Youth Month 2021: Dr Akhona Tshaka

Youth Month 2021: Dr Akhona Tshaka

Dr Akhona Tshaka graduated with a PhD from the University of Fort Hare in 2020. She held an NRF internship in 2016/17 and was also funded by the NRF for her PhD studies.

This is her story…  

I was born in Uitenhage and I grew up in Ngqamakhwe, Mirrlees.

I passed matric at Nomaheya Senior Secondary School in 2010. In 2011, I went to the University of Fort Hare (UFH) to study for a Bachelor of Social Work degree. When I finished in 2014, I realised that I had a passion for writing. I passed my final-year research project with distinction and decided to pursue my passion for writing by furthering my studies. I applied to study for a Master’s degree in Social Work at UFH and was awarded a scholarship in 2015. When I enrolled for my Master’s, I applied for the DSI-NRF Internship Programme and in 2016 I was selected for the internship. In 2017, I applied to study towards my PhD. I was selected to study at UFH and was awarded the DSI-NRF PhD Innovation Scholarship.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

The journey was indeed not easy at all. I experienced many obstacles, but I will just focus on my journey as a research student during fieldwork/data collection. I did not complete my studies in time. I could not publish enough work due to the struggles of obtaining entry to collect data from participants. I had to collect permission from government officials and would exceed my timeframe waiting for permission to obtain data. I learned that you must be patient and persistent to achieve your research project.

What is your area of expertise?

My research focuses on child and family welfare in social work. Currently, I am focusing on the experiences and resilience strategies of women. 

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

I hope that my research will enhance the well-being of all vulnerable children and families in South Africa. I also hope to take part in developing government policies and interventions in the field of social work that aim to empower and strengthen the well-being of women.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

My proudest moment has got to be the ability and courage to complete my PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic and to be recognised as the youngest PhD graduate at the University of Fort Hare for the 2020 academic year.

Did the COVID-19 pandemic (and national lockdown) change the way you work/study? How did you adapt to the “new normal”?

Yes, COVID-19 had a profound impact on my studies. I lost hope in completing my PhD. I had to leave campus during my write-up. Writing from home was the worst experience ever. Usually, I did my work at the library where I would sit all day and focus on working. It was difficult for me to adapt to a new working environment, because usually when I am at home I spend most of my time with my family. It was so difficult for me and my family to adapt, based on the fact that I had to stop everything and focus on completing my work. Through it all I managed to complete my project because of hard work and dedication.

What is the best advice you have ever received (and from whom)?

The best advice I was ever given was to work hard and never give up – by my supervisor and colleagues at UFH. Indeed, through prayer, patience, persistence, and perseverance, I managed to complete my studies.

What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways to get youngsters interested in science-related careers?

People lack knowledge and understanding, especially in the rural villages. They lack information and understanding of the current education system. Thus, awareness programmes focused on educating South Africans about developments in education should not only focus on urban areas. For example, I did Maths and Science in high school, but before I decided to do a career in social sciences, I had little knowledge about careers in science.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

Currently, I am unemployed and working towards publishing my thesis. I aspire to be an academic lecturer and researcher who will make publications and be rated by the National Research Foundation.

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