The keynote speaker at the recent research day symposium of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Prof Johan Fourie of the Department of Economics, delivered a fascinating account of the key moments and events that shaped his career.
The annual research day celebrates and showcases the Faculty’s growing research culture. Having invited academic staff, postdoctoral researchers and PhD candidates to submit abstracts for oral or poster presentations, 18 speakers presented their research projects during the hybrid event.
Fourie, a professor of Economics and History, is a NRF B1-rated researcher – a researcher who enjoys considerable international recognition by his peers. He has produced over 80 research papers. He recently published a book Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom, which explores accessible economic history spanning from the human migration out of Africa 100 000 years ago to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his keynote address entitled, “A walk through my research: Lessons from a decade of writing,” Fourie shared five key lessons which he has learnt over the last decade.
Be open to serendipity
“Be open to interact with scholars outside of your domain,” said Fourie. “Almost all of my connections have been acquired in those kind of serendipitous moments – moments that are unplanned and not predictable in any way.”
He cited an example of such a moment. “I received a random e-mail from a Swedish scholar who wanted to do research work on farms in the old Transvaal. I suggested rather doing work on farms in the Cape colony of which we have much more interesting data available. Today Erik Green (researcher and associate professor of Economic History at Lund University) and I have been collaborators since 2015 on the largest project funded by Sweden in the humanities, the Cape of Good Hope Panel project. These kinds of serendipitous moments are really important. It is a kind of venturing out of your field, out of your comfort zone.”
He said social media and blogging can sometimes help with these moments. “Twitter has helped me because there is an active economic community and I get to see all these economic papers.” But he warns that social media can also lead to distractions. “I would urge especially younger colleagues to keep in mind that a blog and podcast can take a great amount of time and resources. So just be aware of this.”
Work in teams
“You can benefit a lot from working with co-authors. You don’t need to have all the expertise that has to go into a research paper. There are some co-authors that are very good at certain aspects but not in others. That is where co-author teams work really well,” said Fourie.
He added: “I would also encourage building international networks. I have worked a lot with international scholars in the US, which is the frontier of just about any field. International networks bring in many things, they bring in new ideas, they help you to position your story about South Africa in an international context, and they bring in a lot of funding.”
Tell a story
According to Fourie every research paper needs a relatable story, as it will help to make the case for “why you should care”.
“I am a big believer in making your research accessible to a wider audience and to do that is to tell a story. Every paper needs to have some central story that is gripping and convincing, even though it is not an easy thing to do.”
Find a cause
“It is important to understand why you do what you do. Just doing it to get promoted is not enough of a reason. Contributing to academic journals and societies can be helpful, but the goal is to find something that you are passionate about (for your research),” said Fourie.
He made the point that it is important to work with people you enjoy hanging out with. “You are going to spend a lot of time with co-authors, so do it with people that actually add value to you, who give you energy.
“Also, don’t feel guilty when you attend a conference in a different place and end up doing fun stuff with colleagues, because that is part of the research. That is where the serendipitous moments take place. You don’t get that by sitting in your office and attending something online.”
To cap off the event, the following three prizes were awarded to participants:
- Best Poster: Susan Goosen
- Best Presentation – Early Career Researcher: Jacomien van der Merwe
- Best Presentation – Senior Researcher: Prof Stephan Krygsman
- To listen to the recording of Prof Fourie’s speech, click here.
- Main photo: F.l.t.r. are Prof Johan Fourie (keynote speaker), Dr Jaco Franken (organiser of the research day) and Prof Ingrid Woolard, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences.
- Photo on the right: Speakers at the research day of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences together with the Dean, Prof Ingrid Woolard (in the centre of the front row), and organiser Dr Jaco Franken (in the back row with white shirt).
- Photos by Ignus Dreyer, SCPS