Last month I had the pleasure of facilitating an AuthorAID research writing workshop in Nairobi jointly organized by INASP and the Pan Africa Chemistry Network, a unit of the Royal Society of Chemistry. This was a two-day workshop held on 20 and 21 November 2015, and it was organized right after the PACN Congress in Nairobi. Twenty of the congress delegates took part in the workshop. All were chemists: most were early-career researchers and some had substantial experience. They came from Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. And they were all keen to improve their skills in writing research papers for publication.
We have many slide decks on the AuthorAID resource library related to writing and publishing a research paper, but for this workshop I wanted to do something different. On the flight from Mumbai to Nairobi, which was my first time traveling on the comfortable Dreamliner, I reflected on what the participants might like to learn. They were all active researchers and many had published papers already. So perhaps they might be more inclined to pose questions than learn the basics? They were also from one broad subject area: chemistry. So any experiences they could share might be relevant to all the participants. I set about creating a set of slides that mainly had questions for discussion. I was a little worried about whether I had enough slides. But I needn’t have been concerned.
On the first day of the workshop, it took three hours before I got to even the tenth slide! We started the day by capturing learning objectives: I asked the participants what they wanted to learn during the workshop. As we started discussing the material and questions shown on the slides, we would link the discussions to the learning objectives. Topics such as publication ethics, targeting a suitable journal (and the importance of metrics such as the impact factor), and Open-Access publishing dominated the session. Occasionally the discussions got heated as the participants expressed contrasting views on something, for example, whether a laboratory head should be an author of a paper if he/she was not closely connected to the research project (there were some laboratory heads among the participants!). But I think we managed to handle such discussions amicably. It was a good thing I didn’t have many slides to rush through!
After a good lunch at the cafeteria of the University of Nairobi‘s Chiromo Campus, the venue of the workshop, the workshop co-facilitator took the stage. This was Dr. Ismael Kimirei, an experienced researcher from the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI). Ismael participated in an AuthorAID train-the-trainers workshop in Tanzania last year and he’s working on embedding research writing skills at TAFIRI.
Ismael took us through an engaging presentation and emphasized the importance of planning a research project, as this is the foundation for a good scientific paper. He also regaled us with anecdotes from his career as a researcher working with fish, lakes, and fisher communities.
On the morning of the second day, we had an intensive writing session. Initially only about half of the workshop participants had made a plan to do some research writing based on their ongoing research. But perhaps their energy was contagious and very soon almost all the participants were writing!
Ismael and I sat with those who needed help but most were happy to work on their own. One Kenyan participant said that the writing session motivated her to pick up an abandoned draft from three months back and she didn’t want the session to end! But we had to wrap up the workshop that afternoon. We went through the learning objectives and were glad to note that we’d addressed most of them. Dr. Solomon Derese from the chemistry department at the University of Nairobi organised a closing ceremony and the participants received certificates. But it was not over yet! Dr. Derese took us on a tour of his department and we saw several laboratories.
As I’m not a chemist I couldn’t understand much of what was going on there, but it was interesting to see the participants comparing the facilities with what they had at their own institutions. From an upper floor of the chemistry department we also got to see the vast and green expanse of the Chiromo campus, a place I hope to visit again.