Youth Month 2023: Silindokuhle Jakavula

Youth Month 2023: Silindokuhle Jakavula

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.

Ms Silindokuhle Jakavula is a PhD candidate in Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). She is currently funded by NRF for her PhD studies.

How did your journey start?

I am originally from the Eastern Cape from a small town called Peddie (eNgqushwa). I was raised in a big family by my grandparents together with my cousins, since our mothers had to move to different cities for work. My grandparents had six children, one son and five daughters, and my mother is the third born. We were raised in a very warm and loving home. Sadly, in 2003, we lost our grandfather. That was one of the most difficult times for the family but my grandmother was always there for all of us. My grandmother really loved education and wanted all of us to finish school. At one point, my cousin and I had to move and stay with relatives who were closer to school because we were struggling to get transport to our school. My family as a whole has been a very supportive family when it comes to education – even now they are still very supportive. Being raised by my grandmother in a big family has played a huge role in where I am and what I have achieved so far. I am really grateful for my family.

To be honest, I never thought I would be where I am today. Growing up, I never knew what career path I wanted until I was in Grade 11 and my maths teacher would encourage and motivate me. That’s when I started thinking about what I am going to do after high school. When I was in matric, people from different universities would come and give us career guidance and that’s when I found interest in doing computer science. However, I was staying in a small town with my grandmother and I didn’t have the resources to apply at any of the institutions. 

When I got my matric results, my aunt and I went to Walter Sisulu University (WSU) to apply as a walk-in. When we got there, one of the students who assisted us looked at my results and told me that I qualify for a Diploma in Analytical Chemistry. He then assisted us with the application and as they always say, the rest is history. I obtained an ND in Analytical Chemistry at WSU; a BTech in Chemistry at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT), and an MSc in Chemistry at UJ.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

The NRF had a great impact on my studies. If I didn’t get the funding, I wouldn’t have continued with my studies. The funding also played a huge role in my personal life – with the stipend, I can send money home to my mother and my grandmother. I am also able to provide for my kids and everything they need. I am truly grateful to NRF for the opportunity they gave me.

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

One of the challenges I faced was falling pregnant when I was doing my third year. I didn’t how to tell my family as they had great expectations of me. After telling my family they were very disappointed, and they decided that I had to stay at home after giving birth and not finish my studies. Since I was only left with in-service training to finish my studies, I talked to my family and begged them to let me finish. Because they believed in me, they allowed me to go back and finish. Hence, I keep on saying I wouldn’t be where I am without my family.

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

Everyone has a right to access quality water and water pollution is one of the challenges that our country is facing. Hence, the focus of my research is water purification where different analytical methods are explored for the extraction, pre-concentration and removal of both organic and inorganic pollutants that exist in our water systems. This is explored using membrane technology and nanomaterials.

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

My research will contribute to new methods that can be explored for water purification on a larger scale. Part of the work published will help to contribute to the science field and also the world as water scarcity is a global problem. This research will help me finish my PhD which I hope will inspire the younger generation, especially from the rural areas.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

One of my proudest achievements was when I obtained my MSc in Chemistry with distinction. I couldn’t believe it, it showed me what I am capable of and that I should continue with research. And being able to publish my research and share my findings with the world – that was truly a great achievement.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I want to be in the academic space where I get to inspire and teach the younger generation. I also want to continue to contribute to research and come up with new ways/findings that will greatly impact the science field as well as our country as a whole. I believe research helps to come up with new ideas that will form part of the future.

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