PhD Study Contributes to Food Security Policy

PhD Study Contributes to Food Security Policy
Dr Richard Kajombo graduated with a PhD in Food Security.

The important topic of policy implications arising from strategies for the eradication of poverty and food insecurity was central to the theme of the thesis of Dr Richard Kajombo who graduated from UKZN's Pietermaritzburg campus with his PhD in Food Security.

Kajombo completed a BSc in Agricultural Economics at the Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi and undertook his Masters in Development and Resource Economics at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB). Having identified what he describes as a number of gaps in the emerging academic field of Food Security, he chose to conduct his PhD in that field, where he felt his background in economics, econometrics and impact assessments would enable him to contribute to the body of knowledge.

His research comprised an investigation of the poverty and food insecurity status of households, scrutinising their underlying causes, viable livelihood options and policy implications in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. It also showed the importance of understanding the heterogeneity of households, their interaction with resources and the role of policies in improving households’ welfare.

According to Kajombo, it was the high incidence of household food insecurity, poverty and vulnerability among rural households in KZN that stimulated his interest in this topic.

‘I wanted to provide some options to policy makers to address poverty and food insecurity among resource-poor households,’ said Kajombo.

Key findings of the study indicate that household welfare could be achieved through provisions of combinations of basic services including access to water and agricultural extension, improved household resource endowment, consumption and market policy interventions.

Kajombo believes that these results could provide policy makers with appropriate policy areas for intervention to improve rural livelihoods, welfare and quality of life, contribute to existing literature on household food security and guide policy and programme implementation in South Africa.

He said UKZN and its staff members provided him with an environment conducive to his research.

Co-supervisor Dr Joyce Chitja of the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) said she encouraged Kajombo to pursue his PhD with UKZN after observing his contributions and dedication to his work with the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC), a structure that monitors and implements food security and vulnerability programmes in Malawi and all SADC countries.

‘Throughout his studies, Richard was involved in research projects in the ACFS that supported his stay and completion,’ said Chitja. ‘His study  formed a key part of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Food Security Research commissioned to the ACFS and is significant in that strategies for poverty and food insecurity eradication  remain a challenge among policy makers in both developed and developing countries, including  South Africa,’ she said.  ‘His study contributes to the wider policy context in the promotion of rural household food security.’

Having completed his PhD, Kajombo hopes to have more time to spend with his family, particularly his son and daughter.

He says he will continue with as much research as he can. Once a researcher, always a researcher.' 

Kajombo thanked his wife, Eunice, for her love, support and patience throughout his PhD research process, and his supervisors, Professor Ayalneh Bogale and Dr Joyce Chitja, as well as Professor Albert Modi, for their academic support. He also thanked members of staff at the ACFS, the congregation at Cornerstone Assembly and everyone who contributed to the success of his work.

Christine Cuénod

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PhD Thesis Emphasises Vital Water Resource Management

PhD Thesis Emphasises Vital Water Resource Management
Dr Sabine Stuart-Hill graduated with a PhD in Hydrology.

A seven-year journey reached a successful conclusion for Dr Sabine Stuart-Hill when she graduated with a PhD in Hydrology.  

Supervised by Professor Roland Schulze and Professor Claudia Pahl-Wostl, her thesis was titled: “Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change into Decision Making in the Water Sector: Concepts and Case Studies from South Africa.”

Stuart-Hill, who has been a part of the Discipline of Hydrology as a lecturer in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science (SAEES) since beginning her PhD in 2008, spent much of her life in Germany and studied her undergraduate degree at the University of Bonn, where she also went on to complete her masters.

Initially, Stuart-Hill, whose interests lie in sustainability and environmental science, wanted to do her undergraduate degree in the early 1990s in South Africa, a country where she also has roots. However, at the time, there were few opportunities to study in those fields in South Africa and no exchange programmes were on offer to enable her to work in both countries.

 Stuart-Hill completed her undergraduate and masters degrees in Germany, with her masters focusing on flood mapping in the Rhine catchment area after floods devastated the area in a country which, while known for its systems and planning, is unused to natural disasters.

After completing her masters, Stuart-Hill chose to delay beginning a PhD as the experience of doing research with real-world results had stimulated her interest in working where she could have an impact on the uptake of science into policy and visible, daily actions. She spent a short while in the consulting field, before moving on to work for the German government where she ran a unit working on a European Union-funded programme focused on preventive flood management.

Stuart-Hill’s experience of how various countries in Europe approached issues of flood management sparked ideas for her PhD, which she describes as a journey of discovering issues pertinent to her research and devising ways to research those issues most fully.

 Stuart-Hill had made contact with her supervisor Professor Schulze of UKZN through her work in Europe and through her co-supervisor, Professor Claudia Pahl-Wostl of the Institute for Environmental Systems Research in Osnabrück, Germany.

The supervision and co-supervision of Schulze and Pahl-Wostl provided Stuart-Hill with a spread in discussions and contacts, which enriched her work. She cited Schulze particularly as a knowledge broker in her work, and expressed gratitude to her supervisors for their crucial input and support.

For her PhD research, Stuart-Hill examined issues of climate change adaptive water management and water governance in South Africa, where changes in the catchment areas and subsequently in communities need to be investigated to modify how water is managed. She described how a sensitive hydrological cycle and responses in the country provide uncertainties which traditional modeling and projection practices cannot fully accommodate, and where there is insufficient data to base hydrological models and projections on.

Stuart-Hill was interested in basing her PhD on her foundations of interacting with governments and the people they serve, and exploring how to adapt to climate change and mainstream issues of water governance and changes in hydrological systems via participatory processes. Her background in project management, workshop facilitation, negotiations and communications greatly influenced and informed her work, giving her a different set of skills to apply to her research.

‘There is a need to be creative and innovative when dealing with these issues,’ said Stuart-Hill, ‘since water issues feed into every area of all of our lives.’

Her research has a transdisciplinary theme, presenting a challenge as most publishers still stick to traditional categories for the publication of papers. She has, however, worked on a number of papers to be published from her work and has also been invited to work on other projects as a result of her work, including two projects with the Water Research Commission (WRC) as part of their Water Governance Think Tank, and the National Research Foundation (NRF), the latter enabling her to send two UKZN masters students to Germany for part of their research.

She is a member of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) Management and Institutional Affairs Division committee championing the governance theme and since March 2013, a member of the Interim Steering Committee for the re-establishment of the South African Country Water Partnership. She is also coordinator for one of the six FETwater Phase III themes - Planning & Implementation. 

FETwater is a training programme for the water sector financed and supported by the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA), WRC, the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Involvement with other projects, the trans-disciplinary nature of her work and the fact that Stuart-Hill married and had two children while completing her PhD contributed to the time it took to finish the degree. 

She found, however, that this gave her time to mature around her work, reading up on other disciplines’ forays into the field and ultimately being able to produce a cutting-edge dissertation.

‘This kind of work has really opened up a new theme in Hydrology; one which is people-based and is involved in bringing scientific results and hydrological maps to the people that they affect.’ 

She has enjoyed the support of her colleagues in SAEES during the completion of her PhD, who she says have understood the process of completing this work and have given her the space to do so.

Going forward, Stuart-Hill aims to build a research group around developing a decision-making process in water governance that is informed by processing and projections, that will contribute to water security and allow a water-scarce South Africa not simply to live on the boundary of exceeding bio-physical thresholds, but steer itself towards optimum management of its water resources.

Christine Cuénod

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Agrometeorology Graduate Investigates Relationship between Atmospheric Dynamics and Wildfires

Agrometeorology Graduate Investigates Relationship between Atmospheric Dynamics and Wildfires
Research by Mr Sheldon Strydom investigated the relationship between atmospheric dynamcis and wildfires.

Agrometeorology student, Mr Sheldon Strydom, graduated with his Masters in Science cum laude - a remarkable feat for a student who completed his undergraduate degree in the Social Sciences before moving onto postgraduate studies in the Sciences.  

Strydom, supervised by Professor Michael Savage, completed his Bachelor of Social Sciences in the discipline of Geography, and then chose to follow his passion for atmospheric science and climatology to a postgraduate career in Agrometeorology, after taking the discipline’s second-year courses during his undergraduate studies.

‘He is the first student in the history of UKZN, and possibly the country, with a BSocSci undergraduate degree to complete a Masters in Agrometeorology,’ said Savage. ‘He also obtained his BSc Honours cum laude and his honours project, which I also supervised, was based on the Agrometeorology Instrumentation Mast (AIM) data and information system for the agro-environmental sciences.’

Strydom’s masters research was focused in the area of fire meteorology, specifically investigating the relationship between atmospheric dynamics and wildfires. His work included the analysis of 11 years’ of spatial and temporal variations in South African fires, using satellite-derived fire hotspots and applying geographic information system (GIS) analyses to link to changes in climate and vegetation.

His masters research also included a fuzzy logic system for determining periods of Berg winds (warm, dry winds descending the escarpment which have a notable influence on fire danger). The effects of Berg winds on the microclimate were also studied and two near real-time fire danger index measurement systems were developed – the South African Lowveld fire danger index and the Australian McArthur fire danger meters.

The two fire danger indices developed in Strydom’s study were modified to allow them to be programmed into an Automatic Weather Station (AWS) data-logger to provide hourly and sub-hourly fire danger information. These systems are currently in use as part of the UKZN Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) system and provide valuable data regarding fire danger in the region.

‘One examiner found that his Masters dissertation conveyed a complex research idea, methodology and findings in a manner easy to read and understand,’ said Savage. ‘This examiner also noted that the findings, if implemented and practised nationally, would be indispensable and an invaluable tool not only to the agricultural and forest community but also to the country’s economic sector in general. The second examiner found that the study is timely as it re-examined research by previously contracted research institutions in South Africa, which had lost momentum, on the potential of different fire danger rating systems suitable for South Africa.’

Having come from a Social Sciences background, Strydom was able to bring a unique set of skills to his research.

‘While there are a few challenges, having a background in Social Science has never held me back,’ said Strydom. ‘Effective writing is essential to the Social Sciences and I think this has been the biggest contribution of my Social Science background, which has also equipped me with the tools to understand phenomena from multiple perspectives. In my opinion, a big problem with the science and research sector is understanding multiple perspectives and effectively communicating research findings to stakeholders and impacted parties. For example, there is some great climate change research being done around the country but there is a problem in communicating the implications of the research to lay persons, and that is where some training in social science can be invaluable. Science shouldn’t be done for the sake of science; it should be done to contribute towards a positive change for all.’

‘We all assist in each other’s research by helping to set up equipment or by providing assistance in data collection,’ said Strydm. ‘I would never be where I am today without the support from the other Agromet postgrads and the support and guidance from Professor Savage.’

Strydom said that the first step to becoming a motivated, hardworking student who achieved a Masters cum laude degree was recognising how privileged he was. ‘It took a while for me to realise this,’ said Strydom. ‘Most students don’t realise how fortunate they are to be at university. There are a lot of people who wish to be here and who could be here if it wasn’t for one or two barriers. Understanding the magnitude of this opportunity drives me every day. I have been blessed with these opportunities and I will do my best not to waste them.’

Strydom is currently working on his PhD in Agrometeorology with Savage as his supervisor. He aims to submit articles based on his masters research to international journals to review for publication. He has also been lecturing atmospheric science to second year Geography students as a relief lecturer, pointing towards a career in academia for Strydom.

Strydom expressed gratitude to God and his family for unfailing support and for showing him the value of hard work. He thanked the Agrometeorology and Geography disciplines for their support and assistance.

Christine Cuénod

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A Long Walk to Graduation

A Long Walk to Graduation
A proud moment for the family of Mr Xolani Mbuyise, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Physics and Statistics.

Despite intense personal challenges, which included walking 20km to and from University every day, Mr Xolani Mbuyise of UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics, graduated with a BSc in Physics.

Mbuyise’s mother died when he was young and he was left in the care of his grandmother, who also looked after another three of her grandchildren on meagre earnings she received from providing laundry services. After receiving assistance from the Thandanani Children’s Foundation’s Family Strengthening Programme, Mbuyise was able to complete his schooling and matriculated in 2011 with an exemption.

The next step for Mbuyise was that of attaining a university degree so that he could support his grandmother and cousins.  He longed to study Physics, a discipline he enjoyed because he regarded it as the language of communication in science, saying it enables one to take ideas that can change the world and put them into action.

‘Physics is my love because it makes me think outside the box and see things that other people don’t ,’ explained Mbuyise.

His grandmother managed to raise the funds for Mbuyise’s registration at UKZN and he received financial support from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

 Mbuyise didn’t have money for accommodation close to campus or even transport to class, meaning that he had to walk from his home in Slangspruit, a round trip of close to 20km. In his final year, Thandanani gave him a bursary that covered subsistence and travel costs.

Mbuyise says his favourite part of University life was the academic aspect. ‘I enjoyed being lectured by lecturers who pass their knowledge on to us as students, and also teach us about what we can expect in the real world.’

Mbuyise is currently completing his Honours degree in Physics and is considering the prospect of undertaking a Masters once he is finished. His Honours work is being supported by a bursary from the National Research Foundation, made possible by one of his lecturers, Dr Giuseppe Pellicane, who also facilitated support for Mbuyise during his undergraduate studies.

‘Xolani is an extremely committed student and we appreciate and value his presence here in physics,’ said Pellicane. ‘I look forward to enrolling him as a Masters student.’

Mbuyise’s Honours work, being supervised by Professor Genene Mola, is concerned with the investigation of electrochemical energy issues.

Mbuyise has inspired many with his story of triumph, and emphasises to others facing similar challenges that the obstacles one faces are not permanent.

‘In life, you must make sure that you use the opportunities you are given, remembering that what some people see as a problem, others see as an opportunity,’ said Mbuyise. ‘What has worked for me is the application of Luke 1:37, which says that nothing is impossible with God.’

Mbuyise expressed gratitude to God and thanked his grandmother for raising him.

Christine Cuénod

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PhD Research examines use of Natural Compounds to Diminish Painkiller Side Effects

PhD Research examines use of Natural Compounds to Diminish Painkiller Side Effects
Dr Cathryn Slabber graduated with a PhD in Chemistry.

Dr Cathryn Slabber has graduated with a PhD in Chemistry with research seeking to develop a painkiller without side-effects common to many over the counter anti-inflammatories.   

Slabber, who studied her BSc, Honours and Masters at UKZN, said she was drawn to the discipline of Chemistry because of the challenges it presents in solving numerous puzzles in the chemical field. Initially interested in genetics, having ridden ex-race horses throughout high school, Slabber said at school she was always the one interested in mixing chemicals in science classes.

The thought of science as a viable career path struck her while was watching the popular television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, leading her to register for a BSc at UKZN.

The research Slabber pursued for her PhD, titled: The War Against Pain: The Design, Synthesis and Testing of Potential COX-2 Selective Inhibitors, involved the use of a naturally-occurring compound as a base for designing a theoretical series of compounds, which were to target a specific isoform of a protein responsible for how pain is felt when using computational modelling techniques.

Slabber said she used synthesized compounds in the lab, analysed them to make sure they were what they were supposed to be and then tested the compounds in the proteins using a fluorescent inhibition assay. This allowed her to identify the compounds she believed could be used in pain killers to reduce side effects.

Slabber’s research was informed in part by the time she was able to spend in the United States at the Emory Institute for Drug Design (EIDD) at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was exposed to innovative chemical work and different approaches to research.

‘It was a great experience and a real eye-opener, working in a First World research facility where everything is at your fingertips,’ said Slabber. ‘It also showed me that there are a few times where working in South Africa allows you to become a better research scientist. For example, in the US if you order chemicals today, the order will often be waiting for you tomorrow, whereas here, it can take up to six or more weeks. But you can’t just stop your work and wait for the chemicals to arrive, so you do lots more research and you experiment with whatever chemicals you have on hand, and often you find a set of conditions or chemicals which you would never have thought of if you had had the chemicals on hand to start with. Working like this, while frustrating at times, makes you think outside of the box a little more and this ability is vital to any research scientist.’

The time spent at EIDD sparked Slabber’s PhD work and gave her a novel focus in terms of South Africa’s research in this area.

‘At the EIDD, I was introduced to the possibility of targeting proteins using tailor-made compounds and the prospect of using computer programmes to design and evaluate compounds,’ explained Slabber. ‘I was also introduced to the naturally occurring compound which I would later base my own compounds on.’

Slabber hopes to see the compounds she isolated, or compounds based on her work, eventually become available on the market and do what they were designed to do.

Slabber hopes to continue with research now that she has her PhD, ideally to the level of producing a patented compound, and is currently looking at pursuing post-doctorate research opportunities either in South Africa or overseas. She said she enjoyed the freedom given to her at UKZN to explore different avenues in her research as they arose, and quipped that trips to the popular Kara Nicha’s near the Pietermaritzburg campus would remain a favourite memory from her time at the institution.

Slabber credited her supervisor, Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics, Professor Ross Robinson, ‘for letting me go off and do my own thing’; Dr Dennis Liotta and Dr James Snyder and their research group at EIDD, and Emory University for introducing her to computational modelling and drug design; Craig Grimmer, Caryl Janse van Rensburg and the rest of the technical staff at UKZN for their invaluable help; and friends and family, ‘for keeping me sane through the challenge of completing my PhD’.

Christine Cuénod

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Statistics PhD Thesis Produces Valuable Data on Elephant Movement Patterns

Statistics PhD Thesis Produces Valuable Data on Elephant Movement Patterns
Dr Robert Mutwiri's PhD in Statistics produced valuable data on elephant movement patterns.

Dr Robert Mutwiri graduated with his PhD in Statistics in this week’s graduation ceremonies, with a thesis titled: Statistical Distributions and Modelling of GPS-Telemetry Elephant Movement Data Including the Effect of Covariates.  

Mutwiri, who received his Bachelor of Science in Applied Statistics from Maseno University in Kenya and his Masters in Social Statistics from the University of Nairobi, said he was interested in mathematical pursuits from the time he was a child.

‘Statistics is a branch of mathematics that we encounter every day in our lives,’ said Mutwiri of his passion for the discipline. ‘Counting sticks or bottle tops when I was a child and in nursery school was actually one of the earliest motivating factors to my pursuit of statistics as a course of study.’

Mutwiri’s PhD research was aimed at investigating the appropriate statistical distributions and models for analysis of animal movement behavioral patterns from animal tracking GPS data, in particular for elephant movements. According to Mutwiri, the study showed that elephant movement frameworks could be described by the four parameter stable distribution model, which captures the animals’ heavy tails and skewness.

‘We further found that the data contains important biological signals that could be lost through data trimming,’ explained Mutwiri. ‘The study also revealed the potential of the circular regression models in describing the drivers of elephant movement.’

Mutwiri was interested in pursuing this research for his PhD because of the potential it has to contribute to an understanding and conservation of the ecosystem of African elephants. He hopes that this research will guide future studies of elephant movement data and guide decision-making in terms of the management and conservation of wildlife.

Mutwiri said his time at UKZN had been fruitful for his research, and that he had benefited from seminars and the guidance of colleagues and lecturers during the course of his studies. He made the most of research incentives at the institution and found that being at UKZN provided valuable opportunities to interact with international leaders in his field and attend conferences, which bolstered his research.

Having completed his PhD, Mutwiri hopes to apply his skills in the working world and will maximise the opportunity to spend more time with his family.

He thanked his supervisors Professor Henry Mwambi and Professor Rob Slotow for their invaluable input into his studies and for being his mentors in this field of study.

Christine Cuénod

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Reviving a Forgotten Dream

Reviving a Forgotten Dream
Master of Science graduate in Physics, Mr Derrick Griffith, with his supervisor, Dr Naven Chetty.

Optical systems analyst Mr Derek Griffith (52) graduated with his Masters in Physics cum laude after registering to undertake his studies under the GR7b University rule, which allows students with a certain level of competence to pursue a postgraduate degree without the requisite qualifying degree.

Griffith, who obtained a BSc in Physics and Computer Science at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1985, focused his masters on the study of the theory and measurement of light scattering from material surfaces.

He paid particular attention to the measurement of weak scatter from the optical surfaces of precision imaging instruments such as space telescopes and ultraviolet lithography systems. His thesis has earned him a cum laude honour, and has also resulted in the publication of a paper from his research in a recognised international journal.

Griffith has worked almost his entire career at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), where he was assigned to the Optical Sciences Division of what was originally the National Physical Research Laboratory. At the time, there were no tertiary institutes providing training for optical designers, meaning that Griffith had to learn the skill on the job. As an optical systems analyst in the Optronic Sensor Systems competency area of the Defence, Peace, Safety and Security operating unit, Griffith’s work involves precision imaging systems for space and other applications, making it necessary to investigate the negative effects of scattered straylight in such systems.

The decision to enter this line of work was informed by Griffith’s passion for optics, which arose from his interest in amateur astronomy as a schoolboy, when he owned a small telescope and became interested in the mechanics of the device.

According to Griffith, there is a strong relationship between the roughness and cleanliness of a surface and the amount of diffuse light that scatters from the surface. Griffith’s work involved investigating techniques for predicting light scatter from measurements of surface roughness, as well as possible improvements to instruments that are used to measure weak scatter.

The completion of a masters degree late in life has been the revival of a long-abandoned dream.

Obtaining his Master’s part-time while working was not without its challenges. With the support of those around him, Griffith found himself able to focus on the work at hand.

‘As a senior analyst and researcher, other work responsibilities have often taken precedence, but my supervisor, my wife and others never gave up on me and helped me to revive a dream,’ said Griffith. ’My supervisor, Dr Naven Chetty, oiled all the wheels and moved mountains to make this happen, quite apart from providing excellent technical guidance.’

‘My long-time colleague, favourite boss and friend from the start of my career at the CSIR, Dr Dirk Bezuidenhout has always believed I could do this, even when I did not,’ said Griffith, emphasising the importance of support from his workplace.

When asked what he would say to others contemplating a postgraduate degree later on in life, Griffith said he would encourage them to pursue it.

Now that he has completed his masters with accolades, Griffith says he hopes to revive another dream, that of completing his PhD!

Christine Cuénod

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Research into Heavy Metal Applications for Anti-Cancer Pharmaceuticals

Research into Heavy Metal Applications for Anti-Cancer Pharmaceuticals
Masters in Science cum laude Chemistry graduate, Ms Victoria Chiazzari.

Innovative research which examined the possible applications for the use of gold as a heavy metal agent in anti-chemotherapeutical agents, secured.Ms Victoria Chiazzari her Masters in Science (Chemistry) cum laude degree.

Chiazzari’s thesis,titled: The Chemotherapeutic Potential of Bidentate Pyrrolide-Imine Gold(III) Chelates, involved the synthesis of, and investigation into, Bidentate Pyrrolide-Imine Gold(III) Chelated and its potential for use in anti-cancer therapies.

Chiazzari’s research, according to her supervisor Dr Matthew Akerman, is significant in that the use of gold is moving the concept of the use of heavy metals in anti-cancer pharmaceuticals forward.  It is anticipated eventually to be the solution to issues of drug resistance in present chemotherapy regimens.

‘Chiazzari successfully synthesised a new library of gold-based compounds, which she fully analysed in a chemistry context.  Through collaboration with Mintek, these were screened against a panel of human tumour cell lines,’ explained Akerman. ‘This testing showed the metal complexes were able to control the proliferation of cancerous tissue and therefore could have future application in the treatment of cancer.’ 

Akerman said that a limiting factor identified by the research was that the compounds were found to be less stable than would be ideal.  ‘This is an important avenue for future development of the project,’ he said.

‘Throughout the project, the main difficulty was reproducibility of the results,’ said Akerman. ‘It took a lot of dedication on Chiazzari’s part to work through this and to eventually produce enough of the compounds required for the anti-cancer testing. She managed to produce a lot of good data which she presented well in her dissertation.’ 

Akerman said that the significance and presentation of Chiazzari’s results led to her receiving her MSc degree cum laude.

According to Chiazzari, it was her supervisor’s passion for the field of inorganic chemistry which motivated her to do so well at her studies and achieve the results she did.  She thanked Akerman and co-supervisor Professor Orde Munro, for their continuous support during her thesis, describing how they kept her morale up when she had to complete her thesis whilst working.

Chiazzari, who hopes her research will provide a platform for future chemists to learn from and will allow the development of new theories and applications into anti-chemotherapeutic agents, said she was attracted to studying chemistry because of the excellence of the discipline at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg.

‘The Chemistry Department in Pietermaritzburg is always passionate and has a broad range of expertise to learn from,’ said Chiazzari. ‘This attracted me to chemistry as it challenged me on a daily basis. Chemistry has always fascinated me owing to its application in everyday life.’

Chiazzari, now working at Reckitt Benckiser, plans to continue her career in project management. She also hopes to obtain exposure into multiple departments within supply chain management. She said that UKZN had provided a solid platform to ensure that she performed at a high level within the industry, owing to the environment and support that lecturers and fellow students provided on a daily basis.

Chiazzari also expressed gratitude to her parents for their constant support and encouragement during her studies.

Christine Cuénod

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Staff Member Breezes through Master’s Degree in Atmospheric Physics

Staff Member Breezes through Master’s Degree in Atmospheric Physics
Master of Science graduate and Academic Development Officer, Mr Shivan Augustine at work in his Physics lab.

Completing a Masters Degree in Atmospheric Physics in the space of 11 months and then embarking on a PhD was a 'breeze' for Mr Shivan Augustine.  

Zealous passion for his field of study meant Augustine worked on his MSc whenever he could. ‘I enjoyed my work so much that it wasn’t really much of a problem to go into my lab and “experiment” with my equipment,’ he said.

Augustine was grateful for funding received from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Defence, Peace, Safety and Security division as well as the National Research Foundation. ‘I did not have to worry about much else besides just working hard,’ he said.

In addition to funding, the CSIR  supplied Augustine with world class equipment to use in his project. The physics and electronics technical staff played a vital role in the design and calibrating of equipment for the project, and he was ably supervised by Dr Naven Chetty, Academic Leader Teaching and Learning in UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics. 

All these factors assisted with the speedy completion of Augustine’s MSc, which investigated the effectiveness of using a point diffraction interferometer to detect and quantify the effect of thermal turbulence on laser beam propagation through the atmosphere. Such research is highly sought after in the defence and security sectors in South Africa. The project was successful and a journal article by Augustine was accepted and published in the international journal, Atmósfera.

Augustine has always aspired to be a 'scientist of sorts', hence his specialisation in the field of atmospheric physics. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Physics and working as the Academic Development Officer for UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics. 

Swasti Maney

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Crocodile Stalker Captures PhD With Bare Hands!

Crocodile Stalker Captures PhD With Bare Hands!
Dr Xander Combrink was awarded a PhD for research done on the Nile crocodile of Lake St Lucia.

Dr Xander Combrink has always had an avid interest in reptiles – especially crocodiles. This passion led to an MSc on the subject and now the crocodile stalker has successfully captured his PhD!  

 Combrink was fortunate to become part of the UKZN Zululand Crocodile Research Programme,founded by his supervisor, UKZN’s Professor Colleen Downs, and co-supervisor, Dr Ricky Taylor of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, while managing the iSimangaliso Threatened Species Project for Ezemvelo.

 Combrink’s PhD focused on the spatial and reproductive ecology and population status of the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) in the Lake St Lucia estuarine system.  He investigated the movements, activity budgets and home ranges of this species using GPS-satellite transmitters. Combrink also studied Nile crocodile nest abundance and distribution and the behaviour of nest guarding females, including maternal care and nest predation.

 Combrink said that a major milestone in his research was when he confirmed for the first time the homing behaviour of a wild Nile crocodile.

 Combrink is grateful for ‘the incredible privilege’ of being afforded the opportunity to work on a PhD. ‘This has allowed me to carry out three years’ full time fieldwork on the top aquatic predator of the Lake St Lucia estuarine system,’ he explained. 

 He described the estuarine lake system of St Lucia as one of Africa’s most remarkable but complex natural systems and in the words of a prominent estuarine scientist ‘ outdoor laboratory probably unequalled anywhere else in the world’.

 ‘I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity given to me by my supervisor and co-supervisor, for the study time from Ezemvelo, and to Jon Warner, my research colleague in the field,’ he said.

 Combrink plans to continue his work in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as part of Ezemvelo Scientific Services.  ‘Hopefully I can remain involved with Nile Crocodile research and management for many years to come.’

Swasti Maney

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Masters Student Driven by Love for the Natural World

Masters Student Driven by Love for the Natural World
The evolution of wind pollination in proteas was the focus of Ms Megan Welsford’s Master of Science thesis in Ecological Sciences.

A desire to make a difference in the world combined with the knowledge that education is the gateway to change and opportunity, convinced Ms Megan Welsford to pursue her tertiary studies in the ecological sciences.

‘At the age of 11, I learned how humanity was destroying the natural world and the places wild animals called home, I knew I wanted to do anything I could to help,’ said Welsford.

It was her deep love and respect for the natural world and animals that led her to complete her Bachelor of Science and Honours degrees and further motivated her to continue with an MSc degree in Ecological Sciences, which she received at a graduation ceremony of UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science held in Pietermaritzburg.

Her research focused on the pollination of Leucadendron (Proteaceae), in particular, the evolutionary shift from insect to wind pollination in the genus.   She was supervised by Professor Steve Johnson, who holds the South African research chair in evolutionary biology, and Professor Jeremy Midgley.

‘I focused on pollination ecology for my MSc after I became fascinated by the interactions between plants and their pollinators,’ said Welsford.  ‘I have since learned that every single organism has an important, unique role to play in the environment.’

Welsford explained that not much experimental evidence was available to confirm wind pollination in the genus conclusively. Through exclusion experiments, which exclude insects but not wind-borne pollen from virgin flowers, Welsford determined that at least five species in the genus are wind-pollinated.

Furthermore, these wind-pollinated species have undergone several modifications in their floral traits as a result of this evolutionary shift. ‘For example, flowers of wind-pollinated Leucadendron species produce less floral odors compared to flowers of insect-pollinated Leucadendron species, because there is no need to attract animal pollinators,’ explained Welsford.

Welsford said she had been greatly inspired ‘by two strong, brave, intelligent and amazing women, that are no longer with us, but whom I deeply admire’.  The first of these is the American author and poet, Maya Angelou, ‘whose wisdom, activism and words touched my life immensely’. The second is Kenyan environmentalist, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, ‘whose dedication to the environment and the courage to stand up for what is right have been my inspiration’.

One of the lessons learnt by Welsford while studying towards her masters degree was that research and academia, as with life, could be unpredictable and sometimes challenging.  Her  advice to other budding young scientists is, ‘to just keep doing your best, putting one foot in front of the other, never giving up and knowing that no matter what, everything will work out alright in the end’.

Welsford’s plans for the future are to engage with environmental organisations, governments, spiritual leaders and communities to work together to help build a future, ‘in which we look after and cherish our natural environment, instead of plundering and destroying it’.

Swasti Maney

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Healthy New Crop of PhDs for ACCI

Healthy New Crop of PhDs for ACCI
The latest crop of graduates from the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI).

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN saw eight of its PhD students graduate with their Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding at this year’s graduation ceremonies.  

Each of the students who graduated, all from countries around Africa, focused on developing new varieties of the crops they each studied, and through the ACCI’s PhD training programme, were equipped with the skills they needed to investigate their crops and improve on their resilience in their home countries. This focus of the ACCI allows students to improve crops for an African environment in order to contribute towards improved Food Security in their home countries.

The graduates all spoke highly of the ACCI training programme, describing how the initial coursework element, undertaken at UKZN before they began fieldwork in the field in their home countries, enabled them to approach their research with the necessary tools to successfully complete their PhD. Many of the graduates are mid-career professionals, and spoke highly of the ACCI administrative support as well as their supervisors, who they said followed up with them diligently and visited them in the field to ensure that they had the assistance they needed to finish their degrees on time.

Dr Demissew Ababulgu, a plant breeder from the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), completed his research on Genetic Diversity and Combining Ability of Selected Quality Protein Maize (QPM) Inbred Lines Adapted to the Highland Agro-Ecology of Ethiopia. His work has resulted in the publication of three papers, which he says was facilitated by the push the students received from the ACCI to have their work published.

Dr Asnakech Beyene, a plant pathologist researcher from the EIAR, completed her research on the topic of Genetic Analysis and Characterization of Faba Bean (Vicia faba) for Chocolate Spot (Botrytis fabae) Disease Resistance and Yield in the Ethiopian Highlands. Her research, which she hopes will contribute to the body of knowledge on this disease affecting a crop that it vital for Food Security in Ethiopia, provided information about the inheritance of diseases and yielded three publications, with seven more in the pipeline.

Dr Netsanet Hei, also a plant pathologist with the EIAR, completed her PhD on the topic of Genetic Analysis of Stem Rust Resistance among Ethiopian Grown Wheat Lines. The wheat crop is a vital crop in Ethiopia, and it is vital for the crop that varieties are developed that will ensure increased food security in the country. Hei has had one paper from her research published already, and hopes to work on releasing a disease-resistant cultivar as she continues in her plant breeding work.

Dr Geofrey Lubadde, a plant pathologist from the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Uganda, sought to diversify his qualifications and improve the crops he was working with in his home country. His research focused on Genetic Analysis and Improvement of Pearl Millet for Rust Resistance and Grain Yield in Uganda. Lubadde has produced one publication from his research so far, with another two accepted for publication, two that have yet to be submitted for publication and one book published, which focuses on the socio-economic aspect of growing pearl millet.

Dr Macpherson Matewele, a plant pathologist at the National Research Council of Malawi, focused his work on Diversity Analysis and Breeding for Maize Weevil (Sitophilus zeamais Motschulsky) and Larger Grain Borer (Prostephanus truncatus Horn) Resistance in Productive Maize Germplasm in Malawi, research aimed at breeding maize for resistance to pests. According to Matewele, there are not enough plant breeders in Malawi, a problem he aims to contribute to solving through acquiring this qualification. Matewele has been working on ten varieties, which are in their early stages but which he believes have potential to be adopted as cultivars in the future. He is planning to submit seven papers from his research, and spoke of the benefit the ACCI programme had been to him, particularly in teaching him to use tools for analysis, such as Biometry, an area in which he had some experience but had never fully explored.

Dr Jane Mbugua, an agronomist and research officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), completed her thesis on the topic of Development of High Yielding Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) Genotypes with Resistance to Bacterial Wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) for the Kenyan Highlands. Mbugua’s research produced a remarkable twelve published papers and a book chapter, and has contributed to what she sees as her career progression as a scientist, where a PhD degree is almost a necessity. She pursued plant breeding due to the lack of breeders in Kenya, and expressed gratitude to her former director and centre director at KARI for their support. Mbugua, who has been breeding for heat-tolerance and increased yield, has 100 clones in advanced trials looking at the chipping, crisping and high yield qualities of the potato clones.

Dr Lameck Nyaligwa, a senior crop research officer at the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Tanzania conducted his research on Genetic Analysis, Combining Ability and Yield Stability of Maize Genotypes Under Maize Streak Virus Prone Environments. He aims to breed cultivars for disease resistance, drought tolerance, Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and low-N qualities. Nyaligwa has prepared four papers for publication, and undertook his PhD to add capacity to his work. He mentioned his choice of the ACCI because of its efficient output of researchers when compared to other institutes offering plant breeding in Africa.

The only graduate of the eight who unfortunately was not able to attend the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Pietermaritzburg graduation ceremony in person, was Dr Jean-Baptiste Muhinyuza from Rwanda.  He completed his research on Breeding Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) for High Yield and Resistance to Late Blight in Rwanda, and aims to work on new cultivars which are resistant to disease in Rwanda.

All the graduates made special mention of the ACCI’s programme and thanked their supervisors, Professor Mark Laing, Professor Hussein Shimelis, Professor Rob Melis, Professor John Derera and Dr Julia Sibiya for their invaluable support. Many emphasised that they hoped that the programme would continue to produce the capable and highly-skilled graduates it has been able to send into Africa in its more than ten years of existence. Each graduate also looked forward to spending more time with their families now that their PhDs are behind them, and were excited at the prospect of continuing their work in their home countries to contribute to the prosperity of the continent.

Christine Cuénod

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Double Celebration for Husband and Wife Team

Double Celebration for Husband and Wife Team
Newly-capped Dr Keenan Stears had his wife, Melissa, and both sets of parents in the academic procession to cheer him on.

Dr Keenan Stears graduated with a PhD degree in Ecological Sciences from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science; while his wife Ms Melissa Schmitt’s Masters cum laude Degree was upgraded to PhD research level status.

Stears’s elated parents, retired UKZN academics, Michele and Louw-Haardt Stears, were role models for their son. 'We always knew Keenan's work ethic and dedication would stand him in good stead,' said Michele.

Stears was exposed to wildlife from a young age, and his fascination in the natural world led him to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Ecology degree. After his BSc (Honours) degree, he worked as a field guide at a private game reserve. During this time, he developed an interest in species interactions and the effects they had on plant and animal communities. This interest guided him to pursue his MSc Degree, working on the foraging decisions of group-living herbivores.

Stears’ passion to supervise students and conduct his own research led him to undertake his PhD studies on the foraging ecology of orbi antelope (Ourebia ourebi).   

His doctoral research focused on how seasonal changes in grass quality, interactions with cattle, and perceived predation risk influenced oribi foraging behaviour and landscape use. The results from this research were applied to a protected area in the Natal Midlands to determine if this information could be used to help identify the mechanisms resulting in a decreasing oribi population. 

During his post-graduate studies at UKZN, Stears met his wife, Melissa Schmitt, who was doing a BSc degree. Schmitt’s subsequent MSc research involved developing a carrying-capacity model for elephants in an effort to predict appropriate population sizes for protected areas. The carrying-capacity model incorporated the effects of tannins (which have anti-nutritional qualities) in elephants’ food items as well as the ability of elephants to neutralise a certain amount of these chemicals. 

Schmitt’s fascination with the natural world as well as the influence of her parents, Professor Russel Schmitt and Professor Sally Holbrook from the University of California, led her to undertake an MSc in Ecology. ‘I find foraging ecology captivating, so I decided to focus on factors that influence foraging decisions for my MSc,’ she said. ‘My parents and in-laws have shown me how to balance lecturing, research and family life.’

Both sets of parents, as well as Schmitt, joined the academic procession at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s graduation ceremony held in Pietermaritzburg on 21 April.

‘Keenan and Melissa are two of the best students that I have ever had,’ said supervisor and senior lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, Dr Adrian Shrader. ‘Based on the quality of the work that they have produced, I truly feel that they have extremely promising scientific careers ahead of them.’  The couple already have first author publications in leading international journals, with Stears's work being published in Public Library of Science (PLoS) One, and Schmitt’s being published in Animal Behaviour.

Currently Schmitt is working on her PhD at UKZN whilst Stears is lecturing a third year course in Ecology. Stears has secured a postdoctoral position at the University of California in Santa Barbara and will conduct research in Tanzania on hippopotamus ecology.

Leena Rajpal

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Doctoral Research Investigates Potential Use of Traditional Medicinal Plants in Treatment of Tuberculosis

Doctoral Research Investigates Potential Use of Traditional Medicinal Plants in Treatment of Tuberculosis
Dr Balungile Madikizela’s doctoral research in ethnobotony investigated alternative methods of treating tuberculosis using traditional medicinal plants.

The use of traditional medicinal plants in the treatment of tuberculosis was investigated by Dr Balungile Madikizela who graduated with a PhD in Ethnobotany at this week’s ceremonies on the Pietermaritzburg campus.  

Madikizela’s thesis was titled: Pharmacological Evaluation of South African Medicinal Plants Used for Treating Tuberculosis and Related Symptoms.

Her research, supervised by Professor Johannes van Staden and Professor Jeff Finnie, arose in response to the rise of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and other infectious pathogens, which pose a serious threat to human health across the world, and more particularly in developing countries.

Madikizela, whose Masters degree focused on similar investigations into plants with the potential to treat diarrhea, chose to examine the potential of a variety of traditionally used medicinal plant species in South Africa to ascertain their antimicrobial properties, which could be of use in the treatment of respiratory ailments such as tuberculosis.

‘What interested me in this topic was basically the emergence of drug resistant tuberculosis bacterial strains, that created an urgent need for alternative treatment of the disease, with medicinal plants being recognised as having antimycobacterial agents,’ said Madikizela.

Not only did Madikizela’s work validate the traditional use of these medicinal plants, both in treatment of the symptoms and diseases affecting people, she also isolated two compounds that show promise for further pharmacological investigation. Madikizela was able to test the plants for both their antimycobacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Madikizela also pointed out, that while plants were assumed to be safe because they have been used for generations, this was not always the case in studies like hers, since some plants could be toxic to humans. Investigations into treatments using traditional plants have arisen in the search for alternatives to commonly-used drugs against which tuberculosis is becoming resistant.

Van Staden described Madikizela as hard-working and dedicated, saying that her work was excellent and resulted in the publication of a number of papers on the plant species she investigated. 

Madikizela, who studied her undergraduate and Honours degree at the Walter Sisulu University before coming to UKZN, said she enjoyed the good relationships she had with her colleagues at UKZN as well as the excellent supervision she received from her mentors at the institution.

She hopes her research will make headway into identifying active anti-tuberculosis agents in sources such as medicinal plants, and she wants to continue with her research in a research centre in South Africa.

Expressing her gratitude to God for guidance and protection during her studies, Madikizela also thanked her supervisors as well as all the members of the Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development at UKZN and her family and friends for all the support she received.

 Christine Cuénod

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In Love With Lovebirds

In Love With Lovebirds
Dr Tiwonge Mzumara earned her PhD studying the Lilian’s Lovebirds of Malawi

‘We shan't save all we should like to, but we shall save a great deal more than if we hd never tried.’ This quote by Sir Peter Scott, the founder of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature, inspired Dr Tiwonge Mzumara to pursue her studies in the field of ecology.    

Mzumara always had a passion for the conservation of biodiversity in her home country Malawi, in southern Africa and in Africa as a whole.  Her MSc was in conservation biology and to her it seemed natural that her PhD should be in ecology, as she believed that in order to conserve any species it was imperative that one knows its ecology.

Her PhD thesis was on the ecology and conservation biology of the Lilian’s Lovebird in Malawi. This is a small parrot endemic to Africa that is found in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania. Her study is the first full ecological study on the species.

Mzumara’s thesis highlighted the breeding, feeding and roosting requirements of Lilian’s Lovebird. It also flagged one of the current key threats to the bird in Malawi, namely, the poisoning of waterholes in Liwonde National Park by poachers.

Mzumara’s plans are to put the skills acquired during her studies to work, by participating in conservation projects in Malawi and in Africa as a whole. She describes her time spent at UKZN as ‘absolutely amazing’ and ‘the best of her academic career thus far'.

The opportunities provided by her supervisor, Professor Colleen Downs, to participate in other students’ projects allowed her to broaden her knowledge base and gain experience in different facets of research, for which she is eternally grateful.

With graduation behind her,  Dr Mzumara will be returning to her post as Ornithologist for the Museum of Malawi and will continue her work in conserving Malawi’s birds.

Swasti Maney

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Graduate Overcomes Learning Difficulties

Graduate Overcomes Learning Difficulties
Mr Philani Cebekhulu overcame learning difficulties to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.

Mr Philani Cebekhulu battles with learning difficulties making university subjects such as mathematics even more taxing.  

 Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Bipolar 2 Disorder, Cebekhulu’s main struggles relate to taking knowledge out of lectures …not just notes. He finds it extremely difficult to concentrate for long enough while concepts and calculations are explained in class, as he is distracted easily by sudden or repetitive sounds.

 But his persistence paid off and he proudly graduated with a BSc degree, majoring in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at a College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science graduation ceremony held in Pietermaritzburg.

 Cebekhulu enjoys the challenge mathematics offers of applying logic and reason.  He says the constant calculation and application of knowledge assisted him to overcome some of his learning problems.

 A logical approach in solving problems has now become a way of life for him.

 ‘Tertiary study is no easy playing field and one often has to dig deep for inner strength to make it to the next level,’ he said. ‘I love the fact that I now have a degree.  The mixture of highs and many more lows that I experienced along the way makes me appreciate the character I have become in the process.’

 Cebekhulu is currently pursuing a BSc (Hon) degree in Pure Mathematics and hopes to continue in the field of academia in the future. ‘I believe in knowledgeable and independently thinking minds and that society can only be better off with more of such individuals.’

Swasti Maney

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Modern-day Renaissance Man

Modern-day Renaissance Man
Modern-day Renaissance man, Mr Roger Martins, who already holds two Humanities degrees, has been awarded a Bachelor of Science summa cum laude degree with majors in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.

The only BSc graduate in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on the Pietermaritzburg campus to be awarded his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics degree summa cum laude was Mr Roger Martins.

Martins completed his Bachelor of Arts in English and Marketing, and an Honours degree in Marketing, before moving on to the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS).

‘It was during my Honours in Marketing that I was first exposed to the power of statistical analysis, and this introduction fostered my interest in the application of scientific methods to the explanation and solution of real world problems,’ said Martins.

‘In our rapidly evolving world, it is critical to equip oneself with the skills necessary to understand, adapt, and build upon the systems we have become so deeply reliant on,’ said Martins. ‘It is my view that the mathematical sciences are among the most fundamental and valuable to these ends.’

According to Martins, while there is little room for the application in a BSc course of specific skills learned in a BA, the experience and maturity he gained while completing his first degrees stood him in good stead for this subsequent degree, allowing him to approach his work efficiently with time management skills he had learnt during his foray into the Humanities.

Achieving his degree summa cum laude was no mean feat, and Martins found that having experience in the job market made him aware of the competition graduates face in the working world, motivating him to excel at his studies.

‘My aspiration has been to work as a quantitative analyst in investment banking; this is a particularly competitive field for which expectations in both industry and academia is extremely high,’ said Martins. ‘Strong results are often just the baseline in such an environment.’

Being at UKZN provided Martins with an environment conducive to making the most of his studies, since he was close to the societal and familial networks he had grown up with. Martins also found that the nature of the institution provided him with a great environment for his studies, given what he described as the familiar and open structure of the academic and administrative leadership, where assistance was always eagerly given.

‘The teaching resources for our campus were cutting-edge and comprehensive, and many systems were in place to ensure our modest student body was well taken care of,’ said Martins.

Martins said he was thankful for all of the administrative and teaching staff who played such an important role in his life for the past few years.  In particular, he singled out the late Dr Paddy Ewer.

‘Given the pivotal role Dr Ewer played in the Pietermaritzburg Mathematics department for so many years, there will be many with whom my sentiments should resonate. Of the about 60 lecturers who taught me at some point in my academic career, the highest privilege was to be taught by Dr Ewer,’ said Martins.

‘Year on year, he not only managed to learn and remember every student's name, but took an active interest in the academic careers of all of those who passed through his doors. There is no question that his passion for mathematics and his profound ability to channel his vast knowledge in a meaningful way through to his students, permanently affected not only my appreciation for mathematics, but also my idea of what it means to be an educator.

‘His passing has been a tragic blow to us all, but his example stands before us in our impetus to improve and re-engage selflessly in the service of the future generations of students, who will one day be a critical part of the establishment he had such a sure hand in shaping.’

In his quest to become a quantitative analyst, Martins is now enrolled in the Advanced Mathematics of Finance programme at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. 

Christine Cuénod

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Statistics Honours Student Achieves Summa Cum Laude Distinction

Statistics Honours Student Achieves <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Distinction
Summa cum laude BSc Honours in Statistics graduate, Ms Kivanya Naidoo (second), with her proud family.

Ms Kivanya Naidoo graduated with her Honours in Statistics degree summa cum laude, earning herself the distinction of being the only Honours graduate in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science in Pietermaritzburg to do so.  

From an academically-orientated family, Naidoo said she was always motivated to do well and added to that she had a competitive nature which always pushed her to give of her very best.

Her mother, a lecturer in the School of Education at UKZN who completed her PhD in HIV/AIDS Education, had given Naidoo excellent advice on her Honours project, which was also in the HIV/AIDS field. Naidoo’s father is a principal of a primary school who completed his Masters in Education Leadership and Management, while Naidoo’s brother is completing his Masters in Hydrology at UKZN.

Naidoo says her family inspired her to study and do well, and played a huge part in moulding her into the person she is.  ‘I could never have done so well without my family - they are my motivation and role models,’ said Naidoo. ‘It’s the best feeling when you make your family proud.’

Naidoo also said that passion for her area of study drove her to do well. She chose to pursue her undergraduate studies in Statistics and Computer Science as she had always been fascinated by numbers.

‘I love Statistics because it relates to many fields such as education, science, government, medicine, finance and engineering. I remember my lecturer saying: “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone else’s backyard”. This captivated me throughout my studies.’

Speaking of her time at UKZN in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), Naidoo said studying at UKZN had been ‘an absolute pleasure’. She described how the lecturers she interacted with had transferred knowledge excellently, and also commented on the high calibre of students at UKZN.

‘I enjoyed the facilities available to students,’ added Naidoo. ‘I was on the tennis committee from first year so I’ve always been involved with sport at UKZN. I was able to have the perfect balance between studies and sport thanks to UKZN.’

In addition to being a keen tennis player she also took part in a squash league and enjoyed hiking, fishing, playing Sudoku, watching movies and going after any activity with a hint of adventure.

Naidoo is now working as an Asset Integrator (developer) at Derivco in Durban, a company specialising in Internet gaming and computer software suite development. Naidoo plans to continue working in fields related to Computer Science or Statistics, and after gaining some experience she hopes to return to her studies to complete either a Masters in Computer Science or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

Naidoo gave credit to her supervisors and lecturers at UKZN, saying that their contribution to her studies enabled her to achieve such excellent results.

‘My supervisor, Dr Shaun Ramroop, always gave me invaluable advice and guidance throughout my honours year. He inspired me to give of my best and thanks to him, I managed to graduate summa cum laude,’ said Naidoo.

‘Professor Henry Mwambi has also been a constant motivation. I admire his passion for Statistics and his efforts to expand the Statistics department,’ said Naidoo. ‘His enthusiasm rubs off onto everyone and he was one of the reasons I enjoyed my honours year.’

Christine Cuénod

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Successful PhD for UKZN Statistics Lecturer

Successful PhD for UKZN Statistics Lecturer
Statistics lecturer Dr Sileshe Melesse with his beautifully bedecked family.

Multitasking has become the norm for newly-capped PhD graduate, Dr Sileshe Melesse.   

Melesse has had to learn how to juggle his time between carrying out research for his doctorate while working as a full time lecturer at the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. 

Over the past four years he has had to ensure that his reading, analyses, writing and organising were all done almost simultaneously in order to move forward successfully.  

Sileshe’s research titled: Covariates and Latents in Growth Modelling, focused on modelling the growth of a stem’s radius, as a function of tree age, as well as modelling other factors that might affect the growth of a tree.  Both covariates and latent growth modelling approaches were used in the study.

Various functional statistical models were explored, including partial least squares, principal component regression, path models, nonlinear mixed models and additive mixed models.  

Sileshe’s study focused on plantations of fast-growing tree species, and the climatic and genetic factors that influence stem radial growth of juvenile Eucalyptus hybrids on the east coast of South Africa.  

Sileshe said he was motivated and encouraged by friends, colleagues and most importantly his supervisor, Professor Temesgen Zewotir.  ‘I would like to encourage all junior academic staff to pursue a PhD part time,’ he said.  ‘It is possible to accomplish this goal if one keeps working at it little by little.’


Swasti Maney

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Birds on the Brain but Definitely no Bird Brain!

Birds on the Brain but Definitely no Bird Brain!
Dr Lindy Thompson gained a PhD in Ecological Sciences.

Doctoral graduate Dr Lindy Thompson grew up with a deep appreciation of the South African bushveld and all the wonders it offers thanks to her parents who instilled in her a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature, and the importance of protecting the natural environment and conserving indigenous plants and animals.  

Thompson said because her parents were from northern England with its gloomy weather and relatively poor biodiversity, they made sure she and her sister were exposed to the natural beauty South Africa offered.

Thompson realised from a young age that she enjoyed working with and within the environment so when it came to deciding on tertiary education, UKZN’s School of Life Sciences provided her with exactly what she wanted - an excellent platform to specialise in the field of Wildlife Management and Conservation.

As part of her research for her MSc in Wildlife Management and Conservation, which she completed in 2005, Thompson studied the breeding biology of Eurasian Eagle-owls in southern Spain. Since then she has been involved in various projects on birds, from surveying wading birds on offshore islands in the Republic of Ireland, to working as a warden at reserves in Scotland and England for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

More recently, she worked as a raptor handler and research manager at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary outside Pietermaritzburg.

For her PhD in Ecological Sciences, Thompson was able to combine her love of birds with her interest in anthropocentric climate change and its effect on wildlife.  She said she was grateful to her boss at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary, Ben Hoffman, for putting her in touch with UKZN’s Dr Mark Brown and Professor Colleen Downs who became her supervisors. Together they developed her PhD project looking at how birds would cope with climate change physiologically. They chose a small southern African bird, the ubiquitous Cape White-eye, as the study species.

Thompson’s research investigated if and how Cape White-eyes coped with climate change by adjusting their metabolic rates. ‘By the year 2080, South Africa is expected to have warmed by 4ºC, so I investigated the effect of such an increase on the physiology of Cape White-eyes,’ said Thompson.  ‘Although they altered their metabolic rates in response to the warmer temperature, the effect was only very slight, so it seems as though Cape White-eyes will be able to cope with this temperature increase.

‘Nevertheless, we should still be wary of the effects of heat waves and droughts on these birds,’ cautioned Thompson. 

Thompson’s love and passion for the great outdoors was slightly curtailed by the hours of intensive lab work – often over weekends – involved in doing a PhD.  This didn’t deter her from going out bird ringing with friends and colleagues whenever possible, so that she could get into the field and enjoy the   sunshine.  ‘This helped to keep me sane,’ she said.

‘I didn’t realise at first how independent postgraduate students need to be but I had the help of some fantastic technicians and support from the postdoctoral students in my department, who guided me through my lab work and the analysis and writing stages. I am very grateful to them.’

Thompson’s supervisor, Professor Downs, also encouraged her to present posters and talks at scientific conferences in Tokyo, Arusha, Tshepise, the Drakensburg and at Skukuza.

‘This allowed me to network with local and international researchers,’ said Thompson.  ‘I was also given the opportunity to do some part-time lecturing in the School of Life Sciences, which was very rewarding, and enabled me to appreciate what a wonderfully diverse mix of students we have at UKZN.’

Thompson plans to continue with post-doctoral studies under the supervision of Downs and in collaboration with Mr André Botha of the Bird of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. This research will focus on the ecology and movements of the Hooded Vulture in the Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve.

Thomspon was grateful for funding received from the GreenMatter Trust and from UKZN for the study which she will conduct at various reserves in Limpopo.  ‘I am very excited to get out into the field again and to collect information on Hooded Vultures which will hopefully be incorporated into species management plans,’ she said.

Thompson’s long-term plans are to stay on in South Africa and continue working in the field of wildlife research.

Swasti Maney

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Veteran Academic Awarded Distinguished Teacher’s Award

Veteran Academic Awarded Distinguished Teacher’s Award
Professor Michael Savage was presented with a Distinguished Teacher Award for excellence in teaching and learning.

Professor Michael Savage of the discipline of Agrometeorology has been awarded a Distinguished Teacher’s Award (DTA) for 2014 in recognition of his excellence in Teaching and Learning.  

Savage is one of the longest-standing academic staff members in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) on the Pietermaritzburg campus, starting in the discipline of Agrometeorology in 1977 and being responsible for the development of all course content on the subject since then.

 A stalwart of the School and a dedicated teacher who is passionate about seeing progress in the science of the discipline as well as in his students' knowledge, Savage emphasised that, in the teaching process, it was vital to get to the students' level to help them understand.

‘Teaching is the one part of my overall range of activities that has never received formal recognition,’ he said. ‘Now, besides the research and administration contributions, there is also recognition for teaching and this can only bode well for the future of the discipline. Hopefully, the award will stimulate others to also work towards research on teaching and learning in their disciplines.’

His enthusiasm for the process of Teaching and Learning was demonstrated last year, when Savage, despite being one of the most highly-qualified academics at the University, pursued and graduated with a Masters Degree cum laude.

 Savage also made history as the first recipient of UKZN’s Doctor of Science in Agriculture degree in 2010 - the only previous DScAgric degree in the University’s history was awarded in 1998 at the former University of Natal.

After 37 years at the University, Savage remains enthusiastic and passionate about his subject and still pursues innovative research, such as the nowcasting for frost and other conditions emerging from his work on the Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) system. The AIM system showcases Savage’s innovative adoption of technology in his teaching practices through the development of the Automatic Weather System (AWS) Current site.

The site features real-time data uploaded from weather stations around campus and allows students to download the data to inform their studies.

Savage, recognised as a pioneer in some of his teaching methods, has determined that, in a country where so many languages converge, the concept of mobile learning has become important, and so has placed emphasis on creating recognisable icons which allow students to learn by associating images with meaning.

This is particularly important in a discipline which deals with meteorological occurrences which are invisible, such as greenhouse gases and infrared radiation, and must be explained carefully. This visual literacy is demonstrated in his teaching system, which has produced four published papers, with the first international paper on the topic being accepted recently for publication in the International Journal of Biometeorology.

As evidenced by the receipt of the DTA, Savage has made considerable contributions to the process of Teaching and Learning. He is motivated by his students getting something out of their learning experience, and has even initiated a study on the viability of the creation of a Zulu dictionary to create Zulu terms for those used in English in Agrometeorology. The study has been done with his students' contributions as to what words they think could be used to best describe scientific terms. This has proved to be challenging and ultimately needs to be developed by a language expert. 

Savage's interest in mobile learning has also resulted in all students having a better understanding of Agrometeorology through images. He is keen to see scientific societies contribute to the creation of technical dictionaries in traditional African languages so that knowledge can be transferred equally.

Savage and his colleagues have found that many students entering second year courses in Agrometeorology are seriously lacking in basic computer skills, leading to a resourceful problem-solving approach in the discipline, whereby they have slotted an intensive computer literacy training element into their second-year practical sessions. There has since been a marked improvement in the students' skills. Savage has suggested that this kind of intensive computer literacy training at second-year level should take place across the University, having seen the difference it has made to his students' development and eventual marketability as employees.

He described his teaching approach as an empathetic one. He invests himself in his students and takes their differing backgrounds into account as he interacts with them directly.

Savage is a teacher whose primary goal is to see his students succeed.

Christine Cuénod

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Crop Science Masters Investigates Water Efficiency of Underutilised Crop

Crop Science Masters Investigates Water Efficiency of Underutilised Crop
Ms Tendai Chibarabada, seen here with her supervisor Professor Albert Modi, graduated with a Master of Science in Agriculture degree.

Ms Tendai Chibarabada was awarded her Masters of Science degree in Agriculture (Crop Science) at a graduation ceremony in Pietermaritzburg with her thesis titled: Seed Quality and Water Use Characteristics of a Bambara Groundnut (Vigna subterranea L) Landrace Differing in Seed Coat Colour.

Her research focused on the bambara groundnut, an underutilised legume crop which is indigenous to Africa, having originated in Mali. The water-efficient crop is a useful food source and can be used in a variety of ways, from being a source of vegetable milk and flour to being used to produce a paste which is used to prepare akara - a traditional African food. Additionally, fermented bambara groundnut flour has high nutritional quality and is recommended for use in weaning food formulation.

Chibarabada’s study examined the seed quality of selected seed coat colours of bambara groundnut, and determined water use efficiency during seedling establishment as well as the effect of water stress on maternal plants and the subsequent seed quality of the bambara groundnut.

Her thesis also highlighted the fact that the bambara groundnut seed contained sufficient quantities of protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as appreciable amounts of micro nutrients, to meet nutritional recommendations set forward by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Water from the boiled grain has also been used by the Luo tribe in Kenya to treat diarrhoea, indicating possible medicinal properties.

In addition to all of these benefits, the bambara groundnut does not need nitrogen fertiliser application, meaning that even resource-constrained households can participate in its production.

The crop, also known as jugo beans, izindlubu, round beans and nyimo in South Africa, is widely cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Chibarabada, the bambara groundnut is the third most important legume after groundnut and cowpea, despite slowly being replaced by exotic species of groundnuts.

Chibarabada’s research was part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project her supervisor, Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), Professor Albert Modi is heading up.

Her research concluded that the colour of the seed coat has an effect on the seed quality, and that bambara groundnut seedlings improved water use efficiency under decreasing water supply. Despite the resilience of the crop, particularly in a water-scarce country like South Africa, the research also established that sub-optimum growing conditions (rainfed) resulted in progeny of inferior seed viability, suggesting that optimum conditions are needed for bambara groundnut seed production. In the absence of this, explained Chibarabada, farmers may risk recycling seed with inferior seed quality, which may negatively affect yields in the short to medium term.

Modi, who has supervised one PhD student and four Masters students working on this crop, commented on the excellence of Chibarabada’s work and commended her as a student.

‘Tendai completed her Masters in record time, finishing it within 12 months with two publications to boot,’ he said. ‘She also worked independently and wrote her work up very well.’

Chibarabada is pleased with the results of her study, which she hopes will contribute to the growing body of knowledge on an underutilised, resilient crop which has potential to contribute to reducing food insecurity. Her work has resulted in the publication of two articles, one with the South African Journal of Plant and Soil, based on the first chapter of her thesis, and a second one with the Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica journal in its Soil and Plant Science section. A third article is under review for publication.

She hopes the results of these kinds of studies will contribute to the realisation of the crop’s potential in terms of crop improvement, which would increase its yields and enable it to be a commercially-available, promoted seed crop.

Having studied for her undergraduate degree in Horticulture at the Africa University in Zimbabwe, Chibarabada chose to pursue her Honours and Masters degrees at UKZN because of the institution’s reputation being strong in agricultural disciplines.

She thanked Modi, and Crop Science researcher Dr Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi for their vital support during her studies.  

Chibarabada conducted her research at the University’s Ukulinga Research Farm as well as with rural communities in Swayimani.

‘I was very grateful for the opportunity to work with communities and in PR at UKZN, because that’s not a chance everybody gets and it contributed a lot to my work,’ said Chibarabada.

She plans to pursue her PhD at UKZN, also in water-related projects on underutilised crops.

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Red is the Colour of Success

Red is the Colour of Success
The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science graduated a total of 106 PhDs at its 2015 graduation ceremonies.

UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) once again made a significant contribution to South Africa’s much-needed brain pool of highly-qualified science, technology and engineering specialists, awarding an impressive 106 PhDs out of a University total of 264 during the 2015 Graduation ceremonies.

The College’s PhD total of 106 is a significant increase over previous years with 98 PhDs being awarded in 2014, 76 in 2013, 77 in 2012 and 69 in 2011.  This steady increase in PhD production is in line with UKZN’s strategic imperative to become the leading research-based university in the country.  Marked progress is being made in this regard.

PhD research showcased by CAES at the 2015 graduations produced a rich and varied body of knowledge, ranging across the agricultural, scientific and engineering disciplines.

Examples include a study of the role of nutrition in preventing disease, by newly-capped Dr Keiron Audain of Trinidad, research into the use of natural compounds to diminish pain killer side effects by Dr Cathryn Slabber, and an examination of the reproductive ecology and population status of the Nile crocodile of Lake St Lucia by Dr Xander Combrink. 

Not only does the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science aim to increase its PhD graduates; it also supports a flourishing post-doctoral research programme.  During 2014, the College supported 172 postdoctoral scholars. 

Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor and Head of the College, Professor Deo Jaganyi, said: ‘The success of the College is due to the commitment and hard work of its academics, professional staff and its students. It is a pleasure to lead this group of individuals.’ 

In total, the College conferred 1952 degrees out of a university total of 9 637.

Sally Frost

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Human Nutrition PhD Research Focuses on the Role of Nutrition in Preventing Disease

Human Nutrition PhD Research Focuses on the Role of Nutrition in Preventing Disease
Dr Keiron Audain’s PhD in Human Nutrition examined the role nutrition plays in preventing disease.

Dr Keiron Audain of Trinidad has been awarded his PhD in Human Nutrition after completing his thesis on the topic: A Comparative Analysis of the Nutrition Status, Nutrition Knowledge and Food Frequency of Adolescents Attending an Urban Versus a Peri-Urban School in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal.  

Audain’s academic background prepared him for the topic he selected, having completed his BSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Queen Mary University Of London and then doing his first Masters degree in Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses at the Imperial College London, followed by a second Masters at UKZN in Medical Biochemistry.

Audain was intrigued by the role played by nutrition in alleviating some of the major health concerns impacting Africa and other developing countries, especially chronic and infectious diseases and malnutrition.

‘My interest in nutrition stemmed from my interest in its relationship with the onset of disease, particularly HIV,’ explained Audain.  ‘I believe that poor nutrition plays an underlying role in many of the diseases that affect both the developed and developing world today, and improving nutrition can be an important preventative strategy.’

The research conducted by Audain, which has so far produced two published peer-reviewed papers, yielded interesting results on the nutrition status of learners in both high and low income brackets.

Poor nutrition overall was observed in adolescents from both schools studied, with Audain finding that obesity was more prevalent among male learners from the high income school and among female scholars in the low-income school. The obesity in each group, however, stemmed from different causes; the high-income students reportedly ate more fatty red meat and the lower-income students consumed more fatty snacks, such as vetkoek and samosas. The subjects’ choice of food contributing to obesity reflects their contrasting socio-economic backgrounds, nonetheless, poor habits were observed in both groups.

Audain also recorded that stunted growth was apparent in the low-income learners, indicating a double-burden of obesity and stunting which, literature suggests, can play a role in increased disease risk in adulthood.

Audain was able to present his research in the form of a poster presentation at the African Nutrition and Epidemiology Conference (ANEC) VI in July 2014, as well as at the National Nutrition Congress held in Johannesburg in September 2014. Interest in his work demonstrates the increasing concern around adolescent obesity and the factors contributing to the condition.

An additional motivator behind Audain’s work was his first-hand experience of the negative impact poor eating habits in adolescence had on his health later in life. Audain’s hope is that studies like this one can illuminate the crucial issue of adolescent nutrition and contribute to the introduction of a nutrition intervention strategy.

Audain aims to continue his research in this field now that he has his PhD, and is exploring post-doctorate research opportunities in South Africa and around the world.

His time at UKZN has provided Audain with a beneficial, multidisciplinary outlook on his work, having been a part of both the Medical Biochemistry and the Dietetics and Human Nutrition disciplines at the University.

‘I think that the close proximity and interaction between the Human Nutrition and Food Security departments here at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) is a great thing, as these two research areas are inextricably linked,’ said Audain.

Audain credited Professor Anil Chuturgoon from UKZN’s discipline of Medical Biochemistry for his part in assisting him to come to South Africa and embark on research. Audain also thanked his colleague and friend Dr Francis Zotor at the University of Health and Allied Sciences for his mentorship, academically and personally. He acknowledged the influence of Dr Paul Amuna at the University of Greenwich for inspiring him as an African academic championing nutrition and health issues on a global stage. Audain’s former supervisor at the Imperial College London, Dr Simon Jeffs, also played a role in supporting Audain in his work over the years.

He expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support of his mother, friends and family both in his home country and in South Africa.

In the discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, Audain’s supervisors, Professor Frederick Veldman and Mrs Suna Kaisser had been ‘infectiously passionate’ about his project and assisted every step of the way.

Kassier said that the study provided a snapshot of the nutritional status of future South African adults, as weight status was known to track into adulthood. This, she said, would form an indicator of adult onset lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which are linked to body mass index (BMI). Audain’s revelations of the complicated relationship between obesity and socio-economic factors also could provide important insight into the discussion around obesity in South Africa.

Audain said he applauded the efforts South African researchers are making in improving nutrition outcomes in the country and throughout Africa, and said he would like to see more South Africans from communities most affected by nutrition-related illnesses join the dialogue and become part of the solution. 

Christine Cuénod

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Master of Science in Agriculture Awarded Cum Laude to Motivated Crop Scientist

Master of Science in Agriculture Awarded <em>Cum Laude</em> to Motivated Crop Scientist
Mr Nkanyiso Justice Sithole earned an Master of Science cum laude degree in Agriculture.

Mr Nkanyiso Justice Sithole graduated with a Master of Science in Agriculture degree cum laude at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Pietermaritzburg graduation ceremony held on 21 April.

Sithole was motivated in his postgraduate studies by the shortage of black South African post graduate students and the belief that in order to move South Africa forward the country needs more young, educated, innovative thinkers.

Sithole’s agricultural specialty lies in the field of crop science.   For his masters degree he was supervised by Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Professor Albert Modi. ‘I am very happy to have been part of Nkanyiso’s success,’ said Modi. Sithole based his research on neglected traditional and underutilised crop species (NUS), specifically bottle gourd landraces.  The project sought to evaluate the agronomic potential of the crop and its potential contribution to food security. 

 ‘Previously in South Africa there has been no information documented in scientific literature describing the agronomy of the crop,’ said Sithole. ‘This is despite its potential to contribute to food security in marginal areas of crop production characterised by water stress and high levels of soil degradation.’

Sithole said he enjoyed the experience of completing his masters degree at UKZN. He believes the experience has helped him to think more critically and enabled him to tackle problems with a broad view of thinking and understanding. He plans to complete his PhD, which he has already started, and to become a professional researcher in the field of crop science.

Swasti Maney

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Climbing the Ladder to PhD Dream

Climbing the Ladder to PhD Dream
Dr Mena Dos Anjos completed her PhD degree in Animal Science in just four semesters.

Dr Filomena (Mena) Dos Anjos started work on her PhD at UKZN at the age of 53 and completed the degree in just four semesters!   

She graduated with a doctorate in the discipline of Animal Science during the Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremonies.  

Originally from Mozambique, Dos Anjos said: ‘Starting a PhD at 53 was not what I had planned. However, you cannot plan for everything in life.’

Dos Anjos attended a medium technical agricultural school in Mozambique after completing her secondary schooling. She later enrolled in Veterinary Medicine and graduated from the Eduardo Mondlane University in 1991, where, at the age of 41, she joined the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine as a Lecturer in Animal Nutrition, feeds and forages.

Intent on pursuing Higher Education, Dos Anjos tried to qualify for scholarships to further her study, but found that all had age restrictions. Finally, she got a scholarship in family poultry development offered by the Danish government without an age limit. She was able to complete her masters degree in 2005 as a result of the scholarship, and in 2008 was given the African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) Fellowship.

‘Being an AWARD Fellow helped enhance my self-confidence, expand my professional networks and brought hope and inspiration to pursue my PhD studies,’ said Dos Anjos. ‘As a result, I won a Graça Machel scholarship and registered at a university in South Africa in 2011, however I was not able to continue with my PhD at that university because the supervisors said my English was too poor.’

Dos Anjos did not allow her exclusion on the basis of language to dampen her spirits or determination, and in 2012 she registered for her PhD in Animal Nutrition at UKZN with a thesis titled: Improving the Nutritive Value and Utilization of Non-Conventional Protein Feed Resources in Smallholder Village Chicken Production Systems. She has already had two papers published in journals from her PhD work.

‘Mena is one of the oldest students I have worked with, but also one of the youngest in terms of her enthusiasm and passion to achieve her goals,’ said her supervisor, Professor Michael Chimonyo. ‘I would like to see more students take her approach of overcoming difficulties and persevering in their studies.’

Completing her PhD and graduating was a special time for Dos Anjos, and affirmed her fortitude and persistence in working towards a PhD.

Dos Anjos’ “life ladder” to graduation was inspired by her parents, her husband, son, brothers, sisters, and other family members and dear friends. Dos Anjos thanked the University of Eduardo Mondlane (UEM) Veterinary School, The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Programme, the Graça Machel SASOL Scholarship, and the Borlaug LEAP Programme, for the opportunities they gave her.

She says her passion and motivation to progress in life is fuelled by her belief that excellence in the process of transferring knowledge can transform lives. For her, this includes disseminating research findings through publication in top, peer-reviewed journals and focusing on timeliness in the research process in order to implement research findings on the ground with communities that are managing farming risk with a large portfolio of household activities to achieve life goals, such as educating their children.    

Dos Anjos believes that it is formal education that provided structure to her childhood curiosities in science, and dreams of being empowered to create opportunities with people locally and globally.  Her experiences shaped her approach to her studies, and have seen her childhood dream of attaining her PhD fulfilled.

 Christine Cuénod

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