In celebration of Women’s Month 2018, we are featuring female researchers who receive funding from the NRF. We thank the ladies for volunteering to share their stories with us.
Kgothatso Emily Tlhapi is currently pursuing her Master’s in Food Technology at the Tshwane University of Technology.
I was born in Pretoria, Attridgeville and raised in Mamelodi West Sunvalley where my parents bought a house when I was just two years old. I am the last born. My family is open-minded and they are a great support structure. Our parents have always motivated us to conquer the world and do what we like. This has made me and my siblings very close and supportive.
What made you decide to choose your field of study? Is it what you envisioned for yourself while growing up?
Yes! I have always been a foodie and have always loved finding out about how things are made (research). When I was in Grade 11, I decided to apply at tertiary institutions and wanted to study something I loved and found to be fun – and that was Food Technology! I did not want to be a chef because I thought I was too easy and did not want to study nutrition because I found it too serious. So, I opted for Food Technology.
What does your current research focus on?
My current research focuses on the extraction of mango kernel oil and its effect on the nutritional and sensory properties of trans-fat free margarine.
My responsibilities include collecting mango kernels/by-products from agro-processing companies; processing of the kernels; conducting microbiological analysis on the kernels; extracting of oil using various methods from the kernels, and then developing a margarine using healthier oils.
I also supervise and mentor two female French students from Reunion Island. I assist them with product development using agro-processing by-products. I assist them with conducting microbiological analysis; how to make use of equipment in the laboratory; how to interpret data, and writing up of their reports.
How do you think your work/research can benefit/impact South Africans and/or the world?
The study seeks to reduce the negative impacts of agro-processing waste on the environment and increase food security through the use of a range of food industry waste for the manufacture of food ingredients.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today?
I had to quit my full-time job to pursue my studies on a full-time basis. This included sacrificing my monthly salary to accomplish my dream of being an established researcher and obtaining my Master’s degree. This obstacle was overcome by applying to research councils, such as NRF, whereby I receive a stipend for doing my research work.
Who has been your greatest inspiration? Who saw your potential/encouraged you when the going got tough?
My supervisor, Dr da Silva, saw my potential and encouraged me to do my Master’s degree. Her faith in me encourages me to never give up.
What is your vision for the future – what do you hope to achieve in the next ten years?
I see myself as a professor with numerous publications, supervising students and making a great impact in the science field. I am also business minded, so I see myself owning a company which supplies raw materials that provide solutions (such as enhancing and improving food products) for other food manufacturing companies.
What is your advice for young people who want to pursue a career in STEM?
The only way to improve our lives and the condition of our continent is through education. Careers in STEM are the solution to liberating Africa from poverty because they involve a lot of discovery and inventions.
What other interests do you have outside of your chosen career?
I enjoy listening to jazz music and would like to learn how to play the saxophone. I am also a wine enthusiast.