Professor Andreas Ziegler (second from left) and
Professor Henry Mwambi (third from right) with
participants at the Scientific Writing Workshop.

The School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) recently hosted an intensive scientific journal writing workshop presented by the Head of the Institute of Medical Biometry and Statistics (IMBS) at the University of Lübeck in Germany, Professor Andreas Ziegler, who is currently on sabbatical at the School.

According to Professor Henry Mwambi, the workshop was arranged by the School in an effort to enhance the capacity of its academic staff to publish their work in reputable journals in their field. It is the second workshop held by the School this year and more are planned for the remainder of Ziegler’s stay.

‘We aim to have a 100% publication rate so that each and every academic in the School reaches their publishing potential,’ said Mwambi, who arranged the workshops in order to give staff an opportunity to get input from an experienced researcher.

Ziegler’s sabbatical, which is funded through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the SMSCS and the IMBS at the University of Lübeck, has included teaching and supervising of students. Mwambi and Ziegler have taught the Statistics 752 module on survival analysis with a focus on machine learning approaches, facilitated postgraduate seminars and supervised doctoral students, with a strong focus on missing data. Additionally, Ziegler and Mwambi have initiated joint projects with post-doctoral researchers from the Pietermaritzburg campus which deal with methodological developments in biostatistics.

Ziegler said his workshops were designed to help researchers understand the target of their article and properly plan and execute a well-structured article for a specific journal. The workshop focuses on helping participants to understand the publishing environment, select relevant journals, plan their work early, effectively manage their time and increase the appeal of their article through simple marketing techniques.

‘What is lacking in most institutions, said Ziegler, ‘is a simple technique to get an article written which has a good chance of being accepted by the target journal of the author. Writing a scientific article seems to be like a mountain which needs to be climbed. When you stand in front of it, it seems to be huge and hard to manage. However, if you divide the task in different stages, it becomes substantially simpler and more manageable.’

Ziegler said he had heard two people state that it was probably the most important workshop they have ever attended. The workshop is conducted with a group no larger than 12 to ensure maximum interaction between the instructor and the participants, who come prepared with an idea for a research article that they are planning to write.

‘The response from the two workshops has been great,’ said Mwambi. ‘The participants were quite motivated and tell me that they are already applying the skills they learned. Several participants who attended in July are already actively working on articles for submission to relevant journals or have already submitted their articles and are waiting for reviewers’ comments.’

Mwambi said collaborations such as the one the School maintains with Ziegler had a multitude of benefits for not only the researchers involved, but the Institution as a whole, as evidenced by the capacity building nature of the workshops.

‘Collaborations like this one have also helped to introduce new research areas and ideas to both staff and post-graduate students,’ said Mwambi. ‘Prof Ziegler’s input has benefited both students and academic staff. He has also recently been appointed as an Honorary Professor of Biostatistics in the College which will immensely help to boost research in this focus area in the School.’