Professor Surendra Thakur is simultaneously elated and disappointed upon hearing of his new NRF rating.
Prof Thakur is part of the group of research academics that continue to fly the DUT flag high with their excellent research work that contributes towards publishing high quality outputs in high impact journals.
“It was an independent validation of my work. This neutral assessment is also the main reason that I love writing papers. I also felt disheartened because I should have applied for a rating much earlier. My observation is that we (my colleagues and I) under value ourselves. I want to thank Prof Moyo and Prof Potgieter for reminding me of my potential and persuading me to apply,” he expressed jubilantly.
The charismatic Professor Surendra Thakur (Colin), who is the Director of the Short Course Unit (SCU) at DUT, recently obtained a C3 National Research Foundation (NRF) Rating.
The digital activist spoke of his passion for his role at DUT and recognised that this role was an ideal way for him to contribute towards DUT’s ENVISON2030 goals such as sustainability and engagement.
“I want to stress that our SCU is in the nascent stage which provided ample excuse for me to be sedentary. I decided to start academic papers, writing for the media, delivering talks at all levels speaking the gospel of skills and knowledge empowerment. This improved my profile leading me to being appointed the BankSETA Research Chair in 2018 and 2019,” he explained.
Prof Thakur was then appointed as the InSETA Research Chair in Digitalisation from 2020 for five years with a substantial grant. These activities also helped students to find him for postgraduate work. His profile improved his contract research drastically, with a demand for short courses now on the rise.
“My anecdotal lesson is simple, don’t wait for things to happen. Use idle space and time to grow yourself. Things will happen,” he remarked.
Prof Thakur further spoke of his love for technology, elaborating that he handles confrontation awkwardly which has converted him into a resolute technological determinist.
“This determinism asserts that technological development follows a predictable, traceable path beyond any cultural or political influence,” he explained enthusedly.
Prof Thakur’s career has seen him in many exciting positions in his career, highlights which include being appointed an Associate Professor at DUT in 2020.
“This I suppose is a very good reason why a person becomes an academic. The 2022 NRF ratings transcended this recognition to the national ecosystem,” he quipped.
He also holds the InSETA Research Chair in Digitalisation for five years which is a rewarding and productive activity. Prof Thakur was contracted by the Electoral Commission (IEC) to undertake a neutral assessment on whether South Africa should implement e-voting. He presented the research at a special event to Parliament and all Chapter 9 institutions.
“The international acclaim arrived when I presented this to the then 53 African countries at a special conference in Nairobi. I now consult at government level on electoral matters,” added Prof Thakur.
He was the National Treasurer of the Institute of IT Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) and the KZN Chapter Chair for five years, and a member of the Ministerial Task Team on 4IR.
“Off course there is much more but at a supervision level my postgraduate student, Yaseen Khan was introduced to Parliament for the groundbreaking unstructured Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques we used to analyse the #FeesMustFall campaign. We continue with this now studying COVID Misinformation using Machine Learning,” he conveyed excitedly.
At a digital activist Prof Thakur created and continually curates a fun lecture exploring the folly of social media through counter examples called Online Netiquette. He has spoken to over 25 000 people on this programme, thus far.
As an academic researcher, Prof Thakur spoke of the challenges one faces, saying that as a developing researcher he struggled to get support for his unorthodox thinking.
“The research pool in Computer Science is also very small. The rapid confluence of technologies – now known as 4IR has opened engagement possibilities with students and academics from all faculties. I now must reluctantly turn down some exciting projects,” he said.
For Prof Thakur, at a professional level, the NRF rating will elevate his statue which will raise the value of his opinion.
“I shall use this platform to continue to articulate my ideas on public forums. The rating has energised me to continue this research path. I have already experienced international researchers reaching to out offering research collaborations. DUT having NRF rated researchers is further proof that DUTs top five rating is evidence-based,” he commented.
Besides having an NRF rating, he commented that the vetting process has a mandatory blind review component and this automatically opens national and international opportunities for academics, students, civil society and companies seeking collaborative research.
Prof Thakur’s word of advice to fellow DUT researchers who are keen to be at a rated level is that they must look for a mentor.
“Your mentor must be unambiguously interested in developing you. Your mentor may be in your space or could even be a family. They must offer their network to grow you, support you on sad days and celebrate your successes. To my young colleagues, I offer my support and assistance,” he added.
Going forward, Prof Thakur gave insight into his forthcoming work, saying that he is currently working within industry, such as through InSETA as the Research Chair, where a variety of pure and applied transdisciplinary research emerge daily.
“My projects involve e-democracy, Unstructured Social Media analysis, the Quantified Self, and Data Science. I try to ensure that my research contributes towards a tangible outcome. I am always reminded of our ‘University of Technology’ ethos enshrined in our DUT name,” he said proudly.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), Professor Sibusiso Moyo mentioned that as part of our ENVISION2030 Sustainability perspective, having NRF Rated Researchers is one of the ways we (DUT) can ensure we (DUT) create a sustainable research and innovation enterprise, with a capacity to contribute to the doctoral skills training and mentoring of the next generation scholars.
“Our objective is to ensure we have optimised organisational capabilities with the ability to align and leverage DUT’s resources to realise our stated goals and objectives in the Research and Innovation Blueprint. Congratulations once again to Prof on this achievement!”
Pictured: Professor Surendra Thakur (Colin),