Youth Month 2022: Nonkululeko Navise

Youth Month 2022: Nonkululeko Navise

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Nonkululeko Navise is a PhD student in Physiology at North-West University (NWU). In 2018, she was a DSI-NRF intern, hosted by the NWU’s Hypertension in Africa Research Team. In 2019, she received funding from the NRF for her Master’s studies. Currently, she is funded by the NRF for her Doctoral studies.

This is her story…

I was born and raised in Witbank, Mpumalanga. I am the middle child of three kids. I was raised by my mom who is a single parent. She and my father were never married, and he was not present in my life growing up. He helped at times financially, but he did not play any major part in my life as a father. I lived with my grandmother when I was in primary school as my mom had to work, however, I was able to go home and see my mom often.

I went to three different primary schools and it was interesting. I joined a band in Grade 5 as a dancer. I then started playing the baritone in Grade 8 and I received a scholarship to attend a music school. I would go to my normal school in the morning and attend music classes at a different school in the afternoon.

My dream was always to become a medical doctor but I did not think it was possible. In matric, I studied hard to get good grades, however, I still did not apply to any university and was forced to take a gap year. Fortunately, I got an opportunity to go to the United States of America for three months as part of an exchange programme to play music. We toured the country and visited different states, competing with other bands. Before I left, I applied to the University of Witwatersrand and Medicine was my first choice. I was, however, rejected but was accepted for BSc in Biological Sciences. I accepted the offer and I majored in Anatomy and Physiology as it was closely related to medicine.

After I graduated, I did my Honours in Medical Cell Biology. I then applied for the DSI-NRF Internship and did that for a year. I decided to study further and do my Master’s after the internship. After Master’s, I applied for a PhD and that is the qualification I am currently pursuing.

To be honest, the plan was to apply for GEMP and pursue medicine after obtaining my first degree, but because of financial constraints, I was forced to look for a job after my Honours so that I could pay back my student loan as my grandmother could not afford to pay the loan interest anymore. Even though what I am doing now was not the initial plan, I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

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

I grew up in a typical township where not a lot of people study further than high school. Most young people in my area dropped out of school in Grade 10 and you were very lucky to matriculate. I had to fight hard to get to where I am and overcome all of the negative influences around me. I also did not have all the information I needed about studying further (tertiary institutions), and due to my lack of knowledge about NSFAS, I did not apply for funding. I was forced to take a student loan and luckily my grandmother was willing to help me and pay the monthly interest.

I applied for NSFAS to be funded for my second year and even though my application was successful, it only covered my tuition and accommodation. I always struggled with groceries as I did not get any allowance, and I also had to top up and pay the institution as my allocated funds did not cover the whole amount of my tuition. Also, being raised by a single parent who is a domestic worker meant that, at home, we did not have enough money to meet our everyday needs.

I learned that life can be hard, but nothing is impossible to achieve. All you can do is keep going, no matter how hard life gets. I also learned that the environment you are in does indeed influence the person you are, therefore it is important to mind your environment and the people you associate with.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

My research focus is on chronic kidney disease (CKD). We are aiming to assess longitudinally the kidney function of the black South African population and determine which cardiovascular risk factors contribute to CKD, as well as the predictive value of the kidney function measures to cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

The goal I am addressing with my research is SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being.

In South Africa, there’s a high prevalence of hypertension and diabetes and these conditions are reported as the most common causes of kidney disease. Other traditional risk factors, including lifestyle factors, also contribute to kidney and cardiovascular diseases. Thus, by investigating these factors and how they associate with kidney disease, and by tracking the development of kidney dysfunction, we can help to ensure healthy lives and well-being.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

  • Being the top achiever in matric;
  • Being admitted to the University of Witwatersrand and making it onto the Dean’s List when I was doing my second year at university; and
  • Completing my Master’s degree in only a year.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I am striving to become a Professor and also an NRF-rated researcher. I enjoy both teaching and research and I would like to be the best in these two areas.

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