Women have a place in Science

February 11th marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This day is an opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

In honour of the day, the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) has seen it befitting to share an example of an outstanding woman scientist who works within the institution in the Department of Botany, Dr Nontuthuko Ntuli.

Dr Ntuli’s decision to go into the field of botany was instinctual- something that she was sure of from a very young age since her passion was to be in science and obtain a PhD qualification one day. Over and above this, her intent was to positively impact other people.

Dr Ntuli’s work entails lecturing and supervising students. She delights in seeing her students passing the undergraduate modules that she lectures and also graduating at postgraduate levels under her supervision. She has a BSc degree in Biochemistry, Botany and Microbiology as majors. Then she continued with BSc Hons in Botany, researching in Ethnobotany. Her MSc focused on taxonomy and genetics of selected food and medicinal plants. She then pursued her PhD in plant biotechnology of some indigenous and traditional leafy vegetables.

Conversely, she is currently working on the identification and characterisation of indigenous leafy vegetables as well as indigenous trees that produce edible fruits. These plants have high nutrient content; they are able to grow and yield successfully under adverse environmental conditions; and they also need very low inputs when they are informally cultivated. However, current research mostly focuses on the edible plants which are exotic to the country.

When talking about the challenges and rewards of her work, Dr Ntuli says: “My biggest obstacle to overcome as a lecturer was being shy and speaking softly, as I had to (be) audible to large classes, especially at first-year level. I also had to learn to socialise with people, especially when I was doing surveys with communities, which was very hard for me to do at the beginning.”

The important lesson that Dr Ntuli would like to convey to younger girls wanting to pursue a career in science is that “regardless of your gender, race or creed, you will have attributes that make you unique and that will compliment your skill. It is all about seeing how best you can make it work”.

She adds that in the near future she envisions to have graduated several MSc students and at least four PhD students. She also aims to be an NRF rated researcher/scientist and be a full professor. She has graduated five MSc students and one PhD student (whose study is still underway) to date

Caption : Dr Nontuthuko Ntuli, Lecturer in the faculty of Science and Agriculture, Department of Botany

  • Precious Shamase