22 June 2021 | Story André Damons
Professoriate Mentoring Programme
Left: Dr Lucia Meko, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Health Sciences, has been part of the Transformation of the Professoriate Mentoring Programme from the UFS since September 2019 and says she will recommend this important programme to every young academic and has not regretted being part of it. Right: Dr Rick de Villiers, Lecturer in the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities at the UFS, says the Professoriate Mentoring Programme creates a community of academics who find themselves at similar career trajectories but who might not otherwise have met.

For emerging scholars such as Drs Lucia Meko and Rick de Villiers at the University of the Free State (UFS), the Transformation of Professoriate Mentoring Programme is valuable on various fronts as it offers fantastic support and creates a community of academics.

For Dr Meko, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Health Sciences, the programme allows her to focus on her passion projects, while it is the programme’s support, like workshops on funding opportunities, supervision strategies, and academic leadership that is important for Dr De Villiers. The programme also provides much-needed financial support.

Creates a community of academics
Both scholars have been part of the programme – which focuses on the holistic development of the skills and attributes of emerging scholars in the core functions of teaching and learning, research, community engagement, and academic leadership in preparation for their roles as future professors and academic leaders – since 2019.

“In the first place, it creates a community of academics who find themselves at similar career trajectories but who might not otherwise have met. Secondly, the programme offers excellent training opportunities. An example would be the Engaged Leadership course, which I am currently taking,” says Dr De Villiers, Lecturer in the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities. “Dr Henriette van den Berg, who heads the programme, deserves special mention; she has done a wonderful job of creating a supportive and stimulating environment for us all,”

Excited about the engagement provided by the programme
Dr Meko’s current research is on health communication in resource-poor communities and she is also working on a Nutrition Communication Strategy which will hopefully bridge inter-cultural, language and literacy gaps found in communication between dieticians and their patients.

“I love lecturing and engaging with students and I love working in communities. It is my opinion that a university is accountable to its surrounding communities. This accountability goes beyond conducting groundbreaking research, but ensures that research findings translate into action by directly impacting surrounding communities as much as possible.  
“The training opportunities presented by the programme and mentoring relationships made available gave me more confidence in the work that I do and created a motivation within me to expand on some of the work I had initiated,” says Dr Meko.

Programme provides support
According to her, the programme is important as it not only provides support, but has shown her different ways of conducting research, for example, a different scholarly language or vocabulary and it has led to collaborations and mentorship in other faculties which she was not previously exposed to.  

“Academic life can be lonely sometimes. As an academic, I found myself frustrated by the need to perform, the need to fulfill the university’s expectations, while keeping up with profession-specific knowledge and skills. These types of programmes are important to academics as they provide support beyond the borders of faculties. This in turn results in exposure, which is broader than one’s professional context,” says Dr Meko.

The opportunity to speak to the university’s upper management is also something she feels every up-and-coming academic need because it provides a wider context of academia, enabling one to understand why certain strategies and policies are in place.

Various training opportunities and financial support
Dr De Villiers says apart from the various training opportunities, he has benefited from the programme by getting financial support to complete his first monograph, which is out in October 2021. Last year the Emerging Scholars Accelerator Programme (ESAP) sponsored a writing retreat the month before his manuscript was due; this year they’ve graciously covered the permissions costs for certain materials used in the book.

Dr De Villiers says his book, titled Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation, EUP, focuses on two 20th-century authors, T S Eliot and Samuel Beckett. Much has been written about these two modernists, but they’ve never been considered by the same light. He brings them together in thinking through their engagement with humility and humiliation.

“There is a nice line by one of my favourite literary critics, Lionel Trilling: ‘we don’t read books, they read us.’ I think the same is true for writing books, because they tend to take on a life beyond our initial designs and intentions. But to give a less mystical answer, I wrote this book because I regard Eliot and Beckett as two authors who have contributed significantly to the shaping of our modern mind.

“The book had its genesis in my PhD work at Durham University in the UK. I started the PhD in 2014 and completed it in 2018. In 2019 I signed a contract for the book and I’ve spent the past 18 or so months reworking the initial research into what is now Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation,” says Dr De Villiers.

• The book is published by Edinburgh University Press and it will be available to order online both in ebook and hard copy format from October. Dr De Villiers will also make sure that the UFS library receives a copy.

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