Postdoctoral Researcher at MRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit

The University of the Witwatersrand School of Clinical Medicine seeks to appoint a full-time postdoctoral researcher for 3 years to work with Dr Michelle Pentecost on the UKRI funded Future Leaders Fellowship project ‘Trajectories: The social science of developmental pathways to health from preconception to childhood in South Africa’.

This UKRI-funded project partners with the South African Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (HeLTI- SA), hosted by the SAMRC Developmental Pathways for Health Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand. A World Health Organisation-supported study, HeLTI cohorts in Canada, India, China and South Africa aim to test preconception interventions for the prevention of childhood obesity. Working with HeLTI-SA, the aims of this project are to investigate the social and ethical implications of public health interventions in the early life period from preconception to early childhood, and to develop innovative qualitative methodologies for studying the social factors that shape life trajectories.

Key objectives:

The successful candidate will work as part of a team, using mixed methods qualitative approaches, including interviews, ethnographic fieldwork and participatory methodologies to produce a fine- grained account of the lives of trial participants and to trace the interaction of biological and social factors that shape health outcomes from preconception to early childhood, and across the life course. The successful candidate will work closely with the Trajectories and HeLTI teams in a highly interdisciplinary research environment. The postdoctoral researcher will be based at the DPHRU offices and in addition to the primary objective will be expected to lead on components of work, and attend project meetings, writing retreats, training workshops and conferences. The post includes significant opportunities to receive further training and establish academic networks within the wider HeLTI consortium.

Key deliverables:

  • Lead on a minimum of three qualitative research articles as well as working alongside team members on group publications
  • Present work in progress at international conferences
  • Support the achievement of the project goals

Essential criteria

  1. The successful candidate will have a PhD in anthropology, sociology, public health or another relevant social science discipline with ethnographic and/or qualitative research experience in Sub-Saharan Africa at the postdoctoral level.
  2. They will demonstrate previous experience of conducting and publishing high quality research
  3. They will have excellent interpersonal communication skills
  4. They will demonstrate excellent organisational, analytical and problem-solving skills
  5. The successful candidate should demonstrate collegiality and willingness to work as part of a team
  6. The successful candidate should demonstrate their ability to use own initiative and think critically
  7. The successful candidate will need to be based in South Africa, as well as willing to travel for conferences and workshops

Desirable criteria

  1. Fluency in one or more of South Africa’s eleven official languages in addition to English language
  2. Previous experience conducting qualitative research as part of a research trial.

The successful candidate will be required to register for and comply with the university’s approved policies, procedures and practises for the postdoctoral sector, including COVID-19 vaccination.

The postdoctoral grant is valued at R450 000 per annum (tax free stipend), renewable for a total of 3 years on the basis of satisfactory academic progress. In addition to this stipend, the candidate is funded for one international conference per year and benefits from a suite of training opportunities.

Expected start date: August 2022 (negotiable).

To apply, please send the following to

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Application letter describing your interest in the project, how you meet eligibility criteria and how your prior work might fit with the role
  • Academic transcripts
  • 2 academic references (please ask referees to email their references directly)
    Shortlisted candidates will be asked for a writing sample and the selection process will include an interview.

Queries may be addressed to Dr Michelle Pentecost (

Application deadline: 17 June 2022.

Incomplete or late applications will not be considered. The university reserves the right to disqualify ineligible, incomplete and/or inappropriate applications and to change the conditions of award or to make no awards at all.

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