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Last month, on 24 August 2021, the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Dr Saheed Sabiu was successfully notified by the Department of Higher Education and Higher Training (DHET), that he was appointed as a participant into the Future Professors Programme (FPP).

The FPP is a competitive and selective programme of the DHET to prepare promising early career academics to become a new cohort of South African professors across disciplines. It is in the second year of implementing the FPP, following the submission of nominations by 26 universities for the 2021/2022 Cohort 1 of the second phase of the FFP.

“I am humbled and excited, as I believe the programme will aid my academic prowess and growth. A critical look at the contents of the programme will give a bigger picture of the expectations which majorly involves mentorship and learning. I will take full advantage of this opportunity in learning to network, collaborate and becoming a leading researcher in my field,” said Dr Sabiu, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science at the DUT.

He indicated that the FPP is planned to provide support during the next twenty-four months, and it is envisaged that the first engagements for the current cohort will be in November 2021.

Commending Dr Sabiu’s acceptance into the programme via an official email letter was Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.

“Congratulations on your well-deserved success and best wishes for an excellent experience as a participant in the programme. I trust you will take full advantage of the opportunity that has been afforded to you and I look forward to the contribution you will make as a leading academic in higher education in South Africa and beyond,” he said.

Currently, Dr Sabiu is a South African National Research Foundation (NRF) Y-rated researcher and an awardee of two NRF research grants. He leads a young research group comprising a Postdoctoral fellow, four Honours and four PhD students, and he has significant scholarly publications to his credit in reputable journals and enjoys good citations. He has an ongoing therapeutic project on COVID-19 and one of the PhD students is being mentored on the project. He reviews bursary and scholarship applications for NRF, actively reviewing for more than 20 good journals, and an Academic Editor for Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine (ECAM) Journal, a reputable and accredited journal in his field.

Dr Sabiu has special interests in Phytotherapeutics, Drug Discovery and Development, Computational and Redox Biology, and Viral Metagenomics. He is currently researching into the detailed concepts of therapeutic mechanisms of secondary metabolites in degenerative and microbial diseases while reporting health benefits in a way that will provide valuable data which will lead to new small molecule targets that could potentially be lead for drug discovery.

“Such discovery would be vital in proffering community-based therapeutic solutions to emerging and re-emerging degenerative diseases facing Africa and the global communities,” he said.

His portfolio also includes chairing the Faculty’s COVID-19 Response Task Team, and represents the faculty on HIV/AIDS committee at DUT.

DUT’s Prof Feroz Mahomed Swalaha, Head of Department: Biotechnology and Food Science commented that within a short space of time, Dr Sabiu had established himself as a leading academic in the field of bioinformatics, particularly with regards to virology.

“He has also been very active in both research and championing the fight against COVID, chairing the faculty COVID Task Team. He is a young researcher making an impression in his field, with a very good publication record thus far. We are pleased to have him as an academic in our department and proud that he has been awarded this opportunity to join the Future Professors Programme. We look forward to him developing as an academic and achieving his goals as a professor in our department”, said Prof Mahomed Swalaha.

Dr Sabiu is an Affiliate Researcher with the Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) Unit of the University of the Free State, where the focus of his research is on enteric viruses using whole genome sequencing and metagenomic approaches.

Explaining how he got to hear of the FFP, he said that it all started from a call from the DUT Research Office through the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo, for eligible candidates and he applied.

“Subsequently, I was notified of my selection, and was thereafter nominated to represent DUT in the call and the outcome is what we have now to be part of the 29 candidates selected from a poll of 114 applicants from the 26 Universities in South Africa. The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, approved the shortlisted candidates after a series of rigorous evaluation and screening processes,” he said.

In terms of achieving his professorship, he relayed it was a dream he always hoped to pursue.

“This is a noble dream of a typical academic in the business of mentoring and researching,” he said.

Dr Sabiu explained that it is vital for academics to keep learning and growing, especially at an institutional level.

“Learning is a continuous process and expectedly, from cradle to grave. Specifically, for the FPP, the programme entails developing and nurturing academic leadership, research, teaching and learning, and community engagement. This will provide me with the requisite resources needed to navigate the expectations and requirements of the professoriate through learning, mentorship, exchange programme and capacity development engagements with experienced and well-established mentors,” he stressed.

He further mentioned that the FPP will deepen his knowledge, provide the right exposure and opportunity to get more experience, allow for good learning and mentorship by well-established academic leaders, provide collaboration and networking opportunities, and facilitate appropriate international engagements with researchers and mentors in his field.

“These are core principles of the DUT ENVISION2030 and I have no doubt that through the programme, I will keep making significant scientific impacts at DUT and towards the development of the republic of South Africa through mentoring junior academics, researchers and students as well as contributing to the overall Research and Development objectives of the DUT and the country at large,” he said.

Besides this accolade, Dr Sabiu has won the Action Research Grant for Community Development in 2014. He was the PhD winner of the Three Minutes Thesis competition of the University of the Free State in 2016 and also the winner for the South African Edition in 2017. He has benefitted from many travel grants for conference attendance both nationally and internationally with the most recent being the 2018 NRF KIC to the Gordon Conference at Boston, USA.

Dr Sabiu’s advice to future, emerging lecturers and researchers at DUT who would like to be part of the FFP, is to have passion for what one does and be dedicated at the same time, are key to achieving dreams.

“Those willing and aspiring to be part of the programme, need to up their research game, which will ultimately translate to measurable outputs and must be guided to communicate or publish their findings in highly reputable and accredited journals such as those indexed by Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed etc.,” he said.

His ultimate goal for his academic growth is to be actively involved in knowledge transfer and human capacity development through teaching, training and mentoring students to be excellent researchers and to keep contributing to scientific knowledge through timely, relevant and impactful publications.

“One of the goals is to proffer community-based therapeutic solutions to emerging and re-emerging degenerative diseases ravaging Africa and efforts are already ongoing in this direction,” he relayed.

Pictured: Dr Saheed Sabiu

Waheeda Peters

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