside Africa – these should be rallied.
● Modern astronomy appears to continue to lack any serious public appreciation in Africa, especially the developing countries in Africa, so there is a need to create awareness and teach the public about astronomy.
● Connect relevant individuals/organisations across the continent, and beyond, and establish a vision document for astronomy education and outreach in Africa. That document should use 2024 to advance its goals.
● Involve other relevant networks such as the OAO NOCs, OAE NAECs, planetarium community, science centres, etc.
● Encourage awareness of and participation in Communicating Astronomy to the Public (Journal and conference) and access to OAO and OAE resources (newsletter, astroEDU, etc.)
AfAS, NAECs, APA
12. A vibrant and networked amateur astronomy community
● There are several active amateur astronomy groups around the continent. These groups comprise a large community of individuals with diverse skills and professions, who all share a passion for astronomy. 2024 should be an opportunity to rally this community of amateur astronomy.
✅ Identify active amateur astronomy groups across the continent and nurture a network in the build-up to 2024.
● Skills from this community should be tapped into for professional observation (e.g. through AAVSO and such), education, public outreach and development.
● Provide support for new or very small amateur astronomy groups
ASSA, AfAS, Am Astro whatsapp group.