Youth Month 2021: Phumudzo Mamphwe

Youth Month 2021: Phumudzo Mamphwe

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.

Ms Phumudzo Mamphwe is an nGAP Lecturer and PhD student in Nutrition at the University of Pretoria.

Ms Mamphwe held an NRF internship (2015-2016) and received NRF Master’s Scarce Skills funding (2016-2017) as well as nGAP-running expenses from the NRF for 2019-2020.

This is her story…

I was born in a rural village in Venda and grew up there – I did both my primary and secondary school in the same village. After completing matric, I went to the University of Venda to study for my first degree.

I loved food from an early age and was very curious as to what I was getting from these kinds of foods, specifically in terms of healing (how does food heal your body?) as I found healing while preparing meals. I learnt about a course in high school and realised there was something I could study that would combine my passion for food and healing the community. I did not know then that I would end up in academia but I told myself that since I fell in love with research, and since I knew that there was funding, I would study for a PhD while working at the same time as I wanted to obtain the highest degree. When I saw the advert for the nGAP post, I knew then that was for me as I had been an NRF beneficiary since 2015. I am grateful and fortunate to be in this position.

I never thought it was possible for a young Black woman to be a researcher and publish articles while working and studying for a PhD at the same time. The NRF really changed my mindset in that regard as, growing up in a rural area, there are few or no resources at all to motivate one to study further.

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

Yes. When I told my family that I would be doing a postgraduate degree, they told me that they don’t have funds to support it and NSFAS does not support postgrad students. I then applied for the NRF scholarship and, fortunately, I received it and my family was very proud of my second degree. I have learned that if you want something you should work hard; find as much information as you can about it, and apply for more funding. Lastly, have a career mentor with who you can share your career plans and seek advice from.

What is your area of expertise?

Community nutrition, child nutrition and adult nutrition. Specifically, body composition.

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

I am investigating the growth patterns in relation to feeding practices and haemoglobins levels of 6 to 12-month old infants who are HIV exposed and unexposed. This study will help us determine the growth patterns and monitor these infants over time and determine the care the infants and children will require as their mothers may be too sick to take care of them. Developing a visual aid to simplify the growth and monitoring of the children will come in handy as measurements are often done at different clinics due to a lack of training. Training of healthcare workers in nutritional assessment will also help to identify the infants and children at risk of malnutrition before the situation worsens.

Child nutrition is very important and it indeed takes a village to raise a child. Nutrition takes priority in children’s growth and development. Understanding the situation at home and conducting actual assessments is the type of research we need to engage with, and funding should be made available for such research to be conducted so that we can track and monitor these children from a young age and provide better care if needed.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Being in academia and having to study for a PhD at the same time; having the first student supervised obtain a distinction in the mini-dissertation; and being an NRF beneficiary for more than five years are big achievements for me.

I also have an article published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

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

I had to adapt to working from home and it was difficult. I have had a young child with me since the crèches were closed at the beginning of the lockdown. Setting time for work, setting up a work-from-home station and actually doing the work, and sometimes dealing with internet issues and load shedding were all challenges. Teaching online took up a lot of time and students’ assessment and feedback sessions also increased. Lockdown also resulted in having few or no patients participating in the research as they had moved or taken their children to their parents.

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

You have potential to fly the nutrition flag high, do not listen to the noise but stay grounded and focus on your work, the work will speak for itself” – current nGAP mentor, Prof Fhumulani Mulaudzi.

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

Inviting them to participate in research from school level; conducting research in schools, and sharing the results with all stakeholders within the school and beyond.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

Definitely to become an NRF-rated researcher in the next five years. Working at the NRF as a Professional Officer: Reviews and Evaluation or any related post.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Please view the terms for republishing here.
Related Posts