Writing Retreat

What happens when you lock some academics in a room for a few days? DANRS/DGST writing retreat produces several draft manuscripts

Although we at NUST do not experience as much pressure to publish as our colleagues at many other universities do, the inescapable fact remains that peer-reviewed papers pretty much marks your worth as a scientist and an academic.

And, while we can moan about the artificiality of citation indexes, it is only right that we should have some criterion that keeps us focused and productive. We need some sort of metric of “number of papers published” to show what our intellectual contribution to society is. But perhaps more than that, it’s the minor buzz that comes from submitting a finished manuscript, and the major buzz when it is accepted for publication that keeps us coming back for more.

With that in mind, six faculty members, representing both the DANRS and DGST, retreated to a convenient location just outside Windhoek for three days to focus entirely on the writing of manuscripts. Thinah Moyo, Nicky Knox, Grace Kangueehi, Hilma Amwele, Rolf Becker and Theo Wassenaar, joined by Rolf’s wife and co-author on his Succulent Euphorbia book, Alma Möller, booked in at the Monteiro accommodation site on Monday morning for a few days of peace, quiet and writing. The instruction was to bring one or more manuscripts and to use the time there to get it to a stage that is close to ready for submission. In the evening we cooked meals together and enjoyed some true collegial spirit and stimulating conversations.

We departed from Monteiro with several manuscripts now close to ready. Nicky Knox completed a first draft manuscript on the interaction of vultures and aircraft in Namibian airspace, which she is co-authoring with Morgan Hauptfleisch. Hilma Amwele worked on two manuscripts that involved the indigenous medicinal plant Marsdenia macrantha. In the one, she discusses how she and her co-author Prof. Nnenesi Kgabi screened the roots of the plant for its macro- and micronutrients, while in the second paper, co-authored with her student Epson Moses, she reports on the chronic effects of the plant on the numbers and growth of rabbit blood cells.

Grace Kangueehi worked on the integration of two chapters of her PhD into a publication focussing on the effects of differing cultivation conditions on Crimson Seedless grapevine in terms of its growth, physiology and yield water use efficiency. She is co-authoring this with her thesis supervisors from Stellenbosch University, Albert Strever and Eunice Avenant (the latter is also from the South African Table Grape Industry). Rolf Becker and Alma Möller made inroads on their newly planned book. On the strength of their recently completed book on the succulent euphorbias of southern Africa, the International Euphorbia Society approached them with a request to write a guide on the succulent euphorbias of the whole of Africa. Currently information on the approximately 850 species is scattered all over the scientific literature going back to the 1700’s. They used the retreat to start the process of bringing this vast body of knowledge together into one manuscript.

Theo Wassenaar used the time to transform a report that he had previously done as part of an MET-GiZ project on the potential for biodiversity offsetting in Namibia from one long document into two separate discussion paper manuscripts. One of these is a review of the concept as it is practiced globally, and the second analyses the Namibian situation and recommends a way forward. Thinah Moyo completed her manuscript in which she reports on the contribution of smallholder irrigation projects in Limpopo, South Africa to household food security and income. Her co-author on this is Charles Machethe, a colleague at the University of Pretoria.

Some of the manuscripts are now with co-authors or with colleagues for inputs, but we expect all of them to be submitted soon, hopefully even before the end of the academic year.

Everybody that attended were very thankful for the opportunity to focus on their intellectual contributions and all felt that we should have more such events. So, please get the manuscripts ready for the next one, which we hope to arrange for February and which will be organised by Tendai Nzuma.1

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