Youth Month 2021: Dr Pfananani Ramulifho

Youth Month 2021: Dr Pfananani Ramulifho

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young dreamers and achievers who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Dr Pfananani Ramulifho is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Venda. He received NRF funding for his PhD studies and remains associated with NRF through his current Fellowship with the DSI-NRF SARChi Chair in Biodiversity Value and Change, University of Venda.  

This is his story…

I grew up in the small village of Malonga in the Vuwani area in Limpopo.

From an early age I wanted to become a conservation scientist and this led me to study Environmental Science at varsity. I completed my undergraduate as well as Honours degree at the University Of Venda (UniVen). After my Honours degree I met Dr Nick Rivers-Moore who become a corridor for my love for aquatic systems. From there, I went on to pursue a Master’s in Hydrology (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and a PhD in Zoology (UniVen) with Prof Stefan Foord, both of which are pretty much about the conservation of aquatic systems.

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

Obstacles are always part of the road. An academic journey is often a lonely walk that is mostly exacerbated by financial misfortunes. As an adaptive person who likes to keep things simple, I persevered by developing a positive and progressive mindset which helped me to focus on my goals. Not quitting and working hard tends to attract solutions during an academic journey. 

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

My research focus lies within three mains areas: (1) Hydrological flow modelling; (2) Aquatic Ecosystems Health; and (3) biological response modelling. These are some of the services or expertise offered by the Centre for Ecological and Sustainability Advisory (Pty) Ltd.

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

As a way to give the knowledge I attained back to the community, and also to help alleviate unemployment, I started a company that focuses on ecological research, consultancy and training. My aim is to bridge skills and knowledge gaps and empower rural and underprivileged communities on scientific and scarce skill fields such as aquatic sciences, myrmecology, plant molecular biology, bats ecology and arachnology. I have already employed four qualified graduates.

Though I do research and communicate through peer-reviewed science articles, I am part of programmes in the Western Cape and Limpopo that promotes the use of citizen science tools such as miniSASS by primary and high school learners in addressing the ecological challenges facing rivers.

I am one of those advocating for the use of aquatic organisms as biological indicators of organic contamination in rivers as they identify and report on emerging problems. This is because it’s cheap, fast, effective and can be done by everyone. Here in South Africa, this can save R32 billion per year of the economic costs related to just one vector-borne disease related to the contamination of water (diarrhoeal disease).

What are some of your proudest achievements?

There are quite a few achievements that I am proud of. Completing my PhD; being part of the Mail and Guardian Top 200 Young South African (Environmental Category) for 2020; serving as a national vice-lead for the Young Water Professionals; being selected as a Limnology and Oceanography (L&O) Letters Early Career Publication Honouree from an incredibly strong pool of candidates from across the world, and participating in the BRICS Young Scientist Forum in 2020. 

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

Covid-19 changed how I used to perform my studies and community programmes, but in a way, that’s unveiling many opportunities which otherwise wouldn’t have been tapped. Work during the “new normal” is largely done online and, so far, it has been an exciting experience.

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

I am inspired by the words of Lao Tzu, who said that Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

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

The community at large need to invest its time, resources, finances, energy and knowledge to educate these children about STEM issues early on in the academic journey.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I want to achieve NRF-ratings in the near future. I also want to impact society by instilling a love for nature in the younger ones and to serve the community through science, using existing institutions of higher learning and my company.

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