Excelling In School And Family – Dr. Hloniphile Sithole Mthethwa

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Hloniphile and I met in South Africa while I was pursuing my masters degree. Here is our interview about her scientific journey:

Please give us a brief introduction about yourself
My name is Dr. Hloniphile Sithole Mthethwa from South Africa. I am a Mathematics Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) in South Africa.

What are your academic areas of interests?
My research is in Fluid Dynamics, Numerical Methods, and Mathematical Biology. My PhD research focus was on fluid dynamics. I solved boundary value problems and determined the accuracy and efficiency of recent local linearization methods combined with spectral techniques for solving boundary value problems.

Tell us about your life journey; how did you end up as a Mathematics Lecturer?
I grew up at Esigodini in Edendale, in Pietermaritzburg. I was raised by my parents Mr Bonginkosi Sithole and Mrs Thembisile Sithole. I have 3 siblings Thokozani, Nkanyiso and Sithabile. I am the first person to obtain a PhD in my family. My Aunt Nonhlanhla ‘Granny’ Sithole encouraged me to study further. I am married to Buzani Mthethwa and I am a mother of 2 kids; a boy (Khwezi) and girl (Bukhosi).

I have always been good with numbers from my primary education. I attended Nichols Primary School for my lower primary, Edendale Higher Primary School for my higher primary. My first love for Mathematics was installed at Edendale Technical High School, commonly, known as “eVo”, by my high school female teachers Mrs Thandeka Nene and Dr Pinkie Mthembu. I went to the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) for a bachelor of Science (BSc) in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. The strong Mathematics department at UKZN made me wish to be a Mathematics lecturer one day.

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I was introduced to research during my BSc Honours degree in Mathematics with focus in Biomathematics, at Stellenbosch University. It was the first of its kind in South Africa and I was part of the very first group. This 1-year course is run in conjunction with African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) in Cape Town, South Africa. This program aims at meeting the growing demand from molecular biology, systems biology, bioinformatics, ecology, and biomedical science for students and researchers with solid mathematical skills. Students spend the first half of the year at AIMS-SA and the second half of the year at Stellenbosch University. That is when I decided that a career in Academia is what I really want to do. Then I knew that ultimately, I will have to study until PhD level because PhD is a basic degree for undertaking high quality research and supervising Doctoral students. I returned to UKZN for a master of Science (MSc) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Applied Mathematics.

My first job in academia was teaching Foundation Maths at UKZN in the programme then called Science Foundation Program. After completing MSc at UKZN I was employed as a developmental lecturer now known as Accelerated Academic Development Programme (AADP) at UKZN. The AADP posts are aimed at young or aspiring academics with no or limited experience in academia but with potential and interest to pursue an academic career. Candidates are expected to register for a doctoral degree. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and support programmes attached to it. I have since been credentialed and appointed as a Full lecturer in AES, SCMSC.

Because of Covid-19, I missed my PhD graduation ceremony in April 2020. This graduation was very important to me. The ceremony was later hosted virtually on Friday, 29 May 2020. The missed graduation ceremony was special to me because I was finally going to rock that red academic regalia. I was hoping it would inspire my students and anyone else who wishes to further their studies at different levels. It would have been really nice to be in the graduation ceremony together with two students that I supervised, Nolwazi Nkomo and Tsepiso Madondo. They were going to graduate Master of Science (MSc) and BSc (Honours) in Applied Mathematics respectively.

Do you have any prestigious awards and achievements so far?

  1. Obtaining my PhD while holding a full-time job. This is important to me because I had to play different roles and make sure that they are all balanced well. I was a student, a wife, a mother and an employee. Regardless of all this, I still managed to publish 4 research papers in peer reviewed journals. My job was also done well. In the process I managed to supervise 2 Honours and 1 Masters students to completion. Two of my students were supposed to graduate Honours and Masters the same day as my PhD graduation. This made me so proud.
  2. My Highlight in the month of August 2020. I have recently been selected as a “Wonder Women in Science” candidate in 2020. This is a UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science initiative to showcase its support for both the National Science Week and Womens day through the Wonder Women in Science campaign. Wonder Women in Science are passionate, pioneering and persistent heroines who are making waves in fields of science and stand as shining examples for all. This shed a light on important issues: a skills shortage in Science, Engineering and Technology; and the limited female presence in these fields. Read more about this story here.
  3. I published four (research) peer reviewed articles during my doctoral studies.
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What has been your biggest challenge in life so far?

My doctoral studies journey was not easy. I had to juggle between my job and being a mother. However, I received a lot of support from the University and family. I am thankful to my supervisors Prof Precious Sibanda and Prof Sandile Motsa for their mentorship and vast knowledge which encouraged me to widen my research from various perspectives.

What else do you do outside work?
I am a Roman Catholic and belong to a Solidarity called Legion of Mary (IButho likaMaria). I am grateful for their support and prayers during some difficult times when I had health problems during my PhD study duration. They kept me high in spirit all the time.

Anything additional, maybe a quote, word of encouragement, future steps?
My mentor Dr Daphne Mathebula says, “It doesn’t’ matter how long it takes to reach your goal, never give up. You are getting closer and closer each day. Remember God’s proper time is the best”

A quote by Mandela “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Young people need to be educated so that they can in future do meaningful research and create their own job opportunities. We need them to reach our level and beyond.

For more information about anything I may not have mentioned, please refer to this UKZN article

Thank you Hloniphile for taking your time to speak to me. It was such an honour!

 

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