Young Women Scientists Graduate with PhDs
The School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences’ Acting Dean, Dr Musa Mabandla, supervised published young scientists, Dr Thabsile Mpofana and Dr Lihle Qulu, who both graduated with PhDs.
Mpofana, a Human Physiology Developmental Lecturer, said her study investigated the effects of post-natal stress on the adult brain.
Published in two international journals, the study confirmed that stress is detrimental to the brain during the early development period of an infant and may promote the development of neurodegenerative disorders later in life. It also found that caffeine has beneficial effects in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.
‘I am the first person to go on to Higher Education in my family so they are particularly happy that I have made it to my PhD,’ said Mpofana. ‘My younger siblings who are still in school look up to me as they see a possibility of becoming whatever they want to be.’
From a family of eight and raised by a single parent, Mpofana thanked God for her success. Inspired by Mabandla’s work ethic, Mpofana said she believed in hard work and remained results driven throughout her career. She intends to pursue post-doctoral studies and become a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline.
Qulu, a Human Physiology Lecturer, had three papers published from her studies in three top international journals. Her study, titled: “Exposure to Prenatal Stress Enhances the Development of Seizures in Young Rats”, was conducted under the auspices of UKZN’s Neuroscience Research Group – established in 2008 by former Dean, Professor William Daniels and Mabandla.
Qulu will attend the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies Biennial Meeting 2016 in Denmark, after winning first-prize for her PhD research in the Credentialing Staff category at the 2015 College of Health Sciences Annual Research Symposium.
‘It’s a “pinch myself feeling” yet at the same time it makes one feel proud, humbled and excited that all the hard work paid off,’ said Qulu.
During her studies, she went on a four-month visit to a laboratory in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary in Canada where she received special training related to seizures and neuroimmune function under the auspices of Professor Quentin Pittman.
Qulu, who said her family was very proud of her achievements, intends to foster further international collaboration and grow in academia.
Mabandla said: ‘I am proud of Thabisile’s and Lihle’s work ethic and drive towards a doctoral degree in a scarce skills area. You can literally count the number of African female PhD graduates in neuroscience in South Africa on one hand. It is truly an achievement.’
Mabandla said he still remembered the day they came in as honours students trying to understand their research topics. ‘I would find Thabisile eagerly waiting outside my office for corrections to her proposal so that she could get on with her work, while Lihle had to quit her full-time position as a teacher to focus on achieving her dreams. That is true dedication.’