Saturday, February 20, 2010

Terrific Talk on Research Capacity Building and Lessons from South Africa, Ubuntu, and the Celtics

Yesterday, Dr. Mzamo Mangaliso gave the inaugural talk in our Spring 2010 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Sciences. Dr. Mangaliso served for two years as the head of the National Research Foundation, which is South Africa's counterpart of the US-based National Science Foundation. His talk was fascinating and during it we "journeyed" to South Africa and learned about the Strategic Plan that he spearheaded for building the research capacity in science for South Africa. Part of the strategic plan included the production of more PhDs in science, the creation of new centers of excellence, more transparency in grantsmanship, and even a system of nationally chaired professors (what a great idea and more on this below)!

The discussions that followed his talk were very spirited and those in the audience included faculty, students, and guests from industry. Dr. Mangaliso was asked how to justify to politicians, for example, that producing more PhDs has benefits when there are so many other problems (with housing, poverty, crime, diseases, etc.) that South Africa faces? An economics professor then interjected that in producing a PhD the marginal cost is low because that PhD may start a company, educate many others, etc., whereas if you just produce 1 house only 1 person (plus maybe his family) benefits. There were also interesting questions regarding whether tech transfer and innovation is a better measure of capacity building than the number of journal citations.

We also got a wonderful education on "Ubuntu," and I am not speaking of the Linux operating system, but, rather, according to South Africans, it is defined as humaneness -- a pervasive spirit of caring and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness -- that individuals and groups display for one another. Professor Mangaliso has written about ubuntu and what it can do for workers and companies (really interesting ideas and viewpoints on teams, efficiency, and decision making).

Speaking of teams, Professor Mangaliso provided us with the link of an interview with Doc Rivers, the coach of the Massachusetts-based professional basketball team, the Celtics, and what ubuntu means to him and the Celtics. Listen to the 3 minute interview here.

During the lunch that followed Professor Mangaliso's lecture, we further discussed academic career paths and wondered why in the US it seems that sooner or later certain faculty get asked to serve in or are recruited for (I have been multiple times) administrative posts. What if research is what you really love to do and teaching (there is already too much service that some of us end up doing but who will do it otherwise)? Shouldn't there be a career track in a country that values knowledge creation and innovation that allows one to continue to do research?

Dr. Mangaliso had met with the Director of the NSF, Dr. Arden Bement, while he was at the NRF to discuss what he was doing at the NRF and the various components of the strategic plan that was being developed. Wouldn't it be terrific if the US started national chaired professorships to keep some of the brightest minds in research?!

Above is a photo of Professor Mangaliso at his talk yesterday at the Isenberg School of Management with two of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter officers who helped to host him.