Professor Shenuka Singh has completed her second PhD in Research Ethics.

UKZN Academic Bags Second PhD

Academic Leader: Teaching and Learning at the School of Health Sciences Professor Shenuka Singh has completed her second PhD in Research Ethics.

‘I am the first graduand in the programme and will graduate on 5 April this year,’ she said.

Singh intends to continue building a research profile in her chosen field, which includes postgraduate student supervision and further research output. She is also involved in training staff at other universities in the area of research ethics and plans to continue with staff capacity development in that area.

Singh’s first PhD was in the sphere of dental public health while her latest study is very different. ‘As an active researcher and research supervisor in my second doctorate I was able to engage in critical thinking at a far deeper level than I did with the first. I was also able to work more independently.’

Singh, who developed a keen interest in research ethics several years ago, has been a member of UKZN’s Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee (HSSREC), chairing the body from 2014-2018, and the Biomedical Research Ethics Committee (BREC), where she is currently Deputy Chair.

‘It is through a passion for research ethics and the guidance and advice of Professor Doug Wassenaar, that I started studying for a formal qualification in my chosen field,’ she said.

Singh obtained a cum laude Postgraduate Diploma in Research Ethics at Stellenbosch University in 2015. ‘An opportunity then presented itself in June 2017, when the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at Stellenbosch University was awarded the prestigious NIH Fogarty grant: D43 TW01511-01- Advancing Research Ethics Training in Southern Africa (ARESA): Leadership Program and National Human Genome Research Institute – National Institutes of Health,’ she said.

‘The call for applications into this doctoral and bioethics leadership programme (PhD, Clinical and Health Research Ethics) was extended to candidates in other parts of Africa so there was a lot of competition. I was one of four successful candidates to be selected and was awarded a scholarship to study for my second PhD. My research supervisors were Professor Keymanthri Moodley of Stellenbosch University and Professor Jean Cadigan of the University of North Carolina.’

Singh encountered challenges during her study journey. ‘It was difficult to balance the responsibilities of being a full-time academic with that of having to complete the project-related tasks. The COVID-19 pandemic created further challenges when the design team developing the website for my course had to abandon my project because they needed to focus on online learning for the undergraduate students at Stellenbosch University,’ she said. ‘I had to then self-learn new information technology-related technical skills to continue with the course development on my side. This also acted as a self-empowerment tool for me because I am now able to handle both the academic and technical aspects of my online course.’

Singh’s study found there is a scarcity of educational courses on the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) of biobanking at a global level and those that are available do not consider the local context-specificities of biobanking practice.

‘My project involved the development of an online short course on the ELSI of biobanking in South Africa, using participatory action research,’ she said. ‘I engaged with specific stakeholders – including clinicians, biobankers, researchers, and research ethics committee members – to develop and refine the modules in the course, through multiple iterations and reviews with the study participants in real-time.

‘The study used a “bottom up” approach, with both the researcher and research participants involved in the co-creation of the short course, thereby ensuring its offering is relevant and appropriate for the local context of biobanking practice.’

Singh has been selected as one of three UKZN staff members for the Teaching Advancement at Universities (TAU) Fellowship for 2022.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied