Unisa’s youngest female PhD star sparkles shiningly

Dr Shandré Jansen van Rensburg

From the time she started her academic journey, Dr Shandré Jansen van Rensburg wanted to complete a PhD by the age of 30. However, she exceeded her own expectations when by age 28, her doctorate was under her belt.

Not only is Jansen van Rensburg a dedicated outstanding lecturer in Unisa’s Department of Criminology and Security Science, but she is an acclaimed awardee of the Taylor & Francis Research and Innovation awards, recently receiving the 2017 Elsevier Women in Research award for being the youngest female doctoral graduate.

Nominees in the Elsevier awards are judged based on past accomplishments, research excellence and outstanding academic achievements. Her research work gained recognition on her innovative thinking and talent as a young researcher.

Born in Manenberg, a Cape Town township, and raised in Pretoria as the youngest female child at home, she was made to believe through words and actions that being a woman was not a weakness but rather a strength.

“I dedicated my thesis to my niece and every little girl who has a dream because I believe women are the backbone of every society and should be recognised and treated as such” she said.

We asked her a few questions about her journey.

How important was it for you to complete your PhD at age 28?

Very, because it was my personal goal to finish my PhD before I turned 30. I am so proud to have done it before then.

What is your research all about?

My PhD thesis is titled The human element in information security: An analysis of social engineering attacks in the greater Tshwane area of Gauteng, South Africa. Social engineering is the use of manipulative and deceptive techniques against human nature in order to access sensitive and confidential information as a means to achieve some sort of illicit action or omission of action. This study sought to provide an exploration, description, explanation and analysis of social engineering attacks.

The research was guided by a multi-inter-transdisciplinary (MIT) approach as a means to better understand, measure and explain such attacks, in order to formulate a protective strategy. Furthermore, the contextual role of social engineering attacks—within the disciplines of criminology, security science, computer science, psychology and law—was ascertained in order to design and develop a MIT social engineering prevention model.

Would you regard being a lecturer in the College of Law as your calling?

My discipline of study is Criminology and Security Science. This discipline is multi-inter-transdisciplinary, and thus intersects with law and the social sciences.

I wouldn’t say the discipline is my calling, rather research in itself. I enjoy using research to identify, clarify and solve problems in society. My dream is to be able to head research projects on a full-time basis.

How did you manage to combine your PhD with work and family life?

I am a planner at heart. I plan everything so I would plan what I did with my time very meticulously. My family is very supportive and understood when I couldn’t always be at gatherings due to my studies. I must admit that sometimes I didn’t get the balance right especially during the final year of my study. I ate my PhD for breakfast, lunch, and supper so sometimes the house was messy, the clothes weren’t washed, and there was nothing cooking in the kitchen. My husband, who also works and studies full-time, always understood, did more than his fair share, and never allowed me to give up.

What are you working on now?

I am working on three main research projects at the moment. The first is an extension of my PhD looking into information security awareness in the workplace. I am also working on more social issues such as xenophobia and the holistic well-being of women working in safety and security industries. The latter project is funded by the Women in Research (WiR) grant which was awarded to me earlier this year.

Who is Shandré, behind the PhD?

I am a woman who strongly believes in working hard but working smart as well. I believe in work ethic, integrity, and professionalism. I am a woman of faith and give God glory for everything I have accomplished and everything I will accomplish. I love life and I am passionate about people and travelling.

Apart from succeeding in the academic space, what other community involvements are you engaged in?

My team and I run a community engagement project on substance abuse awareness in high schools. This is a very exciting project as it takes on a preventative stance against substance abuse in our communities.

What is your understanding of an African university shaping futures and how do you add value to that?

Our vision “towards the African university shaping futures in the service of humanity” exhibits truth, as our university affords all people the opportunity to advance themselves in the furtherance of their education. I add value to this vision by living out my personal conviction—“if she can, I can and if she wins, I win”.

What lessons have you learnt from your time in completing your PhD?

The road is long and challenging but worth it in the end.

*Interview by Lesego Ravhudzulo