College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences

Responsiveness to Covid-19 earns her nomination in prestigious awards

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Universities South Africa (USAf) recently announced nominees for the 2020 Medal in Social Sciences and Humanities. In addition to recognising established and emerging scholars, researchers and academics, the awards will this year also consider teams which have contributed to South Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The medal is awarded annually to scholars who have made outstanding contributions through their research in the social sciences and humanities. The panel received an unprecedented list of nominees for the categories: Established Researcher, Emerging Researcher and the inaugural Team Awards. Among the finalists is Unisa’s Dr Wendy Nokhwezi Phoswa, who is a Senior Lecturer in Human Anatomy and Physiology at the Department of Life and Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES).

Dr Wendy Nokhwezi Phoswa

Phoswa is nominated for a medal in the category of Emerging Researchers. Sharing her sentiments on the news, Phoswa says she feels honoured. "This is a very special moment for me because it is an indication of the hard work I have put in for the past few years in order to be where I am today," she says. Her nomination is premised on her sustained academic excellence starting from her honours degree to her doctoral degree, as well as her contribution in responding to Covid-19.

Phoswa was a co-author of a study that sought to evaluate whether pregnancy is a risk factor for Covid-19 by looking at the expression of immune markers, such as immune cells and cytokines, in order to have a better understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease. While her nomination looks at her academic career so far, where this study is concerned, her research was focused on the role of HIV infection, Covid-19, diabetes mellitus and tuberculosis in hypertensive disorders of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension.


Asked who or what inspired her research, Phoswa says, "I am inspired by my doctoral supervisor, Prof Jagidesa Moodley, who I also regard as my mentor, but what inspires me even more is my passion of establishing novel research discoveries in order to improve lives and also the quality of research emanating from South Africa, Africa as a whole and Unisa."

Growing up, Phoswa was inquisitive about how the human body functions and how different diseases disrupt the normal human body mechanism. With this inquisitiveness, she was inspired to learn what can be done to fight diseases. "It was this influence that made me develop a strong passion in the field of medical research," she says.

An overachiever

While she is still young, Phoswa is an overachiever who has already achieved more than an average youth her age. She obtained her Master’s degree in Medical Sciences (Physiology) Summa Cum Laude from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2017 and earned her Doctoral degree in Medicine at the tender age of 27 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine) in 2020.

The quality and impact of Phoswa’s research is another topic deserving of accolade of its own. From her doctoral research alone, four publications have so far emanated from her thesis. Her other achievements include presenting her research at local and international conferences. In 2017, she received a YW Loke New Investigator Travel Award from the International Federation of Placental Association (IFPA) for conference attendance in the US. "I have also presented my research findings in Japan, Argentina and the United Kingdom," she says.

In 2019, Phoswa received certificates of recognition from the Magnus group for phenomenal and worthy presentation at a conference which was hosted in the UK and from Unisa Women’s Forum for Significant Achievements category. For her age, these already make a significant list of achievements, but that is not all, Phoswa currently has nine publications where she is the first author and seven manuscripts under review. To top it off, she was recently announced and nominated as one of the 2020 100 Most Influential Young South Africans. To this news, she says, "I feel delighted as this nomination means a lot, not just to me as an individual but also to other young people who look up to me. This will be a constant inspiration to them not give up on their dreams no matter how difficult life might be and is also a motivation to me to work even harder."

Inspiring other young people is a subject very close to Phoswa’s heart. While she has her hands full, she is also a member of Visibility Stem Africa Visibility Stem Africa, which is a platform that promotes the stories of Africans - on the continent and beyond - to inspire the next generation of leaders. The platform allows Africans worldwide to inspire, network and collaborate.

In closing, Phoswa says, "I would also like to say to other young aspiring Unisa staff and students: Believe in yourself, be self-motivated and passionate about what you do. I would also like to encourage you to work hard and smart, and always be willing to learn new things and to be respectful; more importantly, be humble at all times."

Read more about the five nominated emerging researchers, three of whom are from Unisa, here.

Link to join the virtual awards on 18 March 2021

* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021/03/16