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Blackademic Womxn

Celebrating Blackademic Womxn: Dr Nthabiseng Violet Moraka

February 22, 2022

My first feature for Celebrating Blackademic Womxn in 2022! Whoop! I am so excited. I love writing these features because I believe that we need more representation. We need to be seeing and celebrating one another as black womxn in academia. I want us to show the world and our children that the fight for freedom and the right to education was not in vain; and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Our children need to see the possibilities that education opens up, and that it is possible to attain that degree, even while doing life.

I had a chat with Dr Nthabiseng Violet Moraka earlier this month to feature her as a #WCW on The Blackademic instagram page; and lo and behold, the discussion was too long to fit into one Instagram post- hence this here blog.

So, who is Dr Moraka?

Dr. Nthabiseng Violet Moraka is currently the Chair (Head) of the Department of Business Management at Unisa. As the Chair of Department she is responsible for managing and implementing the operational plan of her department with over 55 staff members and her department services over 89 000 students at Unisa. Business Management is one of the largest academic departments at Unisa.

She also supervises masters and doctoral students. She has published and co-published a number of articles in scholarly accredited journals and has presented papers at local and international conferences. 

She serves as a reviewer of two international accredited journals and two local scientific and accredited journals. She is a member of the Academy of Management, a Business Consultant, and regularly consults with listed and unlisted companies on strategy, transformation, women on boards and governance issues. All of this, and she is married with three children, two boys and one little girl. (I know, it also blew my mind!)🤯

Her subjects of interest include:

  • Women (and men) on boards
  • Women in leadership and executive positions in the public and private sectors
  • Feminist research in post-colonial countries
  • Strategic Planning 
  • Strategic Implementation & Control
  • Transformation
  • Governance
  • Poverty and the role of education

In my chat with her, I asked a few questions to get an understanding of how she does it all? I mean, she really is doing it all. Here is how the chat went:

How did you balance work, studies and parenting?

No balance, but strategising and planning around own circumstances. I did what was best for me, my children, and my family and that was working on self-development and my goals. I just believe that to be an excellent mother, wife, sister, and friend, I must be a fulfilled and fully functioning individual.

  • I got myself a therapist (I had a psychologist and psychiatrist) 
  • Signed up for gym and Zumba classes
  • Hired a full-time nanny
  • Hired a driver to transport the kids to school
  • Present wife to my husband – cooking, lunchboxes, family traditions e.g. English breakfast Saturday mornings
  • Did what I could do for the kids – lunchboxes, and breakfast on me every single day, lunch dates, attend doctor appointments 

A Ph.D. journey is mental, spiritual. A journey of emotion, labor, and politics. It is the pursuit driven by own convictions, unanswered questions, and problems that have societal and sometimes personal significance.

Hesse-Biber, 2013 writes that own belief systems, experiences and emotions contribute to the process of creating knowledge and that is the case with the Ph.D. Thus, understanding and examining my social background, environment, and assumptions can impact the research process. Thus, I took everyone “who cared” through the journey with me and dropped those who didn’t want to be part of this journey.

What would you say was the most challenging part of your postgraduate career? 

  • Depression 
  • Death of academics, burnout 
  • Explaining why I couldn’t pitch or partake in events and activities

What was the most rewarding?

  • Meeting like-minded international scholars who share the same belief systems, convictions, research interests
  • Recognition for the work done, citation of my writings
  • To legally change the title, the progression of my work 

What is the one thing you learned about yourself during this journey? 

  • Fearless, I interviewed the high-profile members of society and met some incredible persons whom I would have not met despite this opportunity
  • All my Ph.D. examiners were international, at my request. I am not scared of criticism and failure.

Would you encourage your kids to pursue a similar path? What advice would you give them?

No, I wouldn’t encourage them to follow a similar path, they must follow their path whatever it is, it must be rooted and journey in deep alliance with God.

Secretly I want them to be medical doctors, but it is their choice after all.

What do you say to people who believe they can’t perform all these roles (being a mother, a wife, a working womxn, and a Ph.D. candidate)?

There is no reason why women cannot perform these duties, I mean first, they are women. Secondly, they are black. We can have it all, but we need a strong support system. You may have to sacrifice a few cents here and there.

What kind of support was the most important for you on this journey? Where did you source it?

Financial – the University awarded me a grant to support my research activities. I applied for every funding opportunity you could think of. NRF rejected my application but I didn’t give up.

Companionship– My husband had to understand my journey and where I could I involved him in the Ph.D. like driving to collect data or editing my work or “unfreezing my computer” after a tantrum.

Prayer – I surrounded myself with people who prayed for and encouraged me.

Shooo! I mean, if this isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is. I know I sure am inspired by her story, and I cannot wait to walk my own journey knowing it is possible for us black womxn to do it all, and to do it successfully!

Until the next celebration post, keep your dreams alive, keep working on them knowing it is possible!

Yours in glamorous writing,

Blackademic Womxn

Celebrating Blackademic Womxn: Nthabiseng Mosena

November 24, 2021

Another feature to celebrate another inspiring womxn in academia. Nthabiseng Mosena came onto my radar after she commented on one of the posts I had shared on Instagram; and naturally I was curious to get to know her story. I reached out to her and asked to feature her as a #WCW, and she agreed. I sent her some interview style questions to get a better, more shareable picture of who she is, and her journey in academia and life.

Here is how that went.

What are your qualifications and from which institutions?

  1. Bachelor of Architecture- Wits University
  2. Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) – University of Sheffield( UK)
  3. Master of Science (Engineering Project Management) – University of Leeds (UK)
  4. Master of Business Administration- just completed my first year at Wits Business School.

What were the top 3 highs on your postgraduate journey?

I’ve had the privilege of doing postgraduate studies in two countries, one being my home base currently.

Abroad, my highlights were being in a class of diverse students and diverse thinkers from all corners of the world. (I’ve also made friends across the globe). It’s an incredible experience and environment to learn in. Being in a highly ranked British university means you are exposed to lectures of formidable standard. Another important high was getting to a point in my academic journey where I understood what I wanted to specialize in, choosing the right masters programme to align with my career goals and furthermore working on a dissertation topic that’s close to my heart and could possibly solve a problem in my industry.

Locally, my highs have included:
The amount of business acumen I’ve learnt from my MBA studies is something that would have taken me years to learn in the workforce.
I’m exposed to a high caliber of colleagues which include top managers, business owners, CEO’s , directors, high achieving entrepreneurs and people who are thriving in their careers. To be around people with such drive and ability to work hard automatically pushes you to strive for greater.
Being closer to my support system has really made this journey special for me.

What were the top 3 lows on your postgraduate journey?

  • As someone who values family with my whole heart, being far from my family was a lot more difficult than I had ever imagined it to be. My family and I are very close so being so far away was an emotional and mental battle.
  • Culture shock: I had had the privilege of traveling to many countries abroad long before I went to study abroad. But touring overseas and living overseas are two different dynamics. I had to adjust my lifestyle accordingly. The experience forces you to step outside your comfort zone. i.e. everything seemed so expensive and in my head I always always converting the pound to the rand. 😂😂
  • The academic standard was extremely high so I had to work harder and more strategically than I ever had to. I battled in the beginning with the intensity of my course so I had to change my entire approach to tackling the degree. Being around academic excellence in my class intimated me at first. I was shocked at the capacity at which my colleagues performed and at some stage struggled with imposter syndrome.

What advice would you give to your younger you, now?

  • Relax!!! 😂😂 life will turn out exactly how it’s meant to. Stop trying to control the narrative and just enjoy being young!
  • You deserve to be everywhere and everything you worked hard for. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
  • Don’t believe the lies that your mind tells you about failure. Don’t be afraid of failure, it’s part of the journey and in fact, it makes you a lot stronger.
  • Everything isn’t meant to be done alone. Ask for help!!!
  • Prioritize the quality of people you have in your corner. It makes the world of a difference.
  • Don’t do too much online shopping during study breaks 😂😂 It’s a trap! Rather use the money to travel and clear your head.

How has your postgraduate career impacted your life today?

  • The commonality between two of my master’s degrees is that their difficulty has undoubtedly built my character, my integrity, but has also humbled me in many ways.
  • It has definitely granted me opportunities to understand the intricacies of project management from the feasibility phase of complex projects all the way to the execution phase.
  • It has helped place in positions, projects and conversations that would’ve been otherwise difficult to reach at my age.
  • It has accelerated me into leadership role within a formidable mining company.
  • My current MBA degree is equipping me with critical business, management and soft skills. It is developing in me a toolbox of applicable quantitative skills such as adaptability, leadership, problem solving, critical thinking, communication and the fundamentals of running a successful organization.

How do you deal with the challenges that come your way?

  • I pray a lot, be it through wins or challenges. At times when I’m overwhelmed with challenges I take those burdens into prayer. It grounds me and helps me think rationally.
  • Mindset is everything! I’m a firm believer that when you change your thinking, it changes your ability to make decisions and in turn you change your life. I have learnt not focus and marinade on a problem for too long but to rather come up with solutions to change its course.
  • I’ve got an incredible and loving support system. My family and loved ones are always so willing to hear me out, guide me and help me with practical solutions. They encourage me to get up after each blow that life hits me with.
  • Because I understand that challenges are part of the journey and that there is no success without trials and sacrifices, I’ve learnt not to respond to challenges from an emotional standpoint but rather ask myself “ what is this challenge trying to teach me about the situation and about myself?”

Do you feel the responsibility of obtaining your postgraduate degrees goes beyond just you? i.e. Who/what else rests on it, besides your own advancement? And how do you deal with that pressure (if it feels like pressure)

Yes, indeed. For as long as I can remember, It’s been a goal of mine to be actively part of infrastructure development on a large scale in South Africa. While navigating through my career I quickly became aware that there are very few black professionals in leadership positions in my industry. These spaces lack the representation of not only black but female counterparts. Positions of power in engineering, construction and property sectors are still dominated by white males. I understood the importance of obtaining my postgraduate studies so that it could possibly accelerate and elevate me into certain roles, where women of colour also have opportunities to make decisions about the infrastructure development of this country. An influential place to be is a place where one can contribute to decision making and that usually happens at top management level.
Sometimes people shy away from certain fields because they see no representation. But someone has to take that path in order to create opportunities and foster an environment that will be welcoming for black youth. The problem isn’t that young black people aren’t educated, therefore black talent isn’t lacking in abundance but it is seriously lacking in recognition and support.
Women of colour face insurmountable cultural and social barriers to career progression, including perceptions of a women’s potential, a lack of formal support or organizational policies to help them progress. I, too, struggle with the emotional tax of being a black women in corporate. As a woman aspiring to greater leadership roles my aim is to represent on a management panel where organizational changing decisions are made and here, carry out conversations about talent spotting, gender glass ceilings, overlooked in promotions, lack of leadership support, mentorship opportunities and career guidance for black females.

I don’t look at obtaining my postgraduate degrees as pressure because I’m not trying to be superwoman but having a seat at the table will enable me to make my contributions to uplifting women of colour.

Interview ends.

I hope you have been as inspired as I have today. I love to see black womxn flourishing and I am looking forward to having more conversations such as these, with beautifully minded individuals such as Nthabiseng Mosena.

Blackademic Womxn

Celebrating Blackademic Womxn: Dr Bongekile Skosana

February 3, 2021

Dr Bongekile Skosana

Fellow academics, hello hi!

In the spirit of creating more visibility for the hardworking, smart black women in academia, I spoke to Dr Bongekile Skosana, a lecturer who just completed her PhD in Medical Physiology* at Stellenbosch University. Dr Skosana had the interesting experience of having her Masters degree upgraded to a PhD (sigh, things we dream of!)

She speaks of her PhD journey, her experiences of diversity as a black womxn in academia, her setbacks and proud moments, and gives some solid advice for other PhD candidates.

On how I got into my PhD journey

My PhD journey started a lot sooner than I had initially planned. After my Honours degree, I was accepted into the NRF Internship program and I became an Intern in the laboratory where I did my Honours research. My supervisor (Prof. Stefan du Plessis) was also the Head of Division so he had a lot of admin and lecturing duties, which meant that I had to take over most of the lab admin and training of the incoming Honours (and other new MSc and PhD) students in lab techniques. I continued with these responsibilities after the end of my internship (as a Masters student) and essentially became the lab manager for our group. During my Masters degree, my supervisor exposed me to many opportunities that paved the way for my current career as an academic: I got the opportunity to lecture to the Honours students, to present at national and University conferences, to present at a few of the weekly Divisional meetings, to write research grants and to supervise students. By the end of my Masters, I had 2 years of teaching experience, and gained immense insight into how to run a research lab and work within the research budget. That was all invaluable and I felt incredibly empowered. When I looked around at our Division, I realised that there were no research or teaching positions available (well, no paid ones anyway), and there wouldn’t be any in the near future as most of the members of staff were still quite young. So, I looked for opportunities elsewhere. I interviewed for an internship at a Fertility Clinic in my home province and I was successful. I was getting ready to move back home when my HOD was able to obtain funding for a Lecturer post. I qualified for the post so he nominated me for it, which HR and the lecturing staff approved. I then became appointed as a Junior Lecturer and full time academic at the age of 28. Together with that, we upgraded my Masters to a PhD because of the amount of data we were able to generate from it.

Did you always want to be an academic?

Absolutely not. I had already decided back in High School that I was terrible at teaching (from my experience of trying to explain class work to my friends, which left them even more bewildered than before). It was actually at the bottom of the list of careers that I thought I would pursue. Little did I know that in about a decade’s time, I would right in the middle of it! I would say that I “fell” into academia. I became intrigued with reproductive research and I realised how under-researched the work was; especially our research which investigates factors that affect male fertility. I then received the proper mentoring and training, and everything just aligned for me.

On the diversity of faculty and PhD students in my department

The PhD candidates in my faculty are quite diverse, which is wonderful. There are more female candidates, which seems to be the trend in more recent years. I was, however, the only person of colour among the lecturing staff. That came with its own challenges because Stellenbosch is a historically Afrikaans institution. However, we have been fortunate enough to become more diverse since 2019 when 2 more people of colour joined the lecturing team. This has definitely enriched the team as well as the students that we teach.

As a black womxn, was your experience any different from the majority?

It was definitely different in terms of the language barriers that I encountered when I started my postgraduate studies. Postgraduate courses are taught in English at Stellenbosch, but Afrikaans is spoken quite widely in the social context. Even our Whatsapp group in my Honours year had quite a lot of exchanges in Afrikaans. I mostly didn’t mind but it did have unfortunate consequences. I once arrived late to class because it was communicated over Whatsapp that the lecture had been moved to “half 10” and arrived at 10:30, forgetting that in Afrikaans it meant 9:30. I had quite a steep learning curve but I improved quite drastically by the end of the year. That experience is obviously in contrast to someone who is a native speaker who could interchange between the two languages at will, and receive some of the information first hand without needing someone verbally to translate it for them first.

What were your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge during my PhD was time. I was working and studying full time, and it always felt as though there weren’t enough hours in the day. I ended up taking 2 more years to complete my PhD than I would have hoped. As with all research, we also had stumbling blocks along the way. We had to reanalyse a crucial set of data two months before my first attempt at submission. The following year, my thesis changed from being written in the article format (thesis by publication) to a traditional thesis, also close to the submission date. By the end, overcoming my lethargy to sit and write the remaining sections of my thesis was quite difficult but I had an immense amount of support from my husband, friends, family and my mentor (Prof. Samantha Sampson).  

What were your proudest moments?

Submitting my thesis! Okay, that was the big one, but there were many small victories along the way. Finally getting results after months of optimizing experiments was a real joy, and even better was finding statistical significance in that data. Research is a process and you have to go where the data leads you. It was an interesting journey, and still continues to be. Now, my proudest moment is hearing my family and colleagues calling me Dr, because they know what it takes to achieve that title.

What do you think is the most important thing for someone doing their PhD to keep in mind?

Find your “Why”. You need to know why you are starting this journey and what you hope to accomplish from it. Don’t just do a PhD because it is the next step after Masters, figure out if you need it for what you eventually want to do. Look at the requirements needed for the job posts that you are interested in and work towards that. If you want to run your own research group, your own revenue-generating laboratory, to be an academic, or to be an expert in your field and generate your income from that, then a PhD is definitely for you. The timing, though, is up to you (and in my case, the universe).

*Dr Bongekile Skosana’s PhD thesis was in the field of reproductive research, entitled “An Investigation of Obesity as an Etiology of Male Infertility in a Rat Model”