Incubating Africa’s research capacity: Two viewpoints on CARTA training


Jill’s: The human factor

Experiences with the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) are always full of contextual elements that shape the teaching and the interaction among students, teachers and staff colleagues. Life hums in Johannesburg and beckons you out onto the streets where the climate is perfect and the Jacaranda trees are brilliant shots of colour from sky to pavement as the petals fall. But I didn’t venture far from the zones of safety demarcated for me by local residents. CARTA takes care of people.

My arrival at Witwatersrand University School of Public Health in an UBER was uneventful but carefully executed to maximize security. The safety and security discourse fascinated me during my week with the Joint Advanced Seminar 2 (JAS 2), which took place over three weeks from Nov. 6 to 30, 2017.

Quick progress, diverse perspectives

I had met the CARTA Fellows in Cohort 7 in JAS 1 and it was such a privilege to meet them all again and see how much progress they had made in designing their own research projects in the 8 months between the JAS 1 and 2 events.

As instructors in such seminars those of us from Northern Partner Institutions work along with African colleagues and counterparts to share the teaching and provide multiple perspectives on research methods, approaches and planning.

My learned colleague from Makerere in Uganda, Dr. Anne Katahoire, shared her experience with CARTA, with research in the African academic landscape, and about being a social scientist in a health domain in Uganda. We share a number of perspectives although from different contextual beginnings.

Research excellence in Africa

CARTA brings together qualified professionals and academics interested in undertaking a PhD in a research area of their choice. They must have a supportive employer and know they will return to a job in either a research or academic institution upon completion.

The objective is to produce a generation of well-trained researchers who will populate African institutions and mentor the next generation in order to ensure that African researchers are able to compete for research funds, laboratory support and partnerships with the same degree of success as their colleagues from other regions.

Intensive learning

The fellows are hungry for knowledge and information. The trick is always to ensure you provide structure and resources and examples but leave enough room for some critical engagement and exploration of their own. They are being given the equivalent of an entire semester of coursework in the space of a month on four different occasions throughout their PhD journey. Enough perhaps, in conjunction with supports from their own universities, but they are starting from very different backgrounds and often with less research training and experience than many of the students in PhD programs in the global North.

The students are brilliant. The teaching is demanding. The mentorship is challenging. The engagement is fulfilling. If you have a passion for teaching and mentoring research I urge you to get involved with CARTA. Read more about this CCGHR partnership and related opportunities >

Jill Allison is Global Health Coordinator in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Co-chair of the Capacity building Committee of CCGHR.

Loubna’s: My first experience

This was my first experience as an instructor with the CARTA program. I taught qualitative research and mixed methods. It was such an amazing experience at the human and educational levels that I will not forget.

During the sessions I have facilitated, the students were eager to learn more about qualitative methods they were less familiar with in comparison with quantitative methods. They did not hesitate to ask questions to better understand this approach but were also very reflective on how to apply these methods for their own research. The intensive exchanges during the lessons made the courses very interactive and pleasant.

One-on-one exchanges

The private clinics, which give the fellows an opportunity to address specific concerns in their work one-on-one with an instructor, were also amazing; all of the fellows have such relevant research topics. The exchanges were intense and challenging at times. I strongly believe that fellows will do produce a great thesis that will create new knowledge in their fields to achieve better health outcomes in their respective countries.

On my last day, I was invited to do a tourist visit of the caves with the students. We spent the day all together. It was a such pleasant experience. Also, I am so grateful for the administrative staff. They welcomed me and took care of me so nicely during my stay there. I deeply hope to renew the experience next year!

Loubna Belaid is a post doctoral fellow at the school of public health, Université de Montréal.