“Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett

Sthabile Kolwa



Organisation / Company

University of Johannesburg


Thirty-five-year old Sthabile Kolwa is lecturer in the physics department at the University of Johannesburg and is responsible for curriculum design, teaching and running undergraduate physics and honours-level astrophysics modules. She is also doing research involving galaxy formation and cosmology. “I learn about how galaxies have evolved over the known universe’s existence,” she says. Her job involves publishing her research in journals and giving talks on it at department seminars and astrophysics conferences. Sthabile, who has a PhD from The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, communicates concepts and discoveries in astronomy in online articles and also focuses on women and non-binary people who have been effective in the science, tech, engineering and maths fields. She says a challenge has been social isolation in terms of gender and race. As chair of the early-career science committee of the African Astronomical Society, Sthabile is involved in efforts to raise funds for master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral students, for equipment and research-related travel.


BSc Honours in Physics and Astronomy, University of Cape Town, 2013.
MSc in Physics, University of the Western Cape, 2015.
PhD in Physics, The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, 2019.


I am proud of a research paper that I published in 2023, alongside my scientific collaborators, who I met as a PhD student. In astronomy, when we publish observational results, the generally accepted standard is that most of our results should include significant detections made by the telescope as evidence in favour of our hypothesis. In my case, our telescope data did not provide significant detections but rather non-detections and we did not initially understand why. After thinking through the problem carefully, we decided that the non-detections were worth publishing because they actually proved our null hypothesis. After almost two years of revisions, the paper was accepted by the Monthly Notices for the Royal Astronomical Society in mid-2023. My determination and focus paid off greatly in this regard and I was not willing to let naysayers stand in the way of having the paper published.


Professor Jarita Holbrook — a cultural astronomer — has been supportive in helping me navigate obstacles within astronomy.
Dr Shazrene Mohamed — a stellar astrophysicist — has also shown great wisdom regarding my career in astronomy.
I have appreciated the support of Professor Renee Kraan-Korteweg for many years.
Dr Sarah Blyth has been a role model and academic support since my first year at university.