The Open Doors Fellowship Program (ODFP) for women researchers in Africa is now receiving applications from early to mid-career women researchers working at research and academic institutions in Africa interested in receiving the necessary scientific and leadership skills to help them advance their research careers.
While almost the same number of men and women study scientific subjects at bachelor’s and master’s levels, fewer women advance to PhD and leadership levels as many drop out due to family responsibilities among others, thus thwarting efforts to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is referred to as the “leaky pipeline” of women in science.
“ODFP seeks to increase the proportion of African women in senior and leadership positions in scientific academic and research institutions to help build more gender-inclusive and diverse research and academic institutions for current and future generations,” says Laura Cortada-Gonzalez, Senior Scientific Officer at VIB-International Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO).
The program targets women scientists working at national and international research centers and universities in agriculture-related fields in agro-biotechnology, plant breeding, molecular biology & genetics, microbiology, chemical ecology, plant & soil health. The fellowship is strictly for post-doctoral researchers who must have completed their studies in the last three years.
The selected fellows will receive training on hard science and in communication and leadership skills through a blend of online and face-to-face classes and a three- month stay at a Belgian laboratory to build networks with Belgian researchers for collaboration in research projects.
The fellows will also receive a series of incentives after they return to their duty stations to increase their scientific visibility. These include support with fees for publishing in Open Access journals, grants to travel to international congresses, and continuous support with online training courses from the VIB training portfolio for 24 months.
In the second phase of the program, the fellows will also conduct activities locally through 'science on the road' events and promote women's role in science and academia within their communities.
“We shall start small by supporting 10 fellows over the next three years and will grow the number gradually as we partner with more African organizations and Belgian institutions and contribute towards the empowerment of many more women scientists in Africa,” says Cortada-Gonzalez.
While the fellowship is for a duration of 24 months, the period may be extended to women who become pregnant or with other health challenges. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the advisory board of the Open Doors Program
The comprehensive program will also work at the institutional level, including training the fellow’s direct supervisors and providing a stimulus program to impel women's progression in their careers at these institutions which also have a role to play in addressing gender diversity and inclusion.
The first round of selection of the applicants will take place in January 2022 followed by online interviews in February and final selection of the awardees by March 2022. The awardees will be expected to join their receiving institutions in Belgium from May 2020 for 8-12 weeks.
The ODFP is a project of the VIB-IPBO with funds from the Marc and Nora Van Montagu Fund. Partners in the initiative include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), African Women in Science and Engineering (AWSE), BeWise, The UGent Africa Platform, and the African Women for Biosciences (AWfB).