Student Training

Our approach is to build the research pipeline from masters to PhD students, with intern opportunities feeding into this, then to host postdoctoral fellows and mentor young to mid-career scientists, including supporting their preparation for competitive fellowships and grants. We thereby aim to contribute to the next generation of senior scientists and to research leadership in South Africa and the region.

PhD students by gender   and nationality 2016
Female 79%
South African and other African 71%



Students benefit from exposure to:
  • a strong research environment with a diversity of study designs
  • supportive research management at various levels throughout the research process
  • specialised community engagement through the Public Engagement Office
  • On-site seminar series
  • Ongoing efforts to strengthen connectivity between Bushbuckridge and School of Public Health in Johannesburg so students can virtually join the Interdisciplinary PhD Programme
  • Extraction of student datasets by Data Scientist to provide tailored datasets in timely fashion
  • Data website ( provides students with resources to familiarise themselves with HDSS data and prepare a data request. A freely available ‘1-in-10’ sample dataset (anonymised 10% sample of the Agincourt HDSS database that retains the relational, temporal and data integrity of the full database) serves as an exploratory dataset. A data dictionary, data request and data agreement forms are provided.
  • opportunities for informal student interaction and support after working hours at the student accommodation venue, Wits Rural Campus.

Since 2008 the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit has emphasised doctoral and postdoctoral training so mentoring talented researchers with steady improvement in graduate throughput.

student grad graphNumbers of graduated students/fellows 2003-06,  2007-11 and 2012-16S

Staff capacity development

Over the past 5-years, several Unit research and management staff obtained or are studying for higher degrees while conducting and managing research, amounting to 9 PhDs and 4 Masters over the past 5 years.

8 staff are also currently studying towards their first degress or diplomas within their scope of work.

The Unit runs a successful internship programme for junior data managers (with either a diploma or first degree). Many of these interns progress to become staff members in the data section.  Internship opportunities for  local youth interested in research management and administration has recently been introduced

Community Capacity Building

The Agincourt Public Engagement Office (PEO) runs an annual capacity building and team building workshop for Community Advisory Group members, building communication skills, research ethics, research protocols, team building, and roles and responsibilities including annual work plans.

Recruitment workshops: Over two months in 2014, the Public Engagement Office and HR section ran workshops in 21 study villages on how to apply for a job, how to write a CV, and on interview skills.

Tertiary Admissions Project (TAP) seeks to facilitate ‘high potential’ rural youth applying to tertiary education institutions. TAP provides information and guidance on application procedures to 30 high schools in Bushbuckridge, including a CD with bursary and tertiary education application forms. A major barrier was poor access to National Benchmark Test (NBT) sites, the closest being at least an hour’s drive away.  Altogether, the sites run 16 tests annually with 15 to 60 students writing each test.

Training for other institutions

From 2012 to 2016, the Unit (led by Collinson and Ginsburg) ran five training workshops for scientists from participating HDSS research centres. These focused on: standardising HDSS data for multi-centre, comparative analyses; event history analysis; migration, mortality and the epidemiological transition; and interpretation of analytic findings.

Support to Soweto-CHAMPS research site
The Unit provides technical support to the newly established Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) site, led by Prof Shabir Madhi, which intends to align its field and data operations to those of the Agincourt HDSS, as part of establishing an urban HDSS in Soweto.

Supporting verbal autopsy (VA) methods
Support is going to the Dikgale HDSS,  Aurum Institute, and the SAMRC Burden of Disease Unit’s National Cause of Death Validation Study.

The Agincourt Unit plays a key role within CARTA (Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa), part of the Wellcome African Institutions Initiative.

Sabbatical visits
Over the review period, the Unit hosted several international scientists on sabbatical, all of whom spent an extended period at the Wits Rural Campus. They include Professors Peter Byass (Umeå University, Sweden), Justine Davies (Kings College, London and Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology) and Miles Witham (University of Dundee, Scotland). All have become honorary staff of the Unit/School of Public Health and collaborate on joint research.