NRF Women's Month 2022: Dr Mmatshuene Anna Segooa

NRF Women’s Month 2022: Dr Mmatshuene Anna Segooa

Women’s Month 2022 is celebrated under the theme of “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” and links to the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) of Gender Equality by 2030. The NRF is committed to supporting women to advance their careers and establish themselves as researchers and, to this end, has developed a range of funding instruments aimed at supporting emerging female researchers.

Dr Mmatshuene Anna Segooa is a Lecturer and Informatics International Collaborations & Partnerships Projects Lead at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). She is supported by the NRF’s Black Academics Advancement Programme (BAAP)*.

What impact did NRF funding have on your career?

My relationship with the NRF began when I was in the second year of my Doctoral studies. TUT nominated me to apply for the BAAP PhD Track. I was awarded a sabbatical grant for 2019 to 2021 which in 2021 was converted to the BAAP Postdoctoral Track as I completed my PhD early.

The sabbatical grant released from teaching responsibilities for those years so that I could focus on my studies. This opportunity was transformative as it gave me international exposure as an emerging researcher. Part of the grant was allocated to local and international conferences and, therefore, during my PhD journey, I was able to participate in several doctoral consortiums in which my doctoral work was peer-reviewed by international scholars and attracted international attention. As a result, I was able to establish international connections, networks, and collaborative initiatives in the ICT Domain which I then introduced to the Department of Informatics where I am employed. Under the same initiative, my employer (TUT) gained a strategic partnership with Universidad Politecnica de Valencia (UPV), Spain. From this partnership, the faculty of ICT, and the Informatics Department joined the Erasmus Exchange Mobility Project 2020-2023 submitted by UPV which received six scholarships to carry out mobility for three postgraduate students and three staff members from the faculty of ICT.

I can proudly say that BAAP, in collaboration with TUT and management (former and current), has made my dream of becoming an impactful PhD graduate a reality. I’m grateful that the grant awarded supported my values of inclusivity as I was able to contribute towards building institutional and academic capacity and subsequently improve my employer’s international outlook. I firmly believe that an opportunity awarded to me is a call to make a difference.

What has been your study/career journey: how did you end up where you are today?

I have always been fascinated by careers that can influence “change”. While I was still frustrated about which course to go for, one day my elder brother asked me if IT wouldn’t be interesting for me. Because I trusted his advice, I took an interest in the course and I went for it. The truth is that it was never a smooth journey. I fell and got up several times during the journey but the support I received from my family kept me going and I pressed forward.

I graduated with a national diploma in IT in 2006 and in 2013 I graduated with a Baccalaureus Technologiae Degree in Information Systems and IT Management. After my BTech, I immediately enrolled for a Master’s in Business Information Systems which I completed in 2016. I embarked on my PhD journey in 2017 and in the same year TUT nominated me to enrol in the Haaga-Helia Vocational Teacher Education programme under the strategic partnership between TUT and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Finland. I graduated in 2018. In 2019, as a Haaga-Helia Alumni, I was offered an opportunity to enrol in TUT training of trainers offered under the Haaga -Helia collaboration – I graduated in 2020. Upon graduation, I was nominated to collaborate with the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Science as a Mentor for the 6th and 7th cohorts of academics in the Haaga-Helia Vocational Teacher Education Programme. My PhD in Computing (Informatics) was awarded in 2021. In the same year, I participated in a one-year TUT Women in Leadership (WIL) and completed the programme. In 2022, I was certified as a Software Tester by International Software Testing Qualification Board (ISTQB).

During my PhD journey, I participated in several national and international programs, including the United States -South Africa network, Universities Staff Doctoral Programme (USDP), under the project Academic Doctoral Advancement Programme Towards Transformation (ADAPTT) DHET initiative. From this program, I was able to travel to the University of Missouri Saint Louis (USA) as a Visiting Scholar in 2019.

I am a product of TUT and pride myself on the knowledge and skills acquired from the institution. I am where I am because I am a lifelong learner and I believed in myself and my abilities to be the change I wanted to see. I embraced the challenges I came across and I have trained myself to see an opportunity for growth whenever I experience turbulence in my career path.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My research interests are in Information Systems with a focus on Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Data Science. I authored six conference papers and one journal article and have made five presentations at both local and international conferences. In 2018, my paper was nominated and awarded the best oral presentation at the IEEE 3rd International Conference on Big Data Analysis in China, Shanghai.

I work as an academic and I also do administrative work such as leading projects for international collaborations and partnerships within my department. I also serve on three committees – the Department Research Committee; Department Postgraduate Diploma Teaching and Learning Committee; and Department Advance Diploma Teaching and Learning Committee within the Faculty of ICT, the Department of Informatics. At the institutional level, I served as a Chair for postgraduate students’ selection on an international mobility project. 

In terms of teaching and learning, I offer ICT Informatics modules, amongst others. I lecture in Process/Software Testing, Business Analysis, and Industry Exposure. I also supervise postgraduate students and thus far I have produced three Master’s graduates in Computing (Informatics) and I am currently supervising one PhD and five Master’s students.

I am an external examiner for postgraduate studies at national public universities.

For best practices in my International administrative role, I joined International Education Association South Africa (IEASA) and am currently on their mentorship programme for five months. I am also a member of professional bodies such as the Association for Information Systems (AIS), Association for Information Systems Women Network (AISWN), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and Southern African Association for Institutional Research (SAAIR). Participation in these professional bodies creates an enabling platform to contribute to ICT community discussions and knowledge, and to identify experts with common interests to establish collaborative initiatives and potential partnerships to improve research output on the national and international landscape.

I also co-led girls’ empowerment programmes in academia within the Faculty of ICT where I am employed.

I have recently received an invitation to join the 35th International Conference in Advanced Information Systems and Engineering (CAiSE) Organisation Team as a Publicity Chair, the conference will be held in Europe in 2023 and I have accepted the invitation to serve.

Why is your research important?

My research was in the domain of Information Systems, the implementation of emerging technologies to solve education, business, and societal problems.

This field suggests that when ICT solutions are developed, for the business to leverage such technologies, there is a need to consider the organisation, the users in context, and the external factors for the successful implementation of such a solution. My study developed a model that guides the universities on what factors influence the implementation of Big Data for better analytics to improve their performance, which will ultimately attract and impact funding globally known as Outcome Based Funding (OBF).

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

I encourage girls to take STEM-related courses as they will be prepared to take part in opportunities presented in the 4IR and beyond. This will also give them the advantage to become future-ready graduates while putting their footprint on digital economic advancement. Partaking in these fields will equip them with the knowledge and skills to develop innovative solutions which they may use to solve societal problems, and build their empire as employers/entrepreneurs, or as experts in the industry.

The future of our next generation of girls/women is in the effort to transform the mindset of the current generation of girls/women towards socio-economic development. We need to empower our girls in STEM to maintain courage and a positive attitude to thrive in the male dominating career paths. Let them know that no skill is gender-oriented. The power is in their ability to equip themselves with the know-how and skills while they see themselves as individuals rather than focusing on gender. The moment you attach gender to the expertise you create room for separation between experts with a different gender. That’s my personal view.

I wish I knew that interpersonal skills were as important as technical skills. We also need transversal skills not limited to communication, problem-solving, and teamwork to navigate and survive a diverse working environment. I thought being a specialist is enough to survive on the job and career growth. The emphasis on soft skills needs to be as strong as on technical skills. As we need a combo of both soft and hard skills to thrive in every aspect of our career.

Girls need to identify their strengths and passion within STEM-related careers and find mentors to support and promote them in the journey. Use social media to benefit their career development as well. Subscribe to professional platforms, build a network and follow the experts in their field of interest. I am also a product of mentorship and some of my mentors don’t know me because I follow their work and they positively influence my career.

The STEM-related fields are not for individuals who embrace their comfort zone. The environment evolves rapidly and requires people who embrace change and master the art to remain motivated and resourceful in the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Therefore, they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable to grow in their careers.

*The NRF’s Black Academics Advancement Programme (BAAP), established in partnership with the FirstRand Foundation, aims to promote the development of Black academics specifically, Black South African citizens and academic staff with disabilities, by accelerating the training of PhD and Post-PhD candidates to enhance their research training and accelerate their progression to become established researchers.

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