“If they can do it, I can do it too. It may take me a bit longer, but I will get it done.”

Monray Edward Williams


Technology & Innovation

Organisation / Company

North-West University


Monray Edward Williams, 32, is a senior lecturer in the Next Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP), an initiative under the department of higher education and training at North-West University (NWU). He teaches cell and molecular biology and biochemistry. As a principal investigator, he manages an independent research group focused on HIV (neuro)virology, supervising three PhD students, three MSc students, and one honours student.

Monray also serves on several scientific committees, including the NWU Health Sciences Research Ethics Committee. In addition, he holds educational sessions to schools through the SETH Academy and IKAMVA Youth. The SETH Academy is a university-high school programme in collaboration with industry. In 2022, he received the Novice Teacher Award for the Best Portfolio at NWU. In 2023, the university’s faculty of natural and agricultural sciences recognised him as a promising next-generation researcher.

He was also honoured with the Online Teaching Award for developing short online courses to support postgraduate students in completing their degrees within the expected timeframes.


  • University of the Western Cape, BSc Biotechnology
  • University of the Western Cape, BSc Honours in Biotechnology
  • University of the Western Cape, MSc Biotechnology
    • University of Cape Town, PhD Neuroscience


Winning three academic awards within 12 months has been a significant milestone for me. At the end of 2022, I received the Novice Teacher Award for the Best Portfolio across North-West University. In August 2023, the NWU Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences recognised me as a promising next-generation researcher. Finally, at the end of 2023, I was honoured with the NWU Online Teaching Award for developing short online courses to support postgraduate students in completing their degrees within the expected timeframes.

These accolades challenged the common perception that scientists are solely subject matter experts, not educational experts. I had always viewed myself primarily as a researcher or scientist, not a university teacher. However, winning teaching awards affirmed that scientists could excel as academic teachers, contributing to solving global problems. I firmly believe that scientists are at the forefront of addressing global challenges and enhancing our teaching approaches is crucial in nurturing the next generation of exceptional scientists. In addition, I’ve published 12 papers in leading journals within the past 12 months, showcasing my commitment to scholarly excellence.


To date, I have several role models that I admire, one of them being Professor Dan Stein, one of my PhD supervisors. Professor Stein, an A-rated researcher, was named one of the top 2% of scientists in the world according to Stanford University’s list published in September 2022. Under his mentorship at UCT, I saw firsthand what it takes to become a prominent scientist and make tangible contributions to society. He demonstrated how to perform at a pace that not only advances one’s career but also tackles real-world problems endemic to South Africa, characteristics that truly resonated with me.

Another significant role model is Professor Thulani Makhalanyane. Prof. Thulani embodies everything I aspire to be as an early career academic and is already walking the path I aim to follow. He holds the DSI/NRF SARChI Chair in Marine Microbiomics and has a P-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF). He has co-authored over 80 publications in leading international journals, including Nature, Science, and Nature Reviews Microbiology. He serves on the leading editorial boards within his field and is currently Editor-in-Chief for The ISME Journal and Senior Editor at mSystems. Remarkably, he achieved full professorship before the age of 40, making him one of the few young and upcoming academics to do so. This is precisely the type of career I aspire to build for myself – one that not only fulfils personal ambitions but also serves as an inspiration for the next generation of emerging scientists. I believe that by striving for excellence, we can cultivate a multitude of “outstanding” scientists capable of addressing and resolving the pressing issues facing South Africa.

Professor Francois van der Westhuizen, an NRF B-rated scientist at NWU and the Deputy Dean of Research and Innovation, has been a significant influence and mentor in my academic journey. Prof. Francois has demonstrated how to thrive as an academic while upholding the human side of academia. He underscores the significance of harmonising excellence with collegiality, family, and friendship—qualities that are frequently overlooked in academic spheres.