Rita Dankwa reflects on her PhD Food Science journey

Posted on May 21, 2024

In 2019, I enrolled at the University of Pretoria to pursue a PhD in Food Science, a decision that required me to leave my children and family to study in South Africa. It was not easy leaving my children to study in another country. However, I went anyway to commence my PhD studies during the second semester of the year, driven by a strong desire to develop more skills and enhance my experience in Sensory Science and Food Chemistry.

In the early months of the PhD journey, while preparing my proposal, I found myself suffering from a health problem that was exacerbated by the PhD stress and was hospitalised. In those moments, I asked myself whether I could go through the PhD journey to the end, which nearly led me to reconsider my commitment. My doctoral journey was marked by challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which led to the delay of practical work. However, amidst these challenges, I discovered resilience within myself. My doctoral experience has profoundly shaped me, refining my research skills and instilling in me the tenacity to overcome obstacles.

I am deeply grateful to my supervisors, Prof. Riëtte de Kock, Prof. Eugenie Kayitesi and Dr. Heikki Aisala, whose guidance and support have been instrumental to the successful completion of my PhD. My study examined the potential of composite flours from some important African climate-resilient crops as alternatives to wheat flour for bread production. The study characterised the sensory properties and volatile compounds contributing to the aroma and flavour of sorghum, cassava and cowpea flatbreads. The findings from my PhD contribute to insights that manufacturers can apply to enhance the sensory quality of bread products made from these flours and hold promise for advancing food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

The engagement with other PhD students, researchers, and the LEAP Agric NUTRIFOODS project partners allowed me to cultivate a network of peers and mentors whom I could call on, enriching my academic journey. I participated in Sensometrics training facilitated by Qi Statistics and numerous other trainings organised by the University of Pretoria, the InnoFoodAfrica project, and SAAFFI (South African Association of the Flavour & Fragrance Industry). 

I want to tell all PhD students facing challenges that what they are going through is normal. Pursuing a PhD is challenging and stressful. However, despite the challenges you face, remember the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done”. Persevere, keep the faith, do your best, keep going, and the journey will be worth it. My PhD experience has fulfilled me and equipped me better for an academic career. As I stood on stage on May 2, 2024, to be conferred the degree, I felt a profound sense of accomplishment and gratitude for the enriching journey that had brought me joy and fulfilment.

- Author Rita Dankwa

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