Building sustainable research capacity at higher learning institutions in Tanzania through mentoring of the Young Research Peers

BMC Med Educ. 2021 Mar 17;21(1):166. doi: 10.1186/s12909-021-02611-0.


Background: Sustainability of research culture in Sub-Saharan Africa is threatened in part by the lack of a critical mass of young researchers with the requisite skills and interest to undertake research careers. This paper describes an intensive mentorship programme combining hierarchical (vertical) and peer-to-peer (horizontal) mentoring strategies among young researchers in a resource limited setting in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods: A consortium of three partnering large Tanzanian health training institutions (MUHAS, CUHAS and KCMUCo) and two collaborating US institutions (UCSF and Duke University) was formed as part of the five-year Transforming Health Professions Education in Tanzania (THET) project, funded by the NIH through Health Professional Education Partnership Initiative (HEPI). Within THET, the Community of Young Research Peers (CYRP) was formed, comprising of inter-professional and cross-institutional team of 12 Master-level Young Research Peers and 10 co-opted fellows from the former MEPI-Junior Faculty (MEPI-JF) project. The Young Peers received mentorship from senior researchers from the consortium through mentored research awards and research training, and in turn provided reciprocal peer-to-peer mentorship as well as mentorship to undergraduate students.

Results: At the end of the first 2 years of the project, all 12 Young Peers were proceeding well with mentored research awards, and some were at more advanced stages. For example, three articles were already published in peer reviewed journals and two other manuscripts were in final stages of preparation. All 12 Young Peers participated in CYRP-wide thematic training workshops on mentoring and secondary data analysis; 11 had undertaken at least three research training short courses in identified areas of need; 9 joined at least one other ongoing research project; 5 made at least one scientific presentation, and 5 participated in at least one submitted grant application. Half of the Young Peers have enrolled in PhD programmes. A collective total of 41 undergraduate students were actively mentored by the Young Peers in research.

Conclusion: The CYRP has demonstrated to be an effective model for dual vertical and horizontal mentorship in research to young investigators in resource-limited settings. This model is recommended to educators working on developing research competence of early career researchers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Keywords: Community of young research peers; Peer-to-peer mentoring; Vertical mentoring; Young researcher.