Since completing her PhD in Economics at UP in 2011, Prof Roula Inglesi-Lotz has garnered one academic distinction and award after the other. As co-chair for 2021/22 of the prestigious Global Young Academy (GYA), she is excited to promote and encourage efforts of science communication and policy advice internationally. Yet it is her mission as a mother of two young children, as well as lecturer, that is perhaps dearest to her heart. “My motherly instincts extend to the students and youth of today, so working towards providing platforms and tools for them to grow personally and academically makes me feel inspired – and when I see my students graduating…that motivates me further,” she enthuses. Read more about this dynamic alumna’s phenomenal academic achievements, outside interests and future goals.
Q: Briefly summarise your career since first graduating from UP, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I completed my PhD in Economics in 2011 through the Department of Economics and in the same year I was employed as a Senior Lecturer in the department. Already having been involved in teaching and research activities of the department, the path was a natural one for me and it felt that I was simply continuing with my contribution, but with added responsibilities. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2015 and Professor in 2021. I’m also an NRF Y-rated scientist.
Teaching wise, I have worked in the team that managed the Economics programme at the first-year level that is a course for Economics and non-Economics students across the University. Developing the curriculum, teaching and coordinating the team for five years provided me with valuable lessons in project management, academic content and teamwork. After leaving the first year’s programme, I became involved with the research component of the Honours programme, which allowed me to put my research passion in action by teaching and learning by creating the Energy Economics Master’s course in the Department.
Research wise, I have managed to have a consistent production of impactful academic papers in the field of Energy and Environmental Economics every year. These efforts were recognised by the institution by way of several awards for Best Researcher of the Year by UP, the EMS Faculty and the Department of Economics.
In 2017, I was recognised by the South African Department of Science and Technology as well and received the award for Distinguished Young Woman Researcher in the Humanities and Social Sciences category at the Women in Science Awards. The same year I was selected as a member of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) of which I was co-chair in 2020.
In 2018, along with a team of esteemed energy experts in the country, we founded the South African Association for Energy Economics (SAAEE), a recognised affiliate of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE). I have been the President of SAAEE since then to date. During 2018 I was also selected to be a member of the Global Young Academy (GYA) of which I was recently elected as co-chair for 2021/22.
Q: Given your academic (and other) experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current and future students?
A: Perseverance is an important aspect while you are studying and even thereafter. Of course, some conditions enable your capacity to persevere and to achieve your goals. My suggestion is before you embark on any studying journey at any level, you should first find your “why” (quoting Simon Sinek).
The journey ahead will have challenges and hurdles and when one loses patience and strength, a sense of purpose can be empowering – not all of us study for the same reasons. Commitment to the purpose is crucial, but not at all costs.
Students (and academic staff) often forget that their whole identity is not that of a student or a scientist – they are more than that. They should be careful not to lose themselves in the pursuit of higher marks and passing modules (again an alignment to the purpose helps).
Finally, two things that I did not appreciate during my undergraduate years in Greece: continuous engagement with the course will bring great results (once-off studying before the exams and assignments do not allow your brain to absorb the knowledge) and lecturers are not the enemy – they are the enablers to direct students to the knowledge and skills they want to acquire, they are part of the system that works better if all elements work together.
Q: With ‘virtual’ lectures the order of the day, do you foresee significant shifts in the relationship between lecturers/tutors and students in the educational environment of the future?
A: My view is that the online virtual environment has certainly shocked the system to the core and has challenged both students and lecturers. I am, however, a believer that the shock has lasting, positive consequences.
As said earlier, in the higher education environment, lecturers are and should be the enablers of knowledge acquisition: the traditional model of “I know, I teach – you don’t, you listen” might have worked until now, but nowadays with the plethora of knowledge resources, students do not struggle to find knowledge; they struggle to conceptualise and contextualise the material and develop necessary critical and system thinking skills that will make them professionals in their fields that will make an impact.
The shock in the teaching and learning environment has provided lecturers with technological and conceptual tools and training that they didn’t have before (admittedly in a short time everything had to be in place). It has thus been a time for everyone to rethink the material and channels of communication.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
I am a book addict, and in this respect, I tend to read more books than other publications; daily. However, I receive the latest articles from The Economist – not all are to my interest, but some of them provide interesting perspectives, I always learn something new.
I was the Editor of the SAYAS PhD blog from 2019 until June 2021, so I got to read all the blogs and enjoy the fact that the blog gives a safe platform for South African postgraduate students to discuss their challenges and successes. I am a social media fanatic and that is why I read articles from a variety of sources that I consider interesting.
Q: Besides your career and academic commitments, what are your other interests?
A: For many, being a working mother would not allow me to have any time during my everyday life for anything else. Having a supportive partner, who is a hands-on father, encourages me to also do things that fill my glass but also, my kids are at a certain age now (7 and 9 years old) that we can do interesting things together, such as watching sports, going for walks in nature.
I love reading books – and I read any and every type of book both in English and Greek. Belly-dancing is a form of art and exercise I particularly enjoy – it exposes me also to a different culture and ways.
Q: What inspires and motivates you personally?
A: Since I became a mother, I have seen the world from a different perspective. I feel the responsibility to make the world better for them, but also prepare them to make the world better themselves. Even when I consider my own mental and physical health, the main reason behind it is so that I am a better mother for them; a mother that they will be proud of as they grow up.
At the same time, my motherly instincts extend to the students and youth of today, so working towards providing platforms and tools for them to grow personally and academically makes me feel inspired – and when I see my students graduating…that motivates me further.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: It is so difficult to pick only one…
Within the economics domain, I would choose to have a talk with Prof Nordhaus, Professor of Economics at Yale University, best known for his work in economic modelling and climate change, and one of the two recipients of the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Besides his views about climate change policy internationally, I admire him for his commitment to education. The day that his Nobel achievement was announced and the whole world was waiting for his interview, he went to his scheduled class – that is what I call commitment!
Another economics professor I would like to meet one day is Prof Esther Duflo, Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She shared the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer, "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty". I would really like to ask her how she feels when she is referred to as the wife of Nobel prize winner Prof Banerjee – and what she really thinks the solutions for women empowerment and poverty alleviation globally are.
And after this discussion on climate change, women empowerment, economics and lecturing at a higher education institution, I would invite Simon Sinek, Brene Brown and Adam Grant for dinner and I would just sit back and let them inspire me with their views about personal development, leadership and world impact.
Q: Going forward, what would you still like to achieve in terms of personal and career goals?
A: In my career, I take things a step at a time, building slowly but surely towards making an impact on the world. This year I will serve as a co-chair of the Global Young Academy (GYA). I am excited to promote and encourage efforts of science communication and policy advice internationally. The impact of and trust in science have been shocked in recent times and it is in the hands of scientists to make the difference. This difference will be highly dependent on the conditions in which the science community functions and its relations with the policymakers and communities. I hope that from all the posts in which I serve, I will be able to promote sustainable solutions and at the same time improve the science environment by encouraging diversity and inclusivity.
Q: COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. Are you optimistic that the South African economy will be able to rise from the proverbial ‘ashes’?
A: It is not a question with a straightforward response as the South African economy is a system of factors that are interacting with each other, locally and internationally. I believe economies such as South Africa’s have shown certain levels of resilience because they have “survived” with policy and societal uncertainties for some time now.
The road ahead, however, is not easy and can only be successful in reaching sustainable development when policymakers design and implement policies based on social benefit maximisation and not vote-maximisation.