College of College of Graduate Studies

This is my story and I am telling it…my way

Prof Lindiwe Zungu

Upbringing

When I am questioned about my upbringing, I have the tendency of juxtaposing my current situation to the opportunities I was afforded when I was younger. Sadly, there isn’t a very strong correlation, as I was not able to access academia of this magnitude growing up. I did not have access to the first-class educational system that I am now a part of. My academic journey did not consist of attending model C schools with exemplary teachers and professors, and I was not afforded the opportunity to have a network of wealthy individuals within my space. I received a basic education from socio-economically marginalised township schools.

This situational trend was further perpetuated when I pursued and obtained my tertiary education from a previously disadvantaged institution of higher education in South Africa, namely, the University of Zululand. As with any underprivileged institution, there were excessive hurdles that I encountered there, which included, amongst other things, a grave scarcity of resources. The greatest challenge currently facing the higher education system in South Africa, as a developing country, is the decline in state funding for higher education and the attendant return on investment discourse. The trials and tribulations in the higher education sector have taught me to carve my niche area amidst scepticism. In fact, we have had to embrace healthy scepticism as a necessary part of interrogating the premise of whatever counts as the established research norm or school of thought.

In the long run, however, those challenges became my stepping stones and the ladder to achieving higher education. Ultimately, through hard work, dedication and perseverance, I was able to kick-start a solid career in science and research at the largest open distance education university on the African continent, namely, the University of South Africa, through unceasing guidance and support received from other esteemed women academics such as the former Executive Dean of the College of Human Sciences, Professor Rosemary Moeketsi, and the former Vice Principal: Research, Innovation, Postgraduate Studies and Commercialisation, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who is the current Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town, who continuously provided unconditional mentorship. I successfully flourished under their tutelage.


Strengths

Over the years, I have been able to cultivate and hone a very specific skill set which I believe is vital for the world of academia. I consider myself as being particularly conscientious, as I am able to stretch myself beyond my believed abilities to achieve tasks which I would have otherwise considered daunting. Being a part of academia also requires the formation of outstanding interpersonal skills, which I have refined in my day to day interactions with colleagues and scholars alike. I also pride myself on my ability to think critically and problem solving, as some of my favourite pieces of academic work have required me to apply these skills in order to get the results I was aiming for.


Motivation

It’s a fairly arduous process to accurately pinpoint what it is exactly that motivates me. I would have to say that the overarching theme surrounding my motivation stems from two things, namely, the success and proliferation of women in the academic space and the development of academia in general. Being an established woman academic is no easy feat, as the system seems to be tailored against the triumph of women in academia. Therefore, I am motivated to make these spaces open and accepting of women who are willing to work to the best of their ability to make a strong impact in the world of academia.

I am also motivated by the ideal of allowing students from marginalised backgrounds to gain access to world-class academia, and in turn allowing them to reach their full potential as scholars. There is an incredibly large amount of untapped potential for academic and professional development discourse. My completion of the 2018 GCSRT programme at Harvard Medical School opened my eyes to said development. The programme has equipped me with the ammunition to collaborate in global collaborative research, and has allowed me to have a better scope of the work required in my field, as well as throughout academic development in general.


Awards

Throughout my academic career, I have strived for excellence, culminating in the achievement of the following noteworthy awards and recognition:

  1. The Feroza Adam Memorial Award for Gender Activism Advocacy and Promotion of Women’s Rights, awarded by the Unisa Women’s Forum in 2018.
  2. Harvard University Scholarship, awarded for the Global Clinical Scholars Research Training Program in 2017.
  3. C Rating for established researchers bestowed by the South African National Research Foundation in 2015.
  4. Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research conferred by Unisa in 2015.
  5. Winner of the Distinguished Women in Science Award for Social Sciences and Humanities, awarded by the South African Department of Science and Technology for 2015.
  6. Finalist in the 2012/2013 NSTF-BHP Billiton Award and 2015/2016 NSTF-South 32 Award for the Category: TW Khambule—for contribution to research and its outputs over a period of up to fifteen years after award of a PhD or equivalent, predominantly in South Africa, awarded by the National Science and Technology Forum in 2013 and 2016 respectively.
  7. Women in Research Leadership Award bestowed by Unisa in 2012.
  8. Career Development Award granted by the South African Medical Research Council in 2008–2012.


My reason for applying for the Executive Dean (ED) position

The reason why I applied to be ED of CGS is that I strongly believe that I possess the suitable characteristics and skill set for the mountainous task at hand. As I previously stated, women empowerment and excellence within academia are the reasons as to why I wake up in the morning. Being an ED means that I can not only empower the lives of others, but have the ability to change an inherently patriarchal and Westernised system, putting those who are previously disadvantaged at the forefront thereby, literally, changing lives.

Having experienced the perils of previously being a postgraduate student, I wholeheartedly understand the importance of “doctorateness” as a device for academic excellence; and it is something that is indispensable. I sincerely aim to make a meaningful, yet calculated impact on those who surround me, to ensure the provision of high quality and relevant academic support, taking into consideration intrinsic and extrinsic factors, while simultaneously enhancing postgraduate students’ throughput and success rates.

Assuming the position of ED, I would also like to utilise my expertise and knowledge gained from Board membership within the Medical Research Council and Human Sciences Research Council, to add immense value and to further perpetuate the mandate of the CGS by providing robust strategic leadership based on virtuous corporate governance.

I would also like to healthily enhance Unisa’s transformation agenda, mainly in accordance with the vision of the institution, which is: "Towards an African University shaping futures in the service of humanity," alongside a value-driven and immaculately strategic plan, at ending in the year 2020.


The most rewarding thing about my job and what makes it all worthwhile

My goal as a person who is highly involved in the world of academia, is enhancing the fineness of inter and transdisciplinary scholarship as a concept and ideal within Unisa, as well as other esteemed academic institutions. Another imperative goal of mine is to greatly enhance postgraduate students’ throughputs and success rate, as I believe that these are the two most central aspects of measuring the success of the CGS as an entity.

I would also like to contribute to the national imperative to produce 6 000 doctorates per year. This number, I feel, should serve as the basis for doctoral outputs. However, the overall goal is not only to achieve that number, but to produce 6 000 dignified, focused, conscientious and well-rounded doctorates, that will, over time, contribute to the betterment of society as a whole. These elite-minded people form the backbone of academic discourse and progress, and will allow us, not only an academic society, but a society as a whole, to develop tremendously.

Academic and socio-economic development are also at the forefront of my focus, and seeing growth not only in the academic space, but also improvements in people’s socio-economic circumstances as a result of what Unisa has achieved over the past 145 years, brings immense joy to my heart, and in turn, makes it all worthwhile.


Community engagement projects

In terms of community engagement projects, I am currently participating in a project that aims to translate research outcomes to promote the health and safety of the workforce in the mining industry. The reason for this knowledge transfer is to promote the adoption of best health and safety practices in order to accelerate the mining industry’s vision of ensuring that “all mine workers return home from work unharmed every day”. This project is of utmost importance as we have all seen the detrimental effects of not having adequate safety procedures in place in our mines. Mining accidents are tragic, to say the least. Therefore, the project I am involved with has mining health and safety at the forefront, and has conducted numerous pieces of research into mining safety and the mining industry as a whole, to ensure an overall healthier and safer environment for everyone involved in the mining process.


Vision for the College of Graduate Studies (CGS)

My vision for CGS is simple, albeit vital, and is not different from the one driven by my predecessors. My vision is to establish a central hub for postgraduate student research support within Unisa, nationally, and on the African continent. This vision involves a ton of mental exertion, focus, and faith. I foresee CGS as being a formidable force in the future, paving the way for the immense success of postgraduate students. The college, in my opinion, is one of the most important organs in Unisa, and should be treated as such. I believe that CGS will achieve nothing but excellence moving forward. This will be made possible by harnessing the diverse and exclusive expertise from within.


My expectations of CGS

Moving into the future, I expect CGS to enhance its inter and transdisciplinary standing to promote high-quality postgraduate outputs that would be adequately prepared to address the national priorities and be globally competitive to address global challenges and have a meaningful global impact.

I expect nothing less than brilliance and superiority in the field of academia from the college. Postgraduate studies and outputs are viewed as the most important output that a university can produce, and as a result, a university’s ranking is measured by the postgraduate output levels, amongst other indicators of success and prestige. Therefore, I expect the college to focus on making an impactful contribution in producing outstanding scholars, exemplary work, and well-rounded alumni with a life-long thirst to gain and impart knowledge.


A final message from myself and CGS

In conclusion, I would like to say that I will try to my utmost ability to impart the knowledge I have gained throughout my professional and academic life to those who are not only a part of the CGS, but the academic spectrum as a whole. The various skills I have acquired will be put to the test, and I solemnly swear to devote myself entirely to the betterment of the college, and of the university as a whole.

On behalf of CGS we are delighted to begin 2019 with new faces, and we have no doubt that this year will be one of focus, academic excellence and broadening horizons. Those who are part of our college will experience world-class guidance and will be exposed to only the best resources and materials. We will not only push the boundaries of academic output, but provide attention and care to every single cog in our machine, ensuring that our machine is in excellent order at any given moment. To those who are recently joining us on our 2019 mission, welcome. And to those who have been upholding the mandate of the college for the past decade, siyanibongela. Vast Africanisation and perpetuation of the brilliantly laid out mandate of the college are our focus moving forward. To a successful and fruitful 2019!

* Submitted by Mpho Moloele, PR and Communication Assistant, Department of Research Administration

Publish date: 2019/03/05