A new programme has been launched by the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) with the goal of transforming the demographic space in palaeosciences and promoting women in science.

Students in the School of Geosciences who performed well in their second year or showed a keen interest in palaeontology were invited to join the inaugural Palaeosciences Accelerator Programme.

Master’s student at the ESI who conceptualised the program, Viktor Radermacher, said the aim of the program was geared around, “Not letting keen and diligent students slip through the cracks and losing future scientists.”

Radermacher added that, “Science has many colonial and patriarchal fossils in the closet and changing its status quo means actively facilitating the introduction of previously underrepresented groups.”  The programme is aimed specifically at women and people of colour.

The programme teaches students a wide range of transferrable skills and critical thinking during independent tutoring time. This will be reinforced through field trips which the students will be undertaking throughout the course of the year through funding made available by the National Research Foundation and the Department of Science and Technology’s Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences (CoE Palaeo) in South Africa.

Students are exposed to networking and are encouraged to work with the ESI during their third year independent study which would be a good set-up for an honours project. Furthermore, the students will be encouraged to apply for honours, master’s and PhD bursaries offered by the CoE Palaeo.

Third-year BSc Animal Plant and Environment Science and Physiology student, Nothemba Belle, is one of three full-time students on the accelerator programme. “It’s developing me into a young lady that is really confident and successful and determined.” According to Belle this program will “definitely open up a lot of doors” for the students involved.

Professor Jonah Choiniere of the ESI describes this programme as an “active step in the right direction.” He added that the idea was not to limit the programme to one branch of the discipline but to expand it to larger groups of paleaoscientists as the programme grows successfully.