Miss Mahlatse Mphahlele is one of the highly qualified young female scientists in the country, and given her age, she seems destined to go places in the academic world. Currently she is a lecturer at the Durban University of Technology (DUT)’s department of mechanical engineering in the faculty of engineering and built environment. She is also studying towards completing her PhD degree at the very institution. Before she joined DUT, the Limpopo born academic was working as an assistant lecturer at the University of Johannesburg.
Developing proficient academics
She is one of the beneficiaries of the department of higher education and training (DHET)’s flagship programmes aimed at creating a pipeline of young academics pursuing different academic disciplines.
Called the New Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP), the initiative aims to build a new generation of academics; it also intends to attract people with relevant qualifications and experience to follow a doctoral qualification while they are developing as proficient academics at the universities. The programme also provides a platform for early career scientists and academics who show potential to establish themselves and grow within their areas of speciality.
According to the DHET, the recruitment of these academics is “based on carefully designed and balanced equity considerations” and in line with “disciplinary areas of greatest need in the higher education system”. It is being implemented in partnership with all the 26 public universities in South Africa.
Currently nGAP is structured as follows:
- a development programme of three years duration (with the possibility of the programme being tailored to meet the needs of individuals);
- three years induction after successful completion of the development programme; and
- continuing permanent employment at the appointing institution thereafter.
Miss Mphahlele is a master of technology graduate in chemical engineering whose research focuses on materials science and powder metallurgy. She also holds an undergraduate degree in bachelors of technology and a national diploma in metallurgical engineering. Before she joined DUT, she used to be an assistant lecturer at the University of Johannesburg.
Grooming exceptional academics
Miss Mphahlele is grateful to being part of the nGAP saying she has benefitted immensely from it. She says the initiative has afforded her the “opportunity to grow under a set structure and is also being mentored by experienced academics”. She says the programme ensures that young and upcoming academics are granted opportunities to be groomed into exceptional academics that will advance the standard of academia (teaching, learning and research) at DUT. More importantly, she says, nGAP ensures that critical skills and knowledge are retained and developed over time.
Miss Mphahlele says despite the devastating impact of the Covid-19, the pandemic has given her time to reflect and to become more objective about her teaching. It also allowed her time to hone her teaching skills, she says, particularly with regard to transitioning to online teaching and learning as well as conducting assessment.
Dynamic and adaptive
Miss Mphahlele says, in addition, the pandemic has emphasised the need for the academic community to be dynamic and adaptive “so that we can stand victorious through any challenging circumstances”. Her advice to the young and aspiring nGAP young [female] lecturers is that they should know their goals and constantly work towards achieving them. “Everything big starts small, so you need to be determined, persistent, adaptive, and work hard,” adds Miss Mphahlele.