Winner: Dr Maheshvari Naidu
Dr Maheshvari Naidu obtained her honours and master’s degrees cum laude from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her doctoral work was in the contested field of African feminism, where she applied a Foucauldian lens to inscriptive practices on female bodies.
She was the first person from the University of KwaZulu-Natal to obtain her PhD in the humanities “by publication” (a researcher who has published at least as much as would have been contained in a conventional PhD thesis).
Naidu is a feminist anthropologist and teaches from a critical feminist perspective.
Naidu has published over 50 articles in national and inter-national peer-reviewed journals and has a book, Gender and Sacred Space, on the way. The journals she publishes cut across disciplines, reaching both a gender and a social science readership.
In recognition of her prolific research profile, Naidu was awarded the university’s humanities college excellence award for top emerging researcher in 2012.
She has been in the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s ranking of top 30 researchers for the past four years, being one of the few women researchers in the field of the humanities and social sciences to continuously hold this ranking.
She has acted as guest editor for national and international journals such as Alternation and Journal of Human Ecology, and is currently guest editing the Journal for the Study of Religion.
As a feminist anthropologist, her work is qualitative and ethnographic and deals with women’s lived phenomenological experiences by attempting to carve a critical space and voice for women, in both theory and practice.
Naidu won a large research grant in 2012 and headed a project that investigated violence, sexuality and women’s empowerment in the context of HIV/Aids and women’s health.
Aligned with her critical passion for women’s health issues is her published research into the subtle- structural violence perpetrated by medical practices in terms of patient interaction, especially with terminally ill cancer patients.
One of her studies led to her being invited to a nursing conference in Jordan, where she presented a paper detailing the systemic violence in patient health care models.
To fast-track a critical mass of women with PhDs, she is a facilitator in the humanities and social sciences PhD cohort supervision programme. Naidu has previously supervised three master’s students and is currently supervising one master’s and four PhD students.
First runner-up: Elisabet le Roux
Elisabet le Roux has a BA in humanities, an MPhil in translation, a postgraduate diploma in theology and an MTh in clinical pastoral care, all cum laude, from Stellenbosch University. Le Roux is currently completing a PhD in sociology.
In 2008 she started working in the unit for religion and development research of Stellenbosch University, focusing on HIV and gender, as well as gender-based violence.
By doing so, she positioned herself not only as an academic, but as a research partner for national and international civil society organisations conducting research in countries across the globe.
Since 2010 she has done extensive research on sexual violence and the role of the church, in partnership with Tearfund, a UK-based NGO.
The fieldwork she has done in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Liberia, Burundi and South Africa has made it possible for Tearfund to raise awareness at local, national and international level.
It also led to workshops at national and community level and new sexual violence intervention programmes in various countries.
Her research has enabled and motivated civil society, UN agencies and governments to partner and work with churches to address sexual violence.
Le Roux is one of the editors of the book Men in the pulpit, women in the pew? Addressing gender inequality in Africa.
She has authored or co-authored four articles in peer-reviewed journals, produced five research reports, delivered papers at five conferences, authored a chapter in a published book on gender inequality and has another chapter in a book on violence against women in Africa on the way.
In 2011 Le Roux was invited to spend three months at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, doing research on peace processes in Africa for the Africa Security and Governance Project.
Fellowships: doctoral degrees
Makhotso Lekhooa is a PhD student in the pharmacology department of the University of the Free State. She received an MPharm at the same institution. The aim of her current project is to develop an animal model through which to characterise Phela, a traditional medicine, to understand its mechanism- of action on the immune system.
Phela is herbal mixture of four African traditional medicinal plants, which is under investigation as an immune booster for immune-suppressed patients.
The expected outcome is a model using rats to evaluate traditional medicine products scientifically and to understand Phela’s mechanism of immunomodulation. This will be used to formulate its appropriate indications, contra-indications and potential drug interactions.
Lekhooa has been nominated as member of the national committee for the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and of the board of the International Council for Science in South Africa.
Furthermore, she is an intern at the Medical Research Council’s indigenous knowledge unit, participating in metabolic studies and scientific research into traditional medicines. Lekhooa published three articles from her master’s project.
She has presented her work at 10 local and international conferences, and has had abstracts accepted at two international conferences taking place later this year.
Masixolise Pelly Malebe
Masixolise Pelly Malebe graduated from the University of Pretoria with a BSc in human genetics and an MSc in biotechnology.
She is currently enrolled at the University of Pretoria as a PhD candidate in biotechnology in the department of biochemistry.
She worked as a teaching assistant during her honours and master’s studies and is a member of the Golden Key international honours society.
Malebe’s curiosity as a young child led to her interest in science. She later realised that the answers to many of her questions could be found in genetics textbooks.
Her current research focuses on identifying and developing molecular markers for drought tolerance in the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
The potential outputs of this research are robust molecular markers that can be used in a selection process to improve tea yields in the global tea industry.
Malebe’s focus is on increasing our understanding of the genetic basis of drought tolerance in plants, which may lead to drought-tolerant crop varieties and improved food and job security.
A provisional patent was filed on the results of the research she conducted during her MSc study.
The final filing of this patent with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization and in India, Sri Lanka, China and South Africa is under way.
Malebe has received awards for outstanding academic achievement from the University of Pretoria and obtained National Research Foundation (NRF) innovation -scholarships for her honours, master’s degrees.
Her doctoral studies are funded by the NRF innovation doctoral scholarship, a fellowship from the Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products Network, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the University of Pretoria’s institutional research theme for genomics.
Leah Matsinha holds a BSc honours in chemical technology from Midlands State University, Gweru, Zimbabwe (2009), and an MSc in chemistry from the University of Cape Town (2012).
Her MSc research project focused on the synthesis of water-soluble ruthenium complexes for aqueous biphasic hydroformylation reactions.
Her PhD project at the University of Cape Town is based on preparing a series of coordination rhodium and organometallic compounds as catalyst precursors for the hydroformylation reaction.
This forms part of a project that targets the beneficiation of the platinum group metals that are readily available in South Africa.
The motivation for this project is that synthesised catalysts can be recovered and recycled several times. This will not only be economically beneficial, but also environmentally friendly.
Matsinha has also developed expertise in various spectroscopic and analytical techniques for identifying and characterising compounds.
She has published two articles in international peer-reviewed journals and has presented her work at various local and international conferences.
Her research interests include synthetic organometallic chemistry, homogeneous catalysis and green chemistry.
Matsinha is a member of the Catalysis Society of South Africa (Catsa) and she was the first runner-up for the best poster prize at the 2012 Catsa conference.
Fellowships: master’s degrees
Shameemah Abrahams majored in biochemistry and physiology for her BSc at the University of Cape Town and was awarded a place on the dean’s merit list in 2008, 2009 and 2010. She completed a BSc honours with distinction in physiology, -specialising in neuroscience, in 2011.
She is currently doing the -second year of her MSc (Medicine) at the University of Cape Town/Medical Research Council research unit for exercise science and sports medicine.
Her research project involves the non-genetic and genetic predisposing factors in concussion risk in South African adolescent rugby.
Owing to the severity of concussion injury, particularly in young people, her research is geared towards investigating the underlying physiological mechanisms that increase susceptibility to concussion, as well as the neurological changes that occur during recovery.
Abrahams has co-authored two manuscripts submitted recently for peer-review and presented her research work at the 18th annual congress of the European College of Sports Science in Barcelona, Spain, in June 2013.
Valerie Chiriseri obtained her BSc in electrical and computer engineering with honours from the University of Cape Town in 2011.
She is currently in the second year of her MSc in electrical engineering in the software defined radio group of the University of Cape Town.
Chiriseri’s MSc focus is on building a framework that will enable university researchers and students to develop software defined radio applications easily, using the reconfigurable hardware interface for computation and radio (Rhino) platform.
Her research is aligned with the square kilometre array project. She has co-authored a paper that featured in a regional Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) conference.
She has been a tutor for the university’s electrical engineering, mathematical and computer science department and the mathematics department’s tutor coordinator for all the residences.
Chiriseri was chair of the IEEE University of Cape Town student branch in 2012 and currently oversees all the IEEE student branch activities in the IEEE South African section.
She is the current chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering student affinity group at the University of Cape Town.
She won the best undergraduate project demonstration in the electrical and computer engineering department in 2011.
The university’s engineering and the built environment faculty awarded her a faculty grant in 2007 for making it onto the dean’s merit list; she was listed again in 2009.
Philile Mlotshwa is a first-year MSc student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her field of study is statistics, specialising in survival modelling (the modelling of time-to-event data).
She received funding from the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis following the completion of a BSc honours in statistics (cum laude).
She is the fundraising director of the Golden Key inter-national honour society and has been on the dean’s merit list since 2011.
Mlotshwa is currently conducting research in the area of tuberculosis and HIV co-infection. Her project entails collaborative research with the centre for the Aids programme of research in South Africa.
She will be investigating the effects of different HIV and TB therapies on the time to hepatotoxicity for patients co-infected with HIV and TB.
Additionally, she will look at risk factors affecting the occurrence of adverse events such as immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome and toxic effects. It is possible that this project may lead to best practice treatment for patients co-infected with HIV and TB.
Mlotshwa comes from a rural area that is burdened by TB and HIV. She aspires to be a top researcher who can influence public health policies for the betterment of the lives of the people in her community and the rest of South Africa.
Tata scholarships: doctoral degrees
Madeleine Bihina Bella
Madeleine Bihina Bella completed her MSc (cum laude) in 2007 in computer science at the University of Pretoria, where she is currently a third-year PhD computer science student.
She is also a research associate at SAP Research in Pretoria in a combined work/study programme. Prior to joining SAP Research, she worked as a business analyst for Atos Origin, an information technology consultancy company, and then as an IT auditor for the audit firm Deloitte & Touche, where she -qualified as a certified information systems auditor.
She also gained teaching experience working as an assistant lecturer at the University of Pretoria.
Her PhD research is in digital forensics, which is mainly used to investigate computer crime and IT security incidents.
Her research applies digital forensic methodology and techniques to the investigation of software failure, which can have disastrous consequences and may be fatal. Digital forensics brings scientific rigour and logic to failure analysis and improves its efficiency.
Bella has received a number of awards, including a L’Oréal-Unesco regional fellowship for women in science in 2011, the 2011 Soul magazine Woman of the Year award, and earlier this year the Google Anita Borg Memorial scholarship, aimed at female IT -students across the globe with strong academic performance and leadership abilities.
She has published several inter-nationally accredited conference and journal papers.
She has presented her research findings and conducted research missions locally and in France, Germany, the UK and Switzerland.
She has received specialised IT training in the US and worked on major IT projects locally, in China and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Carien Coetzee received a BSc in viticulture and oenology (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University in 2008. She was awarded the chancellor’s medal for her outstanding work towards her MSc in oenology, which she obtained cum laude in 2011.
She is currently a third-year PhD oenology student. Her interest lies in white wine chemistry, with a specific focus on the study of flavours.
Coetzee’s project investigates the effect of oxidation on Sauvignon Blanc wine composition and quality, with special reference to the chemical composition of the wine and the sensorial impact of oxidation on wine.
Her studies also evaluate the potential effects on the sensorial experience when adding various aromatic compounds alone and in combination.
The results of this study could serve as a definitive model for white wine oxidation and could be applied to determine -storage conditions to optimise the quality of wine.
It could assist in understanding the interactive effects of aroma compounds in a complex matrix such as wine.
The financial impact could be important for the wine industry, as large -volumes of wine are lost due to oxidation.
Part of her research has been conducted at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and the Catholic University of Portugal. In 2011 she was nominated for the S2A3 (Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science) Medal.
Coetzee has published three articles in international peer-reviewed journals and has presented her work at numerous local and international conferences. She has a passion for research and enjoys lecturing and working with students.
Vuyolwethu Siyo completed her BSc in biochemistry, physiology and psychology in 2009 and was placed on the University of Cape Town dean’s merit list.
She received her BSc (Med) honours in 2010 and began her master’s at the inter-national centre for genetic engineering and biotechnology’s Cape Town component, based at the University of Cape Town, in 2011.
Her master’s project was upgraded to a PhD at the beginning of 2013. Her doctoral research investigates the molecular mechanisms employed by the anticancer -compound bisPMB in cancer cells.
She aims to characterise the pathways activated by bisPMB in pursuit of improving the efficacy of known anticancer drugs that activate -complementary pathways through combination treatment.
She co-authored a peer-reviewed paper on the Roche xCELLigence System. She has presented her work at the University of Cape Town’s department of clinical laboratory sciences human biology research day, the 3rd Advanced Summer School in Africa, and the Non-Communicable Diseases in Developing Countries in Africa course.
She is a member of the University of Cape Town’s Obz Square residence third tier executive committee, and oversees all its social responsiveness and outreach activities.
Tata scholarships: master’s degrees
Nontobeko Mvubu received a bachelor- of medical science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2009 with seven academic merits and was awarded a dean’s commendation in 2008 and 2009.
In 2010 she was awarded the Merck award for best final year microbiology student. She obtained a BSc honours in microbiology in 2010 and enrolled for an MSc in 2011.
Her master’s project was aimed at understanding the human host immune response to infection by studying cytokine production and gene expression in epithelial cells infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) strains.
Epithelial cells are present in abundance in the alveolar space (lining the lungs) and their contribution to the host immune response during infection by Mtb strains of varying pathogenicity is severely underestimated.
Understanding the immune response to infection by these cells will provide a better understanding of the key players and involvement of other cell types recruited by cytokine/chemokine production in epithelial cells.
Mvubu was awarded the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) collaborative grant, which enabled her to do part of her master’s at the renowned John Hopkins University in the US in 2012.
Mvubu’s work was presented at the K-RITH opening symposium in 2012 and will be presented at the South African Society for Micro-biology conference in November 2013.
She is planning to do her PhD on the molecular pathways involved during host response to Mtb infection in pulmonary epithelial cells.
Nomakhwezi Mvumvu has a BSc in chemistry and biochemistry and a first-class honours degree in chemistry from the University of Cape Town.
Mvumvu is currently doing her MSc. Mvumvu’s research project entails investigating potential antimalarial compounds — specifically dihy-dropyridines.
This involves investigating the compounds’ activity against haematin formation and, ultimately, activity against malarial parasite growth.
The disease is caused by parasitic protozoans, of which the most virulent reside in Africa. The death rate is highest in poverty stricken areas and mostly occurs among pregnant women, and children under the age of five.
Combating the disease educates women about their rights and empowers them to become more independent.
Mvumvu grew up in Esilindini, a rural area in the Eastern Cape, and matriculated in 2008 as the top matric learner at Tlokweng Senior Secondary school.
Mvumvu was placed on the dean’s merit list at the University of Cape Town in 2010 and was the first black South African top student in her honours class in 2012.
She received the Percy Gordon Memorial award, a Maria Lydia grant scholarship and the James Moir medal.
Heila van der Merwe
Heila van der Merwe received her BSc (2010) and BSc honours (2011) in computer science (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University. In 2012 she started studying towards an MSc in computer science.
Her research focuses on detecting errors and security and energy problems in Android mobile applications. This is an important field of study in South Africa because many people use smart mobile phones as computers and links to the internet.
Improved usability and security directly influence economic development in rural areas.
In 2012 she presented a paper on her research at the 20th Foundations of Software Engineering Conference in the US, where she received an award for the best presenter at the Java Pathfinder workshop. She plans to continue her studies towards a PhD.
She strives to become a successful researcher in her field, not only to further basic academic and applied research, but also to encourage other women to pursue academic excellence.