Dr Rizwana Roomaney, a lecturer in the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University, has been selected as one of 51 black academics from across South Africa to participate in the Black Academics Advancement Programme in 2020. She is one of three academics at SU to be selected for the programme.
The Black Academics Advancement Programme (BAAP), which is being funded to the tune of R165 million over the next five years, is a strategic partnership between the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the FirstRand Foundation (FRF) “to promote the development of Black South African academics and South African academics with disabilities, to become nationally and internationally recognised researchers".
The programme gives black academics, who are completing a PhD degree or working on post-doctoral research, the opportunity to take a sabbatical for two to three years and to fund the sabbatical through a grant. The grant covers the academic's running expenses, such as local and international conference expenses, research-related costs and lecturer replacement costs for the duration of the sabbatical.
“This grant has allowed me to significantly increase the time that I am able to focus on my postdoctoral research by buying out my teaching obligations over the next two years," explains Roomaney, who is also a registered counsellor and research psychologist. “I teach almost 2 000 undergraduate students a year and currently supervise 15 postgraduate students. So I look forward to having time off from lecturing to focus exclusively on research and mentoring my postgraduate students."
Through her research, Roomaney seeks to understand psychosocial well-being among men and women who seek fertility treatment. She leads a team of researchers in South Africa and Ghana. With 10 million couples in sub-Saharan Africa experiencing infertility, Roomaney's research will make an important contribution to scholarship in this regard.
“The magnitude of importance attached to biological parenthood in Africa makes cultural beliefs about infertility inseparable from the experience of infertility. Globally, many couples with infertility experience anxiety, depression, stress, and stigma. In Africa, the experience of infertility seems to be aggravated by the cultural worldview of the couple, making the psychosocial well-being of the couple more difficult to disentangle," she adds.
“There is limited current research on the psycho-social aspects of infertility among men and women in South Africa," explains Roomaney.
She adds that this research may be used to provide psychological and social support to men and women seeking fertility preservation. The original intervention was developed by her co-investigator, Dr Florence Naab at the University of Ghana.
Over the years, Roomaney's research interests have focused on the field of health research, specifically reproductive and women's health. She is an experienced methodologist, and is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa as a Research Psychologist. It was during her postgraduate studies that she found herself drawn to research on reproductive and women's health and she is currently working on studies with research collaborators and students in oncology, oncofertility (the preservation of reproductive health in cancer patients after treatment), endometriosis, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and infertility.
“I became interested in women's health and reproductive health mainly because women often find themselves isolated as they silently struggle with their health issues. For example, women who live with endometriosis struggle to talk about matters such as menstruation because we have been socialised not to talk about it and other matters that affect our reproductive health. It is encouraging to see though that women are becoming more empowered and taking charge of their bodies and their health by seeking help online and engaging with other women experiencing the same issues."
Understanding these matters, says Roomaney, is not only about helping women who suffer silently. Studies has shown that there is a real impact on the economy when women have to remain absent from work due to debilitating symptoms that accompany endometriosis or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Roomaney has been building a solid academic career in the field of reproductive and women's health and has published 19 journal articles and two book chapters during her relatively short career in academia.
At present, she is the national delegate for South Africa on the European Health Psychology Society and is working with the Psychological Society of South Africa to develop a Health Psychology Special Interest Group (SIG).
“I hope that the SIG creates a space for all psychologists working and conducting research in health psychology to share ideas, collaborate and be of service to communities."
“I would like to make a contribution to the field of health psychology and am grateful for the support that I received through this grant. There is a need to advance black academics, and the NRF and FRF are providing much needed support. It is now up to the universities to further support young black talent and strive to further transform the academic body."
Roomaney calls attention to the fact that the professorate is not sufficiently transformed. She states that this lack of transformation is a structural problem because mainly privileged people can afford the years of study to get a PhD and work towards to becoming professors. This goal can take decades to achieve, while lecturers struggle to manage their competing academic roles. The BAAP therefore fast-tracks people to become professors who have been disadvantaged because of structural inequalities in society.